Posts Tagged ‘Judgment’

“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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John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, goes great lengths to destroy any foundation under the feet of those who would insist on good works (even Spirit-wrought, regenerate, and sanctified works) as playing any part in our justification and right standing before God. He also offers insight as to why this form of legalism so easily offers itself to the minds of sinners like us.

If upon hearing again and again of the free offer of the gospel (the lavish forgiveness of sins, the gratuitous gift of perfect righteousness, and the gracious reconciliation with the Father) one finds his or her heart only more hardened or, as it were, unimpressed, it proves only our need to take recourse in one thing:

We Must Lift Up Our Minds to God’s Judgement Seat that We May Be Firmly Convinced of His Free Justification

1. No one is righteous before God’s judgment seat.

Even though all these things are by shining testimonies shown to be perfectly true [Calvin is referring to his treatise on free justification], still, how necessary they are will not be clear to us until we set before our eyes what ought to be the basis of this whole discussion. First, therefor, this fact should occur to us: that our discourse is concerned with the justice not of a human court but of a heavenly tribunal, lest we measure by our own small measure the integrity of works needed to satisfy the divine judgment. Yet it is amazing with what great rashness and boldness this is commonly defined. Indeed, one can see how there are none who more confidently, and as people say, boisterously chatter over the righteousness of works than they who are monstrously plagued with manifest diseases, or creak with defects beneath the skin. That happens because they do not think about God’s justice, which they would never hold in such derision if they were affected even by the slightest feeling of it. Yet surely it is held of precious little value if it is not recognized as God’s justice and so perfect that nothing can be admitted except what is in every part whole and complete and undefiled by any corruption. Such was never found in man and never will be.

In the shady cloisters of the schools anyone can easily and readily prattle about the value of works in justifying men. But when we come before the presence of God we must put away such amusements! For there we deal with a serous matter, and do not engage in frivolous word battles. To this question, I insist, we must apply our mind if we would profitably inquire concerning true righteousness: How shall we reply to the Heavenly Judge when he calls us to account? Let us envisage for ourselves that Judge, not as our minds naturally imagine him, but as he is depicted for us in Scripture: by whose brightness the stars are darkened [Job 9:5-6]; by whose strength the mountains are melted; by whose wrath the earth is shaken; Whose wisdom catches the wise in their craftiness; beside whose whose purity all things are defiled; whose righteousness not even the angels can bear; who makes not the guilty man innocent; whose vengeance when once kindled penetrates to the depths of hell. Let us behold him, I say, sitting in judgment to examine the deeds of me: Who will stand confident before his throne?
– John Calvin, Institutes, 3.12.1

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Anselm_of_Canterbury“Come, then, while life remains in you. In his death alone place your whole trust; in nothing else place any trust;….with this alone cover yourself wholly; and if the Lord your God wills to judge you, say: Lord, between your judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; in no other way can I contend with you. And if he shall say that you are a sinner, say: Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and you. If he should say that you deserve condemnation, say: Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and you, and his merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not. If he says that he is angry with you, say: Lord, I oppose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between your wrath and me. And when you have completed this, say again: Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and you.” – Anselm of Canterbury (1033- 1109) 

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Commentating on 2 Timothy 4:8

“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day”

Calvin has this to say about the final judgment and rewards according to works:

“Because he mentions “the crown of righteousness” and “the righteous Judge,” and employs the word “render,” the Papists endeavor, by means of this passage, to build up the merits of works in opposition to the grace of God. But their reasoning is absurd. Justification by free grace, which is bestowed on us through faith, is not at variance within the rewarding of works, but, on the contrary, those two statements perfectly agree, that a man is justified freely through the grace of Christ, and yet that God will render to him the reward of works; for as soon as God has received us into favor, he likewise accepts our works, so as even to deign to give them a reward, though it is not due to them.”

That’s encouraging to read.  And this stands so apposed to the notions of covenantal nomism and final justification according to works taught by the Federal Visionists and other covenant moralists.  Calvin calls it “absurd”. He goes on.

