February 26 - March 3
Assurance and the Final Judgment
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: John 3:16-19; 12:31-33; 1 John 4:16-18; Rom. 2:6-13; James 2:14-17; Dan. 12:1; Rev. 20:12.
MEMORY TEXT: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1, NKJV).
KEY THOUGHTS: Assurance of salvation is considered by many to be incompatible with a last judgment of the saints according to works. However, the Scriptures teach their essential harmony and unity in the history of salvation.
IMPORTANCE OF JUSTIFICATION AND JUDGMENT. There can be no doubt that Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament present the reality of both justification by faith and judgment according to works. It is a faith that works. A living faith in Christ produces good works that glorify God. We are saved by Christ for good works. Our assurance of salvation does have a bearing on our conduct.
This week's lesson will explore both topics to help us understand their mutual relationship. Why does God's last judgment not threaten the present assurance of the saints? How does the judgment confirm and guarantee that salvation is by grace alone?
"We owe everything to grace.... Grace in the covenant ordained our adoption. Grace in the Saviour effected our redemption, our regeneration, and our adoption to heirship with Christ. Let this grace be revealed to others."—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 268.
What role will our works play in the final judgment? Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6-11; 2 Cor. 5:10.
Both Christ and Paul teach emphatically that everyone, including every Christian believer, will be held accountable for his or her life in the last judgment. Such a teaching is evident in the Old Testament in such passages as Psalm 62:12, Proverbs 24:12, and Ecclesiastes 12:14. The crucial question arises as to how the New Testament affirmation of judgment according to works is compatible with the gospel message that we are justified by faith "apart from works of law" (Rom. 3:28 RSV)? How can faith and works be seen as a spiritual unity and not as a contradiction?
What is the fundamental difference between "works of faith" and "works of law" in Paul's theology? 1 Thess. 1:3; Rom. 12:1, 12-21; 3:28.
We must clearly distinguish in Paul's theology between "works of law," that are by his definition self-righteous works and therefore under the curse of God (see Gal. 3:10), and works that are the fruits of faith and love through the Holy Spirit (see Gal. 5:22-25).
How does the indwelling Spirit empower the believer to remain anchored and fruitful in Christ? Rom. 8:9-14.
Saving faith connects the believer with Christ Himself as Savior and Lord. Such a faith expresses itself in a new attitude of forgiving love to others (see Gal. 5:6) and of obedience to God's will (see 1 Cor. 7:19). The works of faith and love must not be seen as isolated acts that deserve merit before God, but as the demonstration of a transformed character.
"Those whom God justified through Jesus Christ He called to witness to Jesus Christ in word and deed until the consummation of all things. When the end comes, the judgment assesses and testifies to the reality of justification evidenced by the faithful witness of God's people. In this flow, justification and judgment do not stand in the relation of tension or contradiction, but in that of inauguration and consummation."—Ivan T. Blazen, "Justification and Judgment," in Seventy Weeks, Leviticus, and the Nature of Prophecy (Biblical Research Institute, 1986), vol. 3, p. 344.
Romans 2:13 is often misunderstood, as if Paul intended to present an impossible standard. He states: "It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Paul did not have in mind, of course, a mere external or legalistic law-righteousness (see Phil. 3:6, 9), but a grateful obedience "as the expression of humble trust in God, well-pleasing in His sight."—C. B. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, ICC, (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark Ltd., 1975), vol. 1, p. 155.
How can a believer reach God's standard in the judgment? Rom. 3:21-31.
The justified believer is saved. Those who are saved do not need to work for their salvation. They are accepted by God on the basis of Christ's perfect life and death. What believers need is to accept Christ by faith and to exercise that faith daily by walking with Christ. But the merits of Christ remain the only basis on which believers will be acquitted in the last judgment.
Who is our substitute and surety in the final judgment? Why do we not need to fear the outcome of our verdict? Rom. 8:1, 33, 34, 38, 39; 1 John 2:1, 28; 4:16-18.
In the last judgment Christ will still be our Advocate and our merciful Judge when He pronounces the final verdict. He will never withdraw His Spirit from His people. As the indwelling Christ, He will remain with us until probation closes and beyond (compare Gal. 2:20). Then every believer will have been judged and the destiny of everyone will have been fixed forever (see Rev. 22:11). There can be no question, therefore, about the certainty of salvation for God's people when Christ terminates His mediation in heaven. When the time of trouble breaks He will shelter them by His grace, as promised in Psalm 91. When Christ closes His priestly ministry in heaven, each believer will have been sealed for all eternity (see Rev. 7:1-10; 22:11).
