Faith Foundations

Repentance From Dead Works: 3 – Don’t Forget Good Works Are Dead Works


Suggested Pre-Reading: Repentance From Dead Works 2


We have been looking at the concept of repenting from dead works.  First, we saw how some in the early church believed circumcision was a good work necessary for salvation – an idea that was put to rest by the apostles, who made it clear that faith in Christ’s death and resurrection was sufficient. Then, we saw how the apostles still supported the performance of good works by Christians. Although the works did not contribute to salvation, they were necessary by-products of salvation, since the power to perform good works comes from the Holy Spirit.

We will conclude our examination of repenting from dead works by reiterating the main point: good works are dead works. Over the course of the Christian life the temptation will arise, one way or another, to doubt the gospel and think that our works contribute to our righteous standing before God. Unlike the early church, we will not be tempted to add circumcision to the gospel, but we will be tempted to add something.  In our day various Christian individuals or groups have been tempted to add the following to the gospel:

  • Speaking in tongues.
  • Performing penance.
  • Observing the Jewish feasts.
  • Saying “Yeshua” instead of “Jesus”.
  • Believing in the five points of Calvinism.
  • Not believing in the five points of Calvinism.
  • Being baptized.
  • Only reading the 1611 King James Bible.
  • Participating in social justice.

Whenever the temptation to doubt the sufficiency of the cross of Christ arises, we can follow the example of our Lord, who when facing satanic temptation in the wilderness after forty days of fasting, responded with the truth of the Word of God.  The four passages below show without a doubt that good works are dead works, and that the gospel is truly a gift from God, not something we earn or contribute to in any way.

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2: 21)

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6: 28 – 29)

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7: 21 – 23)

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 9 – 14)

Let us not be considered lawless by God, by adding our dead works to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us be considered righteous through faith, by believing in Him (Jesus) whom He (God the Father) has sent.

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Repentance From Dead Works: 2 – Good Works Are A Sign Of Repentance From Dead Works


Suggested Pre-reading: Repentance From Dead Works: 1


The Christian’s relationship to works is inherently paradoxical. On the one hand, the Christian believes with fervor that works do nothing to contribute to salvation – all works are dead works. On the other hand, the Christian believes that good works are part of Christian living and a sign of true repentance. We see this paradox in the ruling of the Jerusalem council, which we just looked at in regards to the dead work of circumcision. The council advised circumcision is not necessary for salvation, yet in their ruling they included commands for converted Gentiles. The Gentiles were advised to abstain from

  • Things contaminated by idols
  • Fornication
  • What is strangled and from blood

The council was not substituting these three works for circumcision, implying that they were needed for salvation. Rather, the council, believing that the converted Gentiles were indeed recipients of a true and abiding faith in Christ, gave them direction as to how their faith in Christ should manifest in their cultural context. Specifically, they were advised to abstain from three sinful practices that were particularly tempting in their society.

What helps resolve the tension in the paradox of performing good works is understanding where the ability to perform good works comes from. It does not come from the Christian’s own intrinsic piety – it comes from the Holy Spirit. In the Mosaic Covenant, God commanded the people to perform good works, and they had to do so by their own power and piety. Hence Israel’s repeated inability to obey God. But in the New Covenant community, made up of those who have been granted faith in Christ, God has indwelt them with His Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who enables a Christian to perform good works and who frees the Christian from chronic enslavement to serious sins. Paul makes this evident in his letter to the Galatians, where he contrasts the deeds of those without the Spirit and the fruit of those with the Spirit:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5: 19 – 24)

The logic of Paul’s argument is quite simple. Because the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a promise of the New Covenant, and because the ministry of the Holy Spirit is focused on promoting good works while reducing sins in the life of a believer, every Christian should see a reduction in the deeds of the flesh and an increase in the fruit of the Spirit, as their lives progress. Since the power to perform good works and be free from habitual sinful practices is a gift from the Holy Spirit, if a professing Christian is significantly lacking good works and significantly enslaved to deeds of the flesh, one may rightly question whether the Holy Spirit is indeed in them.

