Judgment & Eternal Life

A comment was left on my last post about the judgment. A decent answer is far too long to leave as a comment, so here’s my response.

Please note that rather than quote long sections of her comment and whole verses she quoted, I’m going to summarize to help keep this post a little shorter.

Your post on judgment made me think of two verses. John 5:24 says that if we believe we have eternal life and won’t come into judgment. 1 Thess. 4:15-18 says that believers are raptured. They are either not judged at all, or this is a judgment showing they are not condemned but belong to Christ.

I have to answer those two verses separately.

John 5:24

John writes much differently than Paul. In the end, the basic message is exactly the same, but the way of saying it is different. John always speaks of eternal life as a present possession. Paul always speaks of eternal life as a future reward (e.g., Rom. 6:22).

Only their terminology is different. The life we receive from Christ upon believing is just called life by Paul, while it is called eternal life by John.

John, however, is every bit as clear as Paul about works and about the judgment.

First, while John quotes Jesus as saying that the one who believes has eternal life, know for certain what John means by believing. John says that if a person claims to know God but doesn’t keep his commands, then that person is a liar (1 Jn. 2:3-4). He says that a righteous person is someone who practices righteousness, and he tells us not to be deceived about that (1 Jn. 3:7).

Second, John talks about judgment a lot, and he says the same things about judgment that he says about eternal life. The difference is what people do.

If we want to "assure our hearts before him," we must love (1 Jn. 3:18-19). If we want to have confidence at the judgment, we must love and we must walk as Christ walked (4:15-18).

So John’s very clear about what it means to be safe at the judgment. Your faith had better produce good works. If good works aren’t being produced, then John tells you repeatedly to assume you do not believe, you do not know God, and you are not his child.

That’s not because he wants to condemn you! That’s because he wants you to have real faith!

That’s nothing different than what James says in James 2.

1 Thess. 4:15-18

Like I said in my comment, this passage comes to my mind, too. Obviously, those who are caught up to be with Christ forever are already judged by God to be Christ’s. They have an eternal reward.

Of course, this isn’t really any different than Matthew 25 or Revelation 20. In both cases, everyone is gathered before Christ, but he already knows who has an eternal reward and who has condemnation. The sheep and goats are already divided when Christ sits down on his glorious throne in Matthew 25. The sheep are at his right, and the goats are on his left.

In Revelation 20, there’s a Book of Life. Whoever is not found written in it is cast into the lake of fire.

That book is not only in Revelation 20. It’s only in Revelation 3. Jesus warns the church of Sardis to repent, and he says that those who overcome will not have their name blotted out of the Book of Life. The tie to Revelation 20 is obvious.

So your point that God and Jesus know in advance who has eternal life and who does not is accurate. Jesus can return and catch up his own to be with him because he already knows who he is.

But those who are his are not all those who claim to be Christians. John himself makes that clear. He tells the church that some left and those who left never belonged to Christ (1 Jn. 2:19). While they were there, since they never belonged to him, had Christ returned, others would have been caught up to meet the Lord in the air, but those described in 1 Jn. 2:19 would not have been snatched up.

John 5:24 and John 5:28-29

Your point, about those who are in Christ avoiding judgment, seems to be backed up by the rest of John 5:24-29 as well.

This is an interesting passage. In v. 25, "the dead" hear the voice of Christ. In verse 28, those who are "in the graves" hear the voice of Christ. Ordinarily, these would seem to be the same people, but I think anyone who has read John can look at that passage and know they are different.

"The dead" are those who are dead in their sins. Those who are in the graves are those who died physically. The former, when they hear the voice of Christ and believe are given life, and they avoid judgment. The latter, when they hear the voice of Christ, are judged by their works.

I’m looking at that and thinking it would be very difficult to interpret those verses any other way.

That’s not really a problem for two reasons …

  • 1 John says repeatedly that the only true believers are those who are doing good works (see above).
  • All the passages on the judgment make it clear that each person’s judgment is known in advance.

So How Does All This Apply to Us?

