FAQ: The Judgment and Works

But Is It True?

In this response, I'm ignoring an important point. Is it true that we will be judged according to our works?

It is, and it's addressed somewhat thoroughly here. If you've never heard that Christians will be judged according to their works, and that heaven and hell are at stake there, then you really need to read that page.

There's a balance found in both Scripture and in the early writings of the church. For example, the earliest known Christian sermon, Second Clement, begins with, "For [Jesus Christ] had compassion on us and mercifully saved us, observing … that we had no hope of salvation except it came to us from him" (ch. 1).

On the other hand, he adds, "Let us, then, not only call him Lord, for that will not save us. … Let us confess him by our works … The Lord has said, "Even if you were gathered to me, into my very bosom, yet if you were not to keep my commandments, I would cast you off and say to you, 'Depart from me … you workers of iniquity'" (ch. 4).

That last quote by the author is a conglomeration of several Scriptures, but the sentiment expressed is typical of both Scripture and early Christianity.

For example, Paul says in Eph. 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith apart from works, but in Eph. 5:5-6 he tells us not to be deceived into thinking that immoral or greedy people have an inheritance in God's kingdom.

Less than a hundred years later, Polycarp of Smyrna, a bishop appointed by the apostle John, quotes Eph. 2:8-9, saying we're saved by grace and not works. A chapter later, however, he says that God will raise us up only if we keep his commandments and avoid unrighteousness (Letter to the Philippians, 1 & 2)

The issue of the judgment and works really is a frequently asked question. The Scriptures and the historic preaching of the early churches are clear that the judgment will be according to works, even for Christians. Since it is not only typical for "born again," Protestant churches to deny this, but also to warn against even considering those Scriptures, I get lots of questions—most of them full of worry and fear—when I bring those Scriptures up.

It Is Not Difficult to Serve Christ!

Christianity today is mostly powerless. This is because most of Christianity is preaching a false gospel by any historical standard.

There are exceptions, and there are wonderful, devoted Christians, of course. Overall, though, the vast majority of Christians cannot be said to be giving up their own lives to follow Christ.

Jesus said that if we are to follow him, we must count the cost. Many Christians know Jesus said that, but few have paid any attention to the context in which he said it.

Waves crashing on rocksPhoto by Ashley Hartle, used with permission

Try reading Luke 14:26-33, which is where Jesus said to count the cost.

The fact is, those verses are so shocking to modern Christians that only rare churches would ever preach on them. I have been mocked repeatedly by supposed Christians on the internet just for suggesting that we need to look at the fact that Jesus said we can't be his disciple unless we forsake all our possessions. Those "Christians" don't ask what I think that means. They don't offer their own interpretation. They simply mock and scoff.

Christians who have believed Jesus' Gospel—that only those who forsake their own lives can be his disciple—find that Jesus' promises are true. They are not powerless. His yoke really is easy, and his burden really is light. God bestows his Spirit on those that believe that Gospel, and they are empowered to live holy.

One of the passages I often use to show that the judgment is according to works and that we are required to add our own obedience and effort to God's grace is 2 Pet. 1:5-11. There we are told that we must "give all diligence," "add to our faith," and "do these things" in order to "make our calling and election sure."

Immediately prior to those verses, however, is a statement that we apparently have just as much difficulty believing.

Peter tells us in verses 3 and 4 that we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. He tells us that we have "great and precious promises," so that through these we can "partake of his divine nature," and "escape the corruption that is in the world through lust."

It is not difficult to serve Christ!

We, who like a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die so that we might be raised to new life in Christ, have been empowered to do his will. Sin does not have power over us because we are not under law but under grace. When we walk by the Spirit, we don't fulfill the lusts of the flesh. When we don't walk by the Spirit, we confess our sins to God and repent, and God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to restore us.

We should not be horrified by the thought that we will be judged according to our works. We know that Jesus died for us, so that we might have his Spirit and live in those great and precious promises, which I have been outlining here.

We are told repeatedly not to be deceived about the fact that we are required to live in righteousness (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 5:5-6; 1 Jn. 3:7). Today we must also be warned not to be deceived about the fact that it is normal for Christians to live in righteousness.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous. (1 Jn. 5:3)

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