Thursday, September 25, 2008

Judgment and Repentance

It is certain that on the Last Day we will be judged on what we have done. "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done" (Rev. 20:12 ESV; see also Matt. 25:35).

It is certain that our salvation depends not upon our keeping the Law, but upon the grace of God who gives us faith (Eph 2:8-10). Salvation cannot be earned or merited. Salvation--having eternal life in the Body of Christ is something outside of us that must be granted to us. Christ came to make the dead live, after all, and the dead cannot make themselves alive. Salvation is a gift.

So how do we reconcile these two views which appear to contradict one another? The one is the image of being judged, of being weighed, while the other shows that we never deserve it based on our own works or abilities.

They are not contradictory. Faith is a gift, but it must show fruit. Making alive is the work of Christ, but alive people do living things, not things of death. As James says, "Faith without works is dead." (Jam. 2:26)

This may be one of the greatest differences between Protestants and the Orthodox and Catholics. Protestants tend to ignore the judgment seat of Christ that weighs our works. When they think of the Last Judgment at all, they think of forensic justification, that our deeds will not be counted at all, that Christ will recognize Himself in us, as it were, and the subject of what we actually did in this life will never be mentioned.

It seems to me that Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike focus on Christ as our Judge. He says He is, after all (Matt. 25:31ff). And they recognize that He will judge our actions. When they consider their spiritual lives, they think of that Judgment seat of Christ. They think of their souls being laid open before Him. This vision alone should preserve all people from any sense of works-righteousness. This thought alone should keep every one of us from ever trusting in our own good works or holiness. Thinking of every thought, word and deed open and visible to our God, what could we possibly hope in besides the mercy of God?

Notice, I did not write that the leading Protestant views and the Catholic views (as I understand it) are incompatible. Both things are true. God does remove our sins as far as the east from the west. (Psa. 103:12) But He does "come to judge the living and the dead" and the works we have done. Both of these views must be kept together. Faith is not faith if it does not repent of our wicked deeds and strive to please God. Judgment will be...harsh...if we trust that we are basically good folks and trust in our niceness and generosity instead of throwing ourselves on the undeserved mercy of God.

Our Christian life, however empowered by the Holy Spirit, is not on autopilot. Christ commands that we be active in this life of the fruits of repentance, by taking up our cross, by seeking the kingdom, by hearing the word of God and doing it. The violent (that is, the forceful) bear it away. (Matt. 11:12)


  1. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    Thank you for this. Bravo.

    What good works do for the Christian is not to earn or deserve anything, but to help conform us to the Image of the Son. To be conformed to His image is our pre-ordained destiny, what heaven (dwelling in Christ)is all about.

  2. -C said...

    A very fine post, Pr. Hall and I believe, not unLutheran.

    It's just that this information is sadly and noticeably absent from most Lutheran settings today. And it is not unimportant - it is vitally important ... just absent.

    So thanks for this.

  3. Rev. Milovan Katanic said...


  4. Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

    Pr. Hall,

    I recently used that passage from Revelation in a presentation to a Higher Things youth get-together. I like the part you left out:

    13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. [Emphasis mine, duh]

    Christ is our Book of Life, upon whose hands we are engraved with nails. Judgment will be fair, but salvation is a gift.

    This is a very theological topic, but it exists at everyone's level of concern. It's a great way to call people's attention to the simple fact that Christianity is something you live, or rather, that Christ lives in you and through you.

    How have your people taken to this, if you don't mind me asking?

  5. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    I believe it was Luther who somewhere made the observation that while works are necessary - they are not necessary for God. Our works are for the benefit of our neighbor. In terms of our relationship to God, that is defined by the Cross.

    Then of course, we can ask what it means to do good? It is impossible for one without faith to do good in the sight of God - and (the point I know I harp on that you don't like as much) the one who has faith will do good works - the branch that is attached to the vine bears fruit.

    Perhaps rather than wondering what Good we ought to do (for on the last day, when our good works are revealed, the faithful will say, "When did we do this?") we ought to work more on breaking down the passions which harm and seek to break and destroy faith.

  6. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    I think our efforts must procede on all fronts, neglecting none.

    The work indeed is all God's. But the effort it all ours!

    (The people in the paragraph weren't unaware they had been feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. They were just unaware of their efforts' full significance.)

  7. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    Part of those efforts of doing good also include simply using the blessings God has provided in their proper way. It is a good work to sit and rejoice with a friend, to enjoy a good movie or a book, to laugh and enjoy the blessings that showers upon us.

    We don't think of these often as good works - but they are - they are using God's blessings as they ought to be used. Does it not honor the Creator when we, in faith, rightly enjoy His creation?

    I think many of the good works we do are simple things that we do without thinking, without noticing - even the outward acts of love to the neighbor, things we pay no mind but end up having profound impacts we couldn't have anticipated.

    God works in us and through us - He will tend to His Work in me - let me focus on the places where my sin would seek to thwart His will.