26
Jul
13

The Basis of Final Judgment

Michael F. Bird has written on “the Progressive Reformed View of Justification” in a book published by I.V.P. titled “Justification: Five Views.”

His concern as well as the concern of others is that the gospel of justification through faith alone does not seem to be producing what the Bible describes as genuine Christians. He writes, “The pew-sitting couch potatoes of our churches need to hear Romans 8:1-3 as well as Romans 8: 4-5. . .Otherwise it is irresponsible to give a sense of assurance to people who have no right to have it.”
Additionally he writes, “The protestant paranoia against reminding our communities of judgment according to works, lest we become Catholic, misrepresents the biblical witness.”

I would agree that members of the evangelical community need to be reminded that salvation is more than justification. Evangelicals have preached a cheap, man-centered message for decades, and we are reaping the results in our largely unconverted “churches.” Still, I could not disagree more strongly with the idea that the remedy to our “churches” being peopled with the unconverted is to give people the impression that though we are initially justified through faith in Christ, we will be declared righteous in the last day, not based on what Jesus has accomplished, but based on our genuine, though imperfect, works of obedience in the process of sanctification. Not only does this sound like Catholicism, it is Catholicism.

There can be no doubt that in the final judgment our works will be called to testify to the reality of our faith, but to suggest that those works form any part of the basis of our justification before God is contrary to the clear testimony of the New Testament Scriptures. The idea that we should pursue obedience to God because we know that in the last day, we will be judged and either justified or condemned based on our obedience, is a false gospel that lies under God’s curse. If this had been Paul’s doctrine, the objection he raises and answers in Romans 6:1-14 would make no sense at all. In that case his answer would have been that though grace may have more than overflowed to forgive our overflowing sin so that we have been initially justified by the free grace of God alone, based on the redemption that is in Christ alone and through faith alone, from here on until the judgment, we are on our own since the final judgment will be based on our divinely produced obedience. There is not even the slightest suggestion that the apostle believed such a doctrine. He does not say “Of course we cannot continue in sin because our justification in the last day depends on our obedience.” Instead, he argues that it is impossible for those who are truly united to Christ to continue in sin since we have died to sin’s dominion.

The view that we can be motivated to godly living by our fear and guilt in regard to what will happen in the judgment if we fail to obey is the precise opposite of the New Testament teaching. The impetus for all Christian living is that, in Christ, believers have been set free from the law with all its condemning power. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I through the law, died to the law, THAT I MIGHT LIVE TO GOD.”

Since the law is God’s standard of righteousness, anyone who must stand before God in the last day based on that standard that requires perfect, continual and inward obedience has not died to the law and is not free from the law. If my final justification before God depends on my obedience [Please note I am not denying that the believer’s works will be a consideration in the final judgment. I am denying that those works of obedience will form the basis of my justification.], I will be lost forever.

The remedy for the pew-sitting, couch potatoes in our churches is not an altered view of justification, but an understanding of the work God performs in bringing about the faith through which he justifies believers. If faith is a mere free will decision on the sinner’s part, regeneration in the Reformed sense of that term is not really necessary. Many in the evangelical community view “faith” as a one-time decision that obligates God to justify the believer [the assumption these theological dimwits even know the term “justify” may be gratuitous] no matter what occurs after the deal is sealed. The reality is that not only does God enable one to believe initially, but he also continues to sustain that faith which in turn manifests itself in obedience. A “faith” that does not continue, a faith that does not work through love, is not justifying faith.

To believe this, it is not necessary to conflate justification and sanctification as Bird and others seem to do. We must merely understand that the same redemptive work of Christ that secured our justification also secured our sanctification. If sanctification is not occurring in one’s life, there is no evidence justification has occurred. This in no way requires that the believer’s obedience form any part of the basis of his right judicial standing before God.

It is for this reason Calvinistic teachers often state that though justification and sanctification are distinct from one another, they cannot be separated. Some have charged this represents “cognitive dissonance” on the part of those who make such a statement. According to them, this must mean a confusion or a conflation of justification and sanctification.

Perhaps it would be helpful to state our position in a slightly different way. The difficulty seems to be that opponents of this position seem to think we are talking about these two works of God being inseparable in that they are directly joined in the application of redemption. The point of intersection between these two divine acts is not direct. That is, they are distinct in the application of redemption. The only point of similarity between these two works of God in the application is that both occur through faith. Even then, the promises believed are different. In justification, the sinner trusts God’s promise that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. In sanctification, the believer accounts God to be faithful in his declaration that he is, through the body of Christ, dead indeed to the reign of sin and alive to God. Thus, justification and sanctification are always separate and distinct in their application. What occurs in sanctification can neither affect nor effect justification.

We say they cannot be separated because they are joined in their accomplishment. Both result from the same death of Christ. Jesus accomplished both for the same people. If he died for a person, that person also died with him. The point of contact between justification and sanctification [and every other spiritual blessing] is in the believer’s union with Christ.

It is impossible to effect sanctification in the lives of God’s people by telling them the basis of their final justification will be their obedience to the law. This will do nothing but bring about guilt and fear. Fearful and guilt-ridden people will not worship and obey God. This would be to conflate justification and sanctification in the application rather than recognizing that God has united them in the accomplishment.

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1 Response to “The Basis of Final Judgment”


  1. July 27, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Php 2:12 -13 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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    A man does what he ‘wants’ to do. God works the ‘wanting’ thus producing the ‘works’.


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