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Judgement and Works

Question: You often speak of justification by faith alone. What about Matthew 25? I was hungry and you did not feed me? Does that not demand works?

Answer: The Bible clearly teaches that there would be a final judgement, and that it would be a judgement of works (Psalm 62:12; Matthew 16:27; 25:31-46; John 5:29: Romans 2:5-10; 1 Corinthians 3:13, 4:5). God promises reward to his children for faithful living (Matthew 5:12; 6:1; 10:41; 2 Timothy 4:7-8).

How can this teaching be harmonized with the Biblical teaching that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 4:4; Galatians 2:16)?

First of all, let us point out that every Christian is already justified by faith in this life well before the day of judgement, from the very first moment that he or she believes. ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). The apostle Paul does not say, ‘will be justified’, but he makes a statement on the present condition of all believers, ‘being justified by faith.’

The believer is already accepted by God for Christ's sake and will never come into judgement, that is, to establish whether he is accepted or rejected. Jesus promises: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life’ (John 5:24). Elsewhere the Scriptures declare: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).

So where do works come in? And why should there be a judgement on the last day? Simply because God wants to publicly vindicate his people and to reward them for their service and labour of love. Genuine faith always and inevitably results in good works, albeit that some Christians produce more fruit and some produce less. That is God’s plan for his people; even before he calls them, he had already prepared beforehand the good works that they would do. A person who really believes in Christ has a new heart and genuinely loves God and his neighbour. Faith shows itself by works, as James asserts.

So on that Day, the good works of God’s people will distinguish and separate them from the rest who have no faith and whose works are evil (Matthew 7:15-23). Paul insists on this principle that the faithful are recognized by their works: ‘[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life, but unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath (Romans 2:6-8).

Moreover, Christ will reward them for their faithful service according to the measure of good works they performed during their life. ‘And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be’ (Revelation 22:12).

In summary, (a) we are justified by faith, not the merits of our works; (b) living faith produces good works, (c) those works are the mark of true believers, for which they are rewarded. This is the Protestant position, and I am convinced that it does justice to the teaching of the Bible as a whole.

But you may say, ‘I’m still not convinced. Haven't you known people who have faith, believe in Jesus and never help another person?’

There are many like them, and they are exposed and censored in James 2. ‘What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? … For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.’ These people are vain and empty - whatever their denominational label or boasting about faith might be. Their barren faith will not get them anywhere near the gates of heaven; they remain lost and on their way to hell for the just punishment they deserve.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi