Future Judgment and Salvation

This page is a lengthy essay on future judgment and salvation in the New Testament. It will go into detail describing different stages of salvation, the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the relationship between justification by faith and judgment according to works and how the scriptures encourage us to live anticipating future judgment and salvation.

I realise many issues I am about to bring up are strongly debated. For the most part these are my opinions on the topic, not necessarily facts. Be forewarned I’m adopting New Perspective understandings on Paul and I come from a Calvinist background.

I suspect for the most part many will not be familiar with the passages I will refer to regarding the future judgment and salvation. This may well be an eye opener and cause to reevaluate what you will think on the topic. I hope it does.

The complexity or perhaps number of issues involved make it difficult to speak about it correctly in a short space. To give due justice to what the scriptures say, I’ll be spending some time on the topic.

Overall this is an attempt to;

  • Engage all the facts, and
  • Integrate them as even-handedly as possible into a theory or view or hypothesis,
  • with the least amount of conflict with all of the facts concerned.

Contents

The Order of Salvation and the Doctrine of Man

In this first part I will briefly step through what I believe are various stages in the order of salvation and give a brief description of the changes inside a person throughout.

It largely draws upon the framework I have established in a former series I wrote called the Apostolic Mindset.

I’ll be working with the framework below to differentiate the stages in the order of salvation. The passages I quote are by no means exhaustive, but are there to establish the at least some validity to the framework.

Click to enlarge

Please note the C1 to C5 labels. I’ve put these here to hopefully describe stages in a Christian’s life. I’ll describe what I think of these below.

For the most part I have chosen passages associated with salvation.

Predestination and Election (Rom 8.28-30; Eph 1.3-6, 11-14)

We start with predestination. I realise there is a big debate between predestination and foreknowledge. I don’t have space to argue for one or the other here. Siding either way is not really critical to understanding this essay.

Personally I lean towards a predestination view which is at some point, God has decided in advance who He will elect to become his people and therefore be saved. Various theories exist attempting to second guess when God made the decision with respect to the mankind’s fall into sin (prelapsarian – before the fall and infralapsarian – after the fall) but I won’t interact with them here.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. …

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1.3-6, 11-14)

‘Predestined’, ‘chose us’. God predestines because he is the sovereign creator. Working all things according to his purpose and will.

(For more passages on Predestination and Election see also Rom 8.28-30)

C1: Former Sinful State (Rom 5.12-14; 7.7-25; Eph 2.1-3; Jn 3.17-20)

It’s self-evident we live in a world where lots go wrong and people sin. What I am focussing on in this section is that in a number of passages the apostles tend to refer to their audiences former lives which was sinful. I don’t intend to discuss at what point I think all people became sinful.

My personal view from the passages above is that people are born sinners. I tend to view this in terms of people’s identity, character and behaviour. This is my view and I realise this can be a sensitive and much debated topic especially when dealing with infants who die. I admit it is possible that infants could be born innocent or under a believing parents protection, but then at some point fall into sin.

Here’s an example on one passage which describes a former sinful state.

2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2.1-3)

‘Dead in transgressions and sins’. Paul’s description of sinners is quite bleak. He describes them as dead. Spiritually dead. Walking in sin, disobedience and fleshly desire. Completely unable to do anything about their current state.

‘By nature children of wrath’. This is one of the few references to mankinds nature prior to being created again, given new life in Christ. Generally ‘nature’ describes where a person fits in God’s creational order (See my word study on nature). Paul describes humanity under sin, deserving of God’s wrath.

This passage seems clear that only a unilateral divine act of sheer unmerited grace is needed to change this predicament.

(Note my interpretation of Romans 7.7-25 when I argue Paul is using a rhetorical device ‘I’ to speak into the condition of an unbeliever who comes under the law of Moses)

(For more passages on a believers former sinful state see also Rom 5.12-14; 7.7-25; Jn 3.17-20)

C2: Conversion and Initial Salvation (Jn 6.44; Rom 5.1-11; Eph 2.5-9; Tit 3.3-7; 1 Pet 1.3)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).

My view of salvation is that it has different tenses. Past (‘we have been saved’), present (‘we are being saved’) and future (‘we will be saved’) tense. Here we begin with the past tense understanding of salvation, initial salvation, which has ongoing consequences. We continue on from Paul’s passage above;

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2.4-10)

‘Dead in transgressions and sins’, ‘By nature children of wrath’. As discussed above, this is the state the Ephesians were (past tense) in prior to God’s unilateral act of sheer unmerited grace.

‘Made us alive with Christ’, ‘Created’. God radically altered the person’s state of existence. Dead people have been brought to life. Such is the extent of the radical change to their being, as in other locations, Paul says they were created.

‘By grace you have been saved’. Salvation is depicted in this passages as an event which happened in their past. One which began their existence as living creations. One which has moral implications for how they will live (cf. 2 Tim 1.9; Tit 3.5). Previously dead in sin, now alive for good works.

Paul says they have been saved. This is an instance of initial salvation.

‘Through faith’. I’ve written a word study on faith. Because Paul so clearly refers to Christ’s activity, I associate this instance of pistis (faith) with Christ’s faithfulness because Paul is describing our union in Christ’s death and resurrection. It goes without saying Christ’s death on the cross is the means by which we are forgiven of our sin.

(For more passages on Conversion and Initial Salvation see also Rom 5.1-11; Tit 3.3-7; 1 Pet 1.3)

Sinners and the Righteous

Scripture seems to refer to two distinct groups, ‘the righteous’ and ‘sinners’. This might be a contentious issue for some who think everyone is a sinner and perhaps for others who think there are people who are perfect.

I mainly make the distinction because of what I see in scripture (e.g. Gen 18.23; Ps 1.1-6; Ecc 9.2; Eze 18.1-32; Lk 15.7; Acts 24.15; Rom 5.6-8, 19; 1 Pet 4.18). In the Apostolic Mindset series mentioned above I have described a series of changes that differentiate the righteous from sinners.

My view is that with the exception of Jesus, all people sin. However, if we want to understand scripture rightly and use expressions (‘the righteous’ and ‘sinners’) the way scripture uses them. Then we should make the distinction because scripture does. Perhaps this explanation will help.

Here are the differences between sinners and the righteous I list.

Difference in Spirit (Rom 8:9). All the apostles may not mention the Holy Spirit in each of their writings. But I assume all the apostles believe in the Holy Spirit and that he dwells within people who believe the gospel. Its through the power of the Spirit and the word of God people come to believe (1 Thes 1.5).

Difference in Heart (Rom 10:9–10). The LORD promised hearts of stone would be made hearts of flesh (Eze 36.26). This transformation happens when with the heart people believe the gospel. Heartfelt belief is not simply intellectual. It involves feelings, emotions and the will. Believers hearts are circumcised (Rom 2.29). The evil flesh is cut away. Believers obey from the heart (Rom 6.17). Common to all the apostles and their audiences is a shared belief in the gospel. They expect this belief will affect their intellect, emotions and actions.

Difference in Mind (Eph 4:17–18; 2 Cor 4:3–4; Tit 1:15). When people are converted their minds change. Sinners do not believe Jesus rose from the dead or confess him as Lord (Rom 10.9-10; 1 Cor 12.3). The righteous do. Sinners cannot understand the ‘word of the cross’, believing it folly (1 Cor 1.18). The righteous do. Sinners do not know God (1 Cor 1.21) or understand his power (1 Cor 1.18). The righteous have a relationship with the LORD. Non-Christians simply cannot think like Christians, because they do not have the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2.16).

Difference in Behaviour (Acts 26:20; 1 Jn 3:6–10; Rom 4.23; 1 Co 5:9–11). All have sinned at some point in their lives. When the righteous are converted they realise how bad sin is. Their understanding about sin changes and they repent. Whenever the righteous sin it’s normal for them to repent. It’s also normal for the righteous to make a regular practice of righteousness.

Because of all these above, I can add another.

Difference in Nature (Eph 2.3). Refer to my word study here. Paul says to the Ephesians they ‘were by nature children of wrath’. Here he says they used to have this nature. We can assume from the context this all changed when they were saved and raised to new life in Christ, being newly created for good works (Eph 2.10).

Passages like the above suggest the apostles expect the righteous will not continue in sin, rather they will make a regular practice of righteousness. Whereas Sinners keep on sinning (Jn 8.34). The main reasons for the difference in behaviour are the Holy Spirit, heartfelt faith and their different understanding about God and morality. When the apostles see believers sin they see something unexpected and wrong. They may think the person is not a believer after all or has fallen away. Faith and sin cannot coexist (Rom 14.23).

C3: Life of the Believer (Phil 2.12-16; 1 Cor 15.1-2; 2 Pet 2.1-3)

What has begun anew now continues. The state all believers are in now.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Phil 2.12-16)

The previous section described initial salvation. In this passage Paul describes an aspect of the process of salvation. Believers have been saved (past tense) and are now being saved (present tense).

‘Work out your own salvation’. Paul seems to stress here the human element of salvation. Believers are partially responsible for their salvation and are involved in their salvation.

I call this the process of salvation.

Paul here instructs them not to grumble or dispute with one another because it leads to sin. If they sin they will no longer be ‘blameless’ or ‘innocent’.

This verse immediately leads to God’s involvement.

‘God who works in you’. Paul acknowledges God’s simultaneous work in molding their will and actions according to his good pleasure.

(For more passages on the life of the believer see also 1 Cor 1.18; 15.1-2; 2 Cor 2.15; 2 Pet 2.1-3)

C4: Future Judgment (Mt 25.31-33; Rom 2.6-11; 2 Cor 5.9-10; Rev 20.11-15)

My view is that at some time in the future Jesus will return. When he comes again he will judge the world and set things right. I realise the theme of judgment is again debated, particularly whether believers will be judged. I will speak about that a little later.

There are several passages in scripture which give a picture of what the future judgment will be like and what will happen.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life.

And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20.11-15)

‘The dead were judged’. Presumably the living are judged as well.

‘Books’, ‘according to what they had done’. They are judged by what is written in the books. The books record the details of their lives. This concept is often repeated in Kings and Chronicles for instance (2 Ki 15.15; 2 Chr 33.1).

In the future there will be a judgment according to works

‘Lake of fire’. This is the punishment for the deeds written in the book. According to what they had done.

Book of life’. This is the book which contains the names of those who are specifically not thrown into the lake of fire. Likewise we should assume it has the details of their lives as well as their names. (Also note sins and people can be blotted out of this book Ex 32.32-33; Neh 4.5; Ps 51.1,9; Isa 43.25; 44.22; Acts 3.19; Rev 3.5)

(For more passages on Future Judgment see also Mt 25.31-33; Rom 2.6-11; 2 Cor 5.9-10)

C5: Future Salvation (Rom 5.6-10; 1 Thes 1.8-10; 5.9-10; Phil 1.28; 1 Pet 1.8-9), Resurrection (Jn 6.37-40; Acts 24.14-16; 1 Cor 15.20-24; Phil 3.20-21) and Eternal Life (Gal 6.6-10; Jude 20-21)

Judgment has its consequences. The future form of salvation and the wrath of God.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5.6-10)

I’ve posted on this passage here.

‘Wrath of God’. Paul knows the wrath of God is coming to punish all sinners as they deserve.

This is a debated topic. The concept of coming under God’s wrath is not pleasant. Some believe in purgatory. Some that all will be universally saved. My view is that God will judge and in some cases punish people for their sins.

‘Justified by his blood’. But, God loved them while they were still sinners such that he sent Jesus to die for them. His death has made them righteous in God’s sight.

‘Much more’. Since they are now righteous, they are now ‘much more’ likely to be blessed than sinners.

‘Shall we be saved’. Paul looks to the future and anticipates the Roman believers future salvation. It hasn’t happened yet, but he assumes it will happen.

Paul is confident they will be saved in the future. This I understand as the consummation of salvation.

(For more passages on Future Salvation, Resurrection and Eternal Life see also 1 Thes 1.8-10; 5.9-10; Phil 1.28; 3.20-21; Jn 6.37-40; Acts 24.14-16; 1 Cor 15.20-24; Gal 6.6-10; Jude 20-21; 1 Pet 1.8-9)

Summary – Tenses of Salvation

Hopefully you can see from the sections C1 to C5 there are various stages in salvation and that future judgment has its place within this scheme. Hopefully you can also see the distinction scripture makes between sinners and the righteous. I’ve marked up my diagram to illustrate.

As we put these two truths together—salvation being past, present, and future, as well as a from and to experience—it is best to think of salvation as a pilgrimage or a journey rather than a moment-in-time occurrence.

In today’s popular religious culture, salvation is normally thought of as something we acquire up front. With salvation behind us, we move on to discipleship. In Scripture a different picture emerges:

One must not only enter through the small gate but also travel the narrow “road that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14). The entire New Testament supports this idea. (Stanley, A.P., 2007. Salvation Is More Complicated than You Think: A Study on the Teachings of Jesus)

From all this, my view is that when a sinner is initially saved they become righteous in God’s sight. Then they continue in the process of their salvation. When Jesus returns there will be judgment and assuming they are judged accordingly they experience the consummation of their salvation.

Overall I’m trying to highlight Salvation has a beginning, a process and a consummation.

For me, it follows from this the question ‘What must I do to be saved?’ may very well have different answers to it depending on whether a person is a believer or not. That is, whether they have been saved or are in the process of their salvation or being judged by Christ when he returns, or receiving eternal life.

I’ve given a simple breakdown of the tenses associated with salvation. There is also a whole host of concepts and images used to describe salvation. For the large part I won’t go into detail here but here is a table of concepts describing salvation. No specific order is intended other than the movement already described from initial, the process and the consummation of salvation.

