Having explored Paul’s doctrines of justification and salvation by faith, it is appropriate to take a look at the other side of things: the role of works. We as Protestants have always been ambivalent about works; many of the passages about Jesus’ judgment of the world are decided by works, but the standard construal of righteousness as moral perfection creates some hermeneutical gymnastics to avoid the patently obvious, necessitating an imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Here are a few places where the nature of Jesus’ judgment of the world is described:
Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV):
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
John 5:25-29 (NRSV):
Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is
now here ,when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment,because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
Romans 2:6-16 (NRSV):
For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
Revelation 20:11-15 (NRSV):
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.
Alsoanother book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that werein it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that werein them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
In each of these pericopes, the judgment is determined by what one has done. There is no mentioning of the criteria of faith. This isn’t to state faith in irrelevant judgment; only that it isn’t what determines Jesus judgment of people.
The problem boils down to this: essentially, Protestants
Imputation is a doctrine necessitated by cognitive dissonance, to explain how certain traditions surrounding the meaning of righteousness and faith can align with seemingly dissonant passages about the way God judges. This is not only about the passages mentioned above. But the dissonance always
Here is where I think a good reading of Romans fits in. In Romans, Paul is trying to move many Jewish-Christians away from speaking a narrative of condemnation and judgment towards the Gentile world, which Paul reflects in Romans 1:18-32. In part, he wants them to move to a narrative of God’s faithfulness rather than God’s judgment, but Paul also wants to develop a mission to the Gentiles in Spain and the Roman church can be a great source of help, but they need to see the way God works amongst sinners rightly. The thrust of Paul’s argument is that God will judge the world, but that He is at work in Christ to make it so that people will be able to stand at the future, apocalyptic judgment (Romans 2-3). It has always been by faith that God relates to others as his righteous people (Romans 4), and so God sends Christ into the world to make the many righteous (Romans 5) by being redemptively joined to Christ to be free from sin (Romans 6). This happens not through the Torah (chapter 7) but through the work of the Spirit (chapter 8:1-17). In other words, the very Gentile people the Jewish Christians at Rome were judging as worthy of condemnation for their unrighteousness, God had made a way for them (and Israel also) to live a new life through His Son and His Spirit. It is these people who love God as they are led by the Spirit who can have confidence in God’s love for them (Romans 8:18-39). Hence, through the transformation of the Spirit in conformity to the death and resurrection of Christ, sinners may be changed to stand confidently at the judgment Paul speaks of in Romans 2. God is creating a people who can stand with confidence and assurance at this final judgment and these people can even come from amidst the most
This reading of Romans doesn’t require a doctrine of imputation. Rather, it entails a proleptic view of justification (much as Paul sees believers as being seated in the heavenly places in Jesus in Ephesians 2:6, even though we are clearly living in the present earth which has not been transformed yet). Those who do the things of Torah are justified at the eschaton. So in the present time, those who God justifies by faith are set on a trajectory to be justified by works in the future eschaton. God declares what is a person’s true trajectory, which becomes a person’s future reality because God has revealed His righteousness, the standard by which people will be judged, in Christ and it is being realized through the giving of the Spirit. Sinner and weak though they are, they can be awakened and arise and realize this destiny that God has spoken over them as they follow the Spirit to live as Christ lived.
The tension between justification by faith and the judgment by works exists within the context of the now/not-yet eschatological tension. It is through faith that the now-ness of God’s eschatological work is realized. Justification by faith is linked to the present now-ness of God’s work to free people caught in sin and death; judgment by works is the not-yet, future judgment. In a sense, for Paul, faith is the means by which people are brought into a new, eschatological trajectory of life through Christ and the Spirit that will be fully and finally realized by the judgment.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
The apocalyptic judgment is not
Thus, we are justified by faith so that we can be changed at