A question often asked even by orthodox believers is: “If all of the guilt of believer’s sins is imputed to Christ on the cross and Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to believers, why does the Bible speak so often of a judgment according to works?” The Bible does clearly teach that all men shall be judged according to their works done in the flesh. This is the teaching of the Old Testament, Jesus, and the apostles. The Psalmist writes: “You render to each one according to his work” (Ps. 62:12). The climax of Ecclesiastes is: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14).
Jesus emphasized the coming judgment of all men in His teaching ministry. “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Mt. 16:27). Berkouwer writes: “The Savior teaches that the great divorce in the final judgment is tied up with the concrete acts of man during his present life (Matt. 25:31-46). They inherit the kingdom who gave their brothers—and, in them, Christ—water in their thirst, bread in their hunger, clothes in their nakedness, and friendship in their banishment. They are the justified to whose astonished query shall come to reply: This ye have done unto Me! The interdependence between the ultimate judgment and the works of the present life is plain. According to the Lord, we shall be judged on the broad expanse of our entire lives and on every chance word spoken in an idle moment (Matt. 12:36). And to all this, Christ adds, ‘For by thy word thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned’ (Matt. 12:37).”140
The same apostle who wrote “that we are justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:26) also wrote: “God…‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath” (Rom. 2:6-8). This statement is only a chapter away from Paul’s detailed explanation of justification by grace through faith (Rom. 3:21 ff.). Some Protestant interpreters have considered this passage so problematic that they argue that Paul is expounding the law and thus speaking hypothetically. The problem with such an interpretation is that the principles regarding the future judgment set forth in this passage are found throughout the New Testament (cf. Mt. 16:27; 25:31-46; Jn. 5:29; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7-10; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:23-24; Rev. 20:11-15). If this passage is hypothetical then all the others would also have to be considered hypothetical to avoid the alleged “problem.”
An examination of some other passages proves the impossibility of such a solution. Paul is not speaking in the abstract but is describing what God will actually do on the day of judgment. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:11-15). “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts; and then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:7-9). “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for the wrong which he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col. 3:23-25). “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged, each one according to his works” (Rev. 20:12-13). The same Paul who emphasized justification by faith alone also emphasized the final judgment in which a person’s works will be judged in detail. The apostle Paul repeatedly sets the judgment before believers to motivate them to a greater obedience. Paul obviously saw no contradiction between the two doctrines.
The best method of dealing with the alleged problems regarding justification and the future judgment is to consider some of these problems separately. The first and most important question to answer is: Does the judgment of believers in which rewards for good works are dispersed teach the Romish doctrine of salvation through faith and works (or human merit)? No, not at all. When the apostle Paul discusses the judgment of believers and the receiving of rewards, he makes it very clear that: (1) good works do not contribute at all to one’s salvation; (2) the reward for good works can only come to those who are already justified in Christ. The most detailed passage in the New Testament regarding the future judgment of believers and rewards is 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. Paul says that “no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (v. 11). Paul says that good works are built on this foundation (v. 12). The foundation of Christian ethics is the person and work of Jesus Christ. One must already be saved before one can do works which please God which in turn will receive a reward. This point is supported throughout Scripture. The Bible says: “that which is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since the Bible says that all our works are tainted with sin and imperfect, the only works that could possibly receive a heavenly reward are works founded upon Christ, that is, works in which the guilt of sin has been removed. “How could God consider anyone worthy of reward ‘unless his infinite goodness had abolished all their demerit of punishment?’ Good works have a part in obtaining a reward only through ‘their acceptance by the divine mercy.’ He who concerns himself with the relation between works and reward must keep a steady bearing on God’s mercy. Otherwise he will lose himself in a maze of legalism and works-righteousness.”141 Rewards can only be understood in relation to the foundation, Jesus Christ.
