Conversations in Reformed biblical theology

justification (3)

Justification and the judgment according to works

Justification is by faith alone. Yet Scripture repeatedly asserts that a Day is coming in which there will be a “judgment according to works,” in which men will receive “reward” or “punishment” in accordance with their deeds.

These two clear teachings have proven difficult to reconcile with complete satisfaction. Some have attempted to suggest that the judgment according to works is really only true for unbelievers. The only judgment according to works for believers has to do with Christ’s already-accomplished righteousness. This, however, does not comport with numerous biblical passages. For example, in 2 Corinthians 5.10, Paul clearly states that believers will be judged according to what they have done in the body.

Another solution has been to suggest that such a judgment is only for the varying rewards that believers will receive. Certainly, there is an element of truth there, as Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 3 shows. Yet the notion that the judgment which believers face is an altogether different one from the one which unbelievers face (i.e. a different judicial setting) is again belied by numerous biblical texts. The sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, for example, are assembled together for judgment; one can also cite Romans 2 and various other passages where the judgment of believers and unbelievers are placed in parallel.

Probably the most satisfactory and widely-held Reformed interpretation is that while works will be examined at the future judgment, they will not be the basis or ground of final salvation. Rather, such works will be demonstrative or evidential. It is not the case that initial justification is by grace through faith, but that the final justification will be by the merit of works.


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Tim Gallant: “The Doers of the Law Wil Be Justified:  A Defense of a Literal Reading of Romans 2.12-16.” Argues that this passage refers to Gentiles, upon whose hearts the new covenant has been written.  The justification is not earned upon the basis of works, but the works are evidential of a faith-relationship to God through Christ.

Rich Lusk: “Future Justification to the Doers of the Law.” Argues that the justification mentioned in Romans 2.13-16 is not theoretical, but based upon the gospel.


There is no inconsistency in saying that He rewards good works provided we understand that that implies no denial of the fact that it is by free grace that we obtain eternal life.

- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians at 5.10