Chapter 11: ~ “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father

BEFORE I say anything I’d like you to compare what Jesus tells us there—“he shall reward every man according to his works”—with what four other Bible writers have to say on the same subject:

“Unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work.”  {David in Psalms 62:12 KJV}

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works… and they were judged every man according to their works.”  {John in Revelation 20:12, 13 KJV}

“He will judge all people according to what they have done.”  {Solomon in Proverbs 24:12 NLT}

“There is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done.”  {Paul in Romans 2:5, 6 NLT}

I have to say: I honestly don’t believe that any of those five passages we’ve had so far are especially hard to understand or confusing. So why is it that what they teach—that we’re going to be judged by our works—is so foreign to so much of today’s Christianity? Well, just as we saw in that last chapter with the Jews, people are being read a handful of select passages over and over and over that seem to say the opposite of what those ones up above say, while passages like the ones up above are kept out of sight as much as possible. And just as those select passages the Jews were being read over and over were pleasing to the natural heart, and therefore the more readily accepted, so it is in this case (and a number of other cases as well).

I want to stop for a second and add something to what I just said: Long ago I became aware of the fact that there are a certain handful of passages, no doubt important and having their proper place, that nearly all regular church goers are so familiar with that they can quote them about as readily as they can say their phone number; while at the same time there’s a completely different set of passages, just as important and also having their proper place, that hardly one in ten of that same group of regular church goers seems to be aware that they even exist. (We’ll be looking at a few of them as we go through the rest of the book.)

Back to our subject: We saw up above that those four different Bible writers, along with Jesus Himself, all clearly teach that “God is going to judge everyone according to their works.” So why is it that so few Christians today believe that? Because like I said, they’ve been read certain passages over and over and over—in this case one passage in particular—that appear to teach the opposite of what the above passages teach, while passages like the ones up above are kept out of sight as much as possible. Here’s that one passage; and as I said up above, if you’re any kind of regular church goer you’re most likely very familiar with it:

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works.”  {Ephesians 2:8, 9 NIV}

Paul in that passage clearly teaches that we’re “saved through faith…not  by works,” yet Jesus—along with those other four men, one of whom was the same Paul who made the above statement—tells us, “he shall reward every man according to his works.” So, how do we harmonize what Paul says in that Ephesians passage with all of those passages I started out the chapter with?

Well, the common answer to that question, at least among those who are aware of the types of passages I started the chapter out with, is that salvation and the gift of eternal life are through faith alone and have nothing to do with our works, and that all of those passages telling us that God is going to “reward every man according to his works,” or “judge all people according to what they have done,” have nothing to do with whether or not we receive eternal life, but only have to do with the different rewards that are going to be given to those who receive eternal life. But let me show you that that’s not what the Bible teaches. First, I’d like to share a little more of that passage from the book of Romans that was part of our initial group of passages. And I would remind you once again that this is the same Paul who wrote those words in the book of Ephesians telling us that we’re saved by faith not by works:

“There is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist on doing what is good… There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.”  {Romans 2:5-9 NLT, NIV}

Paul in that passage certainly seems to teach that our eternal destiny is going to be based on what we do. Now let me show you that Jesus Himself teaches precisely the same thing. And let me do it in the context of an experience my wife and I once had that I don’t think I’ll ever forget: Because we owned a store for quite a few years we were brought into contact with a large number of people. And because we were a small family owned and operated store, and because my wife is so wonderfully social, many of our customers became more than just customers, they became friends. Along with that, because our store was a health food store quite a few of our customers were people with health problems, with some of those problems being pretty serious. Inevitably, some of those serious health problems ended very sadly; none of which are sadder than the one I’m reflecting on now. It’s the story of a young lady who had a husband and three very small children. Although she had been to the doctor on numerous occasions because she had not been feeling quite up to par, he somehow failed to detect that she had cancer until it had progressed way too far. Tragically she didn’t live a whole lot longer. But from the time we first met her until the end we became pretty good friends, with her coming to the store quite often, and my wife, or sometimes both of us, occasionally going  to her house to take her something. On one occasion the three of us were at the counter in the store having a religious discussion. (She was a very active Christian.) We had a Bible and we had turned to chapter five of the book of John. We were talking about the resurrection, but we weren’t talking about the subject we’re looking at now, and I remember her reading this next passage:

“The time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”  {John 5:28, 29 NLT, NIV}

She finished reading that passage and looked up at us, and I’ll never forget the look of stunned disbelief on her face. And then she just said, in a sort of bewildered and questioning manner, “But we’re not judged by our works?” It was obvious that those words had really shaken her; and it was equally obvious that she had found them very disturbing. (I can’t remember where the conversation went from there, but I know it didn’t go on much longer.)

I have to say: I have no doubt that this young lady’s church going experience in relation to this subject is very typical of the experience of most Christians today. Apparently in all her years of going to church she had never been read those words of Christ in John 5, or those words of Paul in Romans 2. But I assure you, she was read more than a few times those words, “you are saved by faith, not by works.”

Because this is so new, and so contrary, to what so many people have been taught for so long (kind of like the Jews in our last chapter), I think I should quote those last two passages once again:

“Those who have done good will rise to eternal life.”  (Jesus)
“He will give eternal life to those who persist on doing what is good.”  (Paul)

“Those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”  (Jesus)
“There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing evil.”  (Paul)

 So, how do we harmonize what Paul and Jesus say in those two passages we just read with what Paul says in the book of Ephesians in regard to being saved by faith, and not by works? Well, let me first try to show you that just as there were two totally opposite sets of passages in the Old Testament concerning the coming Messiah, which we now know referred to two totally different comings, so there are two totally opposite sets of passages concerning this subject, that likewise have to be referring to two totally different things:

“He makes people right with himself only by faith.”  {Romans 3:30 NLT}
“We are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.”  {James 2:24 NLT}

Clearly, on the surface those two passages couldn’t be more contradictory. So now what do we do? Well, before I begin to specifically answer that, I think it’s important that I point out a couple underlying factors. #1—If we’re not really studying our Bibles for ourselves then there’s a much greater likelihood that if we are in fact being read only the Scriptures on one side of an issue that we won’t even be aware of it, which of course greatly increases the chances that we’ll accept error without realizing it. #2—We need to become absolutely convinced that “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), and therefore can’t possibly contradict itself, and that the entire Bible has its proper place in our life. Along with that, we need to try to avoid doing what I believe is so often done: we can’t take the set of passages that is more pleasing to us, or that mark out an easier course, and then kind of pretend the other set doesn’t exist.

So, where do we go from here? I’ll begin by sharing two sets of passages, with all the passages in both sets containing either the word “saved” or “salvation.” There’s a very important, fundamental difference between the two sets of passages. See if you can discover what that difference is. (Since all of these passages have to do with “salvation” obviously this is a pretty important study.)

Set #1
“Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house.”  {Luke 19:9 NIV}
“It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life.”  {2 Timothy 1:9 NLT}
“It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!”  {Ephesians 2:5 NLT}

Set #2
“He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  {Matthew 10:22 & 24:13 NIV}
“Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”  {Romans 13:11 NIV}
“God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation.” {1 Peter 1:5 NLT}

Well, have you figured out what the important difference is?

Set number one speaks of salvation (or saved) as something that those people already possess, whereas set number two speaks of salvation (or saved) as something that those people don’t already possess, but will receive at some later time. So, were the people in that second set of passages not yet “saved?” Let me show you that that’s definitely not the case. I’ll quote that last passage over, but this time I’ll include portions of the preceding verses:

“I am writing to God’s chosen people… the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood… In his boundless mercy he has given us new birth… God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation.”  {1 Peter 1:1-3, 5 NLT, NIV}

Clearly those people in that 1 Peter passage were every bit as saved as were those people in the first set of passages. And yet the passage goes on to say, “until you receive this salvation.” So, what’s going on? And what “salvation” is Peter referring to when he says, “until you receive this salvation?”