Now, in light of all of this, it must be said that using one’s works as a measurement of true salvation is complex and nuanced. It is not something to be done glibly, and there is no general formula that can be applied to everyone. It is highly contextual, and requires delicacy and gentleness. The misuse of this idea can result in extremely bad conclusions on both ends of the spectrum. One can look at their life and see their good works and believe they are saved because they are “doing things for God” and living holy lives. Or, one can look at their life and their struggle with sin, and believe that since good works are not increasing at the rate they would like, perhaps they do not have a real faith in Christ. In either scenario, the eye has been lifted off of the saving work of Jesus Christ and placed onto the works, or lack thereof, of an individual.

So we must remember we are using works as an imperfect diagnostic of faith. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 that many who perform “good works” in the name of the Lord will be cast into hell, so we have direct proof the diagnostic is imperfect. But even though using works in diagnosing true repentance is difficult and imperfect, it is nevertheless a Scriptural doctrine. That is why James wrote so strongly about it, to the point of making it sound like works do contribute to salvation.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (James 2: 14)

No, James is not implying that works contribute to saving faith and salvation. He is simply upholding the teaching that if a person is saved, and has in them the Holy Spirit of God, they will necessarily produce good works. A Christian, whom God has granted a normal length of life, should be able to look back on their life and see an increase in works.

For a concluding word on this topic, we turn to the New City Catechism, which explains the relationship between salvation and works quite well:

New City Catechism Q & A 32

Q: What do justification and sanctification mean?

A: Justification means our declared righteousness before God, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection for us. Sanctification means our gradual, growing righteousness, made possible by the Spirit’s work in us.

Justification is a gift from God, and so is sanctification. Therefore, if we have one, we have the other. But if we do not have one, we do not have the other. That is the essence of what is meant by “good works are a sign of repentance from dead works”.

Repentance From Dead Works: 1 – Good Works Are Dead Works

In our study of the Eternal Judgment, we discussed how neither good works nor bad works contribute to our salvation.  A bad work condemns us.  A good work cannot erase the condemnation incurred.  Therefore, both are dead works.  But there is more to learn about the concept of a dead work. Specifically, there was a unique tension felt by the first Jewish Christians regarding this topic, and it is helpful to us to understand it, so that we do not repeat errors of the past.

For over a millennium, God’s people had as their rule of faith the Law of Moses. Within the Law were numerous divine commands, such as male circumcision and temple sacrifices.  When Christ came and inaugurated the New Covenant, circumcision and temple sacrifices were no longer needed.  But the Old Covenant mindset of some of the Jewish Christians did not change overnight, and there was tension caused by those who believed that the Law of Moses still had to be kept, if not in whole, then in part.  This issue was dealt with by the Jerusalem council.

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.  (Acts 15: 1 – 2)

These Jewish Christians wanted to take what was formerly a good work in the Mosaic Covenant and add it to the New Covenant.  In their mind the salvation equation was

Christ + Circumcision = Righteousness Before God

The Jerusalem council, specifically Peter and James, responded to the matter based on their authority as apostles of Jesus, and their intricate knowledge of His gospel.  Peter said:

But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.  (Acts 15: 11)

James said:

Brethren, listen to me.  Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.  With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, “After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.”  Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.  (Acts 15: 13 – 20)

God does not require New Covenant members, Jew or Gentile, to circumcise their males for entry into the covenant.  This work, required as part of the Old Covenant, is no longer necessary. But it was hard for the early Jewish converts to let go of things that used to be good, evidenced not only by the need for a discussion in Jerusalem, but by a need for Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which also dealt directly with people who wanted to add circumcision to the gospel.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.  Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.  You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.  For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.  (Galatians 5: 1 – 6)

Paul here reinforces the gospel-law binary.  Man is either saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone, or by keeping the law alone.  Man cannot be saved through a combination of faith in Christ and performing circumcision.  Circumcision is but one tenet of the Mosaic Law, and if one wanted to add circumcision to the gospel, Paul argued one would necessarily have to add the entire law to the gospel.  But if the law is added to the gospel, it is no longer the gospel.

