On the last day when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead, is there something like a final justification based on our works? Can we even talk about a present justification and a final justification, as if there are two justifications? Some would answer yes to the question. The historical Reformation answer is no. Here’s how Michael Horton put it:
Adherents of the Reformation interpretation hardly ‘shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works,’ as [N. T.] Wright suggests. It is clearly affirmed in the Lutheran and Reformed confessions (see, e.g., Westminster Confession, ch. 33). This is because Paul has no difficulty acknowledging a final judgment that includes believers. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil’ (2 Cor. 5:10). In Romans 14:12 Paul says that ‘everyone will give account of himself to God.”
Those who follow the Reformation interpretation hardly shy away from such clear statements; they simply interpret them differently: judgment according to (κατα) works rather than through or on account of (δια or εκ) works is well-attested in classic Reformed treatments. We may call them justifying in the sense that James meant: not justifying us before God but justifying our profession in this life. The final judgment will not render a verdict that is different than the one that believers enjoy now; rather, it will confirm the elect as those who have been not only justified but sanctified by grace.
…As Calvin comments, ‘After he [God] has received us into his favor, he receives our works also by a gracious acceptance. It is on this that the reward hinges. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in saying that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously.’Michael Horton, Justification (vol 2), p. 393.
(This is a re-post from May 2019)
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015