6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,10 but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
Saved by Works
Some have argued that those who do not know anything about Jesus can be saved by working really hard. However, the passage that we read above is in the larger case that Paul is building. Unfortunately the case is not a positive one. He is stating that people are ultimately judged on their performance and people receive an F. In today’s times we read this and think we are all basically doing well. However, that is a view which was popularized at the time of the Enlightenment. John Locke and others advocated that we are born a blank slate, or tabula rasa, and the slate is blotted over time. More recently we just tell each other that someone does bad things but they are a good kid deep down.
Paul lived in a world where it was understood that bad people did good things. Paul knew that the heart of man is wicked. Paul knew that people are evil. In this section he is making the case that the sum total of our works will condemn us. Either we have underperformed or we have chosen evil. God damns both the Jew and the Gentile. There is no escape for anyone based on natural heritage, or nation of birth.
How does that sit with you? It seems to make an awful lot more sense of the world to me.
Father, thank you that you do not require me to be perfect, you just require me to acknowledge that I am not. I am rightly judged by my life’s actions and they show that I am not righteous, as you are. I rely upon your mercy.
- Upon what are people judged?
- Does anyone attain immortality by their works?
- How does the broader context inform this passage?
- How have your works condemned you?
- How do we convince others that the belief that all people are basically good is in error?