The truth that God is going to righteously judge all men both believers and unbelievers according to their deeds/works comes as a shock to most professing Christians. However this truth is established over and over in the Bible and it is an absolute certainty whether we like it or not and whether we suppress it or not. We are told as Christians that our works will be tested by fire (1 Corinthians 3:13-15); and that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Romans 2:6-10 shows us the differences between the deeds of the lost and the deeds of the saved and that on the basis of a man’s deeds God is going to render a righteous and accurate verdict regarding each man’s eternal destiny. We ought to be very interested in knowing these differences to see what characterizes our lifestyles to know whether or not all is going to go well with us in the day of the righteous judgment of God. Are you interested?
Let me give you a brief list of opposite lifestyles upon which God will make His perfect evaluation of each person: obedience/disobedience; Lordship/lawlessness; Spirit or faith/flesh; eternal/temporal; faithfulness/faithlessness; good deeds/evil deeds; and works wrought of God/works wrought of self.
Now let me hurry to establish this truth before you get confused and think that I am a heretic teaching salvation by works – salvation is by faith alone but saving faith is not alone! Therefore good deeds that are a result of saving faith are a perfectly valid basis for God’s judgment as well as the absence of good deeds because of the absence of saving faith. Obedience to God is what was lost in the fall of man and obedience to God is what is restored in man’s salvation through the gospel (Romans 1:5).
The practice of a person’s lifestyle forms an accurate and reliable indicator to his or her paternity – whether or not he or she is a child of God or a child of the devil – “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot [practice] sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:7-10). This is why the Lord Jesus Christ speaking of false prophets and false Christians said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20).
This passage in no way declares that men are saved by works but only that they are judged by works! Paul will deal with this truth in greater detail in chapter 3. We do not work for salvation (that is legalism and a denial of the gospel of Penal-Substitution); we do not have no works after salvation (that is libertinism and a denial of the results of the gospel of Penal-Substitution); however, we do work from salvation (this is loyalty/lordship and a proper response as a result of the gospel of Penal-Substitution).
Belief determines behavior and therefore behavior is an accurate and reliable indicator of belief so that judgment based on behavior is totally accurate and appropriate (Romans 2:6).
So based on this truth that God is going to render to each person according to his deeds, let’s examine the deeds of the saved man and the lost man and the outcome of the judgment of each.
The deeds of the saved man (2:7) – living in light of eternity
The first deed of the saved man is that he perseveres in doing good. The saved man comes up against all sorts of obstacles to his obedience to God. He is hated for his unwavering obedience and unwillingness to compromise what his Lord has told him to do. He is persecuted for the sake of righteousness; he is insulted; and he is falsely spoken evil of all because of His love for and obedience to Jesus as Lord (Matthew 5:10-12). We are told that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12) and yet the saved man perseveres in his obedience to His Lord regardless of the consequences. God is going to look at my lifestyle and your lifestyle to see if we continued in our obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ regardless of the consequences. Are you persevering in your obedience to God because of your love and reverence for God or are you being disobedient because you are afraid of what others may think or say about you?
The second deed of the saved man is that he seeks for glory – from God not man. Jesus said to the self-righteous Jews in His day, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:44). He also said in John 7:18, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” So to seek glory from God we have to seek the glory of God which means that we do not seek our own glory but His. Our Lord went on to say this, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me” (John 8:28).
So the one who seeks the glory of God speaks the Word of God without altering its content or intent. He doesn’t walk in craftiness watering down the Word of God in order to tickle the ears of men and gain glory from men. God is going to look at each man’s lifestyle to see if he remained true to His Word and sought the glory of God or if he sought his own glory by being a man-pleaser rather than a God-pleaser. Are you seeking God’s glory and the glory which comes from God or are you seeking your own glory and that which comes from other men?
The third deed of the saved man is that he seeks for honor – honor from God not man. By doing God’s will God’s way and seeking the glory of God rather than your own glory, God will honor and say on the Day of Judgment, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” The honor which comes from God is based on honoring God. God said through the prophet Samuel, “Those who honor Me I will honor…” (1 Samuel 2:30). Just as the lost seek glory from men and not God they also seek honor from men and not God. Many falsely believe that if men glorify and honor them that God will also glorify and honor them. But they have forgotten that what men esteem is detestable in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).
God is going to judge the lifestyle of each man to see if he sought the honor which comes from God by honoring God or if he sought the honor which comes from man by honoring man. As a lifestyle are you seeking God’s honor or your own?
The fourth deed of the saved man is that he seeks for immortality – immortality that comes from God not being immortalized by man. This means that the saved man sows to the Spirit and not to the flesh. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). So the one who lives for self will reap corruption and the one who lives for God will reap eternal life. No one can live for God in the flesh; it can only be done in faith. This is why Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Seeking immortality means that one is living in light of eternity and living for God and not for self. God is going to judge each man’s lifestyle to see whether or not it was marked by living for God or living for self. As a lifestyle are you living for God or living for self?
For the man who the deeds of his lifestyle is persevering in doing good, seeking for glory, honor, and immortality from God, he will reap eternal life because he has believed and received Jesus as Lord through the gospel.
The deeds of the lost man (2:8) – lives for the temporal
The first deed of the lost man is that he is selfishly ambitious. This means that the lost man is self-centered and not God-centered and that he seeks to rob God of his worship – and many will do this under the pretense of worshiping God – it is called hypocrisy. The lost man does not persevere in doing good; he seeks for glory and honor from man robbing God of His glory and honor; and he sows to the flesh and not the Spirit.
The second deed of the lost man is that he does not obey the truth. The lost man cannot obey the truth because he is in the flesh (this is the purpose of the Law – to show men that they cannot obey and that they need a Savior) and the flesh does not and cannot subject itself to the law of God (Romans 8:7-8). The lost man does not obey the Lord because he does not love the Lord but loves himself instead.
The third deed of the lost man is that he obeys unrighteousness. The lost man is a slave to sin, he loves his sin, and therefore he is lawless and unrighteous. The lost man sets his mind on the things of the flesh and not the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-6) and therefore he is not seeking immortality which comes from God. The lost man is living for the temporal and not the eternal.
Because of the deeds of the lost man he will reap wrath and indignation. Everything he does is for the purpose of serving and pleasing self. He has the spirit of antagonism against the Lordship of Christ. And because of this he will reap God’s wrath and indignation.
The outcome of judgment for the lost (2:9) – tribulation and distress.
Tribulation has the root meaning of exerting extreme pressure and affliction or anguish. Distress literally means a narrow place and came to refer to severe confinement or constriction. Besides capital punishment the lost will endure eternal solitary confinement. There will be no parties or fellowships in hell!
The outcome of the judgment for the saved (2:10)
The saved will receive glory from God and honor from God and peace from God!
The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). According to the practice of your lifestyle which group will you be in?