Initial Salvation Process of Salvation Consummation of Salvation
Regeneration (Spirit, Heart, Mind)

Faith

Repentance

Justification – Set free

Reconciliation

Definitive Sanctification

Glorification

New birth

Adoption

New Creation

Kingdom of God (present, now)

Eternal life (John)

Perseverance

Faithfulness

Repentance

Obedience

Progressive Sanctification

Glorification

Bodily Resurrection

Eternal life (Synoptics, Paul)

Inheritance

Kingdom of God (future, not yet)

Here is the timeline with some verses which are applicable to those stages.

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (Compatibilism)

At this point I will take a brief foray into philosophy. I’m about to describe Compatibilism. A well known philosophical theory arguing that determinism and free-will are compatible. This theory has been debated for a long time and probably still is.

I will then apply this theory to Theology and Scripture, particularly with respect to God and mans involvement in salvation according to the framework I have described above.

I realise there are different takes on how to relate Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Okay. This is my view.

Agency

Agency is the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment. Divine agency concerns the sovereign will of God to determine all things according to his definite plan. Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices. It entails the claim that humans do in fact make decisions and enact them on the world.

The following definitions come from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/). It is quite a long and difficult article. Fortunately for us I won’t even attempt to go into the specifics of proving compatibilism. So it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand at the level I’m pitching at.

Determinism

“A standard characterization of determinism states that every event is causally necessitated by antecedent events.

We shall define determinism as the metaphysical thesis that the facts of the past, in conjunction with the laws of nature, entail every truth about the future.

According to this characterization, if determinism is true, then, given the actual past, and holding fixed the laws of nature, only one future is possible at any moment in time.” (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/)

Determinism is much like the concepts of destiny and fate. A predetermined path maps out every thought and action of a person. I’ll be working with this diagram to explain the concepts as we move forward.

Let’s assume a given person has only 12 discrete events in their life. These could be thoughts or actions, that’s not really important for this exercise. I’ve labelled them below: E_a through to E_l.

Determinism argues at any one time (past or present), only one thing can happen.

Event E_a E_b E_c E_d E_e E_f E_g E_h E_i E_j E_k E_l
1
2 2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6 6

In this sequence of events 5-6-1-2-5-3-4-2-6-4-2-3 is the preordained path. A person could be at E_d in their lifetime, but we know their future (E_e through to E_l) is predetermined and unable to be changed. This is determinism. All these events could not have been otherwise.

Of course this means, that if a person’s entire life is predetermined, then how can they be held responsible for their actions?

Free-will

“For the most part, what philosophers working on this issue have been hunting for, maybe not exclusively, but centrally, is a feature of agency that is necessary for persons to be morally responsible for their conduct.

Free will can be defined as the unique ability of persons to exercise control over their conduct in the fullest manner necessary for moral responsibility.” (ibid)

So I now modify the diagram to include possibilities a person chooses from in each of the listed events. This is free will, freedom to choose between one action or thought despite what has happened in the past.

Event E_a E_b E_c E_d E_e E_f E_g E_h E_i E_j E_k E_l
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6

Morality and Ethics

“A person who is a morally responsible agent is not merely a person who is able to do moral right or wrong. Beyond this, she is accountable for her morally significant conduct. Hence, she is, when fitting, an apt target of moral praise or blame, as well as reward or punishment.

Free will is understood as a necessary condition of moral responsibility since it would seem unreasonable to say of a person that she deserves blame and punishment for her conduct if it turned out that she was not at any point in time in control of it.” (ibid)

I’ve now added a moral element to each and every event. At this point actions and thoughts can be either sinful, good or neutral to varying degrees.

Event E_a E_b E_c E_d E_e E_f E_g E_h E_i E_j E_k E_l
Praise 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Pleasing 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
Neutral 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Neutral 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Displeased 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Wrath 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6

Compatibilism (Gen 50.19-20; Acts 2.24; 4.27-28; Rom 9.15-18; 1 Cor 15.8-10; Phil 2.12-13)

“Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem. This philosophical problem concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism.

Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism.

Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed in terms of a compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism.” (ibid)

I’ve now drawn the diagram with the predetermined elements among the possibilities to choose from by a person with free will.

Event E_a E_b E_c E_d E_e E_f E_g E_h E_i E_j E_k E_l
Praise 1 1 *1* 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Pleasing 2 2 2 *2* 2 2 2 *2* 2 2 *2* 2
Neutral 3 3 3 3 3 *3* 3 3 3 3 3 *3*
Neutral 4 4 4 4 4 4 *4* 4 4 *4* 4 4
Displeased *5* 5 5 5 *5* 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Wrath 6 *6* 6 6 6 6 6 6 *6* 6 6 6

I will go beyond the basic elements of the theory and incorporate an element of the C1 to C5 timeline I associate with the believer in the previous section. Conversion.

Event E_a E_b E_c E_d E_e E_f E_g E_h E_i E_j E_k E_l
Praise 1 1 *1* 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Pleasing 2 2 2 *2* 2 2 2 *2* 2 2 *2* 2
Neutral 3 3 3 3 3 *3* 3 3 3 3 3 *3*
Neutral 4 4 4 4 4 4 *4* 4 4 *4* 4 4
Displeased *5* 5 5 5 *5* 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Wrath 6 *6* 6 6 6 6 6 6 *6* 6 6 6
S S C R R R R R R R E E

Noting again the disclaimers above concerning my assumption of the starting position being a sinner:

  • ‘S’ represents the person when they were a sinner, before they believed the gospel.
  • ‘C’ represents their conversion.
  • ‘R’ represents the person as they were righteous before God.
  • ‘E’ represents their time in eternity. Either in heaven or the new creation to come.

(For more passages on which I think bring together God’s sovereignty (determinism) with Human responsibility (free will) see Gen 50.19-20; Acts 2.24; 4.27-28; Rom 9.15-18; 1 Cor 15.8-10; Phil 2.12-13).

Moral Will Enslaved (Rom 7.14-20; 8.7-8; 14.23; Heb 11.6) and Freed (Rom 8.2-4; 2 Cor 5.9-10; Col 1.10)

Scripture seems to say some pretty damning things about a sinners capacity to do good (Rom 7.14-20; 8.7-8; 14.23; Heb 11.6). It’s my view that they simply can’t.

7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8.7-8)

For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Rom 14.23)

On the other hand, I assume the capacity of believers to obey God and please him by doing good. Paul seems to infer that saying;

9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5.9-10)

I believe then that the possible events should therefore be restricted according to whether a person has been converted or not. A distinction should be made in what choices sinners and the righteous can make because their heart and wills are different.

Sinners are enslaved to sin and can only sin. The righteous have been freed to do good and their heart has been changed, but they can still sin. I assume the righteous in heaven and the new creation will only be able to do and think good things.

Event E_a E_b E_c E_d E_e E_f E_g E_h E_i E_j E_k E_l
Praise *1* 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Pleasing 2 *2* 2 2 2 *2* 2 2 *2* 2
Neutral 3 3 3 *3* 3 3 3 3 3 *3*
Neutral 4 4 4 4 *4* 4 4 *4*
Displeased *5* 5 5 5 *5* 5 5 5 5 5
Wrath 6 *6* 6 6 6 6 6 6 *6* 6
S S C R R R R R R R E E

(For more passages on about an unbelievers will enslaved to sin and the believers capacity to think and do good see also Rom 7.14-20; 8.2-4; 14.23; Heb 11.6; 2 Cor 5.9-10; Col 1.10)

Asymmetric Responsibility

Each and every event involves God’s predetermination of that event and man’s choice for that to happen. This means in some way both are responsible for the one event. Are both equally responsible or is there something more complex?

Here’s where things get a bit dicey. With respect to sin and wrongdoing just how much should we say God is responsible? Just how responsible is God for predetermining sin? Again I acknowledge here there will be several debated views. This is what is called a theodicy. For now consider this passage.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump done vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Rom 9.19-21)

Carson in his book, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, proposes the idea of asymmetric responsibility. In the one and the same event both God and man are responsible, however one much more so than the other. I quite like this concept.

With respect to good, whether good thoughts or deeds. We can happily give glory to God, by attributing these events primarily to God’s grace and give little credit to man’s agency and will.

On the other hand with respect to sin and wrong doing we give primary responsibility for the sin to the man (unbeliever or believer), while still maintaining God’s sovereign predetermination over the event.

I acknowledge this is quite a hard Calvinistic line and that their are other theories held by people that may well involve middle knowledge, foreknowledge, permissive will and what not. Again this is fine. But I suspect you will be surprised with where I will goto with this.

My intention here is to consistently uphold God’s sovereign predetermination in each and every event. If I don’t do this I can’t say He is sovereign and in control, willing all things to happen according to his will. At the same time man should be made primarily responsible for sin and wrongdoing.

Monergism and Synergism

These two theories help shape the Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings of salvation.

Synergism (Roman Catholic, Arminian)

Synergism is the position of those who hold that salvation involves some form of cooperation between divine grace and human freedom. The teaching that there is “a kind of interplay between human freedom and divine grace”, is an important part of the salvation theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church rejects the notion of total depravity: they hold that, even after the Fall, man remains free, and human nature, though wounded in the natural powers proper to it, has not been totally corrupted. In addition, they reject the idea that would “make everything the work of an all-powerful divine grace which arbitrarily selected some to be saved and some to be damned, so that we human beings had no freedom of choice about our eternal fate”.

The Catholic Church also teaches that the ability of the human will to respond to divine grace is itself conferred by grace. “By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world”. “The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace.” “When Catholics say that persons ‘cooperate’ in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God’s justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities.” “When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.” (Wiki)

Personally, I agree that salvation involves both Divine Grace and Human Freedom. I like the emphasis on grace proceeding any good a person may do.

I’m uncomfortable with the references to human nature. In my opinion, the majority of references to ‘nature’ refer to the creational order of things. Scripture prefers to speak in terms of a person’s heart, mind and Spirit-flesh. I’m not convinced ‘flesh’ means ‘human nature’ or a tendency to sin. Again another debate. Eph 2 says believers are no longer ‘by nature children of wrath’.

I disagree ‘cooperation’ rightly captures the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility from a compatibilistic point of view. Cooperation implies that God may sovereignly decree an event to take place. But this event may be rejected by man who refuses to cooperate. From a compatibilistic point of view, this denies determinism. My view is that, if God sovereignly decrees an event to happen, it will happen. Even though at the same time, the man freely chooses the event.

Monergism (Protestant)

Monergism is the position in Christian theology that God, through the Holy Spirit, works to bring about the salvation of an individual through spiritual regeneration, irrespective of the individual’s cooperation.

Monergism is most often associated with Calvinism (such as Presbyterianism and the Dutch Reformed Church) and its doctrine of irresistible grace, and particularly with historical doctrinal differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. This position contrasts with Arminian synergism: the belief that God and individuals cooperate, to bring individuals salvation.

Monergism states that the regeneration of an individual is the work of God through the Holy Spirit alone, as opposed to Synergism, which, in its simplest form, argues that the human will cooperates with God’s grace in order to be regenerated.

To most synergists, regeneration is a process that begins when a man responds to God’s initiative, repents, and begins the labor of loving God and his neighbor.

Monergists believe that regeneration takes place as a single act in which God regenerates a man from his fleshly state and, thus now enabled, a man can believe, and that he inevitably and invariably will do so. (Wiki)

I agree that God is involved in an individual’s salvation and that cooperation isn’t the right understanding of the person’s relationship with God in salvation. I agree that regeneration, in the context of a sinners conversion is solely the act of God. An act on his part of sheer unmerited grace and forgiveness, where by he circumcises the heart, enlightens the mind, dwells in the person with his Spirit and creates them anew. A sinner cannot do this.

However I think monergism fails in the case of those who have been converted and initially saved. The righteous. Their hearts have been circumcised. Now with obedient hearts and enlightened minds they are enabled to choose the good.

With respect to the process of Salvation, I think monergism falls short by undermining the believers new ability to choose the good and responsibility to do so. The monergist denies the believer has any involvement in their salvation. The apostles seem to assume they do when they give imperatives to their audiences. 

My take on monergism is that in order for it to be true that anything the individual does or thinks is denied a role in their salvation. The key distinction they make is God alone vs. God-man cooperation.

While I agree for initial salvation, as I will show you I disagree for the process of salvation and judgment according to works which leads to the consummation of their salvation.

I find then, that neither synergism nor monergism properly hold Divine Determinism and Human Agency together. Both have their shortfalls.

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Here are a few scriptures which suggest compatibilism is the way to think about God and mans involvement in what happens in a person’s life and their salvation.

God’s Sovereignty – God’s Part (Eph 2.8-10; 1 Cor 15.10; Phil 1.3-6)

8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Cor 15.8-10)

(For more passages on God’s sovereignty see also Eph 2.8-10; Phil 1.3-6)

Human Responsibility – Our Part (Lk 7.41-47; Phil 2.12-13; Jn 15.8-11; Gal 6.6-10)

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil 2.12-13)

6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6.6-10)

(For more passages on Human Responsibility see also Lk 7.41-47; Jn 15.8-11)

Future Judgment and Salvation

In this section I will be speaking about future judgement and the consummation of salvation more directly. On my timeframe above these occur at C4 and C5.

Basically I have farmed the New Testament and various books discussing future judgment and salvation for passages and then ordered them according to my understanding.

What do we know about the Future Judgment?

