Skip to main content

Imputation and Judgment on the Basis of Works

This started as a comment on a recent post at Word and Spirit, but was getting too long so I made it a separate post. In his post, Mark Heath discusses Romans 2:6-10 and justification. The basic problem is that if we are justified by faith, how can we be judged on the basis of works?

I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately as I've been reading Gorman's Inhabiting the Cruciform God. I think that for those of us (I include myself tentatively - Gorman's book has shaken me on this issue a bit but I'll hold off on commenting on his views until I publish my book review) who hold to a doctrine of imputation that the problem is exacerbated. If the righteousness we possess is Christ's righteousness imputed to us, then judgment on the basis of works seems to be non-sense. However, it's something that the Bible clearly affirms.

How do we go forward? One suggestion that Heath draws attention to in this Romans passage is that Paul could be speaking hypothetically. You could have eternal life if you lived perfectly, but no one does. While it may make sense within the flow of Romans, I think that too many other passages in the Bible (in Paul and outside of Paul) refer to judgment on the basis of works for that argument to hold at a biblical theological level.

Next Heath offers Schreiner's view for evaluation, that these verses are referring to Christians keeping the Law by the power of the Spirit. I think that there is a lot of merit to this view. Passages like this require us to see a strong transformative element in the righteousness of God that we receive when we are justified.

My question then is, does this work with the doctrine of imputation or are they irreconcilable? Even if we receive the ability to do works by grace, I still think that there stands strong tension with the idea that we only stand before God on the basis of Christ's righteousness. Doesn't some righteousness of our own seem to be required, even if its a righteousness that we cannot produce without the righteousness of God given to us? I would appreciate some input, as this is something I am currently wrestling with.


  1. hi Marcus, have been enjoying following your blog since I discovered your commentary reviews a while ago.

    It's an issue I have been mulling over some time too. Here's a few, very brief thoughts about how I hold this in tension:

    1. I think there is a very clear strand of teaching (including in Paul) that suggests that Christians will be subject to a judgment according to works.
    2. At that judgment, no accusation against us will stand, since we have been forgiven (justified)
    3. At that judgment, good works we have done (through the empowering of the Spirit), will serve as evidence of the reality of our salvation
    4. There will be reward based on works, and not all believers will experience the same measure of reward (strongly taught by Jesus, hinted at also by Paul)

    I guess where it gets controversial, is not whether our sin is 'imputed' to Jesus, or reckoned to him, but when we start saying that Jesus' active righteousness is reckoned to us. The way this is formulated by some people makes our personal conduct seem like a complete irrelevancy. (i.e. God is unaware of anything I do or don't do, because he *only* looks at Jesus).

  2. Thanks for your response, Mark. You lay the issue out very helpfully here. I think you hit the nail on the head with the point of controversy for which I see multiple possibilities. The one you mention seems to be the popular one amongst American reformed Evangelical theologians. I think I agree with you on each of your four points, but can you give a little clarification on point 3?

    Do you mean that good works serve as evidence of faith and nothing more than that (still leaving the grounds of our justification on the basis of faith - our receiving of the work of Christ), thus works show the reality of our faith? Are you expanding faith to include faithfulness? Something different?

  3. Yes, your first guess was right. I am still persuaded by the reformed view that the grounds for our justification is faith alone. Hence, the thief on the cross, who had no works to show, was still able to be saved. I would say though that the NT assumes a very strong law of cause and effect - those who have been born again *will* bear fruit. Hope that makes sense!

  4. Thanks Mark, I guessed that that was probably your position, but I was curious to see if you held to the latter, as I think it's an interesting (though probably incorrect) option.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Commentary Series Overview

When I write commentary reviews, one of my main goals is to assess how well the commentator hit the intended audience of the commentary and utilized the format of the commentary. This often necessitates cluttering up the post discussing issues of format. To eliminate that, I thought that I would make some general remarks about the format and audience of each of the series that appear in my reviews. Terms like liberal, conservative, etc. are not used pejoratively but simply as descriptors. Many of you are familiar with Jeremy Pierce's commentary series overview. If you don't see a particular series covered here, check out his post to see if it's reviewed there. I am making no attempt at covering every series, just the series that I use. Additionally, new series (such as the NCCS) have been started in the five years since he wrote his very helpful guide, so I thought that it might not be completely out of order to have another person tackle commentary series overviews. This…

Paul's Argument in Galatians 3:15-29

15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. 19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! Fo…

Doctor Who: Rose Tyler - Traitor?

The end of season four was very, very controversial. When I first saw it, I felt cheated. I was angry. The more I think about it, the more I think I see what Russell Davies was doing. He is too good of a writer and the show is too carefully crafted for him to screw up Rose's character and the end of a four season storyline. So while the ending isn't strictly part of our series, it is tangentially related, and I've agonized over that scene in Bad Wolf Bay so much that I have to write about it. :)

To briefly set things up, near the end of the final episode of season four, there is a meta-crisis, that results in a part human. part Time Lord Doctor being generated. He has all of the Doctor's memories, and thinks and acts like the Doctor. However, importantly, he only has one heart and cannot regenerate. He only has one life to live. The meta-crisis Doctor brought full resolution to the battle fought against the Daleks, and in the process, wiped them out. Thus, the real Doc…