Q & A: Salvation and the Judgment of Works

In the beginning

Question and answer from the Bible Answer Man broadcast.

Gregory in Salt Lake City, UT, on KUTR: I was a Mormon, a very devout Mormon, nine kids, the whole ball of wax, for 46 years. Recently a Christian. I’ve got two questions. I’ll ask the second question first so you’ll know where my first question is going to lead to.

The Bible clearly says that we’re all going to be judged according to our deeds. So that’s the second question. Let me set that up with the first question. You know when you deal with a Seventh-day Adventist, a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon, one of the most difficult things is the Pharisaical or the Judaiser type attitude of it’s works, it’s works, it’s works. The Mormons’ third article of faith even says mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws – which we know is impossible according to Romans – and ordinances. So here is my question: Would the apostle Paul be upset with me if I used this example with a Mormon friend? You have a brain tumor and it’s going to kill you. A physician walks up to you and says “I’ve got the skills, I’ve got the expertise. I can fix that brain tumor. I can make it like it never happened.” So you accept this person’s gift and you say okay. So he puts you on the table and he fixes you. Now, what reason would you have to boast knowing that you really had nothing to do with this? Is that kind of the message that Paul is trying to communicate? A physician is healing you and you, the patient, had nothing to do with it other than to accept what the physician was going to do for you? How do you tie that notion of we’re all judged according to our works?

Hank: First of all, great illustration and well-articulated question. I appreciate the way you’ve put this together. This is one of the things we so often miss in evangelical Christianity. We talk about one side of the equation and not the other side of the equation. It is true that we are saved by God’s grace through faith on account of Jesus Christ alone, not of works lest anyone boast. Paul’s very clear about that in Ephesians 2:8-9, explicitly stating that but also many other places as well. In fact, the panoply of Scripture communicates that very thing.

However, the other side of the equation that you allude to is that while you cannot work for your salvation, you can work from your salvation and what you will do in the end will be judged. Which is to say there are degrees of reward in heaven and degrees of punishment in hell. This is precisely what Paul is driving at when he points out that no one can lay another foundation other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But on that foundation we can build either using wood, hay and straw or gold, silver and costly stones. The Day of the Lord is going to reveal what kind of material we use to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. If it is discovered that we are using inferior materials, then they will be consumed by the breath of the Lord’s mouth, but we ourselves will escape as one escaping, Paul says, out of a burning building.

So the image there is that there some who will have little to show for the time they spent on earth. So if you look at the grand picture, so to speak, when the Lord appears a second time, there is that separation of sheep and goats. Jesus said “Do not be amazed at this. A time has come when all who are in their graves will come out, some will rise to live” – the sheep – “and some will rise to be eternally condemned” – the goats. But then we’re going to be judged according to what we have done. And that’s why Jesus says over and over again “Do not store for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break in and steal, but store for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

So it’s important to recognize that we are saved by God’s grace through faith on account of Jesus Christ alone, but we are saved unto good works.

Gregory: So judgment and salvation are different. So you can have salvation but God is still going to judge you after He’s promised you salvation.

Hank: There’s no question about that.

Gregory: He’s going to say yes, you are saved, however, He’s going to consider the deeds that you’ve done. Can you elaborate more?

Hank: It’s what Jesus essentially said. You can follow this thread through the entirety of the Bible, but you start at the beginning and you pull the thread right back from Revelation to Genesis, the idea is “Behold, I’m coming soon. My reward is with me. I’ll give to everyone according to what He has done.” Again, this is an indication that what we do now counts for all eternity. My dad used to describe this as people in heaven looking like pails that are full of water although they are different sized pails. In other words, some are going to have enlarged responsibilities and capabilities in heaven, but the beautiful thing in heaven is, here, when someone has a greater platform than someone else we can be jealous. We can be envious. But there we will look at another station in life eternal without even a modicum of jealousy or envy. We will absolutely be thrilled with the station that God gives to someone else.

Remember we’re not all going to be clones in heaven. We are going to have our own identities. The DNA that makes you you, Gregory, and the DNA that makes me me, will be our DNA for all eternity, although that DNA will be renewed or resurrected in a restored universe and will flower to what it was intended to be if sin had never entered the world. But you’re going to have your own pattern. You’re not going to be a clone of me and I’m not going to be a clone of you. We are going to be those who have their own DNA flourished to complete perfection, and you’re going to have a station in life that’s different from my station in eternal life. We will have different responsibilities and opportunities.

Gregory: I’m glad that you’ve explained that because it confuses me when some of my fellow Christians say you’re saved and that’s it and then I hear talk about being judged by deeds and rewards and I’m glad that you’ve explained that because it has confused me somewhat.

Hank: A lot of Christians are confused at that level and I think that’s because while this theme was a constant theme in the ministry of Jesus Christ, it is not much of a theme in contemporary sermons. Because of that I devoted an entire chapter to this subject in both my books Resurrection as well as in my book Afterlife.

Gregory: So true Christians all get salvation but the reward is not the same.

Hank: That’s precisely right, yes. We work from our salvation, we don’t work for our salvation. The illustration that I pointed to and I outline in my book Resurrection is really quite significant. I’m thrilled with this notion of what Paul says in 1 Cor. 3. He says “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” He says “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it’s burned up he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

So he’s illustrating the sober reality that some Christians are going to be resurrected with precious little to show for the time they spent on earth. They are going to be saved, but only – again, as Paul says – as one escaping through the flames. And this is going to be the lot of even the most visible Christian leader whose motive in ministry was selfish rather than selfless.

So again, in this chapter – and I’ve got a whole chapter on it – I point out that we must all, as Paul says, appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. That’s 2 Cor. 5. And that is not speaking of the reward of salvation, but rather the rewards of service. So the more we live lives that deserve reward, the more we end up bringing glory to our heavenly Father.

Again, I’ve written about this in two different places, Resurrection and my book Afterlife. Great question, Gregory. Welcome to the forever family of God and may we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.