In my reading I found the passages about the future judgment highlighted four important points:

  1. Both believers and unbelievers will be judged,
  2. God will be impartial in his judgment,
  3. God’s judgment will be according to works and deeds, and
  4. Each person will have to give an account for what they have done in their lives.

Believers and Unbelievers (Mt 25.31-46; 2 Cor 5.9-10; Rev 20.11-15)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25.31-46)

I’ve posted on this passage in greater detail here.

‘Son of Man’. The passage describes Jesus coming in glory and sitting on his throne. It is a king’s role to judge and establish order in his kingdom.

‘Gathered all nations’, ‘Sheep and the goats’, ‘the righteous’. Before him are gathered all the nations. Jesus makes a distinction between them like sheep and goats. The sheep are later described as the righteous. They go into eternal life – a form of future salvation. The goats, presumably the wicked, go into eternal punishment.

For me it seems clear believers (the righteous) and unbelievers (the wicked) will come under judgment.

‘As you did it’, ‘As you did not do it’. ‘The scene describes his judgment according to their deeds. The way they treated the people who represent Jesus himself.

‘When did we?’. The passage is quite clear the people did not know at the time they were serving Jesus. This rules out any possibility they were knowingly responding to Jesus. The emphasis in this passage is on how they treated the poor and needy whom Jesus identifies with.

(For more passages showing believers and unbelievers are judged see also 2 Cor 5.9-10; Rev 20.11-15)

Impartial (Acts 10.34-35; Rom 2.6-11; Eph 6.5-9; Col 3.23-25; 1 Pet 1.13-19)

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Pet 1.13-19)

Peter is speaking to existing believers in Christ. He assumes they have been born again (1 Pet 1.3) and expects their behaviour to have changed accordingly.

‘Be holy in your conduct’. Peter instructs his audience to be holy, because God their Father is holy. God’s people are meant to like him. I think it is impossible to be as holy as God is, but I assume there are differing levels of holiness and Peter encourages them in the pursuit.

‘Judges impartially’. Another reason why Peter instructs them to be holy is because God is impartial in his judgment. And his judgment is according to their deeds – their conduct.

Judges must judge impartially in order to be just. Since God is just, he must treat His people like all others. Without favouritism.

For me, this passage shows God judges his people by their deeds, just as he will judge all other peoples – by their deeds.

‘You were ransomed’. Peter gives a final reason why they should be holy. Because they were ransomed by the precious blood of Christ. It’s a slave market metaphor. Having been bought into God’s service should inspire them to live as his servants.

(For more passages showing God is impartial see also Acts 10.34-35; Rom 2.6-11; Eph 6.5-9; Col 3.23-25; 1 Pet 1.13-19; Lk 20.21; Gal 2.6; Jas 2.1,9).

According to works and deeds (Mt 16.24-28; Jn 5.26-29; Rev 2.19-23; Gal 6.6-10; 2 Tim 4.14-17)

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mt 16.24-28)

‘Son of Man will come’. When Jesus returns with his angels in glory he will judge.

‘Repay each person according to what he has done’. He will repay each person. Which suggests what we do in our lives incurs some sort of a return. For good, some sort of reward. For sin and wickedness, punishment. Perhaps some sort of weighing up is required.

Jesus’ future judgment will bring about repayment for how we have lived our lives.

Matthew Bates, author of Salvation by allegiance alone has some important things to say about the judgment according to works and if that means judgment by works.

Paul is firm even if some modern commentators are not: we will be judged, at least in part, for eternal life on the basis of our works. 

Some scholars, however, do not accept this view. For example, John Piper and Thomas Schreiner (among others) suggest that Paul’s preposition kata (“according to”) in Romans 2:6 is extremely important, signaling that we will be judged for eternal life not on the basis of our works but only in accordance with our works. 

This interpretation, however, problematically suggests that the conceptual spheres of these phrases can be tidily separated. But this is true neither in English nor in Greek. For example, the sentence “In accordance with the rise in temperature, I changed from pants into shorts” does not ordinarily exclude “on the basis of the rise in temperature” as part of the reason for the change in clothing. The same holds for kata in Greek. Moreover, in contexts comparable to Romans 2:6 elsewhere in the Bible, kata gives the norm or the standard for judgment in a way that moves beyond mere congruency to basis. Even more vital is the context of Romans 2:6, where Paul moves immediately from the statement that we will be judged kata works to a description of concrete doing in 2:7–8 in such a way that the description of the doing appears to define fundamentally (not just correlatively) what Paul means by judgment kata works. 

All of this makes it unlikely that Paul was deliberately separating congruence from basis. Judgment for eternal life in accordance with our works but not on the basis of our works cannot be maintained. …

It is currently more popular to see only one final judgment here, but to see salvation as granted on the basis of faith alone, with it understood that this faith necessarily caused sufficient good works, so that Paul can speak in this way.

In other words, a typical solution is to suggest that faith, the act of decisive trust or belief, comes first, and then good works naturally flow as a secondary effect, like a river from a spring. As Thomas Schreiner puts it, “Works are the necessary evidence and fruit of a right relation with God. They demonstrate, although imperfectly, that one is truly trusting in Jesus Christ.”

Yet there are problems with this works-are-not-the-basis and works-are-the-necessary-evidence approach of Schreiner, Piper, and others. [This again relies on] the implausibility of a separation between congruence and basis with regard to Rom. 2:6 (as just discussed) [and other future judgement/salvation passages]. (p103f, Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone)

(For more passages showing the future judgment is according to works see also Mt 7.21-23; 12.33-37; 16.24-28; 25.14-30; 31-46; Jn 5.26-29; Rom 2.6-11,13; 8.13; 1 Cor 3.5-17; 4.1-5; 2 Cor 5.9-10; Gal 6.8; Col 3.25; 2 Tim 4.14; 1 Pet 1.15-17; Rev 2.23)

Give an account to the judge (Mt 12.33-37; Rom 3.19; 14.7-12; Heb 4.11-13)

7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14.7-12)

‘Judgment seat of God’. Once again Paul envisions all people, including believers standing before God being judged.

‘Give account’. When Jesus comes in judgment he will ask us to give an account for our actions. We are accountable for what we have said and done.

God will ask us to give reasons why we have behaved the way we did.

(For more passages showing all people will have to give an account of themselves before God in judgment see also Mt 12.33-37; Rom 3.19; Heb 4.11-13)

Summary

In summary I think the scriptures say these things about the future judgment.

  1. Both believers and unbelievers will be judged,
  2. God will be impartial in his judgment,
  3. God’s judgment will be according to works and deeds, and
  4. Each person will have to give an account for what they have done in their lives.

The Problem of Forgiveness

I acknowledge there is a problem of sin before and after conversion which should be accounted for with respect to the future judgment according to works.

My view is that when people come to faith and are initially saved they receive forgiveness of their sins. The cross is the necessary and sufficient means by which the record of debt is cancelled (e.g. Col 2.13-14).

Throughout their lives Christians will occasionally sin, and this needs to be repented of in order to receive forgiveness of sins as well (e.g. 1 Jn 2.1-2; Gal 6.1).

With respect to my compatibilism diagram forgiveness will wipe away their sin throughout their lives.

Event E_a E_b E_c E_d E_e E_f E_g E_h E_i E_j E_k E_l
Praise *1* 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Pleasing 2 *2* 2 2 2 *2* 2 2 *2* 2
Neutral 3 3 3 *3* 3 3 3 3 3 *3*
Neutral 4 4 4 4 *4* 4 4 *4*
Displeased F 5 5 5 F 5 5 5 5 5
Wrath 6 F 6 6 6 6 6 6 F 6
S S C R R R R R R R E E

The upshot of this is that provided the believer keeps repenting of their sins and asks for forgiveness (Noted ‘F’ in the diagram above) they will have a blameless record.

The same cannot be said for unbelievers who unfortunately will not have received forgiveness. All their sins will be held against them and they will be judged as we all deserve.

The big thing I note is that the above passages describing the future judgment according to works do not mention grace and forgiveness.

They instead highlight what seems to be the general character of peoples lives. The observable actions, what people have done, either good in the case of the saved or bad in the case of the wicked.

Observable actions, what people have done in throughout their lives is what the scripture highlights when it comes to future judgment according to works, not the very necessary forgiveness we all need.

I don’t mean to minimise the importance of God’s mercy and forgiveness manifested on the cross of Christ. No one can be saved without the cross. But as we will see, scripture places a fair amount of emphasis elsewhere.

If we want to capture the entirety of what scripture says about future judgment and salvation, we also need to emphasise what the scripture does. And this means putting some emphasis on the way we live and what we do.

Justification by faith and Judgment according to works

The following is pretty much my hybrid view on Justification in Paul and how it relates to judgment according to works. For me Scripture alludes to different kinds of judgements. That is they are not all the same. For further reference see my series on righteousness.

In this section I will differentiate between what Paul says about ‘Justification by faith’ and ‘Judgment according to works’. I acknowledge however the two are inseparable.

31 “If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath and comes and swears his oath before your altar in this house, 32 then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness. (1 Ki 8.31-32)

Justification by Faith apart from Works of Law (Rom 3.20, 26, 28-29; Gal 2.14-16; 3.7-9, 23-29)

In some of the above passages, Paul says we are ‘justified by faith apart from works of law’. This particular saying of his requires a bit of unpacking. I attempt to explain my view in more detail in my new perspective page here. I realise this is a huge debate and not all will agree with me here. Perhaps this will serve as a view brief explanation of how it works with respect to judgment according to works.

I’ll start with the works of law. For me, it’s really when we consider Paul’s varied responses to his churches behaviour that I get a better understanding about what he means by ‘works of law’ and how it applies to the expression ‘justification by faith apart from works of law’.

For me, when Paul refers to the ‘works of law’ he is talking about a subset of commands in the law of Moses.

I’ve written a series on the Law of Moses for reference.

We know from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that when he heard the Galatians had returned to observing various seasons and festivals (Gal 4.10) he vehemently opposed the idea Gentile believers have to observe the ‘works of law’ or be circumcised and argued their salvation was at stake.

However, it appears Paul has no problem with Gentiles of all churches observing at least some of what is in the law of Moses. These are what I’ve described as the attitudes (love, honour; Gal 5.6,14; Rom 13.8-10; 1 Cor 16.22; Eph 6.1-2 and most of the prohibitions (idolatry, stealing, adultery; Gal 5.19-21; cf. 1 Cor 6.9-11; Eph 5.5-6).

So we can say Paul only reacts the way he does (as he did in Galatians) when he learns Gentiles are observing a subset of commands, the ‘works of law’, not each and every command in the law of Moses. Why? I think in part it’s because Jesus (and the other apostles) commanded them and obeying them was not considered a return to Judaism.

When Paul sees Gentiles being loving or abandoning idolatry (e.g. 1 Thes 1.3, 9) he doesn’t react in the same way or think resisting this sin means a return to Judaism or constitutes a danger to their salvation. Quite the opposite in fact (Gal 5.19-21).

Paul’s understanding of ‘works of law’ does not include what he describes as ‘good works’ or helping the needy either. Through instruction and his conduct Paul insists believers of all stripes continue in these works (Gal 2.10 ; 6.7-10; Tit 3.8,14 and commonly lets his audiences know the last judgment will be according to them (Gal 6.7-10; Rom 2.6-10 ; 2 Cor 5.10).

Moving on to justification. I have argued in my New Perspective page that Justification can refer to when;

  1. Sinners (C1) are made righteous (C3) by the faithfulness (or death) of Jesus Christ (e.g. Rom 5.19), or
  2. People are identified as righteous (C3) by their faith in Christ and good works (e.g. Rom 3.4; Jas 2.24)

For me, when Paul compares ‘faith in Christ’ and ‘works of law’, he wants Jews (IJ in Romans cf. Rom 2.17, Peter in Galatians; cf. Gal 2.14f) to recognise Gentile believers are righteous in the sight of God.

They don’t have to become Jews or observe the law of Moses. This is the basic intention behind ‘justified by faith apart from works of law’.

Paul is defending Gentile converts from Jews who think they ought to observe the Law of Moses.

He instead argues from scripture the primary means God identifies the righteous is by their faith and trust in Him (this includes believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews in the righteous). Its a Jew – Gentile identification of the righteous issue.

Here’s what the scripture says;

28 For we hold that one is JUSTIFIED by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will JUSTIFY the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. (Rom 3.28-30)

14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not JUSTIFIED by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be JUSTIFIED by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be JUSTIFIED. (Gal 2.14-16)

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would JUSTIFY the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal 3.7-9)

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be JUSTIFIED by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3.23-29)

For me, ‘Justification by faith’ is the expression associated with the identification of the righteous. If I use the example and illustration below. ‘Justification by faith apart from works of law’ is like saying, ‘I can see you’re a good car by the fact you have a working engine, not by the fact you are red. Cars can be green as well.’

Future Judgment according to works (Rom 2.6-11; 2 Cor 5.9-10; 1 Cor 4.2-5)

We have already seen a number of Paul’s judgment according to works passages. Here is a few of them.

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2.6-11)

9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5.9-10)

2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor 4.2-5)

Judgment according to works is the expression associated with the judgment of how people have lived their lives, not necessarily who or what they are. If I use the example and illustration of the car. ‘Rendering to a person according to their works’ is like saying, ‘You got from A to B which only a car with a working engine can do. Well done good and faithful driver’. But it can also work negatively as well, ‘You tried to walk, you tried to run. But you made no distance at all in getting from A to B because you’re not a car’.

