Man is judged by his deeds; not justified by the works of the law.

Summary

Man is judged by His deeds.

This website argues that man is judged by his deeds. For example:

    • Jesus:The hour comes when all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have DONE GOOD, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have DONE EVIL, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-19).
    • Paul: God … will render to each person according to his deeds: To those who by perseverance in DOING GOOD … eternal life; but to those who … OBEY UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, wrath and indignation” (Rom 2:5-8; cf. 2:9-13).
    • Revelation: “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God… they were judged every man according to their WORKS“ (Rev 20:12-13).

This principle, therefore, is well established in the Scriptures. The question is how to reconcile this principle with Paul’s other statements that about salvation, namely:

    • By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom 3:20) and
    • By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8).

Works of the Law

That nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law” does not contradict the principle that man is judged by his deeds:

    • The works of the law” refers to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law by which the Jews attempted to justify themselves before God. In this thinking, grace is not required; you earn salvation through the ceremonies and rituals. Paul opposed this view and wrote that nobody will be justified by “the works of the law.”
    • The “deeds” by which people are judged, on the other hand, refer to ethical behavior, or the lack there-of. These “deeds,” therefore, are very different from “the works of the law.” Furthermore, Paul argued that all people are sinners. For that reason, if we were to be judged purely by our deeds, we would all be doomed: Nobody will be saved (justified = put right with God) by good deeds. Rather, those people that qualify on the basis of their deeds, are saved by grace:
      • Judging by the deeds determines WHO must be saved.
      • By grace is HOW they are saved.

Consequently, to say that people are judged by their deeds does not contradict the statement that nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law.

Through Faith

People, therefore, are judged by their deeds but saved by grace. But then, why did Paul write that people are saved “through faith?” How can a person be judged by his deeds but also saved “through faith?

Actually, these are two ways of saying the same thing.

    • To be saved “through faith” implies that the person’s faith is assessed or judged.
    • That God judges our deeds does not mean that He judges only our external deeds. He also sees and judges the “inner man.” Therefore, to say that God judges our deeds should be understood as that God judges the entire being, including his words, deeds, thoughts, and desires. These things are determined by our faith or the lack of it. Therefore, to judge our deeds is to judge our faith.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

Man is judged by His deeds.

This website argues that man is judged by his deeds.

THIS IS WHAT JESUS TAUGHT.

For example:

    • The hour comes when all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have DONE GOOD, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have DONE EVIL, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-19).
    • Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be JUSTIFIED, and by your words you shall be CONDEMNED” (Matt 12:36-17)
    • The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to HIS WORKS” (Matt 16:27).

AND WHAT PAUL TAUGHT

For example:

    • God … will render to each person according to his deeds: To those who by perseverance in DOING GOOD … eternal life; but to those who … OBEY UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, wrath and indignation” (Rom 2:5-8; cf. 2:9-13).
    • If you are LIVING ACCORDING TO THE FLESH, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are PUTTING TO DEATH THE DEEDS OF THE BODY, you will live” (Rom 8:13).
    • We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether GOOD OR BAD” (2 Cor 5:10; cf. 5:19-21; 11:15; 2 Tim 4:14).

AND WHAT REVELATION TEACHES

    • I will give unto every one of you according to your WORKS” (Rev 2:23).
    • I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God… they were judged every man according to their WORKS “ (Rev 20:12-13).

See Smashing Idols for a more complete list of examples.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

This principle, therefore, is well attested in the Scriptures. However, it is a departure from standard protestant theology. It conflicts with Reformed theology in which people are saved by grace and not by their works. In response to the works-theology of the Catholic Church, the reformers emphasized faith and grace, but they took it too far. The idea of grace and nothing else; that God decides who goes to heaven or hell, irrespective of what people are or do, is NOT consistent with the Bible. This article proposes a different perspective.

The rest of this article reconciles the principle that man is judged by his deeds with Paul’s other statements that about salvation, namely:

    • Nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law,” and
    • People are saved by grace through faith.

Paul was a complex thinker. To analyze his theology is difficult. Peter wrote:

Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you … in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

WORKS OF THE LAW

Paul wrote that nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law” (e.g., Rom. 3:20). This does not contradict the principle that man judged by his deeds. We must read these statements in their historical contexts:

In the early decades of the Church, when Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, there was a controversy in the church over whether Gentiles must observe the law of Moses (cf. Acts 15:5). To argue why they must, the Christian Pharisees said that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). In response, Paul wrote that “man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2:16).

OF THE LAW

The difference between the words “deeds” and “works” is not important. For example, the NASB translates the Greek word ergon 65 times as “deed(s)” (e.g. Rom 2:6; Rev 20:12) and 96 times as “work(s)” (e.g. Matt 5:16).

But the phrase “of the Law” is important. Given the context in which Paul wrote,the works of the law” do not refer to good deeds in general (ethical behavior), but specifically to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law by which the Jews attempted to justify themselves before God. In the letter to the Galatians, the prime example is circumcision (e.g. Gal 5:2-3; 6:12-15).

The “deeds” by which people are judged, on the other hand, refer to ethical behavior, or the lack there-of. “The works of the Law,” therefore, are very different from the good and bad deeds by which man is judged.

BY GRACE

Another distinction is the need for grace:

    • In the Jewish “works of the Law”-thinking, grace is not required; you earn salvation through the ceremonies and rituals. Paul wrote that nobody will be justified this way.
    • Paul, on the other hand, argued that all people are sinners. For that reason, if we were to be judged by our deeds, we would all be doomed. Nobody will be saved (justified – put right with God) by their good deeds. In other words, we do not ‘earn’ justification by good deeds. Rather, those people that qualify on the basis of their deeds, are saved by grace:
      • Judging by the deeds determines WHO must be saved.
      • By grace is HOW they are saved.