“Here two blunders are committed by the Papists; first, in arguing that we deserve something from God, because we do well by virtue of our freewill; and secondly, in holding that God is bound to us, as if our salvation proceeded from anything else than from his grace. But it does not follow that God owes anything to us, because he renders righteously what he renders; for he is righteous even in those acts of kindness which are of free grace. And he “renders the reward” which he has promised, not because we take the lead by any act of obedience, but because, in the same course of liberality in which he has begun to act toward us, he follows up his former gifts by those which are afterwards bestowed. In vain, therefore, and to no purpose, do the Papists labor to prove from this, that good works proceed from the power of freewill; because there is no absurdity in saying that God crowns in us his own gifts. Not less absurdly and foolishly do they endeavor, by means of this passage, to destroy the righteousness of faith; since the goodness of God — by which he graciously embraces a man, not imputing to him his sins — is not inconsistent with that rewarding of works which he will render by the same kindness with which he made the promise.”

And a further note from the commentary editor.

“The Papists themselves ought to observe carefully what was said by one of those whom they call their Doctors. ‘How would God render the crown as a righteous Judge, if he had not first given grace as a merciful Father? And how would there have been righteousness in us, had it not been preceded by the grace which justifies us? And how would that crown have been rendered as due, had not all that we have — been given when it was not due?’ These are the words of Augustin; and although the Papists do not choose to keep by the Holy Scripture, they ought at least not to be so base as to renounce that which they pretend to hold. But even this is not all. It is true that it is a doctrine which well deserves to be embraced, that God cannot be a righteous Judge to save us, unless he have been previously declared to be in the highest degree a merciful Father; that there will be no righteousness in us but that which he has placed there; and that he cannot reward us but by crowning his gifts. But it is also true, that, though God has given us grace to serve him, though we have laboriously done, according to our ability, all that was possible for us, though we have done so well that God accepts of it all; still there will be much to censure in all the best works that we have done, and the greatest virtue that can be perceived in us will be vicious.” — Fr. Ser.

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So here I will attempt to delve just a little bit into an issue which is perhaps somewhat confusing to many Christians.  And here it is: If salvation is by grace, how then is the final judgment based on works?

To some, these two assertions seem somewhat, if not entirely, contradictory.  How do we make sense of them? Furthermore, how can we understand such doctrines (as election, justification, salvation etc) in such a way that we can have confidence that we have understood them aright and henceforth walk in assurance that we are pleasing to God in both our actions and intentions? I think that is the question on the minds of many.

“Am I saved by grace?  Yes/no? I’ve always thought it to be so.
If, however, judgment rests upon one’s works,
Just what about my salvation can I ever know?”
(A poem I just wrote… Like it?)

Let us look at a passage of scripture which has come up.  Romans 2.6-11.

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

Now.  How do we take these verses?  Do they bring any violence to the doctrine of justification by faith alone?  Does it seem so to the reader? (again, comments are quite welcome.)

Well, I will (and must) answer flat-out and unequivocally NO.  The Bible’s teachings about rewards does not in any way contradict the Bible’s teaching about justification by faith alone.  For it is impossible for the the Word of God to be contradictory.  But in order to better understand how this is not the case here, let us look into the doctrines a little deeper.

So what is Justification? For clarification I will return to the Westminster Larger Chatachism question 70.

Answer: Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

I think it is also helpful to look at the verses that come after this.  Such as 12 and 13.

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

Calvin remarks,

“He who will do these shall live in them.” The import then of this verse is the following, —“That if righteousness be sought from the law, the law must be fulfilled; for the righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works.” They who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children. It is therefore improper and beyond what is needful, to introduce here a long discussion on the subject, with the view of exposing so futile a sophistry: for the Apostle only urges here on the Jews what he had mentioned, the decision of the law, — That by the law they could not be justified, except they fulfilled the law, that if they transgressed it, a curse was instantly pronounced on them. Now we do not deny but that perfect righteousness is prescribed in the law: but as all are convicted of transgression, we say that another righteousness must be sought. Still more, we can prove from this passage that no one is justified by works; for if they alone are justified by the law who fulfill the law, it follows that no one is justified; for no one can be found who can boast of having fulfilled the law.”

And later in Romans 3 it is made abundantly clear that none will be justified be works.

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Rom 3.20)

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3.23)

And right there, in verse 21, perhaps the most beautiful two words ever penned “But now” come into view.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Rom 3.21-28)

OK then.  Since it is established that we are justified uniquvicially by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, what is the point about judgment by works?

To answer that, let’s  first look a little closer at what the judgment is. The WLC divides things into two parts,

Question 89: What shall be done to the wicked at the day of judgment?