I believe the answer is clear and simple when all the pieces of the puzzle are brought together and we look a little closer. Sometimes the words “saved” and “salvation” are used in the Bible in reference to when a person is born again, or becomes a true Christian, which is how those words are being used in that first set of passages, while at other times the words “saved” and “salvation” are being used in reference to something completely different—they’re being used in reference to when we stand before God in the judgment and He declares what our eternal destiny is going to be, which is how those words are being used in that second set of passages. The first, how we become a Christian, is by faith— and faith only. There’s no “work” we can “do” to become a Christian, except to believe in the power of God to make us one. But as we saw in all of those passages we began the chapter with, and as we saw when we looked closer at the one by Paul in Romans 2, along with what Christ said in John 5, when we stand before God in the judgment and He declares who’s going to be “saved” and who’s not, that “salvation” is clearly going to be based on our works, or on what we’ve done. But let me immediately make it clear: those works can be done only through the power of God in our hearts and lives. And what is so critically important, and what I hope I can go on to convince you is so critically important, is that to take those passages that apply to when we’re born again, and apply them to when we stand before God in the judgment will have, and is already having, no less devastating consequences than did the Jews misapplying those different passages telling of the coming Messiah.

Now I want to take a closer look at each of those sets of passages so that it will be absolutely clear that the two sets, each calling what they’re talking about “salvation,” are referring to two totally different things. First we’ll take a closer look at the second set.

We already saw that the people being referred to in that 1 Peter passage were truly “saved” in the sense that they were “made holy,” were “cleansed by his blood,” and had already been “given new birth,” yet the passage went on to say, “until you receive this salvation.” Now I want to share with you a portion of the passage that I left out the first two times I quoted it:

“God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you… God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation. That salvation is ready to be given to you at the end of time.”  {1 Peter 1:4, 5 NLT, NCV}

Clearly, especially in the light of having previously seen that those people had already been “made holy,” “cleansed by his blood,” and “given new birth,” those words, “until you receive this salvation” have nothing to do with those people becoming Christians, but are referring to that “priceless inheritance God has reserved for his children,” that is being “kept in heaven for them,” and which is “to be given to them at the end of time.” And Peter twice calls it “salvation.”

With that fresh in your mind, now let’s take a closer look at the first passage in that set:

“He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  {Matthew 10:22 & 24:13 NIV}

Of course it was Jesus who spoke those words; and obviously when He says, “those who stand firm to the end will be saved,” He’s not saying, those “who stand firm to the end will be born again.” Instead, like Peter, He’s referring to the reward that God’s going to give His faithful children when everything’s finished.

Another important point that needs to be brought out, and one that further validates what I’ve been trying to establish: Jesus in that passage tells us that a certain group of people “will be saved;” and it’s those “who stand firm to the end.” Clearly, “standing firm to the end” is something we do (through the power of God), which coincides with what all those verses I started out the chapter with told us:

“He will judge all people according to what they have done.”  {Proverbs 24:12 NLT}

“There is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done.”  {Romans 2:5, 6 NLT}

Now the remaining verse in that set:

“Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”  {Romans 13:11 NIV}

Paul in that passage, by using the words “our” and “we,” includes himself with those people in that verse whose salvation is “nearer.” Yet without question Paul was already “saved”—if we’re talking about being born again. So obviously, the “salvation” that Paul is referring to isn’t the salvation of being born again, but something totally different. Along with that he also tells us that the people being spoken of in that verse have already “believed,” which of course is how one becomes “saved” in the sense of becoming a born again Christian.

