The Final Judgment

Christ shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead. This is creedal, and it is biblical. the book of Revelation amply testifies to it, as do many other passages of Scripture.

The one issue that I wish to deal with is the future aspect of justification. There are many today who would say that our present justification is on the basis of works, and that future justification is on the basis of a life well-lived. In doing so, they make justification again to depend on our works. Scripture never says that the future aspect of justification is based on works. We must note here that LC 90 does indeed say that there is an open acknowledgment and acquittal on the final day of judgment. Hence, there is a future aspect to justification which in no way whatsoever competes with or diminishes the present finality of justification. We will never be more innocent or more “saved” than we are right now, if we be united to Christ. The future aspect is merely a public acknowledgment of what has already happened on the basis of Christ’s work. That judgment in the future has already been brought into the present in all its finality. There is nothing uncertain about our standing before Christ if we be justified now. We are not going to plead our own works on the day of judgment as the reason why we should be openly acquitted. See, the operative word there in LC 90 is “open.” Justification as it is in its present aspect, is a private acquittal in God’s court-room. But the whole world does not know about it. On Judgment Day, believers will come before the judgment seat of Christ, and Christ will say, “This person was justified by faith alone in his lifetime: does the world need proof of this? Then look at the fruit that came from it.” The fruit is the evidence of justification. Therefore, the fruit will function as a witness that we were in fact justified. The fruit will not function as the basis for future justification (which is Christ’s righteousness), but as the evidence for it. We need to avoid any intimation whatsoever that we are not completely justified in this life if we be united to Christ. Otherwise, Romans 8:1 will have zero force: “There is now therefore no condemnation…” If there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, then they have nothing to fear on Judgment Day, and hence are utterly and completely justified right now. However, that fact is not evident to all the world, which is what the future aspect to justification addresses. Scripture uses the language that the future judgment will be according to works, not on the basis of works. The phrase “according to” has evidentiary force (Romans 2:6). Romans 2 must be interpreted in the light of chapters 5-8. Paul does not contradict himself. A further point must be noted in Romans 2: we can say that judgment is according to each person’s works: it is Jesus Christ’s works by which he will be judged! Furthermore, degrees of reward (and punishment) will be in accordance with each person’s own works. Only this understanding does justice to all of Paul’s teaching.

This brings up a profound problem in N.T. Wright’s theology. He claims that justification is the verdict of the final day brought into the present (he says this: I’m not going to look it up right now, Todd: you do it). And he says that that is by faith (although he has problems with that, too: his other theology negates that claim). But then he says that future justification is on the basis of a life lived in service to God, or words to that effect. This is a deep contradiction that he has not even begun to resolve. The only way I can see for him to resolve it is to say that faith and works can inhabit the same sphere of basis. But that is to confuse faith and works, the very thing that the Roman Catholic Church did at Trent.

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