Every man who stands before the Lord will have sinned. Only God’s people will have received forgiveness for their sins which is the benefit of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. Clearly in life everyone stumbles (Jas 3.2; 1 Jn 1.8) and not all people make the same degree of progress. But nonetheless I think all God’s people follow Jesus, strive to obey his commands and serve him by doing good works. I don’t think Jesus is after perfection or a set number of good deeds. I think He is after faithful progress.

I do acknowledge there a couple of passages which put a little pressure on the concept of rendering according to works. So here they are;

Matthew 20.1-16, the parable of the vineyard. Each of its workers are made equal and receive one denarius (Mt 20.9). So I make a distinction, but do not separate the granting of eternal life which all the righteous receive and the varying levels of rewards they may receive (e.g. Mt 25.14-30).

In Luke 23.39-43, Jesus says to a thief who recognised him as the Christ, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’. I’ll deal with this passage in more detail in a later section. For now, this passage clearly works against the idea a minimum amount of good is necessary for a desirable judgment. It also suggests he had no time to keep on sinning either. He was about to die. Rather it says a lot about the forgiveness that comes with acknowledging Jesus is the King.

Identification (Justification by faith) and Performance (according to works)

Justification by faith is the expression associated with the identification of the righteous. If I use the example and illustration below. Justification by faith is like saying, ‘I can see you’re a good car by the fact you have a working engine, not by the fact you are red. Cars can be green as well’.

Judgment according to works is the expression associated with the performance of people. The judgment of how people have lived their lives. If I use the example and illustration below. Judgment according to works is like saying, ‘You got from A to B which only a car with a working engine can do. Well done good and faithful driver’. But it can also work negatively as well, ‘You tried to walk, you tried to run. But you made no distance at all in getting from A to B because you’re not a car’.

The ‘working engine’ of course is the heart which believes Jesus is the risen Christ and works through love (Rom 10.9–10; Gal 5.6).

The LORD promised hearts of stone would be made hearts of flesh (Eze 36.26). This transformation happens when with the heart people believe the gospel. Heartfelt belief is not simply intellectual. It involves feelings, emotions and the will. Believers hearts are circumcised (Rom 2.29). The evil flesh is cut away. Believers obey from the heart (Rom 6.17). Common to all the apostles and their audiences is a shared belief in the gospel. They expect this belief will affect their intellect, emotions and actions.

For me, the two expressions used by Paul are clearly related, but serve different purposes in Paul’s pastoral care.

Paul is pastoring Jew Gentile believers and they need to know if Gentile believers have to observe the law of Moses and if this practice is what identifies them as the righteous. It is not, faith in Christ is. This is what he means by ‘justification by faith apart from works of law’. The righteous, Jews and Gentiles are identified by their belief Jesus is the risen Lord (e.g. Rom 10.9-10). This is a Jew-Gentile identification issue handling the problem whether or not Gentiles need to observe the law of Moses.

At the same time we should expect the righteous to behave in certain ways. The imperatives follow the indicative. The future judgement will be according to works. Sinners we expect will have continued in sin throughout their whole lives. They will be judged according to their works and therefore will endure eternal punishment and destruction because of their sins. God shows no partiality. The righteous we expect will make a practice of righteousness and good works (e.g. 1 Jn 3.6-10). They will be judged according to their works and therefore will receive eternal life and rewards because they have lived accordingly.

What do we know about salvation in the future?

Hopefully I have communicated that salvation is a process with a beginning, a process and a consummation. In this section I hope to explain that future salvation involves deliverance from some sort of punishment for sin and entry into something good and beneficial.

What forms does future salvation take?

I’ve previously done a study of salvation in the New Testament. These are the results of my findings to do with future salvation.

Future punishment takes the form of ‘hell’, ‘outer darkness’, ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’, ‘eternal punishment’, ‘destruction’, ‘perishing’, and ‘death’.

On the other hand the scriptures speak about ‘entry into the kingdom of God’, ‘paradise’, ‘receiving eternal life’, ‘the age of the resurrection’ and ‘new heavens and earth’.

Future salvation involves not having to experience the first set, rather entry into the second set.

Deliverance from Hell and God’s Wrath (Lk 3.7-9; Rom 5.9; 1 Thes 5.9-10) into the Kingdom of God (Mt 5.17-20; 7.21-23; Gal 5.19-21; Rev 21.1-8)

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lk 3.7-9)

‘The wrath to come’, ‘the fire’. John the baptist warns his audience about the coming judgment and the wrath of God.

God is coming to pour out His wrath at sin and wrongdoing.

‘Bear good fruit’. He encourages them to repent and live lives bearing good fruit. In this way they will avoid the coming wrath. Clearly while faith is not mentioned, people have to believe certain things which is the reason why they will respond accordingly.

This is the first of several passages where repenting of sin and doing good are the means by which people are instructed to avoid punishment.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5.17-20)

‘Righteousness exceeds’. Jesus encourages his audience to excel in righteousness. To have greater righteousness than the Scribes and Pharisees. Again Jesus statements require belief and trust that what he is saying is true.

‘Enter the kingdom of heaven’. By excelling in righteousness Jesus says they will enter the kingdom of heaven.

When people are saved they enter the kingdom of God.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5.19-21)

Paul is speaking to believers who have been initially saved and have received forgiveness, but are in danger of persisting in a sinful lifestyle.

‘Works of the flesh’. Paul warns his believing audience against sin and wrongdoing. He lists a series of sinful behaviours.

‘Will not inherit the kingdom of God’. Paul tells them that if they were to persist in these sins they would not inherit the kingdom. This actually says a lot about the conditions by which people enter the kingdom. As Jesus said above, a high level of righteousness is required. Continuing to live in a sinful lifestyle will disqualify.

(For more passages on deliverance from future wrath and entry into the kingdom of God see also Rom 5.9; 1 Thes 5.9-10; Mt 7.21-23; Rev 21.1-8)

Deliverance from Death into Eternal life (Lk 20.34-36; Jn 3.16; 6.39-40; Rom 2.6-11; 6.20-23)

Typically the concept of eternal life refers to spiritual life connected with having a relationship with God. In addition I would argue the concept of eternal life includes bodily resurrection in the new age to come.

There is a problem where Acts 24.15 envisions a resurrection of the just and the unjust. Because of this, I make a further distinction between the resurrection bodies of the just and the unjust (cf. 1 Cor 15).

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Lk 20.34-36)

‘Considered worthy’, ‘attain’. Jesus says there will be people who are ‘worthy’ and ‘attain to the age’. He doesn’t say how they became worthy. Or if they people who are considered worthy think they are. Importantly, Jesus thinks they are worthy and it’s his judgment that counts.

‘Resurrection from the dead’, ‘cannot die anymore’. Those who are considered worthy will be raised from the dead and will not be able to die anymore. They will have the resurrection bodies as Paul describes.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3.16)

‘Believes in him’. Jesus highlights believing in him is necessary to receive God’s blessings.

‘Perish’, ‘eternal life’. Those who believe, will not perish, that is die for their sins. Rather they will have eternal life. John’s description of eternal life, begins with initial salvation and signifies a saving relationship with God.

6 He will render to each one according to his works:

7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

11 For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2.6-11)

‘He will give eternal life’. Paul’s description of the reward given to those who persist in seeking good is eternal life. This is clearly different from John’s depiction which is received when one comes to believe. Paul’s understanding I think is more closely associated with resurrection.

(For more passages on deliverance from death and being given eternal life see also Jn 6.39-40; Rom 6.20-23)

What are the Promises of Future Salvation? (Jn 3.16; 6.39-40; Rom 5.6-11; Eph 1.11-14; 2 Cor 5.1-5; Tit 3.4-7; 1 Pet 1.3-5; Jas 1.12)

It is reassuring to see that although there is a future judgment according to works, Jesus and the apostles anticipate the consummation of salvation for people who come to faith.

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (Jn 6.39-40)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom 5.6-11)

‘Believes in him’, ‘Eternal life’. Jesus says in the gospel of John, everyone who believes will have eternal life. (Note: In John’s gospel eternal life is initiated when someone comes to faith, not on Jesus’ return as for example Paul highlights.)

In this passage, Jesus anticipates the consummation of their salvation, saying they will be raised from the dead when he returns. Thus resurrection, spiritual and physical bracket a believers salvation.

‘Justified’, ‘saved by him’. Paul is confident that if God was willing to send his son to die for them when they were sinners, He will be much more likely to save them from His wrath now they are right with God. See my post here on Romans 5.

Believers can have confidence of future salvation (Heb 11.1-2, 6, 13-14). We see in these passages what God is doing.

God in his sovereign grace is the one who is sustaining his people, sanctifying them, keeping them pure and blameless for the coming Judgment.

But I think our confidence is likened to that of a runner as well. A runner who has yet to finish the race. (1 Cor 9.24-27). People are responsible. If they are running strong and compete according to the rules they can be confident they will finish (Phil 1.3-6). However, not everyone finishes the race. If they are running in the wrong direction, injured or exhausted, they won’t finish.

Overall then, I think all these promises of salvation emphasising God’s sovereign grace need to be taken into account with the the judgment passages above and the instructions given to believers and the warning passages I am about to go into below.

There is the saying, “Once saved, always saved”. But for me, as I will attempt to demonstrate below, many of God’s promises and assurances of his gracious work, are conditional on the believer’s perseverance, repentance of sin and obedience to Jesus.

I recognise this is controversial and there are probably a few different views on it. For example see Wilkin and Schreiner (Four Views on the Role of Works in the Final Judgment), Garlington and this website.

(For more passages showing God’s promises of future salvation see also Jn 3.16; Eph 1.11-14; 2 Cor 5.1-5; Tit 3.4-7; 1 Pet 1.3-5; Jas 1.12)

Rewards that come with Salvation (Mt 6.1-6; Lk 14.12-14; 1 Cor 3.14-15; Jas 1.12; Rev 2.26)

I’ve done a word study on rewards.

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Lk 14.12-14)

I suspect most in my church circles would not give future rewards a second thought. Generally what happens for eternity is of greater importance. Yet they are obviously tied together and the New Testament gives surprisingly a fair amount of attention to the rewards that come with future salvation. The statements about future rewards are also seem to be according to works.

(For more passages on future rewards see also Mt 6.1-6; 10.41-42; 16.27; 25.34-40; Lk 6.22-23; 1 Cor 3.14-15; 9.24-25; Phil 3.14; 2 Tim 4.6-10; Col 3.23-24; 2 Tim 4.8; Jas 1.12; Rev 2.26; 3.11)

Who will be saved? Who won’t be saved?

When scripture depicts what will happen in the future with respect to judgment and salvation it seems reasonably clear to me about the identity, character and behaviour of the various people involved.

Scripture says good people go to heaven.

A controversial statement in reformed circles I’m sure. It goes against much of what I assume we are taught. But for me, this is what the scriptures seem to say about people who experience the consummation of their salvation.

The righteous and good will be saved (Mt 7.15-20; 13.36-43; 25.31-33, 46; Lk 14.12-14; Jn 5.28-29; Rom 2.6-11; Gal 6.6-10)

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Mt 13.36-43)

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt 7.15-20)

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2.6-11)

Stanley explains this quite well.

Jesus requires surpassing righteousness in order to enter heaven (Matt. 5:20). The seriousness behind these words can scarcely be avoided. It is only the “righteous man” who will be rewarded (Matt. 10:41). At the end of the age “the angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous” (Matt. 13:49) and “then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). It is not the “resurrection of sinners” but the “resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14). All these passages point to one thing; only “the righteous” will enter in “to eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).

Remember, however, who it is that Jesus calls to follow him. It is not the righteous but sinners. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; Mark 2:17). Only sinners recognize their need to repent (Luke 5:32). It is only the sick who know they need a doctor. Those who are repentant recognize they have no righteousness of their own, therefore they “hunger and thirst for” what they don’t have (Matt. 5:6). “The way of righteousness” was shown to those who are righteous, but they would not believe it. “The tax collectors and the prostitutes” believed, however (Matt. 21:32). They are therefore “entering the kingdom of God ahead of” the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (Matt. 21:31). We might say that they are surpassing them.

So be sure to get the order right: sinners are called first. They are sick and need a doctor. However, over the course of time those who were called as sinners are transformed into righteous—not sinless—people. (Stanley, A.P., 2007. Salvation Is More Complicated than You Think: A Study on the Teachings of Jesus)

(For more passages showing the righteous will be saved in the future see also Mt 25.31-33, 46; Lk 14.12-14; Gal 6.6-10)

The unrighteous and wicked will be punished (Mt 25.31-33, 46; 1 Cor 6.9-11; Jude 14-21; Rev 21.5-8)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. … 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25.31-33, 46)

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Rev 21.5-8)

Scripture is fairly clear that sinners are judged according to their works and they receive punishment in return.

The big thing for me is that the righteous and good are given eternal life and rewarded for the very same reason why the unrighteous and wicked are punished. The impartial judgment according to works.

(For more passages showing the unrighteous will be punished see also 1 Cor 6.9-11; Jude 14-21)

How do future judgement and salvation work together? (Rom 2.6-11; Mt 25.31-46; 1 Cor 3.5-17)

My view is that, those who receive a favourable judgment will receive the consummation of their salvation. Deliverance from God’s wrath and death. Receiving eternal life, being raised from the dead with heavenly bodies and entry into the kingdom of God.

In this section I’ll list a few passages where I think judgment according to works and the consummation of salvation are mentioned together.

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2.6-11)

‘Render according to his works’. In the future the Lord will judge, and repay all people according to the way they have lived.

‘Give eternal life’, ‘wrath and fury’. Those who have pursued good, will receive eternal life. Note eternal life is a gift. Those who persist in wrongdoing and sin will suffer wrath and fury.