Answer: At the day of judgment, the wicked shall be set on Christ’s left hand, and, upon clear evidence, and full conviction of their own consciences, shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them; and thereupon shall be cast out from the favorable presence of God, and the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels, into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels forever.

Question 90: What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

Answer: At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.

Returning to our original passage in Romans, let us look again at the first verse.

“He will render to each one according to his works.”

Calvin comments,

“But there is not so much difficulty in this verse, as it is commonly thought. For the Lord, by visiting the wickedness of the reprobate with just vengeance, will recompense them with what they have deserved: and as he sanctifies those whom he has previously resolved to glorify, he will also crown their good works, but not on account of any merit: nor can this be proved from this verse; for though it declares what reward good works are to have, it does yet by no means show what they are worth, or what price is due to them. And it is an absurd inference, to deduce merit from reward.” – Calvin

Furthermore, read the note written (I believe) by the editor.

It has appeared to some difficult to reconcile this language with the free salvation which the gospel offers, and to obviate the conclusion which many are disposed to draw from this passage — that salvation is by works as well as by faith. To this objection Pareus [I’m not entirely sure who that is] answers, that the Apostle speaks here of salvation by the works of the law, not indeed as a thing possible, which he subsequently denies, but as a declaration of what it is, that he might thereby show the necessity of a gratuitous salvation which is by faith only. And this is the view which Mr. Haldane takes.

But there is no need of having recourse to this hypothesis: for whenever judgment is spoken of even in the New Testament, it is ever represented in the same way, as being regulated in righteousness, according to the works of every individual. (See Acts 17:31 Colossians 3:24, 25; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12.)

So then it is clear that we don’t have to explain away judgement by works, as if it were merely a hypthetical situation that could happen if indeed anybody could possibly do good works.  No, the judgement is a real thing that will happen and will be based on ones works.  For those whe are not justified by faith, their works will condemn them. But to those who have been justified, they will be rewarded.

So what is the point?  What benefit is there in stressing both salvation by grace and judgment by works?   We must recognize that there is much benefit in every way.

One of these is that it motivates man.  Those who aren’t saved, are motivated negatively to turn to Christ so as to avoid punishment, while those who are saved can be motivated towards greater love and obedience in hope of greater rewards in heaven.  Calvin points out,

“We may add, that though he might have briefly described, even in two words, the blessedness of the godly and also the misery of the reprobate, he yet enlarges on both subjects, and for this end — that he might more effectually strike men with the fear of God’s wrath, and sharpen their desire for obtaining grace through Christ: for we never fear God’s judgment as we ought, except it be set as it were by a lively description before our eyes; nor do we really burn with desire for future life, except when roused by strong incentives, ( incited by many fans).”

To bring the case further we can look at other passages where Paul deals with the final judgment.

In 2nd Corinthians 5:10 we read,

“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.”

In 1st Corinthians 4.5,

“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.”

From the last part it is clear that there will be rewards from God (“commendation” or praise from God).

Thus, for the believer, who has drawn “near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” and has had their heart “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Heb 10.22) this view of the final judgment will bring with it only anticipation of future glory.

From the way Paul talks about the judgment, it is clear that his attitude is on of anticipation.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 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.”

The Christian has been saved by grace and not by works.  But he has also been saved unto good works. The difference being, now he gets to do good works. Where as before (without justification), he couldn’t even do a good work if he wanted to.  Of course, he didn’t want to at that time.  And yet now, being justified by faith, he finds that he was indeed created in Christ Jesus, before the foundation of the world, to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for him to do (Eph 2.10).

So we see then that Salvation by grace, and judgment by works are not contradictory at all.  The one is the foundation for the other.  The former makes possible the later.  And the later is built upon the former.  They are in agreement with one another and thus complementary.   If however, we don’t see this connection, if we don’t see how these two things work together, we open ourselves up to so many foul speculations and doubts upon which we will be hard pressed to find any sense in the matter.

I think the Belgic Confession is incredibly helpful here.  On Sanctification it reads,

“We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” (2 Cor. 5:17) causing him to live the “new life” (Rom. 6:4) and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned.

So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” (Gal. 5:6) which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.

These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification — for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

So then, we do good works, but nor for merit — for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) — thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ” (Luke 17:10)

Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works — but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts.

Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.”

So we are saved by grace, and now get to do good works — which God created us to do in the first place.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5.1)”

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col 3.23-24)”


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