Judged by our Works

Recently I saw a statement on a Facebook friend’s status about how we will be judged on that great day by what we have done in our lives. He is a preacher for a hard line Church of Christ in the Bible belt. I commented that I will be judged on that great day by one great Man’s deed done on one day.

He half agreed with me, but added a verse about how we will all have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged for the deeds we have done in our lives (2 Cor 5:10). That frustrated me a little, until I woke up the next day and remembered a trick I learned when I first discovered that every book in the New Testament is about grace and forgiveness. If you find a verse that sounds harsh and judgmental, just look ten verses before or after it and you will find a verse that is awash in forgiveness, grace and good news! So I went back to 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and found one of my favorite verses, one that the hard line Churches of Christ hate, hate, hate:  verse 21: “He who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”

Just quoting that one verse can label you as a liberal in most hard line Churches of Christ, and in many it will label you as a false teacher. (Yes, using a verse in the Bible can label you as a false teacher!)

So back another preacher came with another quote, this time from the polar apostle John. John liked to contrast things as black and white, right or wrong, heaven or hell. So the preacher quoted ‎”Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)

But by this time I knew what to do. Within 10 verses before that passage is this:  ‎”If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8,9)  That particular passage is so upsetting to hard line Church of Christ people that one preacher published in 1978 an entire book on that passage alone. (Spoiler Alert: John didn’t mean to say that, as far as that preacher is concerned.)

The Churches of Christ, hard line, have been battling the Baptists (once saved, always saved) and the Catholics (just go to confession) for so many years that they have a hard time with affirming large swaths of forgiveness. They prefer small stingy scraps of forgiveness, and to trust in themselves, and their own obedience. Of course when they talk about obedience, they usually mean going to church every time the doors are open. Of course they include the other things: don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, etc. But the biggies are going to the right church (hint: the hard line Churches of Christ) every Sunday to take communion, being baptized correctly, worshipping correctly, etc. The songs they sing affirm the good news, but the sermons and the Bible classes do not. Oh, occasionally there will be some young upstart who will start preaching about forgiveness, how we can be bold in our prayers, and we can be sure we are saved, but he will go liberal within five years, and get kicked out, so he doesn’t really count.

The hard line Churches of Christ love to misquote James 2: “faith without works is dead”, forgetting that the works are not “going to church” and “worshipping correctly”, but giving to the poor, and treating the poor with equal respect. “So speak and so act as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:25)  The law of liberty is the law of freedom (hint: forgiveness).

The apostle Paul quoted Genesis 15 that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as if it was obedient righteousness, even though all he had done was believe God’s promise that he would have many descendants and inherit the land of Canaan. But in chapters 16-20 Abraham failed to show that he believed God. He stumbled around making faithless mistake after faithless mistake (have a child by Hagar, telling the kings his wife was his sister) until in chapter 21 he demonstrates he believes God would even raise Isaac from the dead if he were to kill him on an altar. Abraham finally passed the test of his faith.  So the saving faith that the apostle Paul points out for the Jewish believers to take note of, is Abraham’s imperfect faith that stumbled around until it found expression in a powerful act of obedient faith.

And that is what our faith in Christ is like. I say I believe Jesus rose from the dead, but my life shows that often I don’t believe that. I stumble around in unbelief, but sometimes my life shows that I truly do believe that Jesus rose and I too one day will rise from the dead.

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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11 Responses to Judged by our Works

  1. brazili says:

    HELLO TO EVERYONE! I AM IN BRAZIL. EXCUSE THE ERRORS OF ENGLISH. HERE IN BRAZIL suffer / face the SAME ISSUES THAT YOU, ON THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST. BUT THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IS THAT I LIVE IN THE REGIONS THAT THERE IS ONLY HARD LINE CHURCH. SOUTHEAST OF BRAZIL. AFTER THIRTEEN YEARS BEING A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, I THINK I have managed ME NOW FREE OF THIS SYSTEM. HAS BEEN VERY HARD FOR ME, I CONSIDERED THE BRETHREN IN CHRIST UP BLOOD OF MY FAMILY, BUT NOW I ARRIVED AT MY LIMIT. AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OF QUESTIONING, WHAT WAS OUT Yesterday I spoke. TO cried a little, BUT IT WAS GOOD FOR THE SOUL CLEAN. WHILE I’M IN WITH A GROUP THAT ALSO LEFT THE CHURCH OF CHRIST A SEVEN YEARS AGO, BUT I JUST DID IT OUT AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OF THEM. THERE WE HAVE USED INSTRUMENTS IN WORSHIP AND HAVE SOME OTHER DIFFERENCES. NOW MANY MEMBERS OF THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST IN MY REGION SAYS THAT WE ARE IN SIN THAT WILL TO HELL, YOU WILL FALL IN CURSE. THEY DO NOT RELATE TO U.S. amicably. DIVISION I THINK THIS VERY SAD. I THINK TO THE MUSIC ACAPPELA BEAUTIFUL, BUT I would not reject / condemn TO HELL WITH ANYONE WHO ADORE INSTRUMENT. THANKS FOR THE SITE AND BLOG THAT YOU CREATED, HAS BEEN OF GREAT AID FOR BRAZILIAN TOO. CONITNUE GOD BLESSING YOU.

