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Salvation by Faith Alone and the Judgment by Works

Sometimes I get wonderful questions by email. Today, someone asked me to respond to an article by Jack Cottrell. If you don't want to read the article, it tries, vainly, to explain how we can be saved by faith apart from works yet still be judged by our works.

My books, and those I have published for others, consistently maintain 4-star and better ratings despite the occasional 1- and 2-star ratings from people angry about my kicking over sacred cows.

Here was my response to the article:

I think the article does not do justice to the verses he cites. He interprets all the verses based on an idea of "apart from works" that he already has in mind. Everything the Bible says about judgment has to do with works, not faith. Faith is never mentioned in conjunction with works. Thus, all his explanations are attempts to make his wrong interpretation of "apart from works" fit with the verses on the judgment.

Everyone seems to miss that "apart from works" only applies to our deliverance from slavery to sin. God comes and transforms us by forgiving our sins and giving us the Holy Spirit to make us a new creature, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. He does all this apart from works (Eph. 2:8-10). None of that, however, has any affect on the judgment or God's mercy. The judgment was already fair, and God was already merciful.

Let me explain.

Before you read my response, read Romans 7:24 - 8:13. My response is just putting that passage into my own words.

We were all slaves to sin ...

Have you read Romans 7:24 to 8:13 like I asked? You are not going to understand this well unless you do. Keep your Bible open to it as well.

As I was saying, we were all slaves to sin as described in Romans 7 and mourned in Romans 7:24. Romans 7 is the law of sin and death. We sin, and it leads to death because the judgment is according to works. Our sins will cause us to perish at the judgment.

The article you sent acknowledges that the judgment is still according to works, so he agrees the judgment did not need to be changed. God has always been merciful, says hundreds of Scriptures. In Ezekiel 18:21-23, we read that if people repent, God will forget all their wickedness, and they will live because of the righteousness they do after their repentance. That is a very merciful and fair judgment, which should not surprise us because God is very merciful and fair. Thus, God's mercy and judgment did not need to change.

What needed to change, then? Our ability to repent and live righteously needed to change. Romans 7 tells us that sin in our flesh prevents us from living righteously, and the chapter ends with a cry for help to deliver us from our wretched body (and the sin in it). Obviously, then, this is what needed to change. This is what Jesus needed to die for.

Because God—and his Son—loved us so much (and was already so full of mercy toward us), God came up with a plan called "the Law of the Spirit of Life" (Rom. 8:2). Jesus became a man (an "adam") and brought all of Adam's race to the grave. In the same way that Adam disobeyed and we all became sinners, Jesus obeyed and all who believe in him become righteous; we become obeyers (Rom. 5:19).

So, Romans 8:3-4 tells us that what the Law could not do, God did. He did it by sending his own Son in the likeness of our sinful flesh, as an offering for sin, so that the righteous requirement of the Law would be fulfilled in those of us who walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh.

This, of course, has to happen apart from works. Obviously, our works could not deliver us from our Romans 7 state because we could not do good works. That's the whole problem, the Law of Sin and Death (Rom. 8:2). Therefore, apart from works and by faith in the working of God, he delivers us from the flesh by putting it to death. He crucifies us with Christ (Gal. 2:20). He buries us with Christ (Rom.6:3), and he raises us from the dead by giving us the life of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:3-11). He gives us the Spirit by faith. He baptizes us for the remission of sins without requiring any works of us (Acts 2:38). In this way, be are born again, and now we are new creatures, created in King Jesus to do good works (Eph. 2:10).

Problem cured! By faith in Jesus, we are transformed into obeyers. We have been delivered from our past sins. We now can be the people mentioned in Ezekiel 18:21-23. We were wicked, but our wickedness is forgotten, and we are going to live because of our righteousness, a righteousness that was imparted to us by faith. The transformation is so great that Peter calls it partaking of the divine nature and being delivered from the corruption of the world (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

Wow, what an awesome correction of the real problem! The real problem was our Romans 7 slavery to sin. It is corrected apart from works and by faith. Now the judgment—which was always merciful and fair and did not change nor need to change—can be faced by people who have repented and now live righteously.

The righteous have always had wonderful benefits. David said that God does not impute sin to the righteous (Ps. 32 and repeated in Rom. 4). We live holy lives, following God, so even when at some point we freak out, like David did, and commit some awful sin, we can repent and mourn and weep like David did (Ps. 51: 17; James 4:7-9). Mostly, though, we live in 1 John 1:7. We walk in the light, and the blood of Jesus gives us fellowship with one another and cleanses us from every sin. Because of this, we wind up blameless at the judgment seat of Christ (Jude 24-25).

This is being made righteous by faith apart from works combined with judgment by works. It is simple, and there is not even a hint of contradiction. The verses that confuse us all fall into place.

The passage I asked you to read ends with a simple conclusion in Romans 8:12-13. If we live according to the flesh we will die. If by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live.

That's how Paul understood his own message because he said he disciplined his body and brought it under subjection so that he would not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). (Disqualified is the same word used in 2 Cor. 13:5. If you are disqualified, you are not in Christ.)

It seems pretty simple to me once it's explained, but it can be hard to find in the midst of the crazy misinterpretation of faith alone by Calvin and Luther, who I love as Reformers but who wound up terrible theologians.

Where to Go from Here

Other disputed Christian theology may interest you, or you can find all my articles in a categorized list. Also, I have recently been going through the Bible in my blog. I enjoy do this, and I have links to posts from both my 2012 posts and my 2017 trip through the Bible.