The whole Romish system (of infused righteousness, in which faith informed by love actually makes a person just over time; in which good works that flow from this infused righteousness actually contribute to salvation) comes crashing down in 1 Corinthians 3:15: “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Paul is not talking about a person’s venial sins being removed or purged in the fire of purgatory.142 The fire doesn’t purify the worker but rather judges his workmanship. The apostle is discussing Christian works which do not endure the judgment. Paul uses the analogy of two types of materials to describe the quality and enduring nature of a Christian’s work done for Christ. There are imperishable materials (“gold, silver, and costly stones”) which endure and survive the judgment and there are perishable materials (“wood, hay and stubble”) which do not endure. They are all burned up. But note that even if a Christian’s work is completely consumed on the day of judgment that person is still saved. What this means is that a person’s works have nothing to do with salvation. Remember, works are built on the completed foundation: Jesus Christ and His perfect accomplished redemption.
Paul’s warning is directed primarily to ministers of the gospel (note vv. 5-10). The apostle speaks of a real reward for enduring work. But what distinguishes work that endures from work that does not endure? Paul likely refers to work that is based on human wisdom rather than God’s word as work that is burned up. “It is unfortunately possible for people to attempt to build the church out of every imaginable human system predicated on merely worldly wisdom, be it philosophy, ‘pop’ psychology, managerial techniques, relational ‘good feelings,’”143 entertainment, charismania, church growth gimmicks, and so on. Many people who have been seduced by the world’s wisdom, however, are genuine believers. But on the day of judgment their work will be exposed for what it really is: merely human, vain, and useless. Their work does not endure for it was worthless; yet they are saved.
Judgment according to works does not at all support the Romish idea of human merit in salvation. When Christians go before the judgment seat of Christ there is no possibility of going to hell or purgatory; there is only the possibility of one’s work being destroyed. Judgment according to works for the believer does not indicate an alternative way of salvation beside justification by faith, but does indicate the need for good works to be in accordance with divine revelation. They must arise from true faith and must aim solely at the glory of God. Paul’s aim in the passages which speak of judgment according to works is to spur Christians to a greater sanctification; to a greater diligence in serving Christ. The same God who justifies the ungodly also sets the judgment seat of Christ before believers as a motivation for obedience. Only those who confound justification with sanctification see human merit for salvation in such passages.
The Relation of Good Works to Reward
A second and related question is: How can the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone be in harmony with the scriptural promises to believers regarding rewards in heaven for good works?144 Does not the payment of rewards presuppose some type of human merit? Furthermore, how can the idea of reward be reconciled with passages such as Romans 4:4 (“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt”)? The classic Protestant response is that even the believer’s heavenly rewards are based upon grace and not merit. Before examining this formulation another possible answer will be considered: that of John Gerstner.
Gerstner argues that the issue of merit in heaven for good works done on earth is not a problem for the Protestant at all, for these good works have nothing to do with earning salvation; they all occur after justification. These faith-works are necessary to prove the genuineness of a Christian’s faith, but they have nothing to do with earning heaven. How can imperfect works, tainted with sin, merit heavenly rewards? Gerstner argues that since Christ has removed all the guilt of sin from every believer, his post-justification good works actually do merit heavenly rewards. Gerstner writes: “They are real ‘works of supererogation,’ if you wish…[the believer] goes to heaven without one iota of merit in anything and everything he does. But every post-justification good work he ever does will merit, deserve, and receive its reward in heaven…. Moreover, do you dare impugn the justice of God by saying that He would ‘reward’ what did not deserve reward? (P.S. I confess my own and Augustine’s past error in using the oxymoron: ‘rewards of grace.’)”145
Gerstner is absolutely correct when he says that good works do not contribute to salvation. But what about his idea that post-justification good works actually do merit and deserve a heavenly reward? Is the classic Protestant view of rewards based upon grace wrong?146 Although Gerstner’s logic is impeccable, his formulation oversimplifies the biblical view of merit and heavenly rewards. Note that even in Gerstner’s own analysis a Christian’s works must have sin removed from them before they merit a reward. Thus, already the correlation between work and merit or pay that one finds in everyday life and what the Bible describes are two different things. One does not pay for a new car with a severely warped engine block and non-functioning transmission and say, “I forgive you for these defects, but you’ve truly earned your pay.” Furthermore, Jesus rules out human merit in the economic contractual sense in Luke 17:10: “So likewise you, when you have done all things which you are commanded say, ‘we are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” Berkouwer writes: “Even with the complete performance of the obligation, there is no room for self congratulation. Whether the believer is actually in state to perform this, is another question. Here the point is that we are unprofitable servants. This sentence so patently excludes every possible notion of merit and claim, that one is amazed that Rome has not been better able to understand and emulate the Reformation recollection.”147
