Judgment Day

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on July 11, 2021.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:6–16).[1]

The Bible has many good things to say about King David. Who else in Scripture is referred to as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14)? He was a remarkable man of valor and conviction. He loved his friends, family more, and God most.

Perhaps one of the most complimentary statements about his leadership as king is recorded in 2 Samuel: “David reigned over all Israel. …[and] administered justice and equity to all his people” (2 Sam. 8:15). Who doesn’t want a leader like that? It was the pinnacle of his reign, but even the greatest of saints can be blinded in applying the same justice and equity to himself.

The account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband is well known. They were perfectly covered-up crimes of passion, uncharacteristic of a man after God’s own heart. Sadly, it would take prophetic exposure to open his eyes and ears, and God would use the very sense of justice and equity with which he reigned to do it.

The Prophet Nathan told the story of two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds, but the poor man had only one little lamb, whom he raised like a child. Then one day the rich man needed to serve a meal. Rather than take from his abundance, he took the poor man’s beloved lamb, killed it, and served it for dinner. It meant nothing for the rich man, it was a tragic loss for the poor man. Upon hearing the story, David was indignant, demanding that equitable justice be rendered: fourfold reparation plus death for the man. But it was just a story. David’s sin was not. As Nathan revealed to David, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:1-7).

It was a moment of clarity and conviction, not the pinnacle of his reign. David realized that while he had reigned over Israel with justice and equity, he had not governed himself accordingly. His partiality extended as far as himself and his lover, masking injustice and forgetting that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). And he who sees it all shows no partiality. Unlike David he judges with justice and equity without fail (Ps. 98:9).

Judgment for Works

It could not be more plainly stated: “[God] will render to each one according to his works.” Though plainly stated, this is nothing new. The psalmist sings, “to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work” (Ps. 62:12). Solomon asks, “Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to this work? (Prov. 14:12). God declares through Jeremiah that he searches the heart and tests the mind “to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer. 17:10). Even Jesus promised that he “will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27). So, judgment by works is a biblical certainty. It’s also universal, equitable, and imminent.

Paul says that not some but “each one,” universally, will be judged for their works. Some might argue that the ethnic descendants of Jacob have an unfair advantage over Gentiles, Paul clarifies, “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.” It matters not your race, color, creed, origin, sex, or status. As Peter explained to Cornelius, “God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him” (Acts 10:34 NET). Simply put, “God show no partiality.”

Therefore, God judges equitably. Judgment is rendered according to each person’s works: “He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Ps. 98:9). For example, “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” Likewise, “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” This applies to those who received God’s written law, and the responsibility it entails, as well as those who “by nature do what the law requires.” Indeed, “the LORD’s decrees are just and everything he does is fair. He promotes equity and justice; the LORD’s faithfulness extends throughout the earth” (Ps. 33:4-5 NET).

As a result, Judgment Day is not an enticement nor a threat but an imminent reality. Judgment Day is coming, and it is closer today than it was yesterday. Perhaps it will be today. This we know: When it arrives, for the one who does evil, there will be the affliction of God’s wrath and anguish of spurned favor. But, for the one who does good, there will be the divine attribute of glory, the divine approval of honor, and the divine existence of peace. Each and every person will be judged on that day, not based on a relative scale by comparison or a sliding scale on performance but by the perfect standard of God’s law.

Judged by Law

God made a covenant with Abraham, a bond in blood sovereignly administered, and received by faith. Through Abraham came Isaac, then Jacob, or Israel, whose children received God’s law, a covenant blessing of God’s special revelation. As canonized in the Ten Commandments, Israel was given the indicative of their redemption (Ex. 20:1-2) and the imperatives for life (Ex. 20:3-17), recalling the faith and obedience of their father Abraham. They were the chosen ones, the covenant children of God.

However, as is often the case, those born of privilege forget the faith of their fathers and presume upon inherited blessings. For Israel, their heritage as God’s covenant people and inheritance of his law presumably rendered them eternally favored. No other people could claim God’s special revelation; only the Jew had received God’s Word. Does such privilege not warrant a special exception in God’s judgment?

But what about those who did not receive the special revelation of God’s law? They did not assemble at the base of Mount Sinai and receive God’s revelation from on high. Has God revealed himself and his law to anyone else but Israel? Indeed he has, revealing himself through creation and writing his law upon the human heart, of which the conscience bears witness. In fact, when anyone does what the law requires, they are “a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law,” a common grace blessing of God’s general revelation.

And yet, it is different from God’s special revelation, in writing, passed down from generation to generation. In this sense, isn’t the Gentile at a disadvantage? To do what the law requires “by nature” seems beneficial, but can those who never received the special revelation of God’s law be held accountable for breaking it? How can someone be guilty of breaking a law they did not receive? Surely there is a cosmic exception for those who never received the law or even know that it exists?

Isn’t this just like human nature? The Jews are presumed innocent by virtue of the presence of God’s law. Gentiles are presumed innocent by virtue of the absence of it. So, good news: No one is guilty before a holy and righteous God! No, that’s not good news; it’s fake news.

Here’s the truth: The Jew hears the law and does not do it. The Gentile knows the law and does not obey it. The truth is, for the Jew and Gentile alike, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). In other words, apart from God’s grace no one by patience does well, no one seeks for glory, not one seeks honor, none achieve immortality or receive eternal life. No one does good, and that’s not good news come Judgment Day.

So, if the Jew will be judged according to the special revelation of God’s law and the Gentile according to the general revelation of God’s law, and if Jew and Gentile alike have broken God’s law, what hope is there? This is the human dilemma, isn’t it? Can anyone obey God’s law perfectly? Has anyone ever done it? Only one. Only one could claim, “I always do the things that are pleasing to [God]” (John 8:29). Only one committed no sin nor spoke deceitfully (1 Pet. 2:22). Only one was in every respect tempted as we are yet did not sin (Heb. 4:15). He was born under the law as a Jew, obeyed it perfectly, and fulfilled it completely (Gal. 4:4; Matt. 5:17). He is Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1), and it is in Christ that we will be saved from the wrath of God on Judgment Day. While we are judged for works, we are saved by grace.

Saved by Grace

Before the judgement seat of God, “all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag” (Isa. 64:6 NET). Judged according to God’s righteous law, we have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Our only hope is if God acts but let us not forget that he is “too just to tolerate evil” and “unable to condone wrongdoing” (Hab. 1:13).

We may plead or pray that God change or make an exception for us and our sin, but he will not; he cannot. For he is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”[2] He is the Judge, and we will be judged for our works by his law. And every single person who by God’s grace trusts in Christ will be judged as perfectly righteous, as righteous as the Son of God.

All who believe “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). God judges the believer in Christ, punishing sin and preserving justice. God’s law is obeyed perfectly in Christ, a perfect righteousness achieved by Christ and imputed to all who believe. We are justified as righteous, not according to our works but Christ’s, not according to our will but God’s: He is simul justus et peccator, the “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

And he, by whom we will be judged, will also be the Judge. As Jesus revealed to the Jews,

the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:22–24).

Come Judgment Day, he who will be revealed to the world as the Judge, we know as our Savior, leading us not to fear that day but to long for it. For, he will judge the world with righteousness and judge the peoples with equity (Ps. 9:8), and “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). So, we who are saved by God’s grace through faith, standing only in the perfect righteousness of Christ, say, “Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20). Come!

[1] Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[2] “The Shorter Catechism Q.4,” in The Westminster Confession of Fatih and Catechisms (Lawrenceville, GA: Christian Education & Publications, 2007), 357.

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