READ: Psalm 58, Ezekiel 7-9, Mark 2, Romans 9
JUDGED AND REWARDED
We must constantly be vigilant not to reduce God to a manageable deity by playing His complementary characteristics against themselves. Because our minds so desperately (and sincerely) want to understand God, we reduce Him to a formula and end up with a zero-sum effect. Wrath and mercy are not intended to be reconciled; election and will do not neutralize each other; and transcendence and immanence are glorious because they are equally real. Post-Reformation thinking (as a reaction to salvation by merit) has tended to diminish the Biblical function of works.
Saved by Faith. Obviously no one can work their way to divine favor. When Jesus said He did not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17), He meant that all are sinners and the self-righteous are blind to their need. Romans 9:32 underlines the folly of a people or a person striving to be accepted by God by any means other than faith. As long as we remember we are all sinners and continually need to trust Jesus to save us, we will be safe.
Judged by Works. The Bible is clear that while we are saved by faith, we are judged by works (Eze. 7:4, 8-9). Works matter. It is not enough to be for God theoretically; we must be for Him functionally and against evil practically. In Ezekiel 9 we have the troubling vision of God destroying all those who do not mourn evil. We will be judged by what we do and don’t do. Saving faith is not a pass to an easy, uninvolved life. We are responsible and required to both work for what is right in the world and against what is wrong. Followers of Jesus should be the hardest working people in the world. Laborers are those who sweat. Jesus will judge us according to how hard we work for Him.
Rewarded by Works. Similarly, and on the positive side, we will be rewarded by works. Heaven does not seem to be democratic or egalitarian. There are elders and levels of honor in eternity. Jesus is very clear (Matt. 16:27), as is the whole New Testament, that Jesus will reward His own according to their works. In one sense our wages are all the same (the eternal presence of Jesus). In another sense there are variant rewards determined by how hard we worked for Jesus. This is another mystery that is not intended to be diluted by reconciliation.
Let us be encouraged by the mercy of Jesus that saves us because we believe. Let us be sobered by the inevitable judgment and reward that is determined by what we actually do. We work because we believe.