Gerstner (the good Protestant that he is) is only discussing merit within the sphere of sanctification, not justification. But sanctification is not isolated from God’s mercy. Paul writes: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Sanctification is a continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in man where He progressively delivers the justified sinner from his sinful nature (i.e., the flesh) while renewing the sinner’s nature and enabling him to perform good works. Berkhof writes: “It is essentially a work of God, though in so far as He employs means, man can and is expected to co-operate by the proper use of these means. Scripture clearly exhibits the supernatural character of sanctification in several ways. It describes it as a work of God, 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20, 21, as a fruit of the union of life with Jesus Christ, John 15:4; Gal. 2:20; 4:19, as a work that is wrought in a man from within and which for that very reason cannot be a work of man, Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11, and speaks of its manifestation in Christian virtues as the work of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. It should never be represented as a merely natural process in the spiritual development of man, nor brought down to the level of a mere human achievement….”148
Gerstner’s assertion that post-justification good works actually do merit rewards and are not rewards of grace should be rejected for the following reasons. First, strictly speaking, merit denotes a work that because of its own intrinsic value justly requires a reward or payment. But, as already noted, the believer’s works are not perfect or pure, but are tainted with sin (Rom. 7:18; Gal. 5:17-18; Isa. 64:6). The moment one asserts that Christ has removed all impurities, grace has entered the transaction and all assertions of intrinsic value vanish. Second, the Bible teaches that everything we have (including ourselves and everything that we can possibly do) is already owed to God and thus merits nothing (Lk. 17:10; Rom. 8:12). Third, the believer’s sanctification and every good work are gifts of grace (Jas. 1:17; Phil. 2:13; 2 Cor. 3:5). Since God prepares good works for each believer beforehand (Eph. 2:10) and enables him to perform good works by His Spirit, the Christian has no reason to boast over his sanctification. “If I am wicked, woe to me; even if I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head” (Job 10:15). Fourth, the rewards that God bestows upon believers for their good works are so magnificent and out of proportion to the accomplishments of the saints on earth that it is clear that grace is operative in the rewards. God is not just giving out payments to servants, but bestowing a wonderful inheritance to His own children (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). The best way to understand God’s heavenly rewards toward his children for doing good is to view them as acts of God’s kindness and mercy. The key to understanding these rewards is not intrinsic human merit but the sovereign good pleasure of God. God wanted to bestow these gifts upon His children and thus graced them with the will and ability to carry them out and rewarded them. To speak of intrinsic human merit is to speak of God as a debtor and under obligation to man. This we deny. God is bound by His promise and not human merit. “[W]e do not deny that God from the time he gave the promise is necessarily bound to fulfill it and thus is made in a certain measure a debtor, not to us, but to himself and his own faithfulness.”149
The Protestant doctrine that the heavenly rewards that God gives Christians for good works are gifts of grace does not mean that believers are not valid secondary moral agents; nor does it mean that believers do not actively cooperate in their sanctification; nor does it mean that there is not a direct correlation between the good works done on earth and the rewards given in heaven. God is just and not arbitrary in bestowing these rewards. The point that needs to be emphasized is that these rewards are based on God’s promise, a promise which flows from God’s grace and mercy. God is obligated to give these rewards only because He of His own good pleasure decided to set up a system of rewards for good deeds upon earth. The whole idea of merit implies an obligation on God that apart from His own promise is simply not there. God does not owe man anything. Good deeds apart from grace merit nothing. Calvin writes: “Only let us not imagine a reciprocal relation of merit and reward which is the error into which the sophists fell, for want of considering the end which we have stated…. Nothing is clearer, than that the promise of a reward to good works is designed to afford some consolation to the weakness of our own flesh, but not to inflate our minds with vain-glory. Whoever, therefore, infers from this that there is any merit in works, or balances the work against the rewards, errs very widely from the true design of God.”150 God receives all the glory. When the saints worship God in heaven they “cast their crowns before the throne” (Rev. 4:10
1 William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889), 2:540.
2 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), p. 510.