The judgment or rendering leads to the consummation of salvation or punishment.

We should assume Paul describes the lifestyle as the process of salvation (‘working out their salvation’) and at some point they have been converted to believe and trust in God.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ …

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ …

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25.31-36, 41-43, 46)

‘For you gave me food’, ‘you gave me drink’, ‘you welcomed me’, ‘you clothed me’, ‘you visited me’, ‘you came to me’. When Jesus says he will come to judge, he says His judgment will be based on what people have done. The way they have treated the poor and needy whom he identifies with.

‘When did we?’ Once again the passage (Mt 25.37) is quite clear the people did not know at the time they were serving Jesus. This rules out any possibility they were knowingly responding to Jesus. The emphasis in this passage is on how they treated the poor and needy whom Jesus identifies with.

‘Eternal punishment’, ‘eternal life’. This judgment leads to salvation. The righteous receive eternal life, the wicked eternal punishment.

Jesus’ judgment leads to people entering into eternal punishment or eternal life.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor 3.5-17)

Paul is describing his apostolic ministry and encouraging the Corinthians to build up the church by preaching Christ and valuable works of service.

‘Wages according to his Labour’, ‘reward’. Paul says this service will be evaluated on the day of the Lord and people will receive a reward based on it.

‘Saved, but only as through fire’. The reward is clearly associated with the consummation of their salvation. Those who have not built up the church will be saved.

‘God’s temple’, ‘destroyed’. On the other hand if they persisted in tearing the church down, destroying it. They will be judged accordingly. They too will be destroyed.

On the day of the Lord each persons work will become apparent. Rewards and salvation and destruction are at stake.

This passage highlights that building up the church is not overly necessary for salvation. However it does provide assurance of salvation. It also highlights that ongoing sin in a person’s life, specifically here destroying the church, jeopardises their salvation.

Summary of Events

Hopefully you can see from the above passages that those who receive a favourable judgment in the judgment according to works, will receive the consummation of their salvation. Future Judgment leads to the Consummation of Salvation.

  • This means deliverance from God’s wrath, hell and death, as well as
  • The gift of eternal life, being raised from the dead with heavenly bodies and entry into the kingdom of God.

This diagram puts what I have been talking about so far together, with some hints of what is to come.

Living in light of Future Judgment and Salvation

“The transformation that we are promised at the end of time has already begun in Jesus. When God raised him from the dead, he launched his entire project of new creation, and called people of all sorts to be part of that project, already, here and now. And that means that the steps we take toward the ultimate goal – the things which make sense of Christian living in what otherwise be a long interval between initial faith and final salvation already partake of that same transformation. … The aim of the Christian life in the present time – the goal which is within reach even in the present life, anticipating the final life to come – is the life of fully formed, fully flourishing Christian character” (p29, NT Wright, Virtue Reborn)

The Day of the Lord (Mt 24.36-44; 1 Thes 5.1-2; 2 Pet 3.10)

Jesus is risen and will return to judge the living and the dead. The day of his return is likened to a thief coming in the night and called the ‘day of the Lord’. This is the day he will judge all the nations. Judge you and me.

Jesus spoke about this day;

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.

42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Mt 24.36-44)

Both Paul and Peter allude to Jesus’ words below.

5 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thes 5.1-2)

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Pet 3.10)

Jesus in the Matthew passage gives us a couple exhortations to be ready for his second coming. ‘You must also be ready’ (Mt 24.44). ‘Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’ (Mt 25.13).

This section is about the instructions the apostles give to their audiences about preparing for Jesus’ return and judgment. Jesus said, we must ‘be ready’, we must ‘watch’ for his coming.

This section is how we should live in order that we may receive a good verdict when Jesus impartially judges us according to our works so we may then receive eternal life.

Preparation to stand before the Lord

According to the gospel, Jesus will come again in judgment (Rom 2.16). Paul in a number of ways is conscious of what will happen to his church audiences on Christ’s return. He sees his ministry as part of preparing them to stand before Jesus.

Presented before Jesus (Col 1.21-23; Phil 1.9-11; 1 Thes 3.11-13; 1 Cor 1.4-9)

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1.21-23)

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil 1.9-11)

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thes 3.11-13)

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor 1.4-9)

‘Day of Christ’. Several of the passages specifically refer to Christ’s return (Phil 1.10; 1 Thes 3.13; 1 Cor 1.8).

‘Present you before him’. Paul in some passages alludes that when Christ returns they will stand before him, presumably under his judgment (Col 1.22; 1 Thes 3.13).

Paul is keenly aware the people of his churches will stand before Jesus when he returns.

‘By his death’. First and foremost, the death of Christ has enabled the believers to be presented before Christ holy and blameless before God (Col 1.21-22). Initial salvation. But then they need to persevere to maintain this holy and blameless state (Col 1.23). The process of salvation, anticipating the consummation of their salvation.

‘Establish you’, ‘sustain you’. With this in mind Paul refers to what God is doing in the lives of his people. God is faithfully sustaining his people such that when they are presented before him they will have remained holy and blameless.

Paul is fervent in his prayers that God will continue to do this (Phil 1.9). In my opinion, prayer for God’s work in the church should form an important part of a leader’s ministry to those in his care. He needs to pray that God will sustain them to the end.

‘Love’, ‘filled with fruit of righteousness’. Paul recognises the need for ongoing growth in love and the fruit of righteousness as part of what is needed to be holy and blameless before him on his return. By telling his audience of this prayer he is also implicitly encouraging them in pursuit of these as well.

These passages highlight God’s sovereignty in all aspects of Salvation.

As I’ve already alluded to above and soon below, these are not the only examples where God’s sovereignty over salvation is manifested. God’s sovereignty over salvation is supremely manifested in Christ’s death on the cross. No one can be saved without the cross.

The Way of Salvation

In this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom (2 Pet 1.11)

John Stott, a famous scholar who wrote The Cross of Christ, said;

“However we state it, we must not eliminate either divine sovereignty (determinism) or human responsibility (free will). … Our responsibility before God is an inalienable aspect of our human dignity. It’s final expression will be on the day of judgment. Nobody will be sentenced without trial. All people, great and small, irrespective of their social class, will stand before God’s throne, not brushed or browbeaten, but given this final token of respect for human responsibility, as each gives an account of what he or she has done.” (p95-6, Stott, John., The Cross of Christ)

Believers inside the process of salvation are called to live in certain ways. I have put these under five sections. Scripture highlights that each of these is necessary for salvation.

  1. Gospel Faith,
  2. Teaching and Scripture,
  3. Sin and Repentance,
  4. Obedience and Good Works, and
  5. Perseverance

Gospel Faith (Rom 1.16-17; 1 Cor 3.10-11; 15.1-2; Gal 5.5-6; 1 Tim 4.13-16; Tit 2.11-14; 1 Jn 1.1-4)

Paul at the end of his first letter to the Corinthians gives a short outline of the gospel.

15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15.1-5)

‘Being saved’. Paul says through their regular exposure to the gospel they are being saved. Regular exposure to the gospel, the story of Jesus his words and deeds is therefore important for our salvation.

I’ve written a brief description and argument for what the gospel is here.

The whole Gospel story contains many features and provides a wealth of material that can be used for evangelism, discipleship, comfort, teaching and correcting (1 Cor 15; Mk 1.14-15; Mt 26.6-13; Rom 1.16-17; 2 Tim 2.8).

  • Prophecy fulfilled
  • Authority (Over Creation, To Forgive, To Teach, Instruct and Command, Over Sickness and Over People)
  • Is Jesus the Christ?
  • Future Prophecy and Judgment
  • Repentance
  • Faith
  • Great Commission
  • Parables
  • Law of Moses
  • Conflict
  • Lords Supper
  • Passion, Death on the Cross, Burial, Resurrection and Appearances

For me, ongoing exposure to the gospel – to Jesus Christ – and the need to continue in faith, is the first and most important requirement for salvation (all tenses) from which all these below are tied.

What does it mean to have faith in Christ? Faith is primarily allegiance to Jesus as the risen Lord and secondly trust in his atoning death for forgiveness of sins. This designates mental agreement with core gospel truths and the desire to live a life of personal fidelity to Jesus as the sovereign ruler of heaven and earth.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.  (Tit 2.11-14)

‘Grace of God has appeared’. Christ’s first appearing (the gospel) is the supreme manifestation of God’s grace. In the gospel we have all we need to live upright and godly lives.

‘Gave himself’. Christ’s death has redeemed his people from their former lives and put in them a zeal for good works.

‘Waiting’, ‘appearing’. We wait for Christ’s second coming, when he will come in glory. Until then the gospel drives our growth in godly maturity.

(For more passages showing Gospel faith is necessary for salvation see also Rom 1.16-17; 10.9-10; Gal 5.5-6; 1 Cor 3.10-11; 1 Tim 4.13-16; 1 Jn 1.1-4)

Teaching and Scripture (1 Tim 4.13-16; 2 Tim 3.14-17; Jas 1.21)

Paul instructed Timothy in the way he should care for the churches under his care with a view to their salvation. A big part of it was the regular exposition of scripture.

13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4.13-16)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3.14-17)

‘Scripture’. Paul is referring to the Old Testament scriptures. I don’t have space to argue it here but we can also include the New Testament as scripture as well.

‘Save yourself’, ‘Wise for salvation’. Paul is saying the scriptures teach what is required for salvation. He specifically refers to the consummation of Timothy’s salvation and the influence his reading and teaching of scripture will have over it.

We need constant exposure to scripture through reading and interpretation in order to be saved.

‘Through faith in Christ Jesus’. Scripture must be interpreted correctly. Lest we lapse into Judaism, which is what the Old Testament can commend (e.g. 1 Tim 1.7-8). My take on what Paul is saying here is that Timothy should interpret the Old Testament through a Christological lense.

Walking with Jesus

Believing that Jesus is the risen Christ and trusting in him for salvation might seem contrary to the necessity for repentance, obedience and perseverance. But my view doesnt create an antithesis between grace/faith and works. In my understanding they work together.

All this depends on ones understanding of salvation. As I’ve already mentioned a number of times the scriptures seem to highlight salvation has a beginning, a process and a consummation. Salvation is more like traversing an obstacle course blindfolded, than a one off event.

Salvation is a journey and we have to walk it with Jesus.

To traverse an obstacle course blindfolded we need someone who can see clearly to give themselves to us and guide us around (Grace), giving us direction (Jesus in the Gospel). We need to listen to what He says (Scripture). We need to obey what he says (Obedience and Perseverance). Trust and obedience are inseparable. We need to turn around when we stuff up and go off course (Repent).

Sin and Repentance

Sin is an ongoing reality in the life of every believer (e.g. 1 Jn 1.8-9; Jas 3.2). I readily accept that everyone who stands before the Lord in judgment will have sinned.

This highlights the importance of repenting of sin and asking for forgiveness. Only those who repent receive the very necessary atoning benefits of Christ’s once for all death on the Cross.

Forgiveness is found in the cross of Christ.

Thankfully forgiveness is received through faith in Christ (Rom 3.25). People who believe God is merciful and gracious, and approach him in humble repentance throughout their lives will be saved.

I’ve written a word study on repentance here and I think there are two different kinds of repentance. Both of which are necessary for salvation. The first is the initial turning away from a lifestyle of sin and to God. The second is the ongoing resistance of temptations (1 Cor 10.13; Heb 4.15-16) and turning away from the old habits of sin (Eph 4.22; Col 3.9).

There are quite a number of passages which stress how important repentance is for salvation. I’ve grouped them under different banners.

Warnings of Hell, Wrath and Punishment (Lk 3.7-9; Mt 7.19; 13.40-42; 24.42-51; Jn 5.25-29; Rev 20.11-15; Rom 2.1-5; Col 3.5-6; 1 Thes 4.3-6)

The first few concern warnings of future punishment.

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lk 3.7-9)

‘Wrath to come’. John warns them of the coming judgment and wrath.

‘Bear fruits in keeping with repentance’. The way he instructs them to avoid God’s wrath is to repent and bear good fruit in accordance with that repentance.

I think these warning passages ought to encourage people to repent in order to avoid God’s wrath.

(For more warning passages on hell and punishment encouraging believers to repent see also Mt 7.19; 13.40-42; 24.42-51; Jn 5.25-29; Rev 20.11-15; Rom 2.1-5; Col 3.5-6)

Warnings concerning the Kingdom of God (Gal 5.19-21; 1 Cor 6.9-11; Eph 5.3-7)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5.19-21)

‘Will not inherit the Kingdom’. Paul on a number of occasions warns his believing audiences about the dangers of sin and how it can disqualify people from inheriting the kingdom of God.

I infer from these warnings, if they do commit any of these sins, they will need to repent and be forgiven in order to inherit the kingdom.

I think church audiences today should be told those who persist in these sins will not inherit God’s kingdom.

(For more warning passages about the kingdom of God encouraging believers to repent see also 1 Cor 6.9-11; Eph 5.3-7)

Warnings about Future Judgment (Jas 5.7-12; Mt 5.21-30)

7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.

See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (Jas 5.7-12)

‘Coming of the Lord’. James highlights the upcoming return of Jesus who will then judge.

‘Do not grumble’, ‘do not swear’. In light of Jesus coming and judgment, he instructs his believing audience not to grumble with one another or make promises.

‘So you may not be judged’, ‘may not fall under condemnation’. Because if they do they are liable to come under Jesus’ judgment and condemnation.

James highlights the possibility believers can still fall into sin and be condemned as a result. He warns them away from these sins.