We should always keep in mind the ruling of the Jerusalem council and the words of Paul to Galatia. Although we may not be tempted to add Old Covenant rites like circumcision to the gospel, we undoubtedly, whether personally in our own hearts or in the church through formal teaching, are tempted to add “good” works to the gospel. We must stand strong and resist the temptation, for as we discussed in the examination of the Eternal Judgment, as well as here and now, good works are dead works.  And if a good work is a dead work, it saves no one. And if it does not have the power to save, it cannot be the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Eternal Judgment: 4 – Atonement Is Not Universally Applied


Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 3


Upon hearing that righteousness before God is granted apart from the law, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, one might be inclined to think that everyone will therefore be counted as righteous on the Day of Judgment. After all, if salvation is not the result of human effort, but an effect of Jesus’ atoning death, what would prevent all humans from being saved? Indeed, this is a fair question to ask. To answer it, we must go to Scripture. As we do so, we see unequivocally that only some people get saved; only some are counted as righteous before God.

If this sounds shocking, that a loving God only grants righteousness to some people, consider the only other options in regards to salvation and righteousness:

  • God saves none
  • God saves all

If either of these options were true, there would be no need for the Bible and the teachings of God. If the point of Scripture is to teach the way of salvation, then such a teaching is pointless if God does not save. Conversely, if God has determined to save everyone, then there is no need to know the way of salvation taught in Scripture, for salvation will be granted no matter what one believes.

So the idea that the Bible teaches only some will be saved stands up under logical scrutiny. Furthermore, the New Testament is replete with references to righteousness being granted to those who have heard about the sacrifice of Christ and believed the message they were told.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe…(Romans 3: 21 – 22)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4: 5)

…with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform…for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4: 20 – 25 segments)

…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10: 9 – 10)

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 14 – 17)

These passages make it clear that it is not simply the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that saves. The sacrifice of Christ must be coupled with the faith of an individual, in order to be efficacious in regards to righteousness. We see in the Old Testament this idea of coupling faith with a God-ordained sacrifice. The prophet Isaiah rebuked the people of Israel for faithlessly participating in God-ordained temple sacrifices.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah. “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…” (Isaiah 1: 10 – 13)

The people did not have faith in God. Yet they brought before God sacrifices in accordance with the law. Because they lacked faith, the sacrifices they brought were not received by God. Likewise, if someone does not believe in Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of Christ is of no value to them, although the fact remains He did indeed die for them, just as the bulls and goats did indeed die on behalf of faithless Israel in the days of Isaiah.

We see another precedent in the Passover. Although the invitation to slaughter the Passover lamb and smear the blood was given to all, only those who actually believed God, and killed the lamb and smeared the blood, were passed over by the destroying angel. Similarly, the invitation to believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is extended to all people through the preaching of the gospel. Yet only those who believe the preached message will be declared righteous on Judgment Day. Spiritually speaking, the atoning work of Jesus Christ must be applied to the individual human soul, just as the atoning blood of the Passover Lamb had to be applied to the doorposts. If the lamb was slaughtered and the blood was shed, but the blood was unapplied, the house would have lost its firstborn that night.

Let us end with a hypothetical.

There are two people sitting next to each other at church on a Sunday morning. Both claim to be Christians. Both, on the Friday night before church, went out on the town and committed grievous sins against God – drunkenness and sexual immorality. While the pastor is preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the first person is delighted with joy, for they know that not only the sins they committed on Friday, but the sum work of their entire life, will lead to a judgment of “guilty” by God. But they do not fear this judgment, for in faith they believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they know their righteousness is because of Christ and not because of their own piety. The other person, knowing that they sinned against God on Friday night, made a point to show up to church on Sunday, hoping to make up for the sins they committed by attendance and by putting a little extra in the offering plate. This person in their own mind is generally a moral person pleasing to God, but every once in a while slips up and needs to make amends to get right with God.