3 Trent, sess. 6, chap. 7.
4 That God is the one who justifies is taught in Rom. 3:30; 4:5; 8:30, 33.
5 Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson, 1909), 3:853-854.
6 “When Paul paraphrases this verse [Gen. 15:6] as teaching that Abraham’s faith was reckoned for righteousness (Rom. 4:5, 9, 22), all he intends us to understand is that faith—decisive, whole-hearted reliance on God’s gracious promise (v. 18 ff.)—was the occasion and means of righteousness being imputed to him. There is no suggestion here that faith is the ground of justification” (J. I. Packer, “Justification,” in Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984], p. 596).
7 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 3:144-145.
8 Charles Hodge, Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1989), p. 114.
9 “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (Jas. 3:2). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).
10 Martin Luther, Galatians (Cambridge: James Clarke,  1953), p. 145.
11 “We cannot, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life, at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants; and because, as they are good, they proceed from the Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment” (Westminster Confession of Faith 16:5).
12 George Hutcheson, John (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1985), p. 121.
13 “Plerousthe: present passive imperative, ‘keep on being filled with the Spirit.’ The infilling of the Spirit is to be continuous and progressive in the believer’s experience” (John Jefferson Davis, Basic Bible Texts: Every Key Passage for the Study of Doctrine and Theology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], p. 95).
14 Robert D. Brinsmead, Present Truth 4:3 (June 1975), p. 20.
15 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 513.
16 John Jefferson Davis, Basic Bible Texts, p. 94.
17 William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:542.
18 Rousas John Rushdoony, Systematic Theology (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 1994), 1:626.
19 Hermann Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith: A Survey of Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), p. 448.
20 Robert Morey, Studies in the Atonement (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Pub., 1989), p. 178.
21 John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), p. 100.
22 Joel Beeke, “The Relation of Faith to Justification,” in Don Kistler, Justification by Faith Alone (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), p. 59.
23 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 521.
24 Beeke, “The Relation of Faith to Justification,” p. 62.
25 Robert D. Brinsmead, “The Radical Meaning of Sola Fide,” Present Truth (June, 1975), p. 6.
26 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 3:83.
27 Philip Edgecumbe Hughes, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 429.
28 Frances Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed), 2:573.
29 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:61.
30 Westminster Confession of Faith 14:2.
31 A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1992), p. 205.
32 Gordon H. Clark, Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? (Jefferson, MD: Trinity Foundation, 1990), p. 34.
33 Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Reformed, 1965), pp. 147-148.
34 John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 1:101. Concerning John 6:6-9 Calvin writes: “And we have believed and known…. The word believe is put first, because the obedience of faith is the commencement of right understanding, or rather, because faith itself is truly the eye of the understanding. But immediately afterwards knowledge is added, which distinguishes faith from erroneous and false opinions; for Mahometans and Jews and Papists believe, but they neither know nor understand any thing. Knowledge is connected with faith, because we are certain and fully convinced of the truth of God, not in the same manner as human sciences are learned, but when the Spirit seals it in our hearts” (ibid., 1:279).
35 Simon J. Kistemaker, James and I-III John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), p. 92.
36 Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), p. 501.
37 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1995), p. 171.
38 Ibid., p. 171. “Faith is not true because it perseveres, but it perseveres because it is true. Thus perseverance is not the cause of the verity of faith, but the consequence and the effect—for because it has solidity and a deep root in the heart, on this account it is constant and perpetually endures…. Duration is an index of truth, as truth is the principle of education” (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:592).
39 “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” (Jn. 6:39). “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). “And I give them [My sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish” (Jn. 10:28).
40 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:71.
42 The Bible is God’s self-revelation to man and is totally infallible and authoritative. “The authority of the holy scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1:4). The Scripture gives one the historical events and doctrines that must be believed. It also gives the proper interpretation of those events. “If the Being of God is what on the basis of Scripture testimony we have found it to be, it follows that our knowledge will be true knowledge only to the extent that it corresponds to his knowledge…. Such a being as the Bible speaks of could not speak otherwise than with absolute authority” (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980], pp. 34-35).
43 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:561.
44 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 504.