I think believers should be told they can still come under judgment and condemnation because of their sins.

(For more warning passages about future judgment encouraging believers to repent see also Mt 5.21-30)

Repenting of Sin (Mk 9.43-48; Rom 8.12-13)

43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mk 9.43-48)

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8.12-13)

‘Causes you to sin’, ‘live according to the flesh’. Both Jesus and Paul recognise the continued presence of sin among the people.

‘Cut it off’, ‘put to death’. They both insist on the necessity that their audiences remove sin from their lives. Jesus’ statements highlight the lengths people should go to to remove causes of sin.

A big part of the process of salvation is the eradication of the ‘deeds of the body’ and Paul says this is necessary to receive eternal life.

‘Thrown into hell’, ‘die’. They both stress the consequences of sin and why it must be removed. People are punished for their sin.

‘Kingdom of God’, ‘live’. Those who repent of their sins will enter the kingdom of God and will live.

It seems clear to me, sin and the consummation of salvation do not go together. Believers should seek to remove it from their lives whatever the cost. Ongoing sin in the life of a believer will jeopardize their salvation.

Obedience and Good works

Jesus and the apostles instructed their listeners to obey and keep God’s commands. To do His will. Note at the outset, I do not think obeying God’s commands is about earning right standing with God or salvation. Rather it’s about maintaining an already established relationship.

As already noted in the section on ‘Justification by faith apart from works of law’ above. There is a difference between the commands and instructions given by Jesus and the apostles and the ‘works of law’ the Judaisers sought to impose on Gentile converts.

If I understand correctly, the reformers typically denied any work, part of the law of Moses or good work or otherwise, could justify a person in God’s sight. Because they believe sinless and perfect obedience is required and everyone is a sinner. I discuss both of these in the appendix below.

Coming from the New Perspective, my personal view is they misunderstood what Paul meant by ‘justified by faith apart from works of law’ and unfortunately created a false antithesis between ‘faith’ and ‘works’.

I really don’t think this is a helpful antithesis because Jesus, Paul and the other apostles all encourage believers to obey God and do good works and these are part of the process of salvation, the future judgment according to works and the consummation of salvation. It seems to protect one belief they have to ignore many of the instructions original Jesus and the apostles gave. The new perspective doesn’t have this problem.

In this section I will highlight several passages which state what I think we must do (in addition to repentance above) in order for our salvation to be consummated. At the end of this essay in the appendix I’ll address the question, ‘How will I ever know I’ve done enough?’

Jesus said;

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Mt 7.21-27)

‘The one who does the will of my Father’. It’s unavoidable that listeners of Jesus will be encouraged to obey his and the Father’s commands with the express intention that doing so will gain them entry into the kingdom of God.

Jesus wants us to live in faithful obedience to him.Those who do will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Looking at several passages we can see what we do is part of the requirement to receive future salvation (Jn 5.28-29; Rom 2.6-11; Heb 12.14).

Deny oneself and Follow Jesus (Mk 8.34-38; Mt 19.16-30; Lk 14.25-33)

I assume discipleship is necessary for salvation (Mt 28.19-20).

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.

33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14.25-33)

‘Disciple’. A person cannot be saved unless they are a disciple of Jesus. Discipleship is a criterion of salvation.

In context we know Jesus is approaching his death on the cross.

‘Bear his own cross’, ‘Come after me’. Jesus instructs his audience to bear their own crosses and come after him. Basically he is saying, ‘follow me and walk towards your death’.

People must be a disciple of Jesus and follow him to be saved.

‘Renounce all he has’. Jesus stresses the abandonment of their former lives, the death of their former lives and total commitment to him.

(See also Mk 8.34-38; Mt 19.16-30)

Keeping Jesus’ Commands (Lk 10.25-37; Jn 15.5-17; 1 Cor 7.19)

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Lk 10.25-28)

The perennial question, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ is asked in a couple places in the gospel (Mt 19.16-30; Lk 10.25-27). Jesus answers saying, ‘keep the commandments’ and ‘deny yourself and follow me’. Jesus acknowledges his disciples have done this (Mt 19.27-29).

What shall we do to inherit eternal life? Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself.

Here again is my word study on the word ‘keep’ which shows that God and the authors of scripture believed people kept God’s commands.

Jesus in the gospel instructs his audience to abide in him. He says this will involve their ‘pruning’ in order that they may ‘bear fruit’.

5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (Jn 15.5-17)

‘If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love’. We love because God loved us first (1 Jn 4.19).

To abide in his love, Jesus instructs his people to keep his commandments. This will give us confidence for the day of judgment (1 Jn 4.16-17)

Keeping Jesus’ commands requires ongoing maintenance over life.

‘Love one another’. The command Jesus has primarily in mind is that we love. We are commanded to love God and each other. These are also Jesus’ answers to the question above, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life’ (Lk 10.25).

‘If anyone does not abide in me’. If God’s people do not continue in love and abide in Jesus, they will be cut off from the vine, cut off from Jesus (1 Jn 15.6).

(For more passages on keeping God’s commandments see also Lk 10.25-28; 1 Cor 7.19)

Slaves of God (Rom 6.17-23; Col 3.23-25; Eph 6.7-9)

In a few of his letters, Paul alludes to specific instructions he gave newly converted Christians (Gal 6.19-21; Eph 4.20). Here is another.

17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6.17-23)

‘Standard of teaching’, ‘righteousness’. When they were converted Paul must have instructed them in the right way to live. He calls this ‘the standard of teaching’ which in context is probably what he means by ‘righteousness’.

‘Fruit leads to sanctification’, ‘eternal life’. Paul states that their ongoing obedience from the heart to the standard of teaching (given by the apostles) will lead to their sanctification which in turn will result in them receiving eternal life.

Serving God will lead to sanctification with the end goal of receiving eternal life.

‘The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ’. Paul has packed the above into a condensed statement. God freed them from slavery to sin by the death of Christ, which enabled their hearts to become obedient to the standard, which then leads to their holiness and ultimately, eternal life.

(For other passages connecting our service to God with salvation see Col 3.23-25; Eph 6.7-9).

Doing Good (Mt 25.31-46; Gal 6.6-10; Rom 2.6-11)

As I’ve already mentioned, scripture says good people go to heaven. Paul in this passage encourages his audience to do good in order to receive life.

6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6.6-10)

‘God is not mocked’, ‘Whatever one sows, he will reap’. Paul has not specifically mentioned judgment according to works. But I think the concept is certainly present. The way people have lived in their lives will come back on them.

‘Sows to the flesh’, ‘corruption’. Those who continue in sin and wrongdoing – the works of the flesh (Gal 5.19-21) will reap corruption. In Acts the apostles associate ‘corruption’ with death. Jesus was not abandoned to corruption (Acts 2.27, 31; 13.34-36).

‘Sows to the Spirit’, ‘eternal life’, ‘doing good’. Paul effectively states in this passages that sowing to the Spirit, associated with doing good in this passage, is instrumental in receiving eternal life.

People reap what they sow. Let us not be weary of doing good, we will reap eternal life if we do not give up.

‘We will reap if we do not give up’. Paul encourages his audience to continue doing good and is confident their efforts will be rewarded.

(For more passages on doing good to receive eternal life see also Mt 25.31-46; Rom 2.6-11)

Entrance into the Kingdom (2 Pet 1.3-15; Rom 5.1-11; Col 3.23-25)

These are some of the apostle Peter’s parting words.

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (2 Pet 1.3-15)

‘Putting off of my body will be soon’, ‘I will make every effort’. Peter knows he will die soon. In light of upcoming death, he wants to remind his audiences of what is most important. How to enter the eternal kingdom.

‘Divine power’, ‘life and godliness’, ‘knowledge of him’, ‘promises’. Peter refers to what happened when they first heard the gospel. God gave them everything they needed for life and godliness.

Because of God’s works they can consequently…

‘Make every effort’, ‘Yours and are increasing’, ‘practice’. The wonderful blessings above ought to inspire his audience to go for it. To pursue the life God wants for them. Peter lists faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. God’s people are to confirm they are God’s chosen elect by their own striving unto godliness.

‘In this way’ people are granted entry into God’s eternal kingdom.

This was Peter’s last and most important reminder. I think this should be our mindset if we want to receive the consummation of our salvation.

(For another passage which associates growth in character with future salvation see Rom 5.1-11. For another passage in serving the lord in order to inherit see Col 3.23-25).

Perseverance (Col 1.21-23; 1 Cor 9.24-27; Gal 6.9; 2 Tim 2.12; Mk 13.13; 2 Pet 1.5-11; Jn 15.1-6; 1 Jn 2.28-29; 4.16-17; Rev 2.26; Heb 3.6, 14; 10.36; 12.15; Jas 1.12)

There are a great many passages which stress the need for perseverance in order to be saved. Christians who do not persevere, tend to lose the fight against sin and fall away from grace. Apostasy.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1.21-23)

Douglas Moo, a well know Pauline scholar explained this passage like this;

“Paul is genuinely concerned that the false teachers might “disqualify” the Colossian Christians (Col 2:18). This being the case, Paul would clearly want his words here to be taken with great seriousness.

He wants to confront the Colossians with the reality that their eventual salvation depends on their remaining faithful to Christ and to the true gospel. Only by continuing in their faith can they hope to find a favorable verdict from God on the day of judgment.

We have in this verse, then, a real warning. This warning, along with many similar ones, presents the “human responsibility” side in the biblical portrayal of final salvation. God does, indeed, by his grace and through his Spirit, work to preserve his people so that they will be vindicated in the judgment;

but, at the same time, God’s people are responsible to persevere in their faith if they expect to see that vindication.” (Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 144.)

(For more passages on perseverance see also 1 Cor 9.24-27; Gal 6.9; 2 Tim 2.12; Mk 13.13; 2 Pet 1.5-11; Jn 15.1-6; 1 Jn 2.28-29; 4.16-17; Rev 2.26; Heb 3.6, 14; 10.36; 12.15; Jas 1.12)

Completion and Maturity (Phil 1.6; Col 1.28; 1 Thes 5.23)

Paul a few times refers to the process of salvation coming to some form of general completion. This seems an appropriate place to end this section.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (Phil 1.3-7)

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thes 5.23-24)

‘Completion’, ‘sanctify you completely’. Note that Paul does not give this encouragement to all his church audiences. Only a select few. I will discuss my concerns about who deserves assurance below in the appendix. But with respect to the Philippians and Thessalonians, Paul here expresses his confidence from what he has seen of these audiences, that God will bring the process of their salvation to completion.

(For another passage showing God completes a persons growth see also Col 1.28)

Apostasy, Falling from Grace

The topic of apostasy is another issue that divides Christians and denominations alike. I don’t have the space here to spend a lot of time on the debate listing passages and trading off interpretations. What I do here is list my own personal view and list a series of passages which I think apply to the topic.

To give you a heads up, the scriptures have passages of which some seemingly support the notion true believers cannot fall away, and others which seemingly support they can. So what happens is that the person writing on the topic will generally argue from the view they have chosen providing one set of interpretations and then argue away the second set.

The Gospel according to John in particular has some strong statements that when viewed with this topic in mind, seemingly imply those who come to faith cannot fall away. It should be noted that many of the passages quoted from John’s Gospel are set in the context of primarily non-believing audiences whom Jesus is evangelising.

On the other hand Paul and Peter’s letters are written for churches whom they assume consisted primarily of believers. Their statements which suggest believers can lose their faith are part of their pastoral care. In many cases they are exhorting perseverance and repentance for believers who are struggling with sin.

Its in these contexts they warn people may lose their faith and mention people who have. Likewise Hebrews was written for believers struggling with unbelief and sin and, surprise surprise, it has some of the strongest material suggesting believers can fall away.

I think we should consider the context and original purpose for the material we evaluate and be careful not to push it to mean something beyond its original intention. Our biblical exegesis and theology should inform our systematic theology. We should be hesitant to do it the other way around.

My view is that sin poses a very real threat to a believers future salvation.

This is why repentance is so important. Because believers still sin. Unchecked sin in the life of the believer is dangerous and can lead to falling away from grace and the faith.

The author of Hebrews wrote to his believing audience;

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10.26-31)

Scot McKnight wrote about this warning in his short book ‘A Long Faithfulness’.

“I wonder how many pastors have the courage to preach through the Warning Passages in Hebrews – not in order to salve the worries of parishioners, but to warn them of apostasy?

One wonders how many of the church of the author of the Hebrews, when hearing the message of this letter, walked away from the church or plugged their ears or refused to consider the inspired words?

We don’t know the answers by my wonderings are connected to churches today that will never teach the Warnings in Hebrews as genuine warnings to Christians, and I suspect there are far more in need of this message today than in the author of Hebrews’ day.” (S, McKnight, A Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance)

Some might say that since God is sovereign over salvation, He would never allow, let alone will one of His people to to commit apostasy. To answer this we need to go further back and consider sin in the life of a believer.

Logically and philosophically, if a believer sins, we should ask the question, ‘Did God in any way will the sin to happen?’ If a person says no. Then this should lead us to the conclusion they think God is not in control, determining everything to happen in accordance with His will. That is, God is not Sovereign in every event. But we need to pursue this line if we are to understand God’s sovereignty and apostasy properly.

I quickly add, God is not directly or primarily responsible for the sin, the believer is. However, if God is Sovereign, then He has, in a secondary sense, determined that the believer will sin. This is a theodicy.

For me, in order to hold a consistent compatibilistic position, means that whenever a believer sins, there is a simultaneous involvement of Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in the one event, action or thought.

