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OUR HIGH PRIEST    by Edward Heppenstall


Judgment According to Works — 7

The Bible states that judgment is invariably according to works.

We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds (Rom. 2:2-6).

As obedient children, do not let your characters be shaped any longer by the desires you cherished in your days of ignorance. The One who called you is holy; like him, be holy in all your behaviour, because Scripture says, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." If you say "our Father" to the One who judges every man impartially on the record of his deeds, you must stand in awe of him while you live out your time on earth (1 Peter 1:14-17, N.E.B.).

Thus was presented to the prophet's vision the great and solemn day when the characters and the lives of men should pass in review before the Judge of all the earth, and to every man should be rendered "according to his works."—The Great Controversy, p. 479.

At this point one may well ask: If man is to be saved by grace and by the righteousness of Christ, why then is the judgment according to a man's works? What possible place can works have in the judgment? Why not settle for a man's relationship to God and let it go at that? Furthermore, if judgment is according to works, does this not require the life to be devoted to good works rather than to one's relationship to God? Does this not negate salvation by grace alone and make of none effect the forgiveness of God?

The Bible says two things about works: First, salvation is not possible by works. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:16). "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8, 9; see also Rom. 4:2, 4, 5; 9:31, 32; 11:6).

Second, good works are an essential part of the Christian life and basic to the righteous judgment of God. "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16; see also 1 Peter 2:11, 12; Titus 1:11; Rom. 13:12-14; Eph. 5:1-11). "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:20).

Good works are in no way opposed to the gospel; they are part of it. Only when works are regarded as the means to gain merit before God and achieve salvation are they at variance with salvation by grace. Good works are an essential part of genuine Christian living and form the basis for the righteous judgment of God. It is unfortunate that many professed believers deny works their proper place in salvation by faith. These people say in effect: "Works don't matter. All that God requires is faith and love. It only matters what you believe."

Judgment according to works will mean judgment according to both the law and the gospel.

Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:10-12).

As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. . . .) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel (Rom. 2:12-16).

If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).

This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3).

There is nothing vague, obscure, or capricious about these passages. The demand is for obedience to the commandments. Love is the fulfilling of the law, not its neglect or denial. Love fulfills the law of truth, of honesty, of purity. Love or faith that disregards the law of God leads men to follow their own impulses. Against such emotionalism in religion, these texts are a protest. In the judgment God will demand that we give an account of our stewardship in order that the true Christian may lay the treasure of a Christlike character at His feet—not to gain merit, nor for ostentation before men, but in order to be like Him when He appears.

There is nothing that so completely destroys man's relationship to God as disobedience. The judgment is a time for separation between the saved and the lost. Sin separates man from God with all the serious consequences of being lost. Before God no sin can be made inconsequential or dismissed as unreal. God's promise to cast our sins into the depths of the sea once we repent does not relegate sin to complete forgetfulness. Paul, writing of the judgment, said that God "will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5). "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it" (chap. 3:13). In the final analysis the Bible affirms that judgment is according to works, whether it be for approval or disapproval. The Christian who in faith and love has kept God's Word and commandments will receive the verdict of approval. A professed Christian who by his life and works on earth has served evil will receive the verdict of disapproval. His name will be blotted from the book of life.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven (Matt. 7:21).

The God who judges according to works is not engaged in operating a point system of merits and demerits. The Christian who shares in Christ's life will bring forth the fruits of that life.

Furthermore, what is so crucial and decisive about works is that they involve the whole man. They form a clear basis of evidence in the judgment. The set of the mind and the life is more evident by the works and deeds of a man than simply by the thoughts of man's mind. This does not negate the seriousness of a perverted mind or a seared conscience. But works reveal a permanency, the extent of a man's commitment to evil. They show how far a man has gone. Works take a man further than do his thoughts, just as a carpenter constructs his plans and then builds the house. He extends his thoughts and ideas into works that build the house, which requires the man's involvement more than the drawing of the plans. Works take more of a man's time, his energies, and reveal the nature of his commitment either for good or ill.

The deed is better than or worse than the idea. The deed of adultery inevitably brings consequences that nothing can eradicate. The lustful thought, while still condemned by God, can be stayed before the deed produces its doleful fruits. Actual adultery injures lives more than does lust. Stealing is more disastrous in its effects than covetousness. The effect of good works exceeds altogether the simple desire to do good. To give one's life to good works shows much more Christian reality than wishing to do them. Thoughts followed by works involve the whole of a man's existence. Loving thoughts are good for the one thinking them; but loving works produce loving relationships. On the other hand, lustful or hateful thoughts may disturb the soul for hours or days; but lustful deeds and works of hate disfigure also the lives of those nearest to them, often for years. Lives are ruined permanently. The testimony of good or evil works, clearly an indication of the choices a man has made and will make, inevitably determines his destiny at the bar of God.

In the judgment, works are therefore the measure of the whole life. A man who is continually disobedient to the will of God provides clearer and more conclusive evidence as to his total involvement than do his thoughts without deeds and works. This is why works are so important in the judgment.

The exercise and practice of devotion is better than ideas of devotion. The acts of worship are a better indication of what a man is religiously than the mere desire for worship. For the practice of it serves to change a man into the image of God and the life is purified by the presence of God. A knowledge of and a desire for prayer that does not actually lead to the practice of prayer will soon die. To desire the Word of God and yet fail to study it falls short of the spiritual needs of the law. It is the work, the deed, that truly commits the person.

When it is understood that judgment is according to works and therefore involves the whole man, there will be no room for antinomian teaching that seeks to abrogate the law of God. In the presence of Christ and under the influence of the Holy Spirit disobedience to the will of God is unthinkable. For in Christ there was no dishonesty, no impurity.