45 A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1992), p. 207. The Westminster Larger Catechism says: “Q. 72. What is justifying faith? A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit [2 Cor. 4:13, Eph. 1:17-19] and word of God [Rom. 10:14, 17], whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition [Ac. 2:37; 4:12; 16:30; Jn. 16:8-9; Rom. 5:6; Eph. 2:1], not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel [Eph. 1:13], but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin [Jn. 1:12; Ac. 16:31; 10:43], and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation [Phil. 2:9.; Ac. 15:11].”
46 Thomas Ridgely, Commentary on the Larger Catechism (Edmonton: Still Water Revival Books), 2:113.
47 A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith, p. 207.
48 Westminster Confession of Faith 14:3.
49 George Downame, A Treatise of Justification (London: Felix Kyngston, 1633), p. 142, as quoted by Joel Beeke, “The Relation of Faith to Justification,” in Don Kistler, Justification by Faith Alone, p. 94.
50 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:683.
51 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 519.
52 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:684.
53 Trent, sixth session, canon 1, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 2:110. A number of the statements of justification found in the Council of Trent’s decrees are ambiguous. Furthermore, the first decrees appear more Evangelical than the latter decrees. The vagueness and almost contradictory nature of these decrees arises from the fact that many of the representatives present had conflicting views of justification. Furthermore, Romish theologians had the impossible task of trying to harmonize the teachings of the church fathers whenever they considered a doctrine. One thing is clear. Those who were present at Trent knew their job was to answer and condemn the Protestant doctrine of justification. This they did with no ambiguity.
54 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ligouri, MO: Ligouri Pub., 1994), §1990, p. 483.
56 Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium, 1994, p. 16. Any Protestant attempt to have a union or close-working relationship with Romanism can only be achieved by deceit on one or both sides. One must concede crucial doctrines and/or use ambiguous statements, for both systems are irreconcilable. One should learn from history the dangers of such attempts. At the Diet of Ratisbon (1541), an attempt at doctrinal reconciliation between Protestants and Romanists was attempted but failed miserably. Buchanan’s analyses should be headed by all Protestants: “At Ratisbon, the difference between the Popish and Protestant doctrines of Justification seemed to resolve itself into one point, and even on that point both parties held some views in common. It might seem, then, that there was no radical or irreconcilable difference between the two; and yet, when they came to explain their respective views, it was found that they were contending for two opposite methods of Justification,—the one by the personal obedience of the believer, the other by the vicarious obedience of Christ…. This fact shows the utter folly of every attempt to reconcile two systems, which are radically opposed, by means of a compromise between them; and the great danger of engaging in private conferences with a view to that end. In the open field of controversy, truth, so far from being endangered, is ventilated, cleared, and defined; in the secret conclaves of divines, and the cabinets of princes, it is often smothered, or silenced. It has far less to fear from discussion, than from diplomacy. There can be no honest compromise between the Popish and the Protestant doctrine of Justification,—the one is at direct variance with the other, not in respect of verbal expression merely, but in respect of their fundamental principles…” (The Doctrine of Justification, pp. 136-137).
57 John Gerstner, “The Nature of Justifying Faith,” in Don Kistler, Justification by Faith Alone (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), p. 109.
58 William G. T. Shedd, History of Christian Doctrine (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1886), 2:321. “Justification is a judicial act of God, in which He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner…. Sanctification may be defined as that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works” (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965], pp. 513, 532).
59 Robert D. Brinsmead, Present Truth (special issue on justification by faith), pp. 8-9.
60 “If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened [to him]: let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Canon XXX).
61 William G. T. Shedd, History of Christian Doctrine, 2:322-323, emphasis added.
62 Gerstner, p. 112.
63 Biblically speaking, after a man is justified before God, he begins a lifelong process of sanctification where he grows in holiness and obedience to God’s law. Justification is the basis, the starting point, for sanctification (Rom. 6). Justification removes the guilt of sin and restores the sinner to God’s household as a child of God. Sanctification removes sinful habits and makes the sinner more and more like Christ. Justification takes place outside of the sinner in the tribunal of God. Justification takes place once and for all. Sanctification is a continuous process which is never complete in this life (Berkhof, pp. 513-514). Protestants do not believe that sanctification contributes to salvation but they do not teach that Christians can sin as they please and claim to be saved. Justification is by faith alone, but not by the faith that is alone. Biblical Protestants agree with the apostle James “that faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:20). A person who has true saving faith, who really is justified, will lead a godly life, a life of good works. Justification necessarily leads to sanctification. But sanctification is not justification and does not contribute to salvation.