Whether the judgment is discussed Jesus’ way, John’s way, Paul’s way, or Peter’s way, the answer is the same.

Jesus tells us that those who will enter his kingdom are those who do his Father’s will (Matt. 7:21). When he has to admonish the churches, he tells them to repent, do good works, and overcome (Rev. 2:1 – 3:22).

Peter tells us to fear the judgment (1 Pet. 1:17) and to be diligent to make our calling and election sure by adding to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and good works (2 Pet. 1:5-11).

Paul tells us to walk by the Spirit, saying that those who walk by the flesh will die (Rom. 8:12) and reap corruption (Gal. 6:8). He compares walking by the Spirit to doing good (Gal. 6:7-9). He also says that eternal life is the end of holiness, which is the product of freedom from sin and servitude to God (Rom. 6:22).

John tells us that if we want to have confidence in the day of judgment, we must love and be as Christ is in the world (1 Jn 4:17-18). He tells us that the way we will be able to determine whether we know God or not is by whether we keep his commands (1 Jn. 2:3-4).

The Judgment for Christians

Paul says we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad. Peter says that if we address God as Father, the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, then we should conduct ourselves throughout the time of our sojourning here in fear (1 Pet. 1:17).

They both seem to be suggesting very clearly that we should expect a judgment.

Perhaps the best answer to all of this is that whether we are judged right here on earth or judged at the same time as others at the end of time, we are nonetheless judged according to our works.

Again, take a look at Jesus’ letters to the churches in Rev. 2 & 3. There is little doubt that he is judging those churches according to their works. Those that he found lacking, he warns. And his warnings ring of eternal judgment, not temporal punishment. Every reward for the overcomers is something for the afterlife.

You mentioned the judgment of the sheep and the goats. I believe that passage is talking about a judgment of living people who are on earth when Christ returns. … I don’t believe those who were in the first resurrection before the millenium will be judged for salvation.

Those who are part of the first resurrection are those who are martyred for Christ. Martyrs are mentioned twice in Revelation as being in heaven before the judgment, once in Rev. 6:9-11 and once in Rev. 20:4-5. In chapter six they are told to wait for others to be martyred, which would be those mentioned in Rev. 20:4-5.

Anyone who has read the early Christian writings cannot miss the respect early Christians had for those who gave their lives for Christ. Although the early Christians believed that even Christians went to a paradise—the same place referred to as Abraham’s bosom in the story of Lazarus and the rich man—they did not believe martyrs went there. Martyrs got to bypass the judgment. They went straight to heaven.

Even Ignatius, who wrote his letters around A.D. 110, believed that. This is significant, since the apostle John appointed him to be the head elder of the apostle Paul’s home church.

It seems like a guy like that would have pretty reliable theology.

As far as Matthew 25 goes, there’s nothing to indicate that this is only those alive when Jesus returns. But even assuming that it is, it really doesn’t change anything.

The question I’m trying to address is, do the works of Christians matter?

Everything we read suggests they do. Thus, it is safe to say that our doctrine of salvation by faith alone—the doctrine as it is taught by most Evangelicals—is false.

We have misinterpreted Paul’s words on salvation by faith alone, and we have applied those words in ways that contradict Paul’s own teachings on the judgment. Our interpretation has caused us to dance jigs around passages like Galatians 6:7-10 and many, many other verses.

I have a couple long pages addressing that issue at Christian History for Everyman. One addresses faith alone, and the other addresses salvation more generally.

I have several articles addressing the various details of the doctrine of salvation on my Rest of the Old, Old Story web site.

However, I’m about to write a very short version of those pages for my next post.

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7 Responses to Judgment & Eternal Life

  1. Jennie S. says:

    Shammah,
    I think you may have already quoted some of this, but Romans 8 shows that those who walk in the Spirit will not enter condemnation; I believe those who live for Him by faith will have the same reward as those who die for Him by faith. The problem is, are we doing this?
    Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
    9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

    • Shammah says:

      I don’t know whether the early Christians are correct and martyrs go straight to heaven while those who are not martyred have to wait for the judgment. I lean that direction.