What does Christ's promise "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20, NKJV) mean to you?
What does James say about the dynamics of a genuine faith in Abraham's experience? James 2:14-17, 2 1-24.
James faced a different problem in his church community from the problem Paul had to deal with in the Gentile churches. James had to reprove some who "claimed" to have faith but had no deeds to match it. He tells them that "such faith" cannot save them. It is not worthy of the name, because it is merely theoretical, leaving the heart cold and unconverted. The Epistle of James is not primarily focusing on the Pauline theme of how a person becomes saved by faith in Christ, but on practical Christianity and the sanctified life. He wants to show that genuine, living faith in Christ produces works of love and compassion in the life of His disciples (see 1:1, 27). "James is not comparing faith with works, but a genuine faith with a dead faith."—SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 521. He may well have had to deal with those who were distorting Paul's teaching of salvation "by faith without works of law." Like Paul, James uses the example of Abraham as his crown witness to show that Abraham's faith in Genesis 15:6 was "fulfilled" in an act of obedience in Genesis 22 (James 2:23). Abraham's work testified to the character of his faith. James does not deny that a person is declared righteous by faith (2:23). He only denies the separation of faith from its corresponding works. He sees Abraham's life in its totality, not just in the moment of his justification by faith in Genesis 15:6. He states that Abraham's faith was "made complete by what he did" [lit. "was perfected"] (2:22), referring to his act of obedience in offering his son Isaac.
How did Jesus relate faith and works? Matt 7:16-20.
If faith embraces Christ, it is living and active in works of love and mercy. Faith is purely instrumental, never meritorious. According to Jesus the righteous do not even remember their works of compassion in the judgment day (Matt. 25:37-39), because they did it all for His sake. For them there was no separation between faith and works, because faith expressed itself through love. That is what counts in the judgment of God! His judgment, therefore, distinguishes between faith and unbelief, between a genuine faith and a dead faith. God alone knows the quality of our faith in any work and will acknowledge it (Matt. 26:10). He will bring all hidden motives to light.
|How does James 5:7 and 8 help you in view of the Second Coming?|
Does belief in an investigative judgment threaten our assurance of salvation? Upon what does such assurance rest? 1 John 2:28; 4:17, 18; Rom. 8:1, 33, 34; Phil. 3:9.
Daniel's vision of the judgment reveals two phases: (1) an investigative judgment; (2) an executive judgment. The faithful saints will be vindicated and then receive the kingdom of God (Dan. 7:22, 27). The persecutors will be condemned and then receive their punitive judgment (7:9-11, 26). The comforting assurance of Daniel's judgment portrayal is that the "Ancient of Days" will pronounce 'judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High" (7:22, NIV)! This is the ultimate assurance of salvation. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). God's people should not doubt or fear, but rejoice for such infinite mercy in His judgment (see Ps. 96:10-13; 98:8, 9).
What is the decisive issue for deliverance in the judgment? Dan. 12:1; Rev. 20:12.
God's assurance to us is more secure than the feelings of our own hearts. Even when our hearts condemn us, we are safe in the care of our covenant God because "God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything" (1 John 3:20, NLV). The decisive point is not how we feel about ourselves, but whether our names are found in the book of life of the Lamb! Christ told His disciples that their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20). Paul wrote that the names of his fellow workers were "in the book of life" (Phil. 4:3). The names of all believing Christians are "written in heaven" (Heb. 12:23) and they have therefore "citizenship... in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). Believers in Jesus are already "written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).
What basic question will God's judgment answer regarding the professed believer? Matt. 7:21-23; 25:12.
|The ultimate question will be has Christ been both your Savior and your Lord? Have you accepted both His gift for you and His claim on you? Have you been a disciple of Jesus in your life, a blessing to others? Christ cannot be divided or accepted partially. We cannot accept His forgiveness and not forgive others (Matt. 6:15).|
How does John view the cross of Christ as a judgment by God? John 12:31-33; 16:11; 1 John 4:10.
John's Gospel places God's judgment on sinful humanity in the atoning death of Christ. This truth belongs to the very core of the gospel. For this purpose Christ gave His life. He completed His ministry with the shout of triumph, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). With that, salvation and eternal life were assured to all true believers (see John 12:24). The Cross is the foundation of God's last judgment. Faith in the substitutionary death of Christ is essential for the last judgment. Rejection of Christ and His words brings condemnation in the judgment (John 12:48).