64 The English translation of the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent is taken from Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker,  1983), 2:90-91.
65 Ibid., 2:91. This statement is contrary to Scripture. The Romanist understands the phrase “laver of regeneration” to refer to baptism (see below). The thief on the cross was never baptized, yet he believed in Christ and went directly to heaven after death (Lk. 23:43). Furthermore, Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (Rom. 4:9-12).
66 Ibid., 2:95.
67 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ligouri, MO: Ligouri Pub., 1994), §1999 [p. 484]. The Bible teaches that (except in the case of covenant children) baptism is to follow regeneration and justification and not precede it. In fact, it is positively sinful to baptize adults who do not profess to be saved by Christ. Thus, the Roman Catholic doctrine of submitting to baptism in order to receive regeneration and justification is wicked; it is ritualistic superstition. Berkhof writes: “In the case of adults baptism must be preceded by a profession of faith, Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:37…; 16:31-33. Therefore the Church insists on such a profession before baptizing adults. And when such a profession is made, this is accepted by the Church at its face value, unless she has good objective reasons for doubting its veracity” (Systematic Theology, p. 631).
68 James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, pp. 103-104.
69 The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches: “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, or regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world” (XXX:I).
70 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 3:136.
71 Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 2:168 (session 14, canon 13).
72 Ibid., 2:168 (canon 12).
73 Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (Phillipsburg: NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), p. 255.
74 Romanism’s view of the mass is clearly a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice: “If anyone says that in the mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God…let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, 22nd sess., canon 1). “If anyone says that…Christ…did not ordain that…other priests should offer His own body and blood, let him be anathema” (canon 2). “If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mass is not a propitiatory [sacrifice]…let him be anathema” (canon 3). Cf. the New York Catechism and the Creed of Pope Pius IV.
75 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994), 2:440.
76 Ibid., 2:441.
77 Romanists argue that since Christ gives Christians the power of satisfying for themselves that this is not salvation by works. But since their doctrine is founded upon a view which states that Christ did not render a perfect and satisfactory sacrifice, no other construction can be placed upon the Romish system than that of a syncretism: God does His part and man must do his part for salvation to occur. “[I]t is one thing to make satisfaction, another to give power to make satisfaction” (Turretin, 2:441).
78 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,  1989), 2:589.
79 R. C. Sproul, “The Forensic Nature of Justification,” in Don Kistler, Justification by Faith Alone (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), p. 26.
80 Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 2:112.
82 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 524.
83 Charles Hodge, Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1989), p. 115.
84 Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2008 (p. 486).
85 Ibid., §2009 (p. 487).
86 Ibid., §2010 (p. 487).
87 Ibid., §2025 (p. 490).
88 Webster’s Secondary School Dictionary (Springfield, MA: G. C. Merriam, 1913), p. 136.
89 Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 2:94. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man” (§2019). “The editors of the Roman Catholic Douay Version make these footnote comments on Romans 3 and 4: ‘The justification of which St. Paul here speaks is the infusion of sanctifying grace which alone renders a person supernaturally pleasing in the sight of God. But justification, that is, an infusion of sanctifying grace, cannot be merited by us; it is an entirely gratuitous gift of God.’“ (quoted in “Justification by Faith,” Present Truth, p. 8).
90 Schaff, op. cit., 2:99 (session 6, chap. 10).
91 Ibid., 2:104 (session 6, chap. 14).
92 Robert D. Brinsmead, “Justification by Faith and the Charismatic Movement,” in Present Truth, 1972) p. 19.
93 James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, p. 125.
94 David F. Wells, No Place For Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), p. 131.
95 A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1992), p. 181.
96 R. J. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 1983), p. 272.
97 Bruce Winter, “A Youth Pastor Speaks out on the Playboy Theology,” in Robert D. Brinsmead, editor, Present Truth (1973), p. 26.