Only the first person has true faith in Jesus Christ. They will be counted as righteous on Judgment Day. The other person has a false faith. They believe in themselves, and that they can atone for their own sins through religious service. They will be guilty on the Day of Judgment and judged as an unbeliever.

Righteousness before God is real. It is not given to all, but only to some. And it cannot be faked, for God is not deceived. Those with true faith, a faith that is itself a gift from God, are the righteous ones. Those with a contrived faith, a faith that comes not from God but from within, are lawless and do not know Christ.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7: 21 – 23)

Eternal Judgment: 3 – Atonement Is The Answer


Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 2


Atonement is the answer to the question, “How are sinners made righteous outside of the law?”

But what is atonement?

It is the means by which sins are forgiven by God. As we seek to understand this, we do well to turn to the Old Testament and its description of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be girded with the linen sash and attired with the linen turban (these are holy garments). Then he shall bathe his body in water and put them on. He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. (Leviticus 16: 3 – 10)

This description of Yom Kippur can be summarized as follows:

Element Purpose
Bull Sin Offering For the High Priest
Goat 1 Sin Offering For the People
Goat 2 Bears the sins of the people and is released to the wilderness

Note how God did not ask the sinners to sacrifice themselves or to bear their own sins for atonement. Rather, God prescribed the bull and goats to deal with the sins of the people. This is the heart of Biblical atonement – it occurs by means of a substitute. Substitutionary atonement is what keeps the forgiveness of sins distinct from law-keeping. You can never atone for your own sins by obeying God’s law, because God requires a substitute for atonement.

Moving from the Old Testament to the New, the author of Hebrews explains how Jesus is the ultimate substitute.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9: 11 – 14)

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9: 24 – 26)

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10: 1 – 4)

In order to prove Christ’s atonement as greater than even Yom Kippur, the author of Hebrews makes an a fortiori argument. He agrees with the established fact that in the days of Moses God ordained atonement through sinful priests and animals. He then proceeds to argue that if atonement could come through weak vessels, such as a sinful high priest and mere animals, how much more so could God ordain atonement through the sinless and spotless Messiah, as part of the New Covenant.

This idea of the Messiah as an atoning substitute is not unique to the book of Hebrews, or even the New Testament. It was prophesied hundreds of years in advance by the prophet Isaiah.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…

But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering…

My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities…

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors

(excerpts from Isaiah 53)

Note how the prophet says Messiah will “justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities”. When atonement happens, the sinner is made righteous in God’s sight. The person who was once separated from God is now reconciled and brought near to God. Theologians call this the Great Exchange – Jesus takes our sins and He gives us His right-standing before God.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5: 21)

This law-gospel binary is essential for all to understand. The law is not the gospel and the gospel is not the law. Our righteousness before God comes not through our own ability to keep God’s law and make up for sins committed, but by having our sins placed on the ordained substitute for atonement. In the days of Moses, it was animals – bulls and goats. In our day, the appointed substitute is Jesus of Nazareth. He went to the cross and shed His blood so that our sins could be atoned for and forgiven once-for-all.

Atonement is why righteousness is outside of the law, and why the gospel is actually good news. There is nothing we can do to pay for our sins, because Jesus has paid it all.

Eternal Judgment: 2 – Righteousness Must Come Apart From The Law


Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 1


Let us remind ourselves of the predicament.

One day there will be an Eternal Judgment. God will send people to eternal bliss or eternal torment. If this future judgment is based on one’s ability to keep God’s law, all will be sent to eternal torment, for the Bible clearly teaches all have sinned against God and earned death:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3: 23)

…the wages of sin is death…(Romans 6: 23)

Yet the Bible, just as clearly as it states all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, acknowledges there will be those judged righteous and granted eternal life.

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12: 2)

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25: 31 – 34)

A great paradox, then, has been presented to the reader of Scripture: how does a sinner who has earned death become righteous in God’s sight and inherit eternal life?