  2. reyjacobs says:

    “Recently I saw a statement on a Facebook friend’s status about how we will be judged on that great day by what we have done in our lives. He is a preacher for a hard line Church of Christ in the Bible belt. I commented that I will be judged on that great day by one great Man’s deed done on one day.”

    Standard Paul vs Jesus scenario. According to Matthew 16:27 Jesus said “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

    So, really, you are going to be judged by Jesus’ works rather than your own? Certainly in the same gospel Jesus says he will die for our sins, but he doesn’t make that erase completely the idea of judgment based on our works. That requires a little Paul. But even Paul doesn’t stick solidly to his notion that its all based on Jesus’ works.

    Paul says in Philippians 3:9 “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness (which is of the law) but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” — this you could take to mean that Paul thinks we will be judged by Jesus’ works only and not our own (although this is not necessarily the meaning). But even if you find a passage in Paul to explicitly say what you want you still have Paul saying :

    Romans 2:6-10 “[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: (7) To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: (8) But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, (9) Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; (10) But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: (11) For there is no respect of persons with God.”

    Paul vacillated between the view that (1) we will be judged by our own works (a view clearly taught by Jesus himself although mixed with the idea of repentance/forgiveness and his sacrifice obviously) and (2) his concept of justification by faith apart from works which he based on a misinterpretation of Genesis 15:6 as I already showed. [Abraham considered God righteous per Genesis 15:6 in its OT context.]

    Revelation 20:12 also says “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

    So, if you are going to take the whole tenor of the New Testament (rather than just a few gaffs by Paul here are there) and base your theology on that, you will agree that works DO factor into the final judgement, even of Christians.

    Paul says to Christians after all in 2 Cor 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” This is to Christians!

    It may be advisable here to mention the so-called New Perspective on Paul, championed by E.P. Sanders and N.T. Wright, that when Paul is arguing ‘justification by faith alone’ in Romans 3-4, he is only arguing about ‘getting in’ but afterwards the final judgment is still based on works. One gets in by faith alone — but once in, one must live right to make it to heaven, in other words. That fits the evidence better than the standard old Lutheran line about Paul certainly, as you can see above!

    • reyjacobs says:

      One further statement on this. To me the idea of judgment based on works, particular when phrased like “he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt 16:27) or “will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom 2:6) or “that every one may receive the things done in his body” (2 Cor 5:10) — implies proportional punishment not eternity in hell for every little sin. Is a condemnation eternity in hell according to MY works? I don’t think so. It is according to the works of a rapist, or a sadistic murderer. But for your average person, condemnation to eternity in hell is over the top. It would not be proper to call that “rendering to every man according to his works.” But someone will object that the Bible says we all deserve eternity in hell. Show me where! And yet, even if you show me, Paul says in 1 Tim 4:10 ” For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” How is he the savior of all men, even those that don’t believe? (for if he is “especially of those that believe” then he is also of those that do not!) I think a case can be made that Jesus’ death saves all men from eternity in hell and ensures that we only receive a finite punishment equal to what our sins ACTUALLY deserve–this even for those who do NOT believe.

  3. reyjacobs says:

    “The hard line Churches of Christ love to misquote James 2: ‘faith without works is dead’, forgetting that the works are not ‘going to church’ and ‘worshipping correctly'”

    Certainly I agree with that. I don’t believe the works we will be judged by in the end have anything to do with correct worship. Rather, I would refer to Micah 6:8 “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Whether you will want to admit it or not, amazingly enough the idea that correct worship is necessary to salvation comes from Paul just as justification by faith lone does, for example from 1 Cor 10,11,14. “If anyone will not acknowledge my regulations concerning worship, let him not be acknowledged” has done more to further the cause of worship legalism than anything in the Bible, as has Paul’s audacious claim that the Law says women must be silent (where does the Law say that? where Miriam is leading the people in song?) or that the story of Adam and Eve means women aren’t allowed to teach (excuse me?).