However asymmetrically the tension is held, if God’s Sovereignty is not taken into account when the sin occurs, the Divine Sovereignty – Human Responsibility framework becomes logically inconsistent. Which is what I think most Calvinists do. Soft Calvinists at least.

If God has determined (or allowed) the believer will sin, why not then continued sin leading to apostasy following the same precedence?

In this part I intend to explain, from my point of view, why the apostles give such serious warnings to existing believers in Christ about the dangers of sin.

They give these warnings because they believe Christians can lose their faith, fall away, come under God’s judgment and be punished for their sins.

Believers can fall away (Mk 4.16-19; Jn 15.1-6; 1 Cor 10.12-13; 2 Cor 11.3-4; Heb 6.4-8; 10.26-31; 12.15; 2 Pet 2.1-2)

In this first set of verses Jesus and the apostles warn their audiences of the possibility they may fall away. Generally they give these warnings because they really believe Christians can fall away and to make sure they keep resisting sin.

I mention John here, because one would think he has the strongest passages against apostasy. But as I mentioned earlier, they are set in an evangelistic context to non-believers. John 14-17 contain the majority of the material in the Gospel where Jesus is addressing the needs of his followers. It’s here he has one passage which suggests his people can be cut off from him.

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (Jn 16.1-6)

‘Every branch in me’, ‘does not abide in me’. Jesus builds up a picture where he is the vine and his people the branches. He uses the expression ‘abide in me’ to demonstrate perseverance in keeping his commands, loving God and others. But a branch may not keep on doing this. So He highlights the possibility that a branch may not ‘abide in him’.

‘Thrown into the fire and burned’. In this case the ‘branch’ is ‘taken away’ and ‘thrown away’. It ‘withers’ and is later ‘thrown into the fire and burned’.

Jesus highlights the possibility His people can fail to persevere in abiding in him, wither and be burned in judgment.

Paul IMO is probably the strongest advocate that believers can fall away from the faith and come under eternal punishment.

In Galatians Paul is writing to believers in Christ who are in danger of falling from grace by returning to Judaism.

5 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal 5.3-4)

‘You who would be justified by the law’. Paul is speaking to Gentiles who believe they can be justified by observance to the law of Moses.

For Paul, the belief that observance of the ‘works of law’ is necessary for righteousness and therefore salvation is tantamount to apostasy because it’s a denial of Christ and his saving work.

It’s like turning to another gospel (2 Cor 11.3-4; cf. Gal 1.6).

‘No advantage to you’, ‘severed from Christ’, ‘fallen away from grace’. The people Paul refers to who believe they are justified by the law of Moses have been ‘severed from Christ’ and ‘fallen from grace’.

(For more passages showing believers can fall away see also Mk 4.16-19; 1 Cor 10.12-13; 2 Cor 11.3-4; Heb 6.4-8; 10.26-31; 12.15; 2 Pet 2.1-2)

Are Warnings always effective?

Some argue the warnings about apostasy are always effective, such that no one will fall away because of the warnings. According to this view Gods promises of salvation and his warnings are complementary and the warnings are always effective for the elect.

This view assumes the apostles who give the warnings do not actually believe anyone can fall away because they know the warnings will always be effective (e.g. Schreiner, Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment).

I think this theory is logically incoherent.

First, If a person does not think someone can fall away, why warn them that they can in order to curb their behaviour? Surely there are other ways they could urge believers away from sin (e.g. be who you are in Christ, consider your example to others, etc) rather than threatening them with something they believe will never happen. McKnights observation above applies.

The apostles give the warnings because they really believe Christians can fall away and commit apostasy.

Second, its not true of all warnings. Israel was notified of the covenant curses. Yet she still sinned and was sent into exile. We can assume the Corinthians were warned of the dangers of sexual immorality (e.g. Gal 5.19-21; Eph 5.5), yet some still persisted in it (1 Cor 5-7). Yes, some warnings are effective. But not all.

Gods promises are conditional. Gods warnings are not always effective. Sin is really dangerous.

Some have fallen away (Rom 11.19-22; 1 Tim 1.19-20; 6.10)

There isn’t just the possibility that some can fall away. The Scriptures teach that some people have fallen away.

19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Rom 11.19-22)

‘Broken off’, ‘fallen’. Paul refers to the Jews who believed in God, but fell away because they did not believe Jesus was the Christ. They were broken off the tree which represents the people of God.

‘Stand fast through faith’, ‘Provided you continue in his kindness’. Their example provides a warning to his audience. Paul instructs them to keep believing / trusting in God to remain in the Olive tree.

‘Otherwise you too will be cut off’. Paul uses the example of the apostate Jews as a warning of what could happen to them.

9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim 6.10)

‘Some have wandered away from the faith’. Paul knows of actual people who have wandered away from the faith because of their love of money. They have plunged into ruin and destruction.

This website has quite a long and detailed argument for apostasy under the banner of conditional salvation.

(For more passages showing there have been believers who have fallen away see also Rom 11.19-22; 1 Tim 1.19-20; 6.10)

Objections (Jn 5.24; 6.37-40; 10.28-30; 1 Jn 2.18-20; Rom 8.31-39; Phil 1.6; 1 Thes 5.24; Heb 3.5-6, 14)

There are a series of verses used to attempt to rebut the above scriptures. I don’t have the space to review them all. I’ll review three.

Here are the Hebrew’s counters;

And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Heb 3.6)

14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Heb 3.14)

In my opinion these passages are used to try and undermine the literal sense of Heb 6.4-8 and Heb 10.26-31.

‘If we hold fast our confidence’, ‘to the end’. I only believe what the scripture explicitly says here. Those who hold fast to the end are of Christ’s house and share in him. Of course this is true. But I do not have to push this to affirm or deny other things which the text does not mention.

If for example we had three people:

  • Person A holds fast his confidence to the end,
  • Person B initially holds his confidence, but through sin falls into unbelief and falls away, and
  • Person C never believed in the first place.

This passage clearly says person A is of Christ’s house and shares in Christ. But it doesn’t say these are the only people who ever at some point had ‘confidence’.

Affirming one point does not necessarily deny another.

Person B is still a valid possibility, which I argue is affirmed by later the later passages Heb 6.4-8 and Heb 10.26-31.

Here is a well known passage from John’s first epistle which was written to believers;

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.

But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (1 Jn 2.18-20)

‘They went out from us’. John refers to a specific event where some people left the church.

‘They were not of us’. John says they were not believers in the first case because, had they been, they would never have left. The fact they left the church shows they were never believers in the first case.

Again I think this passage can be pushed beyond its original intention.

The occasion John refers to describes a specific event in their history. It’s not addressing every single instance someone falls away and commits apostasy. To apply this passage to every instance someone loses faith and leaves church would be to push it beyond what it actually says.

(For other passages used to argue against apostasy see also Jn 5.24; 6.37-40; 10.28-30; Rom 8.31-39; Phil 1.6; 1 Thes 5.24; Heb 3.5-6, 14)

Summary of Future Judgment and Salvation

I started this long post with the intention to;

  • engage all the facts, and
  • try to integrate them as even-handedly as possible into a theory or view or hypothesis
  • so I have the least amount of conflict with all of the facts concerned.

This basic time line sums up my thinking.

And here is a basic outline of my argument.

  1. At some point in time everyone becomes a sinner. Dead in their transgressions and sins, deserving God’s holy wrath.
  2. Initial salvation is by grace through faith alone and which comes with assurance of future salvation. Sinners are forgiven their sins through Christ’s death on the cross. They have their hearts circumcised and their minds renewed. They become righteous in the sight of God. They predominantly practice righteousness, but still occasionally sin.
  3. Process of salvation necessarily involves God’s sustaining power and forgiveness through the cross on His part, and perseverance in gospel faith, repentance and obedience on the part of the believer. There remains the possibility of falling from grace by ongoing unrepented sin.
  4. On the day of the Lord, Jesus will judge every person impartially according their works. Everyone who stands before the Lord will have sinned. But only the righteous will have their sins forgiven by the cross of Christ. They are the ones who will stand before God righteous, holy and blameless. This is because they will have persevered in repentance and made a practice of righteousness and good works throughout their Christian lives.
  5. Future salvation will be given to the righteous who will receive eternal life and inherit the kingdom of God. The wicked will be punished and endure God’s wrath.

My chief goal is to help you realise the completion of salvation involves both God’s work and ours. We should rightly be assured God is sovereign in salvation. But we should never water down our responsibility in working out our salvation as well. Or let our guard down against the dangers of sin and disobedience.

Appendix – Lingering Questions and Misunderstandings

In this end section I will briefly address various questions and issues associated with final judgment and salvation. I will also list what I think are common misunderstandings.

Is Future Salvation by ‘Grace through Faith alone’?

Scripture says ‘we HAVE BEEN saved by grace’ (Eph 2.5,8) and ‘we WILL BE saved by the grace’ (Acts 15.11). Many say however ‘we ARE saved by grace’ and make no reference to the judgment according to works. Readers of this post will know I divide up different tenses (or stages) of salvation into initial salvation, the process of salvation and the consummation of salvation. So I’ll answer this accordingly.

What do we know about Paul’s understanding of Grace? In his book Paul and the Gift (review), Barclay defines a multifaceted taxonomy of ways grace can be defined. He calls them perfections. I’ve drawn this table to distinguish between them and explain what they are.

Giver Gift Receiver Response
Singularity (motive, spirit), Superabundance (value),

Priority (timing)

Incongruity (worth), Efficacy (effect),

Non-Circularity (expectation of return)

So I’ll note a few things about what Barclay says about Paul’s understanding of grace.

Paul generally associates God’s gift (‘grace’) with the Christ event. That is Jesus Christ’s coming, life, death and resurrection. This of course has soteriological significance. But first and foremost, God’s grace is manifested in Jesus, his person and work.

If we are considering grace with respect to future salvation we need to bear in mind the perfections associated with this stage. Priority and Incongruity are certainly important for initial salvation.

But for the process of salvation and the consummation of salvation, the efficacy and reciprocity arising from the Christ gift need to be accounted for. For example the woman who received forgiveness felt compelled to respond (Lk 7.41-47) and the grace Paul was given obligated him to be involved in gospel ministry (Rom 1.5,14; 15.15-16; 1 Cor 15.10).

Personally I think, a deeply felt obligation to obey and serve God is the result of having a experience of grace, not an example of pride and works-righteousness.

Its this sense of grace that serves as a springboard to the kind of faith, repentance, obedience and perseverance I’ve been writing about.

In what sense can we affirm future salvation is by grace? (Eph 2.5, 8-9; Acts 15.11)

I think we should only affirm future salvation by grace as the scriptures do. It would be helpful to look at the two passages which associate salvation with grace. Eph 2 and Acts 15.

2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2.1-10)

‘Made us alive’, ‘have been saved by grace’. Scripture affirms that initial salvation is by grace. Which is what we expect since sinners (incongruity, priority) are incapable of doing anything about being dead in sins, or even if they could we would still say they wouldn’t want to either. Initial salvation requires a divine intervention of unmerited grace.

I don’t think this passage says future salvation is by grace. Its talking about initial salvation.

In the coming ages’. The passage does say that in the future God will show them the riches they have been given as a result of this initial act of grace. However, making sure I don’t ignore the human responsibility element in salvation, I say this is conditioned on the believer’s perseverance, repentance and obedience.

Then there’s Acts 15.

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.

8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15.6-11)

The Acts 15 council met to discuss whether Gentile converts needed to observe the law of Moses as God commanded Israel.

‘God’. What stands out in this passage is the number of times God is given credit for doing things. God made a choice. God knows the heart. God bears witness. God makes no distinction. God cleansed their hearts. Peter’s argument rests on his belief that God will work in the Gentiles.

‘We will be saved’. Peter refers to salvation in the future tense, and includes himself in the group.

‘Through the grace of the Lord Jesus’. It’s not overly clear what Peter means by grace here, so I find the interpretation of the verse open to a number of options. For me, God’s grace is manifested in the gospel, which is the story of Jesus. His life, death, resurrection and appearances. It’s from this gift of God, that God works salvation.

‘Just as they will’. Peter recognises God’s sovereignty in their salvation. God will bring about their salvation in accordance with his will.

Acts 15 is an example of God’s sovereignty over salvation. God will work all things according to his good will and pleasure.

In my opinion this passage does affirm salvation by grace. By that I mean God’s sovereignty over salvation. However it does not deny human responsibility in salvation.

These two passages are the only passages in scripture where salvation is explicitly associated with grace. Scripture highlights God’s sovereignty in salvation is the primary means by which we can say salvation is by grace. That being said …

In what ways is saying ‘future salvation is by grace’ unhelpful?

I started this long post with the intention to;

  • engage all the facts, and
  • try to integrate them as even-handedly as possible into a theory or view or hypothesis
  • With the least amount of conflict with all of the facts concerned.

My main problem with the expression, “We are saved by grace”, is that it is generally employed to eliminate the necessity for human responsibility in salvation. The expression is generally used in conjunction with a grace – works antithesis.

That is, the expression is used to communicate believers don’t have to do anything to be saved in the future.

After reading large amounts of scripture and several books on the topic. I imagine parts of scripture lighting up red in warning because I understand this expression to mean we are saved by cheap grace. That is, saved without any involvement of our own. Saved without repenting of our sins or obeying Jesus’ commands. Saved by Jesus’ death on the cross alone and not by the Spirit who we know will raise His people from the dead. Saved by a one off event without any following process or consummation.