98 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), p. 487.
99 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 87.
100 Ernest C. Reisinger, Today’s Evangelism: Its Message and Methods (Phillipsburg, NJ: Craig Press, 1982), pp. 25, 27.
101 Charles Hodge, I and II Corinthians (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1974), p. 90.
102 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, quoted in Ernest C. Reisinger, Today’s Evangelism, pp. 25-26.
103 John Gerstner, “The Nature of Justifying Faith,” in Don Kistler, Justification by Faith Alone (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), pp. 114-115.
104 John Murray, Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 1:219. Murray’s analysis of the relation of sanctification to Christ’s death is unsurpassed. Regarding verse seven, he writes, “The decisive breach with the reigning power of sin is viewed after the analogy of the kind of dismissal which a judge gives when an arraigned person is justified. Sin has no further claim upon the person who is thus vindicated. This judicial aspect from which deliverance from the power of sin is to be viewed needs to be appreciated. It shows that the forensic is present not only in justification but also in that which lies at the basis of sanctification. A judgement is executed upon the power of sin in the death of Christ (cf. John 12:31) and deliverance from this power on the part of the believer arises from the efficacy of this judgement” (Ibid., part I, p. 222).
105 Charles Hodge, Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1989), p. 201.
106 Ibid., p. 202. Peter’s argument for Christian sanctification is identical to Paul’s. “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2).
107 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 2:713.
108 There are a number of passages which teach that faith is a gift from God (e.g., Ac. 16:14, Rom. 12:3, Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29). Passages which teach that repentance is a gift from God are Ac. 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25.
109 R. J. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 1983), pp. 14-15.
110 B. B. Warfield, Perfectionism (Grand Rapids: Baker,  1981), 2:608, 610.
111 R. J. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule, p. 274.
112 William G. T. Shedd, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker,  1980), p. 237.
113 Charles Hodge, I and II Corinthians (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1974), p. 682.
114 Kevin Reed, Making Shipwreck of the Faith: Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Together (Dallas, TX: Protestant Heritage Press, 1995), p. 22.
115 There has also been a tendency among evangelicals to ignore justification and emphasize the new birth. People are often asked, “Have you been born again?” That question would be legitimate if evangelicals defined the new birth biblically. It would be the same as asking, “Has the Holy Spirit changed your heart, enabling you to repent and believe in Jesus Christ?” Evangelicals, however, do not define the new birth biblically. Their question basically means: “Have you accepted Christ into your heart and had a wonderful spiritual experience?” The focus is not on the objective work of Christ but on man’s autonomous decision and the inward experience it produces.
116 Ernest C. Reisinger, Today’s Evangelism: Its Message and Methods (Phillipsburg, NJ: Craig Press, 1982), p. 76.
117 C. H. Spurgeon, The Minister in These Times: An All-Around Ministry (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth), p. 372, quoted in Reisinger, op. cit., p. 75.
118 James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker,  1977), p. 249.
119 J. P. Lange and J. J. Van Oosterzee, The Epistle General of James (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960), p. 82.
120 James B. Adamson, James: The Man and His Message (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), p. 288.
121 Thomas Manton, Commentary on James (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1962), p. 264.
122 Ralph P. Martin, James (Waco, TX: Word, 1988), p. 81.
123 Thomas W. Leahy, “The Epistle of James,” in Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall), 2:373.
124 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 22:312-313.
125 Thomas Manton, James (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1962), p. 240.
126 Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), p. 91.
127 J. P. Lange and J. J. Van Oosterzee, The Epistle General of James, p. 88.
128 Ibid., p. 89.
129 Kistemaker, James and John, p. 101.
130 Thomas Manton, James, p. 269-270.
131 G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Faith and Justification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), p. 137.
132 Thomas Manton, James, p. 245.
133 Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown, Commentary Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 3:588.