So we have three different Bible writers—Paul, Peter, and Matthew (who’s quoting Jesus)—all speaking of “salvation,” or being “saved,” in a sense that has nothing to do with being born again. And all three of them tell us that this “salvation” is something God’s people will receive at some future time, with both Peter and Jesus informing us that it’s at “the end,” which is precisely the time that all of our beginning passages are referring to also:

“The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”  {Matthew 16:27 KJV}

“There is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done.”  {Romans 2:5, 6 NLT}

Now let’s turn our attention to that other set of passages that also speak of being “saved,” where we’ll discover that not only is this set referring to being saved in the sense of becoming a born again Christian, but that it’s here that we find those oh so well-known words, “you are saved through faith… not by works,” being spoken:

“We were born with an evil nature… But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even when we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life… (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been  saved!) …It is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works.” {Ephesians 2:3-9 NLT, NIV}

Clearly, those words, “…you have been saved,” aren’t referring to the judgment, or the end of the world, but to those words, “when we were dead, he gave us life.” (Of course, the “life” Paul is referring to isn’t physical life, but spiritual life.) And as the passage then goes on to say, this is “through faith, not by works.”

That Ephesians passage, with Paul talking about being saved in the framework of God giving us life when we were dead, which corresponds to being born again, and which is generally how the word saved is used today, leads us to the story of Abraham, of whom we’re told, “Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith.” (Ro. 4:11 NLT) This will also be an important step in leading us to a solution for that problem of those two apparently contradicting passages I shared earlier, both of which have a direct application to Abraham:

“He makes people right with himself only by faith.”  {Romans 3:30 NLT}
“We are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.”  {James 2:24 NLT}

The first of those two passages, the one telling us “He makes people right with God only by faith,” is the next to last verse in Romans 3. Here’s how Romans 4 starts out:

“Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What were his experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith?”  {Romans 4:1 NLT}

Clearly chapter four is a continuation of chapter three. And now I want you to see how Paul goes on to portray for us what Abraham’s “experience concerning this question of being saved by faith” was, and how as he did in the book of Ephesians, Paul once again does it through the avenue of being dead and God giving us life, only this time instead of Abraham and Sarah being dead in sins and God giving them spiritual life, Paul uses their reproductive deadness as an object lesson “for us too.” (The “promise” that you’re about to read of is God’s promise to Abraham that he and Sarah were going to have a son.)

“Being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything he promised. And because of Abraham’s faith, God declared him to be righteous. Now this wonderful truth—that God declared him to be righteous—wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was for us too, assuring us that God will also declare us to be righteous if we believe in God.”  {Romans 4:19-24 KJV, NLT}

We’re taught two important truths in that passage. The first, and the one that pertains directly to what we’ve been studying: Abraham and Sarah’s inability to have children, which Paul there calls being “dead,” and God’s promise to give them reproductive life so that they could have the long awaited promised son, is cited by Paul as an object lesson of how God gives us spiritual life. And just as certainly that there was absolutely no “works” that Abraham or Sarah could do to produce in themselves physical life—have a child—likewise, there are no “works” we can do to produce in ourselves spiritual life. And as we saw earlier, it’s to this event in our lives that those famous words, “by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works,” have their proper application:

“God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even when we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life… (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!) …It is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works.”  {Ephesians 2:4-9 NLT, NIV}

The other exceeding important truth that Romans passage teaches us, as does our Ephesians passage, is that just as God really and truly gave Abraham and Sarah physical life when they believed in His power to give it to them, He just as truly gives us spiritual life when we believe in His power to give it to us. His “saving” us isn’t just some judicial declaration up in heaven that leaves us the same person we were before we were saved. As with Abraham and Sarah, God truly creates a new life in us:

“God saved you by his special favor when you believed… He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  {Ephesians 2:8, 10 NLT}

Now let me show you how our Ephesian passage not only links directly to our two earlier passages, but is the key to our being able to fulfill them and “do the good” Jesus and Paul tell us is so necessary:

“He has created us anew… so that we can do the good…”  (Eph. 2:10)
Those who have done good will rise to eternal life.”  (Jesus)
“He will give eternal life to those who persist on doing what is good.”  (Paul)

Now, and it’s not a coincidence: the other passage in that twosome of seemingly contradictory passages, “we are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone,” is also spoken in reference to an event in the life of Abraham, only this time it has nothing to do with his having a son, but with his willingness to offer up that son:

“Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar… So you see, we are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.”  {James 2:21, 24 NLT}

Before I continue on in regards to “what he did” and “what we do,” which of course falls under the category of works, I think it’s important that I don’t belittle, or even appear to belittle, the importance of faith. (That would be as bad as belittling the importance of works.) First, I’ll share with you one of the verses I omitted when I quoted that last passage:

“Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do.”  {James 2:21, 22 NLT}

It’s not faith then works, but faith and works. The same faith that brought Abraham spiritual life is what enabled him to live that spiritual life.