      However, I most certainly believe that those who live for Christ by faith are promised a heavenly reward for doing so. That’s the point of all this. I’m talking about Christians being aware that if their faith does not produce holy living, then they will be judged like the heathen.

      There’s a great passage in 1 Cor. 11 that says, “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. When we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, so that we should not be condemned with the world.”

  2. Jennie S. says:

    I agree with you that Christians have greatly misunderstood salvation and the Christian life being a walk of obedience and good works; I just have problems with saying true Christians will be judged for salvation. Maybe you are really saying that some that think they are saved are really not, because their faith has produced no good works, so it is dead faith. So they are not really believers at all. Of course that is the main problem, that many have been deceived into false security.

    • Shammah says:

      I’m saying that faith brings grace. Grace must be walked in. It will not create a holy life for us; it will only make a holy life possible. Therefore, we have to pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). We have yield our members to God as servants to obey, so that obedience can produce righteousness and holiness, the end of which is eternal life (Rom. 6:16-22).

      Keep in mind in what I just said that for Paul, eternal life is to be gained after death, while John speaks of eternal life as a current possession. That passage I just referenced is the best example of that for Paul, although his position is very clear in Rom. 2:5-7 as well.

  3. Jennie S. says:

    I think as the time draws near those passages have gotten clearer to His people, though of course many have misunderstood the purpose of them, and use them to say believes will escape any tribulation.

  4. Jennie S. says:

    The rapture verses describe a resurrection, which must be the first resurrection because it happens upon Christ’s return, and they describe people who are physically dead coming alive and people who are physically alive being taken up and being with Christ forever. This doesn’t sound like only martyrs. I think there is a misunderstanding there by the early fathers if they did not see this. They also did not understand the millenial reign as being literal, but I don’t think there’s any question of it not being a literal physical reign of Jesus on earth.

    • Shammah says:

      You’re right in saying 1 Thessalonians describes a resurrection. However, you’re making an assumption that all modern Christians make and never question. I think that assumption is very doubtful, however.

      You’re assuming that Paul knew about and agreed with what’s written in Revelation about a first resurrection, a second resurrection, and a millennium. I don’t think that’s true. I think Paul was talking about one return and one resurrection. I think 1 Thessalonians referred to what Paul was awaiting, a set time when Christ would return and raise all Christians.

      Many early Christians did not believe in a literal millennial reign. Others didn’t believe or even know about a millennium because they either had never heard of the Book of Revelation or their church didn’t regard it as Scripture. It was a doubtful book all the way into the 4th century in some churches.

      I don’t have a position on a literal millennium. I don’t trust the interpretations and guesses of all the people who are trying to formulate a scenario for the end times. I don’t think they know, and I don’t think God has any intention of revealing an exact end-time scenario to us.

      That said, my point is that we will be judged by our works, even Christians. So no matter what 1 Thessalonians or Revelation is talking about, the question is, what do the Scriptures have to say to you, Jennie, and to me, Shammah.

      What they say is that if we want to enter that kingdom, then we should add virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. It is by doing these things that we make our calling and election sure. It is by doing those things that we will have an entrance supplied to into Jesus’ everlasting kingdom and be among those who are caught up, as mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4.

      My point is that so many Christians think that by faith they are automatically qualified for the kingdom. They’re not. By faith they have access to grace (Rom. 5:2), which makes us new creatures created to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10) and zealous for good works (Tit. 2:11-14). Then, by works done in the Spirit of God, through whose power we put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13), we gain entrance into the everlasting kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 6:9; 2 Pet. 1:5-11).

      In the end, whether we are judged here on this earth, as the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were, or at the last day before Jesus or his Father, we are going to be judged by our works, and our works are going to determine whether we enter the kingdom of heaven.

      I think I’ve shown that the Scriptures say that so repeatedly that it’s impossible to list all the passages here. The ten or fifteen I’ve listed in the posts and comments are a small sampling. After all, I haven’t even touched on James 2, and James is emphasizing that very subject!

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