"Right to the Tree of Life"

Happy are those who wash their robes clean! They will have the right to the tree of life and will enter by the gates of the city. Outside are dogs, sorcerers and fornicators, murderers and idolaters, and all who love and practise deceit (Rev. 22:14, 15, N.E.B.).

This text speaks of a fitness for the kingdom of God. The judgment will determine that fitness. A certain quality of life is required, in contrast to those who are ultimately condemned.

Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless (2 Peter 3:13, 14).

The gospel is salvation from sin. Christ saves the sinner. That very salvation here and now also makes the Christian fit for the kingdom of God. Those who are to possess the kingdom are those who obey God. The preparation time is now. When one's name comes up before the court of heaven, the case will be decided. Christians are continually being renewed in holy obedience and conformed to the image of God's Son. By their lives they establish the right and the fitness to dwell in the city of God.

The right to the kingdom is, in a sense, dependent upon man's obedience to the commandments. This is the worth of man's obedience. The life we live now is of vast importance and significance in the judgment now going on. The right of God's people to the kingdom is not founded on their works of faith and love. That right was won by Christ. But obedience through the Spirit, manifested in works of faith, prove they are in possession of that right.

The works of faith reveal that Christ is truly Lord. In preparing for the judgment and the kingdom, the Christian is governed by the single purpose to honor and obey Christ. God requires such fitness in the life of the believer. An adequate preparation is necessary to practice medicine. The business of that profession is to practice efficiently. The business of the Christian life is to live a life of good works and of obedience to the will of God. These works earn no merit. God does not bestow eternal life on the basis of our obedience. But it is the beginning of a life here and now that is to continue in the hereafter. The Christian life is in harmony with the life to be lived in the hereafter. There is a kinship and likeness throughout. The judgment will determine a man's fitness for the kingdom.

Obviously, a man's fitness must be determined before Christ returns. If a man's life is not changed here and now, it will be too late then. If a man does not delight in the law of God now, he will not delight in it then. If a man will not submit to the Lordship of Christ here, he will reject Christ's sovereign rule then. The pre-Advent judgment will reveal whether a man has become habituated here to the will of God; whether he loves light more than darkness. The books of record will manifest whether a man has built his house upon the sand or upon the rock. Any life that is not built on Christ will be condemned. In the judgment Christ cannot proclaim a verdict contrary to the facts. God brings man's works of love and obedience to light before the court of heaven. Before a multitude of witnesses the faithful, obedient child of God will be vindicated. For this Christ's love has labored; for this His grace has been manifested and applied—all this that He might transform sinners into His likeness and fit them for the new earth where there is only righteousness.

Because of Christ's perfect righteousness the believer is released from the law's curse and condemnation, but not from obedience to it. Faith does not make void the law.

Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. . . . Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:1-12).

The Christian, to the utmost of his ability, is to be as his Master. He glorifies God by devoted, loving obedience. It is unthinkable that whereas Christ magnified and honored the law by His perfect obedience (Isa. 42:21), the Christian will dishonor it by disobedience.

Loyalty to God is essential. Loving obedience honors God. Disobedience dishonors Him. The judgment will declare it. All God's created beings must be sure on this point. God cannot risk another catastrophe such as the world has endured for almost six thousand years. Faith that works by love is a clear choice between God and every other God, a choice between honesty and dishonesty, between purity and impurity, obeying the commandments and disobeying them. God's will and commandments are not ambiguous. God enters into no extended arguments to prove His point. God's demands are not impossible under the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Each has a case pending at the bar of God. Each must meet the great Judge face to face. How important, then, that every mind contemplate often the solemn scene when the judgment shall sit and the books shall be opened, when, with Daniel, every individual must stand in his lot, at the end of the days.—The Great Controversy, p. 488.

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof  (Rom. 13: 12-14).

How difficult it is to value morality and spirituality as the Bible teaches it! Granted that legalism is not the answer and never has been. The Bible is quite clear about that. The church justifiably should protest against a legalistic religion. Nevertheless, what a difference it makes whether you keep the law of God or break it! What a great gulf there is between the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit! (See Gal. 5:19-25.)

Scientists never weary of proclaiming the grandeur and the dependability of natural law—the law that rules the stars, the earth, the physical man. How much more true and dependable are the moral and spiritual laws of God. "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7:12).

Throughout the world the church is met with the toning down of the moral code. Love is all we need, we are told. The law of God produces uneasy feelings, makes people uncomfortable. So to the majority the less said about the law of God the better. Christians agree that love should be the motivating power of all obedience. Nevertheless, at a time when open attacks are made on the moral law of God as having little if any validity for today, men need to see that transgression of the law of God is still sin. Disobedience always means bondage, disgrace, suffering, and death. Under the pretense of enlarging our liberties, we are deprived of them. We are sold into slavery. How foolish it is for the creature to enter into disagreement with his Creator over His law and His gospel. Both are an expression of God's eternal character of righteous love toward all created beings. The possibility of a divine verdict for or against us is a distinct reality in the judgment.

The time has come for the judgement to begin; it is beginning with God's own household. And if it is starting with you, how will it end for those who refuse to obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17, N.E.B.).

The law of God contains nothing that does not commend itself to the Christian's understanding, heart, conscience, and life. Granted that sin's condemnation is softened by divine clemency to those who repent. The moral standard of God is eternal and universal. There is no abrogation of His commandments. Reject them, violate them, burn them with fire, bury them; but bear in mind that there is no escape from the bondage, the burdens, the anxieties, and the guilt that sin produces. Sin is still man's darkest problem. If you do not come to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing, the basic needs of life can never be met. The sickness of the soul cannot be resolved by a different or a diluted moral code. If you are to find healing, and power to obey the commandments, you must seek the strength of God in Christ. Living in fellowship with Him, you will find the yoke of the law easy and its burden light.

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