Tuesday, September 14, 2010
A Hypothetical Salvation Only
On judgment day all people that are not in Christ by faith will be judged by their works to determine their eternal destination. Not a single unbeliever will be found to have the perfect works required to receive eternal life. Therefore, in the passage below, Paul is explaining a hypothetical salvation of unbelievers based on works alone.
Romans 2:6-11 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
In thoroughly laying out the gospel in Romans, Paul began by giving the spiritual condition of human beings with the Holy God who created the universe and everything in it. Beginning in Rom. 1:18 and going through Rom. 3:20 Paul explained that this condition was totally hopeless for both Gentiles who did not have the law and Jews who had the law. In giving this bad news Paul had not yet even mentioned the good news of justification by faith alone in Christ. This is the immediate context of this section. His conclusion in Rom. 3:9-10 is that all, Jews and Gentiles, are under sin and that none are righteous. He ends this section of Romans by stating in Rom. 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. He begins the next verse by introducing the good news with the words, “BUT NOW”.
Therefore, how can Paul be asserting in Chapter 2 verse 7 that some human beings will actually receive eternal life based on their works when his conclusion refutes the possibility? I think the answer is human beings can’t and Paul is simply saying that IF any human being could meet the righteous requirements of God on their own, they would receive eternal life. Most commentaries and theologians say this passage means that God is going to judge the works of those who have been justified by faith alone to determine if their faith is sincere or something to that effect. However, I see some glaring problems with this view.
First: Since justification and eternal life is a certainty at the moment of saving faith, how can good works that come after the moment of justification be a consideration in receiving eternal life? At the moment of faith and justification the sins of believers are wiped clean by the blood of Christ and their sins are forgiven. Unlike unbelievers their lawless deeds will not be counted against them [Rom. 4:7]. If good works are found insufficient, then believers would have to be unjustified and Scripture certainly does not support that position. If good works are found sufficient for some to receive eternal life that have not been previously justified, then you have either works salvation or faith plus works salvation. This passage leaves no wiggle room to be reconciled with accepted doctrines if one asserts that anyone will receive eternal life based on v. 7 and v. 10.
Second: Jesus has stated that he knows his sheep and the Holy Spirit certainly knows those whom have been regenerated. So, God certainly does not need to judge works to determine the identity of his elect. It is God who causes good works after a person is justified [Phil 2:13]. How can Paul be talking about already justified regenerated saints in Christ when he states that God will render eternal life based on works? He can’t and the point is that no one will be saved based on his works. If they could then Christ died for no purpose [Gal. 2:21].
Third: The passage makes no claim than anyone can or does receive eternal life based on fulfilling the requirements of v. 7 and to assume it does is to read something into the passage that is not there. Verse 7 and 10 gives the standard and it is a standard that no one can meet. In v. 7 Paul gives seeking immortality as a reason for well-doing and yet in his conclusion of this section in Rom. 3:11 he states that no one understands and no one seeks God. It makes no sense to assert Paul is talking about sinners actually seeking immortality by their works and then concluding that no one understands or seeks for God. Again, thus far in the immediate context faith in Christ has not been introduced.
Fourth: Immediately after this passage in verse 11 and 12 Paul clearly stated that all who have sinned without the law and under the law would perish. Therefore, Paul is making it clear to the Jews that the law is of no value for eternal life unless it is perfectly obeyed without sin. This he clearly states in verse 13: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. In Romans 2 Paul is simply explaining to the Jews that the law is of no value in salvation if they sin and in Rom. 3:9 he states that all are under sin. This means that no one will receive eternal life based on successfully meeting the requirements of Rom. 2:7, & 10.
Fifth: How can anyone affirm justification by faith alone and also believe salvation is based on his own works, which v. 6 clearly sets as the basis for justification. While unbelievers will be condemned based on their works, believers will be saved through the atoning sacrifice of Christ and his righteous works. If verse 6 and 7 is assumed to be referring to the works of believers who have faith, then the only conclusion is that justification is based on faith plus works because the text clearly states that works are the factor in God’s decision.
Sixth: In verse 10 and 11 Paul explains that God does not show partiality to Jews just because they have the Law. The point is Jews have no spiritual advantage in having the law. The point and problem for both Jew and Gentile is sin and in the next verse  Paul closes the door on anyone achieving salvation by successfully fulfilling the requirements of verses 7 and 10 by stating, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” Paul is giving Jews the bad news that the Law has no power to save. They are under sin just like Gentiles.
Seventh: How can a person assert that imperfect works of unbelievers are not sufficient for eternal life and then turn right around and say that imperfect works will be the basis for the salvation of believers?
Eighth: Paul clearly sums up the fact that unbelievers will be judged on their works, while believers will not in Romans 6:23 where he said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [Rom. 3:23], there is no possibility of God rendering eternal life based on human works. Salvation will only go to those who have received the free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. At the moment of justification believers are covered by the righteousness of Christ and his good works as their substitute.
Ninth: In chapter 2 of Romans Paul is basically explaining to the Jews that the Law is a ministry of death. This theme is repeated again and again in Romans chapters 6-8 and in 2 Cor. 3, Galatians and elsewhere. Why? Perfection is required for human works to be pleasing to God. The most perfect saint alive would not want to offer up to God his imperfect works as the proof of his faith. Paul explained in Eph. 2:8 that grace is the reason saints have faith and are saved.
Conclusion: It is true that Scripture in many places asserts that born again believers are new creatures in Christ that produce good works, however, in this section of Romans [1:18 thru 3:20] Paul is giving the bad news of the spiritual ramifications of human sin and the impossibility being able to do anything about it. He has not yet mentioned Jesus Christ, grace, faith, atonement, propitiation, or redemption, and is not suggesting that believers will be judged according to works to determine if they will receive eternal life. All of this is explained beginning in Rom. 3:21 where Paul begins his exposition of the good news. This explanation of the good news covers eight plus chapters and nowhere does Paul mention God rendering eternal life based on works. Why? I think the reason is that absolutely no one will receive eternal life based on his works. Unbelievers will be judged on their works and 100% will perish as a result. Believers are found in Christ on judgment day and will be judged based on the works and propitiation of Jesus Christ. Therefore, no one will successfully meet the requirements of Romans 2:7 & 2:10 and no one will be saved by their works.