Imagine you have a court appointment in the next thirty days and your actions for the next thirty days were going to be assessed. You would think about that all the time and conduct yourself accordingly. Well, in a far greater way, we have a court date coming, where everything we have done and said and thought will be assessed. Paul also tells us what the basis of the judgment will be. Each one of us individually and personally will be judged. And we will be judged by what we have done in our present bodies. We will be judged by what we have done, whether it is good or bad. Is Paul talking about works that are assessed for rewards here or works necessary for eternal life? Paul believes in differing rewards for believers, but there are two reasons which indicate that the thinks of works necessary for eternal life here.
First, the NT says over and over that good works are necessary for eternal life, and these verses fit that theme. For example in Romans 2:6-11 Paul says good works are required for eternal life and that those who do evil works will face God’s wrath. In the same way, we see in Revelation 20:11-15, God will assess people according to their works at the Great White Throne judgment. Those who do evil works will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, and will experience the second death forever. We read in Galatians 5:21
that those who practice the works of the flesh will not enter the kingdom of God. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 we are told that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. In Colossians 3:24
those who do good will receive the inheritance, and the inheritance elsewhere in Paul is another way of entering the kingdom, of experiencing eternal life. In Galatians 6:8 we are told that those who sow to the Spirit will obtain eternal life but those who sow to the flesh will be destroyed and corrupted. So, on the basis of these texts, the NT says over and over that good works are necessary for eternal life. It does talk about rewards, but not nearly as often or as clearly. That should hardly surprise us, for the main issue is not what reward we get above eternal life, but whether we will enter life at all. Is it not amazing how some teachers spend much more time and energy talking about rewards than eternal life? That is what they get excited about. It is like people getting more excited about the millennium than heaven.
There is a second reason which supports a reference to eternal life. When Paul speaks of good and evil here, he describes them as a whole. Both good and evil are singular here. I take it from this that our works are examined as a whole. In other words, our works show the quality of person, whether we are good or evil. He is not assessing each individual work but the quality of our life as a whole. Those who are good will receive eternal life, while those who are evil will face final judgment.
So, I conclude from this that how we live is vital! We cannot just profess to believe in Jesus Christ and not show any fruit and expect to be with Christ forever. Remember the words of Jesus. Some who prophesy in his name and do miracles in his name and cast out demons in his name do not belong to him. Jesus will say to them on the last day: Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
Now here is the question. Does this emphasis on the necessity of good works violate the gospel of Jesus Christ? After all, Paul says repeatedly that we are not justified by works of law or by works but through faith in Jesus Christ. How can he now say that our works are necessary for eternal life? As we conclude, let me say a few things quickly.
First, Paul says both that works do not justify us and that they are necessary for eternal life. He knew what he was saying. He was not contradicting himself. Scripture is not contradictory but is a coherent word.
Second, our good works cannot be the basis of our justification or eternal life. Scripture is clear. No one is righteous enough to meet God’s standard of perfection. Our good works cannot merit God’s favor since we fall far short of what God requires.
Third, that is why the Bible says that our only hope of eternal life is the atoning death of Jesus on the cross by which he paid for our sins. We receive such life through faith in what Jesus has done for us.
Fourth, so then what role do good works have? How can Paul say they are necessary for eternal life? The answer is that they are the necessary fruit and evidence of the life that is ours in Christ. They cannot be the basis of our new life since we still sin and we are still imperfect. But there is a change in us as Christians. There is a transformation that has taken place. Good works, then, show that we are really alive. If someone claims to be alive, but shows no evidence of being alive, then that claim is called into question. That is how works function. They are not the basis of our life. Our life comes by the grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, but our good works demonstrate that we are truly alive, that we have really been born again. And those who do such good works will be raised from the dead. We will go home to be with the Lord. And we will never wander from home again.