People, therefore, are both judged by their deeds and saved by grace.

In conclusion, to say that people are judged by their deeds does not contradict the statement that nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law.” These are two competing means of salvation.

THROUGH FAITH

But then, if people are judged by their deeds, why did Paul write that people are saved “through faith?” Both “deeds” and “faith” define the person. While “deeds” describe the person from an external perspective, “faith” defines the person from an internal perspective. How can a person be judged by his deeds but also saved “through faith?

Actually, these are two ways of saying the same thing:

    • To be saved “through faith” implies that the person’s faith is assessed or judged.
    • That God judges our deeds does not mean that He judges only our external deeds. He also sees and judges the “inner man.” Therefore, to say that God judges our deeds should be understood as that God judges the entire being, including his words, deeds, thoughts, and desires. These things are determined by our faith or the lack of it. Therefore, to judge our deeds is to judge our faith.

ROMANS 7

Romans 7 explains this principle. Paul wrote:

I am not practicing what I would like to do,
but I am doing the very thing I hate.

I agree with the Law,
confessing that the Law is good
” (Rom 7:15-16).

The willing is present in me,
but the doing of the good is not.
For the good that I want, I do not do,
but I practice the very evil that I do not want
” (Rom 7:18-19).

I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
but I see a different law in the members of my body,
waging war against the law of my mind
and making me a prisoner of the law of sin
which is in my members
(Rom 7:22-23).

THE TWO PARTS OF MAN

Paul’s statements can be divided between the two parts of man:

    • In his “inner man” or “mind,” he concurs with “the law of God” and “would like to do” “the good.”
    • But in “the members of my body,” he is “a prisoner of the law of sin.” “I practice the very evil that I do not want.

In this, Paul serves as an example of all true Christians: They want to do good but they do evil.

SAVED THROUGH FAITH

But Paul concludes on a high note:

Wretched man that I am!
Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

(Rom 7:22-25)

In other words, despite of their evil deeds, God will free His people “from the body of this death.” If God judged us only by our external deeds, Paul would have been doomed, but God sees and judges the entire being, including “the good that I want” which reside in the mind and which is invisible to human eyes.

Paul does not use the word “faith” in Romans 7, but “the willing is present in me – the good that I want” is the result of faith. Faith, or the lack of it, is the driving force behind man’s thoughts, words, and actions. Both “faith” and “the good that I want” reside in the “inner man” and cannot be separated. Therefore, when Paul refers to “the inner man” or “my mind” (Rom 7:21-22), he is referring to faith.

We are trapped in bodies with sinful desires.  Every day we sin and fall short of what we are created to be. But if we have faith in God, we will want to do God’s will. Then God, by grace, on the basis of that faith, will accept us into His kingdom.

For a further discussion of these difficult concepts, see the article By Grace through Faith.

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3 Replies to “Man is judged by his deeds; not justified by the works of the law.”

  1. Thanks Andries for your time and your answer. I have a much better understanding of this parable now.

  2. Hi Andries,

    This is a very interesting article.

    I have been trying to understand the parable of the 10 virgins for a while and wonder if you agree with the following interpretation.

    Matthew 25:1 Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

    5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

    9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’

    10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

    13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. NKJV

    It is clear to me that the turning point of this parable is when the ‘bridegroom arrive’ (see Matt 25:6). Up to that point each virgin had the responsibility to have enough oil in her lamp and not to be caught off guard at the arrival of the bridegroom no matter if he had been delayed.

    This parable was given to inform us of who would enter the Kingdom of God. The lesson to retain is that we need to make sure that we have enough oil before the “door shut”. The closing of that ‘door’ will be at either our ‘death’ or at the time of the second coming of Christ (for those who will be alive then). Once the door is close there won’t be any possibility to get more oil. We will either have enough and be allowed to come in, or we will be lacking and be excluded without a second chance. The central point of the parable is to make sure one has enough oil to be saved.

    How should we interpret the “oil” when we transpose the message of the parable to our life? Could the ‘oil’ be the sum of our deeds and the quality of our faith? It would make sense to see it that way, as it is something that we cannot share (similar to the 5 wise virgins that wouldn’t share their oil) and something that has to be obtained by our own effort at the appropriate time (the foolish virgin went to buy more oil in the middle of the night) .
    Yves P.

    1. Hi Yves – nice to hear from you.

      Generally, I agree. However, we must be careful not to attampt to interpret each and every particular of the story. Parable are stories with one main message.

      In my article, I interpreted the “deeds” of people as representing their entire beings, including the person’s faith. A good word to describe this is perhaps ‘character’. That is how I would understnd the “oil” in the parable.

      The parable of the ten virgins implies a judgment of the people that profess to be Christians. All ten have accepted the gospel but five will be rejected.

      All ten virgins claim to be Christians. All are waiting for Christ to appear. All had lamps and vessels for oil. Apparently, there was seen no difference between them. So with the church that lives just before Christ’s second coming. All have a knowledge of the Scriptures. All have heard the message of Christ’s near approach and confidently expect His appearing.

      But many are not ready. They receive the word with readiness, but they fail to assimilate its principles. They do not know God. Their service to God degenerates into a form. They are people that “holding to a form of godliness … have denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). On judgment day, they will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name?” But He will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt 7:22-23).

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