How does our abiding in Christ affect our assurance of salvation in the judgment? 1 John 2:6, 24, 25, 28; 4:17.
Our assurance lasts as long as we abide in Christ. Faith in Him is not a one-day occurrence, but a daily exercise and commitment. It is our privilege and duty to walk daily with Him, to abide in Him, to persevere in our faith. "It is by continually hearing and believing that one continually has eternal life and avoids the judgment of condemnation.... Deny the one reality (hearing and believing), and one necessarily denies the other (having eternal life and avoiding condemnation)."—Ivan T. Blazen, "Justification and Judgment," p. 385.
How do you interpret what Jesus said about "judgment" or "condemnation" in John 5:24?
The Greek word krisis can mean 'judgment" (John 5:30) or "condemnation" and punishment (John 5:24, 29; 3:17-19, where the verb krinein means a condemning judgment). Notice the contrast of outcomes in 5:24. Compare 5:28, 29. "All who are united with Christ are assured of salvation. In the pre-Advent phase of the last judgment genuine believers, those who have a saving relationship with Christ, are affirmed before the unfallen universe."—Seventh-day Adventists Believe... (Washington, D.C.: Ministerial Association, 1988), p. 326.
|Considering that professed believers can be adversely judged and lost (John 15:2, 6), in what ways can you choose daily to abide in Christ?|
FURTHER STUDY: Look up Matt. 12:33; John 15:5, 8; Rom. 2:16; Gal. 5:6; Phil. 1:9-11; 2:12, 13.
Paul points to the believer's final justification in Galatians 5:5, which reads in the RSV: "For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness." This confident hope is nothing else but "the final verdict of acquittal in the divine judgment."—H. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 189.
It is the believer's personal responsibility to choose between separation from Christ and abiding in Him. Christ assures us: "Whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37). He even declares that no one could snatch anyone out of His hand (John 10:28). But apostasy is a serious threat, as becomes clear in Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:29-31.
For a better appreciation of faith in Christ, see Ellen G. White's Faith and Works, pp. 63-79.
"We want that living faith which grasps the arm of infinite power, and we want to rely with all our being upon Jesus Christ, our righteousness. And we may do it. Yes, we do it profitably to our own soul's interest."—Faith and Works, p. 66.
An excellent guide for this week's study is the chapter "Justification and Judgment," in The Seventy Weeks, Leviticus, and the Nature of Prophecy, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, vol. 3 (Biblical Research Institute, 1986).
SUMMARY: It is important to discover the biblical connection between the Cross and the judgment of God in the entire history of salvation, and not as isolated doctrines of truth. In this larger scope God's judgment does not threaten the believers' assurance of eternal salvation. Rather it acknowledges publicly their living faith in Christ, ratifies their justification by faith, and rewards them for their witness for Him.
Ruthie Papay had as bad a childhood as one could imagine. Her single mother often left her alone in an unheated trailer house while she went out looking for a good time. Sometimes she took Ruthie with her to bars in order to attract men whom she could invite home.
In spite of this upbringing, Ruthie did well in school. And when she was 17, she gave her heart to God. Two years later, she met a man who asked her to marry him. Finally, she thought, she would have a real home and family. But to her horror her husband was even more abusive to her. Frustrated and confused and in a fit of rage, she killed someone. She never denied her crime and was sentenced to life in prison.
I met Ruthie in 1993, when she sent a tithe check to the General Conference. But the letter that accompanied the check was full of anger toward those who had hurt her. Much of her anger, I learned, was directed at her mother, whom she loved but blamed for the way her life had gone. I realized that unless Ruthie forgave those who had wronged her, she could never experience the joy of salvation in Christ.
I wrote to Ruthie and encouraged her to look to Jesus, not to other humans and their frailties. In trying to show Ruthie how to forgive others, I learned some important truths that changed my life as well. But her letters remained so full of anger and unforgiveness that they depressed me. Finally I had to stop corresponding with her. But I told her that I would continue to send her Christian literature and I would never stop praying for her. I asked my prayer partners to put Ruthie at the top of their list.
For months I did not hear from Ruthie, but we continued praying for her. Then one day a letter from her arrived. As I read it, I could hardly believe that it was from the same woman. Instead of anger and bitterness, her letter was filled with praise for God for what He was doing in her life!
(continued next week)
Ruthie Papay (left) is an inmate in an Ohio prison. Lynn Rose works at the General Conference.
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