Perhaps that’s exactly the point. I wonder sometimes if many think they haven’t preached about salvation by grace rightly until their church is convinced they have to do nothing but trust in Christ to be saved. A faith that is alone. All alone. I hear the apostles James asking, “Can this faith save a person?” Doesn’t it follow this message is really salvation by cheap grace?

The reformed slogan brings a lot of assurance to be sure. But at what cost? Does ‘saved by grace’ rightly capture the whole picture of salvation we see in the New Testament? I’m not so sure. While it does capture God’s sovereignty over salvation. It neglects to speak of human responsibility and involvement in the process of salvation. It neglects to speak of the impartial judgment according to works. Future salvation depends on these.

How bad is the problem of sin in the believer?

I think one method used to argue salvation is by grace is to press the maximise the problem of sin and stress God’s standard for judgment is sinless and perfect obedience. I’ll address both of these.

Presence of Sin in the believer

Bear in mind I make a distinction between the righteous and the sinners. As does scripture. Its obvious the righteous still sin.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 Jn 1.8)

2 For we all stumble in many ways. (Jas 3.2)

There are lingering effects of the sinful flesh in the believer, old habits which must be broken and ever present temptations of this fallen world.

Limits of Sin

Unbelievers are under the reign and dominion of sin (Rom 3.9; 7.14; Gal 3.22). But through Christ work on the cross and the Holy Spirit believers have been set free from the dominion of sin, they are no longer under it.

7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. … 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. … 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Rom 6.7,14,17-18)

8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8.1-4)

As mentioned before Scripture promises and affirms that believers hearts have been changed.

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from fall your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Eze 36.25-28)

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2.28-29; cf. Dt 30.6)

43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk 6.43-45; cf. Lk 8.15)

Do you believe God has changed your heart from [dead] stone to [living] flesh? From uncircumcised to circumcised? From evil to good?

Scripture also affirms the righteous are distinct from sinners in the way they behave. A point often forgotten.

16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt 7.16-20)

6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 Jn 3.6-10)

Note in each passage, a distinction is made by the way people behave and as mentioned before it is the righteous and the good who will be saved.

Finally, believers are acknowledged to have kept God’s law.

22 At that time Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. (Josh 22.1-3)

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (Rom 2.25-27)

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev 14.12-13)

Dominant influence and behaviour

My doctrine of sin is shaped by these passages. So I pretty much affirm from scripture, the righteous still sin, but sin is no longer the dominant influence over them, their hearts or their primary mode of behaviour and they can keep God’s law. If sin dominated their lives, I would assume they have lost their faith and have fallen from grace.

This therefore leaves us with the question…

What is God’s standard of judgment?

Perfect and sinless obedience? This is another example where I wonder if some have not bothered to examine scripture and in particular future judgment passages to determine what God’s standard of judgment is.

I realise some might say that Jesus commanded us to be perfect (Mt 5.43-48). But in this passage Jesus is countering the idea people should only love those who love them back. His understanding of ‘be perfect’ in this passage is about loving enemies as well as people we get along with.

God commanded Israel to keep all his commands in the law of Moses (Dt 26:16–19; cf. 5.29; 6.2; 13.18; 17.19; 19.9; 27.1).

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Some might claim, ‘no one can keep the law’. Really? Again, I suspect they haven’t bothered to check scripture and see. I’ve written a word study on keep and Josh 22.1-3; 1 Ki 9.3-5; cf. 1 Ki 11.33, 38; 14.8; 2 Chr 7.17-18 all seem to indicate there were people who kept the law.

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The New Testament as we have seen uses the concepts of ‘righteousness’ (Mt 13.36-43; 25.31-33, 46; Lk 14.12-14), ‘holiness’ (1 Pet 1.13-19; 2 Pet 3.8-13; Heb 12.9-14), and ‘blamelessness’ (Col 1.21-23; Phil 1.9-11; 1 Thes 3.11-13; 1 Cor 1.4-9) to describe what is necessary to meet God’s standard for judgment and stand before him.

All of these scriptures suggest the authors think their believing audiences are capable of meeting these standards because they pray for God to sustain them and exhort their audiences to continually strive to meet them.

  • What is God’s standard for judgment? My answer is: Righteousness, holiness and blamelessness.
  • What is required to maintain God’s standard? My answer is: God’s work in sustaining us. Our work in persevering faith, repentance and obedience.

What about assurance for anxious people who don’t think they will be saved?

Biblically, I don’t think we should not let assurance be the hermeneutic by which we interpret the scriptures. We should first interpret the scriptures rightly. Letting the chips fall where they may. From this point we should give assurance, in the same way scripture does.

I think Divine sovereignty and Human responsibility should be incorporated into our understanding of assurance.

Believers can have confidence of future salvation (Heb 11.1-2, 6, 13-14). We’ve seen in a number of passages what God is doing in and for his people. God in his sovereign grace is the one who forgives and justifies and is sustaining his people, sanctifying them, keeping them pure and blameless for the coming Judgment. We can trust God, he is faithful (1 Thes 5.24).

But our confidence is also likened to that of a runner as well. A runner who has yet to finish the race. (1 Cor 9.24-27). People are responsible. If they are running strong and compete according to the rules they can be confident they will finish (Phil 1.3-6). However, not everyone finishes the race. If they are running in the wrong direction, injured or exhausted, they won’t finish.

Pastorally, we really don’t know why a person is feeling anxious. Generally one has to ask a number of questions to find out why. Some sensitive probing is required.

But before we give assurance, how do we know the person deserves assurance of salvation? How are they running the race?

I would want to know if the person is a Christian. Do they believe Jesus is the risen Lord? Do they know the basic gospel truths that Jesus lived, died on a cross for our sins, rose again as our Lord, will return again in judgment. Non-Christians do not deserve assurance. They are not in the race to begin with.

I would want to know if the person is repenting of sin. If not, they are in danger of apostasy and must be warned. They don’t deserve assurance. Paul warned the Galatians the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The Hebrews were warned against sinning deliberately.

I would want to know if the person has anything to show for their faith. That is, is their faith dead? Dead faith does not save. I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for evidence in the form of confession, obedience to Jesus’ commands and good works. People who constantly neglect to observe what Jesus commanded are constantly sinning by omission. They need to be warned, not given assurance.

Note in these three cases above it’s actually harmful to give assurance of salvation. There might be people who happily think they are saved by grace alone, who are actually headed straight for hell.

Given the person does confess basic Christian belief and lives accordingly, they deserve assurance. Remind them of the basic truths of God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ, comfort them that their lives do show evidence of God’s work in them and encourage them to continue trusting God.

How will I ever know I’ve done enough?

A legitimate question and again related to the issue of assurance. If someone says, ‘Jump’. A likely response is to ask, ‘How high?’ I have a picture of someone constantly worried, seeking every opportunity to do good and constantly worried if they have done enough.

The quick and easy answer is to say everyone is different (e.g. Mt 20.1-16; 25.14-30) and I don’t know. That being said Paul sets a good example of what we should strive for and how we can view ourselves.

Firstly, God has prepared in advance all the good works a person will do in their life.

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2.10)

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Ps 139.16)

If someone asked the question, ‘How much is enough?’ We could always answer, ‘All the good works God has prepared for you in advance and no more’. Don’t forget God’s sovereignty and control over your life. This should give us some measure of assurance, knowing God has already set out beforehand the number and quality of the works he wants us to perform.

Secondly, what does your conscience say? A scholar named Stendahl wrote a famous essay titled, “The Introspective Conscience of the West”. Here’s my review. In it he alludes that many protestants in church are conditioned to think certain ways about their stance before God with respect to their assumed sin, God’s wrath and if they are ever right with God. McKnight calls this liminality. I don’t think this is biblical, nor authentic Christian practice.

If we consider Paul’s saying about himself we could say he had a ‘robust conscience’. Paul says;

23 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” (Acts 23.1; cf. 24.14-16; 2 Tim 1.3)

And

2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor 4.2-5)

This doesn’t seem to me to be the ‘miserable sinner’ Christianity I fear many hear every Sunday. I think the better and more biblical questions are to ask, ‘Do you have a good conscience?’ and ‘Are you aware of anything against yourself?’

Having a good conscience doesn’t mean you are perfect. It does mean having a peace in your own mind you have made every attempt to do what you have ought to have done and have repented of your sin and asked forgiveness where you haven’t. Paul took pains to have a clear conscience. He had a good conscience. We can learn from his example.

If a person is aware of sins against themselves they obviously need to repent and ask forgiveness. If they don’t, we can rightly question whether they deserve assurance.

If they had repented it still might not be enough for some because they continue to fear their sin will still be held against them. This is borderline unbelief in the atoning sufficiency of Christ’s death for our sins. Jesus’ death on the cross cancels our debts (Col 2.13-14).

(For another passage on having confidence before God in judgment see 1 Jn 4.16-21)

What about the thief on the cross who went to Paradise?

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23.39-43)

This amazing passage has drummed up a whole host of novel ideas about time travel and whether any works are required for judgment. In some instances people use it to try and prove that nothing is required other than faith in Christ. The passage at the very least demonstrates the power of God’s forgiveness and acceptance to those who come to faith… on their death beds.

We indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds’. The thief recognised he was in the wrong. This seems a bit like repentance and grief over sin to me.

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. The thief recognises Jesus as king of the kingdom. Surely recognising Jesus authority and desiring to be part of his kingdom, there is intent to obey Jesus.

Ive drawn this diagram to compare and contrast the lifespan of the thief who died on the cross with many believers who live long lives as believers.

Is it right to apply this passage to those who live many years as Christians?

In an important way this passage is like the parable of the vineyard. There are some who come to faith early on in life and live many years afterward. There are others who come to faith late in their lives, some even on their death beds. The fact of the matter is all receive eternal life.

I would add one important qualification though. As long as each are employed by the master, they were all required to serve him. Those who didn’t serve where the ones who weren’t chosen. Likewise we see in the parable of the talents the master will judge those who have nothing to show for their lives;

24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’

26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.

28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place gthere will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Mt 25.24-30)

Life as a believer requires perseverance in faith, repentance of sin and obedience to Jesus commands no matter how long one lives.

The thief was on this path even if it was cut short, had he lived longer he would had been required to persevere in repentance and obedience. If he didn’t, apostasy. Even in paradise the thief is still required to persevere in faith and serve the Lord.

Is my emphasis on persevering in repentance and obedience legalistic?

Legalism is an excessive emphasis on rules. It might be that Jesus and the apostles are being legalistic. I’m only quoting what they have instructed, putting it all together in context.

Maybe it’s a matter of emphasis? Perhaps if I emphasise repentance and obedience too much for salvation I become in danger of legalism? Maybe if I don’t and put too much on God’s sovereignty and Grace I give way to license? Who knows.

Seriously other than working through the whole of scripture on a regular basis and trusting that what God has put in the scriptures is the right balance, I can’t see how the proportion of each can easily be determined other than falling prey to social pressure.

Misunderstanding 1 – Confusing Initial Salvation with the Process of Salvation and its Consummation

A great many descriptions I hear of almost always confuse what is required for initial salvation, with that for the process of salvation and the consummation of salvation. This happens for various reasons.

I suspect there is a tendency to treat believers as if they were unbelievers. They don’t believe, they don’t have the Holy Spirit, they haven’t been saved, God is still angry at them and they are still dead in their sins. I find this generally happens when scriptural understanding and distinction between the righteous and sinners is ignored. A ‘sinner’ is dumbed down to someone who sins. The righteous don’t exist. We need to note that Scripture clearly makes a distinction between the righteous and the sinner (e.g. 1 Pet 4.16-18).

What I see here is a rejection of biblical categories and the imposition of tradition.

The exhortations to persevere, repent and obey with respect to the future judgement and salvation are routinely ignored, or worse, dogmatically ruled out at the beginning. Really this is just a canon within a canon method.

For example one might selectively refer to Eph 2.8-9; Acts 16.30-31 and Rom 5.6-11 and use them to explain to existing believers that all they have to do for salvation is trust in Jesus, while never actually exposing them to passages like Rom 2.6-11; 8.13; Gal 6.6-10 and 1 Pet 1.13-17.

Misunderstanding 2 – Asserting works are evidence only and not instrumental in judgment

It’s commonly argued a persons works are only evidence that a person is saved and that they are not instrumental for salvation.

We should first note there is a definite relationship between who a person is and what they do. I agree that a persons works are evidence they are righteous and the LORD has initially saved them and they are in the process of salvation. Accordingly Jesus and the apostles say;

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt 7.15-20)

9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 Jn 3:9–10)

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (Jas 2:18–21)

But limiting the role of a person works to evidence alone needs to be weighed against scripture and in particular passages which relate to the future judgment according to works and the consummation of salvation.

1) There are passages which state people will be saved because of their works;

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’

26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Mt 25:19–21, 24-30)

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (Mt 25:34–36)

These passages treat peoples works as more than evidence. They are the reason Jesus gives for why they inherit the kingdom.

2) On a similar note believers are instructed to repent and do good works for salvation.

43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mk 9:43–48)

7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:7–10)

Again these passages describe a persons works of being more than simply evidence. Jesus does not instruct his audience to cut away sin, in order to remove any evidence that would show them up to be sinners. Paul is not instructing the Galatians to do good works merely to provide evidence they are in the Spirit. In both cases a persons works are viewed as instrumental to their future salvation.

3) Lastly if works were only evidence, is that meant to apply to the reason why sinners suffer God’s wrath and go to hell?

Do people endure God’s punishment for their own works of disobedience (sins)? Or are works merely evidence they are sinners, and God is merely punishing them because they do not believe?

For these reasons, I think reducing the role of works to mere evidence, is unbiblical.


Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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