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Posts Tagged ‘Judgment according to works’

“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus” (1 John 4:17). Calvin comments:

But he seems thus to place a part of our confidence on works. Hence the Papists raise their crests here, as though John denied that we, relying on God’s grace alone, can have a sure confidence as to salvation without the help of works. But in this they are deceived, because they do not consider that the Apostle here does not refer to the cause of salvation, but to what is added to it. And we readily allow that no one is reconciled to God through Christ, except he is also renewed after God’s image, and that the one cannot be disjoined from the other. Right then is what is done by the Apostle, who excludes from the confidence of grace all those in whom no image of God is seen; for it is certain that such are wholly aliens to the Spirit of God and to Christ. Nor do we deny that newness of life, as it is the effect of divine adoption, serves to confirm confidence, as a prop, so to speak, of the second order; but in the meantime we ought to have our foundation on grace alone. Nor indeed does the doctrine of John appear otherwise consistent with itself; for experience proves, and even Papists are forced to confess, that as to works they always give an occasion for trembling. Therefore no one can come with a tranquil mind to God’s tribunal, except he believes that he is freely loved.

But that none of these things please the Papists, there is no reason for any one to wonder, since being miserable they know no faith except that which is entangled with doubts. Besides, hypocrisy brings darkness over them, so that they do not seriously consider how formidable is God’s judgment when Christ the Mediator is not present, and some of them regard the resurrection as fabulous. But that we may cheerfully and joyfully go forth to meet Christ, we must have our faith fixed on his grace alone.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Calvin again,

There is no fear. He now commends the excellency of this blessing by stating the contrary effect, for he says that we are continually tormented until God delivers us from misery and anguish by the remedy of his own love towards us. The meaning is, that as there is nothing more miserable than to be harassed by continual inquietude, we obtain by knowing God’s love towards us the benefit of a peaceful calmness beyond the reach of fear. It hence appears what a singular gift of God it is to be favored with his love. Moreover from this doctrine, he will presently draw an exhortation; but before he exhorts us to duty, he commends to us this gift of God, which by faith removes our fear.

This passage, I know, is explained otherwise by many; but I regard what the Apostle means, not what others think…. for the Apostle only teaches us, that when the love of God is by us seen and known by faith, peace is given to our consciences, so that they no longer tremble and fear.

It may, however, be asked, when does perfect love expel fear, for since we are endued with some taste only of divine love towards us, we can never be wholly freed from fear? To this I answer, that, though fear is not wholly shaken off, yet when we flee to God as to a quiet harbor, safe and free from all danger of shipwreck and of tempests, fear is really expelled, for it gives way to faith. Then fear is not so expelled, but that it assails our minds, but it is so expelled that it does not torment us nor impede that peace which we obtain by faith.

Fear hath torment. Here the Apostle amplifies still further the greatness of that grace of which he speaks; for as it is a most miserable condition to suffer continual torments, there is nothing more to be wished than to present ourselves before God with a quiet conscience and a calm mind. What some say, that servants fear, because they have before their eyes punishment and the rod, and that they do not their duty except when forced, has nothing to do, as it has been already stated, with what the Apostle says here. So in the next clause, the exposition given, that he who fears is not perfect in love, because he submits not willingly to God, but would rather free himself from his service, does not comport at all with the context. For the Apostle, on the contrary, reminds us, that it is owing to unbelief when any one fears, that is, has a disturbed mind; for the love of God, really known, tranquilizes the heart. – Calvin’s Commentaries

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So I’ve been thinking more about how justification relates to the final judgment, and vice versa.

Many in Reformed circles today seem to hold to a certain and distinct judgment according to works which takes place after the resurrection of the dead for both believers and unbelievers alike. Romans 2:6-14 is used to support these thesis.

However, it seems that there is a strong case for an alternative understanding where the final judgment is concurrent with the resurrection itself. Thus, all those who are raised immortal on the Last Day are ipso facto judged righteous already and need not enter any further judgment according to works.

What is more, rather than grounding (or basing) this final declaration on the works of the believer (which can’t seem to be avoided under the first understanding) this second view maintains that the final vindication is grounded entirely on the merits of Christ received through faith alone.  Not only is one vindicated upon the event of one’s bodily resurrection/glorification, but this declaration-by-resurection is already anticipated and made certain by one’s present justification before being raised.

Needless to say, this understanding has tremendous pastoral significance. One needn’t suffer any lack of assurance or dread of a final judgment as if one’s works in this life would have to pass muster before the holy judgment seat of God. Rather, one rests confidently in the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ imputed to us, through which alone we stand righteous before the Father.

The strength of this view shouldn’t be underestimated, possessing such noble advocates as Hodge, Bavinck, Vos, and Douglas Moo. But what particularly sets it apart is it’s connecting the eschatological with the soteriological.  In other words, it recognizes the profound interrelationship between justification and the resurrection on the Last Day.  It takes to heart the old adage that eschatology precedes soteriology. Yet this understanding seems to be quite lacking in the first view.

Vos touches on this:

Here lies precisely the point where eschatology and justification intersect. By making both the negative element of the forgiveness of sin and the positive element of bestowal of the benefits of salvation unqualified, the Apostle made the act of justification to all intents, so far as the believer is concerned, a last judgment anticipated. If the act dealt with present and past sins only, leaving the future product in uncertainty, it could not be regarded as possessing such absoluteness, and the comparison with the last judgment would break down at the decisive point. – Vos, Pauline Eschatology, p. 55, quoted in Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, p. 319.

Similarly, J. K. Beale observes:

Justification too is a doctrine that pertains to the last judgment concomitant with the destruction of the cosmos. This doctrine can be viewed purely in legal terms, whereby Christ bore the eternal wrath of God as our penal substitute so that we could be declared righteous. When we see justification in the light of inaugurated eschatology, we see that the final judgment that unbelievers will face in the future has been pushed back for believers to the cross in the first century. Believers have already passed through the great judgment when Christ suffered the eternal last judgment for them on the cross. – Beale, “New Testament and New Creation” in Biblical Theology, p. 167, quoted in Fesko, p. 319-20.

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