“The just shall live by faith.”  {Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11 KJV}
“It is impossible to please God without faith.”  {Hebrews 11:6 NLT}
“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”  {1 John 5:4 KJV}

And while Jesus and all those other men inform us that God is going to “reward every man according to his works,” we’ll never do those works without the power of God, and it’s through faith—and faith only—that we avail ourselves of that power:

“It is God who makes us able to do all that we do.”  {2 Corinthians 3:5 NCV}
“I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”  {Philippians 4:13 NLT}
“God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”  {Philippians 2:13 NLT}

(I can’t help but point out: all three of those passages contain the word “do.”)

Now, back to that James passage and to those all-important words:

“He was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do… And he was called the friend of God.”  {James 2:22, 23 NLT, KJV}

As I said a couple chapters back, I think that passage gives us the great Biblical example of true faith—and I believe it was that kind of faith that caused Abraham to be called “the spiritual father of those who have faith” and “the friend of God;” and James in that portion of chapter 2, in no uncertain terms, explains the difference between true faith and that which dares call itself faith, but is nothing less than a satanic counterfeit; one which has swept through modern Christendom with alarming success. And I fear this satanic impostor has done more to cause people to be lost than any other false teaching; and it has a huge bearing on the things we’ve been looking at in this chapter.

“It isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless… When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless? …Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone.”  {James 2:17, 20, 14 NLT}

In spite of what David, and Solomon, and Paul, and John, and Jesus Himself, all clearly teach, that God is going to “judge all people according to what they have done,” millions upon millions have completely embraced the belief that what we do has nothing to do with our salvation—and that belief is true: if applied, when applied, and where applied correctly, but as that belief is being applied today it’s going to have as devastating consequences as did that false teaching which caused the Jewish nation to reject Christ.

Now I want to bring this chapter to a close by sharing with you two more things Jesus said. I’ll place the first one side-by-side with our title passage:

“He shall reward every man according to his works.”  {Matthew 16:27 KJV}
“According to your faith will it be done to you.”  {Matthew 9:29 NIV}

Once again we have two passages that are dealing with this subject of “faith” versus “works” that on the surface appear to contradict each other. But obviously that can’t be the case. So what we need to do once again is to realize that the two passages have to be referring to two different things; then we need to find out what those two things are and correctly apply the two statements to their proper thing. We already know what the first passage is referring to—Christ’s return and the judgment. Now let me show you what the second passage is referring to:

“After Jesus left the girl’s home, two blind men followed along behind him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” …and Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I can make you see?” “Yes, Lord,” they told him, “we do.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” And suddenly they could see!”  {Matthew 9:27-29 NLT, NIV}

In perfect harmony with all that we’ve been looking at, that which was bestowed “according to your faith,” was sight to those two blind men, which like our story of Abraham and Sarah, is another object lesson to teach us of salvation—the salvation of being born again, not the salvation Christ referred to when He said, “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Now for our final passage; and after sharing it I’d like to ask you a few questions:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do what my Father in heaven wants will enter.”  {Matthew 7:21 NIrV}

Question #1–According to Christ’s words in that passage, what is it that determines “who” “will enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Question #2–Would you say that the passage is at all difficult to understand?

Question #3–Do you agree with me that this is one of those passages that should be a part of that set of important passages that almost all Christians know, and not in that set that very few seem to know?

In my desire to emphasize what I believe is so important, and because I know that what that passage says is entirely new to many of you, I’d like to re-quote it from a different translation:

“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether or not they obey my Father in heaven.”  {Matthew 7:21 NLT}