Before answering this question as the Bible answers it, we must first dispel the notion that the answer is “by keeping the law”. Let us use a courtroom analogy to demonstrate the point. Imagine that a man who robbed a bank is being tried for bank robbery. Will his defense be, “Yes, I robbed the bank, but I didn’t murder or rape anyone, so because I kept those laws, I should be declared innocent of bank robbery”? That type of defense, in an earthly court, is absurd. Whether or not he kept some laws has no legal impact on the law that he broke. In the heavenly court it is the same – no amount of law keeping can erase the sins we have committed. Why would my not having murdered someone legally erase my sin of hateful thoughts toward that person?

The conclusion then is this – righteousness must come apart from the law. This Biblical idea is in opposition to what is commonly taught in false religions. Many false religions send sinners to the law to earn righteousness and deal with sins previously committed. Think of the doctrine of karma in eastern religions or the rite of penance in Catholicism. But the Bible is clear on the matter – the law does not save. Here is what the Bible says about salvation on the day of judgment:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe…(Romans 3: 19 – 22)

This argument also appears in the letter to Galatia:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2: 21)

Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3: 11)

Jesus Himself stated the same argument clearly and succinctly:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3: 16)

These verses of Scripture make it clear: those whom God will judge as righteous are not the law-keepers, but those whose faith is in Jesus Christ.

This idea is really quite scandalous. If someone lives for seventy years and only commits one sin a day, that equates to 25,550 sins over the course of a lifetime. Will God really declare someone righteous at the Eternal Judgment who has sinned over 25,000 times? Yes, God will – if the person trusts in Christ.

To understand more how this can be, we must discuss the Biblical teaching of atonement. This we will do in the next article.

Eternal Judgment: 1 – Judgment Is Needed For Justice

Gospel means good news. In order to understand how good the gospel of Jesus Christ is, one must understand how bad the bad news is. The bad news is very bad: God, at some point in the future, will put an end to the earth as we know it. He will bring all of humanity before Him, as defendants in a courtroom, and proclaim “guilty” or “not guilty” to each and every person. Those found guilty will be sent to everlasting torment, with no hope of parole. The first clear Biblical reference to this event, which is called the Eternal Judgment, is found in the Old Testament book of Daniel:

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12: 2)

Before discussing how it is that God determines guilt or innocence, let us for a moment ponder the philosophical and logical implications of this event.

Adolf Hitler was a madman who killed millions of Jews for no good reason. He evaded justice by taking his own life prior to being captured. One must ask, “Did Hitler’s plan work?” Did Hitler escape justice by killing himself? If there is no Eternal Judgment, if there is no judgment after bodily death, then the answer is unequivocally yes, Hitler evaded justice. But if the human soul lives beyond the bodily death of this earth, and will stand before God one day, then no, Hitler did not escape justice. God will ensure that he is punished appropriately for his transgressions.

For a moment let us theorize that Hitler did not commit suicide, but was captured. Undoubtedly he would have been executed for his offenses, but perhaps leading up to his execution he would have been tortured. The question that must be asked is whether any amount of torture could truly repay Hitler for all the evil he committed. How much torture is needed to equal the deaths of six million Jews? How much torture is needed to account for the economic destruction, the lives lost during official combat, and the murdering of non-Jew invalids and the poor? Hitler would, even without killing himself, escape justice, because no human court could inflict a punishment that would ensure justice was served. It is not humanly possible to punish a man like Hitler, in proportion to all the evil and destruction he was responsible for.

The conclusion then is simple: without a judgment by God after death, there would be no such thing as objective justice. Justice would always be limited in scope (Hitler could never be adequately punished for his evils) and justice could be evaded (either through death or by hiding from human authorities). With an eternal judgment, justice is objective and no one will escape. God will ensure that all are brought to justice, with the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being punished.

Although intellectually we may nod our head at the notion of an eternal judgment being required for true justice, we at the same time may be fearful about such a judgment, wondering whether we will be found guilty. How is it that God determines guilt and innocence? The surprising teaching of the Bible is that God’s judgment is based not on one’s actual deeds, but on one’s faith in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news – one can be a law-breaker and yet be acquitted and declared innocent. This scandalous idea will be the subject of the next discussion.