134 Robert Johnson, James, p. 201.
135 Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Holy Bible (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1963), 3:887. Some commentators say that faith produces good works, which also in turn stimulates faith. By this they do not mean that works add anything of their own to faith but by that faith in action (like a muscle that exercises) maintains its own natural vigor. Stier writes: “James by no means affirms that works give life to, produce or create faith; for faith comes by the power of the word [applied to the Holy Spirit], entering into and received by us and nothing else. But faith grows complete in works, that is the same as Paul’s saying or rather the Lord’s saying to Paul, that the strength of God may be completed in weakness (2 Cor. xii. 9). The strength of faith, indwelling from the beginning and already received along with the first seizing of grace, becomes fully proved, verified, and its operation completed. Thus our calling and election are made sure in the diligence of living and doing (2 Pet. i. 10). Thus Abraham’s first call was made sure in his last works and the word concerning justification by (out of) faith already before accorded to him, was lawfully and actually confirmed as a truth” (Rudolph Stier, The Epistle of St. James [Klock & Klock: Minneapolis, MN, (1871) 1982], pp. 356-357).
136 Thomas Manton, James, p. 256.
137 Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Dallas: Word, 1994), 2:110.
138 G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification, p. 136. Berkouwer quotes J. H. Ropes, The Epistle of St. James (1916), p. 220.
139 Martin Luther, Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1976), p. xvii.
140 G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Faith and Justification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), pp. 105-106.
141 Ibid., p. 128.
142 “They [Roman Catholics] distinguished also between Mortal and Venial Sins—the former deserving eternal death, the latter deserving only temporal punishments,—whereas, according to the Scriptures, ‘every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and that which is to come;’ and whatever difference there may be between one sin and another, as being more or less heinous, and between the sins of believers and those of unbelievers, that difference does not arise from any sin being in its own nature venial, or undeserving of punishment, and still less from one class of sins being pardonable, and another not; for the Law declares that all sins are mortal, while the Gospel proclaims that all sins, short of the sin against the Holy Ghost, are pardonable, by the free grace of God, through the infinite merits of Christ.” James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker,  1977), p. 105.
143 Gordon D. Fee, First Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 145.
144 The Scriptures often speak of heavenly rewards. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). “Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:20). To those who are reviled and persecuted for Christ’s sake Jesus says: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Mt. 5:12). The author of Hebrews says that Moses forsook the pleasures of sin and instead suffered with God’s people “for he looked to the reward” (Heb. 11:26). “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work” (Rev. 22:12).
145 John Gerstner, “The Nature of Justifying Faith,” in Don Kistler, Justification by Faith Alone (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), p. 121.
146 An excellent statement of the original Protestant position regarding merit and good works is found in Calvin’s Institutes: “Scripture shows what all our works deserve when it states that they cannot bear God’s gaze because they are full of uncleanness. What, then, will the perfect observance of the law deserve, if any such can be found, when Scripture enjoins us to consider ourselves unprofitable servants even when we do everything required of us [Lk. 17:10]? For to the Lord we have given nothing unrequired but have only carried out services owed, for which no thanks are due. Yet those good works which he has bestowed upon us the Lord calls ‘ours,’ and testifies they not only are acceptable to him but also will have their reward. It is our duty in return to be aroused by so great a promise, to take courage not to weary in well-doing [cf. Gal. 6:9; 2 Th. 3:13], and to receive God’s great kindness with true gratefulness. There is no doubt that whatever is praiseworthy in works is God’s grace; there is not a drop that we ought by rights to ascribe to ourselves. If we truly and earnestly recognize this, not only will all confidence in merit vanish, but the very notion…. Good works, then, are pleasing to God and are not unfruitful for their doers. But they receive by way of reward the most ample benefits of God, not because they so deserve but because God’s kindness has of itself set this value on them” (Institutes III:XV:3 [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960], 1:790-791).
147 G. C. Berkouwer, pp. 123-124.
148 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), pp. 532-533.
149 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed), 2:714.
150 Institutes, II, xviii, 4. Even Adam before the fall, “if he had persevered, would not have merited life in strict justice” (Turretin, 2:712). Eternal life was based on God’s promise: the covenant of works. If Adam had obeyed the covenant of works he would have been given eternal life. The condition was perfect obedience. Eternal life for a finite number of years of obedience is certainly gracious. Only Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, could and did fulfill this strict justice.
Copyright © Brian Schwertley, Lansing MI, 1998
Edited by Stephen Pribble