  4. Hi Rey,
    I agree with most of what you are saying. My beef is that the Churches of Christ lean heavily on self dependence and discourage people with that beef. The story of Jesus that means the most to me is the Prodigal Son story. The Churches of Christ are the older brother: “I earned this farm, I earned a party, I earned the love! How dare you give it to that son of yours that wasted your gifts on prostitutes!” While Jesus himself is thrilled he has discovered a Father that loves to forgive and loves to love, and loves to party!
    The addicts I work with are all convinced that they will be lost in hell if they don’t conquer their sins. Jesus holds out numerous instances where the foundation of what we stand on is forgiveness and security in the Father’s presence.
    As an aside about the Law and women’s silence, the only instance I can think of is when Moses disagreed with Mirriam and she was rebuked, but that wasn’t specifically because she was a woman, men were also rebuked. The passages in I Cor 14 are grossly misused. They are mostly about wives of prophets who got up to speak. The women had never been to even a grade school, so they did not understand proper etiquette when someone stood up to speak. Church was a big elevation in the status of women in Corinth (and in Ephesus), but it brought with it some uncomfortable bumps along the way. Nevertheless Paul insisted that women learn (study), which is the first statement I know of by a writer of antiquity that encouraged women to study. Most writers banned women from any education at all. And I believe he received that attitude toward women by studying the life of Christ and how he treated women. He certainly didn’t learn that from his Talmudic studies.

    • reyjacobs says:

      “The addicts I work with are all convinced that they will be lost in hell if they don’t conquer their sins.”

      For this I wouldn’t blame the CoC’s emphasis on repentance. I would blame the doctrine of all or nothing damnation/salvation which certainly predates the CoC. Here, rather than saying, ah just go on in sin and don’t’ worry about it, I think the solution is that really punishment is temporal or temporary, finite, matching the severity and badness of the sin. I can’t come up with any other meaning for 2 Cor 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” There is no way that could be about a blanket eternity in hell for any and every sin. Addiction is probably fueled to a great extent by the stress of fearing if you mess up once in just one little thing you’ll end up eternally in hell. Realizing that punishment is not all or nothing, but that it is proportional can perhaps break that. The CoC is guilty to some extent of causing this dilemma by preaching an eternity in hell not clearly taught in the Bible against these clearer passages, but so is every other denomination I can think of. The difference is those other denominations basically preach you can live any ole way and still be saved, and so instead of driving the sinner to despair embolden him to make this world a hell by his actions and the harm he does to others. I prefer the CoC’s emphasis on repentance to the devil-like living taught by the Protish denominations and the child molesting practiced by the Catholic priests. But I would bring an end to the concept of all or nothing damnation and preach proportional punishment which is taught in several scriptures.

      • reyjacobs says:

        The second great problem is counting ceremonial infractions as sins that will damn to hell. This makes the normal all or nothing damnation/salvation scheme a billion times worse. Get everything perfect, but miss one church service, and boom eternity in hell. Its just stupid.

  5. Brandi says:

    You all have encountered some crazy churches of christ. I have been attended the church of christ my entire life, from my grandparents, my parents, all my aunts uncles and cousins, and how you guys say that they pick through the bible verses and hate certain scriptures, i have never encountered such. I grew up in the church in California, and have been living in Georgia since college for about 10 years and i just cant believe any of this. I am praying for writer of this blog and everyone that is touched by this blog or experienced any of the cruelty it seems that you have experienced. I am truly astonished.

    • Hi Brandi,
      Ask your preacher if he knows of any Churches of Christ that behave the way we have described in this blog. I would say 10 to 20 per cent of churches of Christ would fall into this hard line category. It is great that you have not encountered any of these problems in the churches that you have been a member of. But the history of acapella Churches of Christ is still one that starts with the debates of Alexander Campbell and continues on with debates and competitive attitudes all the way through. There are many along the way who have tired of the competitive attitude toward other denominations, and have decided to let go of the debating and focus on personal holiness through the power of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

  6. Brent Bacon says:

    Our church does not use instrumental music because we see not authority. We do not condone others for doing so- we just dont see our authority to do so. That is the difference- look at your own congregation- get it right with God- do not go after others because the log in your eye might be huge if you ignore your own congregations issues.

  7. Gary Cummings says:

    Your church is wrong, It is a cult.

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