Is there a future justification by works at the day of judgment? # 12

by | Aug 18, 2010 | Uncategorized

After what is a very long interval by internet standards, I return to a subject which I thought I had finished several months ago. In the interim Lee Irons graciously responded to my posts critiquing his paper on Romans 2:13. In that paper he takes an empty-set or hypothetical view of the passage and claims that John Murray holds this view. I took exception to both these claims. I encourage anyone who would like to learn how to graciously respond to criticism to read the relevant blogs by Lee on his blog The Upper Register. He sets a fine example of gracious interaction with a critic like me.

There he makes clear that he actually is willing to say that in a certain sense he holds a future justification by works on the basis of many of the passages that I cited in my previous blogs. He also maintains that John Murray did hold his view of Romans 2:13. To my surprise and after checking the references he has quoted, I find myself forced to agree in a qualified way with him. What, I think, we have both discovered is that there are a number of exegetes who take a mediating position with regard to Romans 2:6-16. Though Murray clearly argues in his comments on verses 6-11 that the judgment in view is not hypothetical and that the works in view are evangelical works which vindicate one’s saving faith in the dya of judgment, yet to my surprise Murray also takes a hypothetical or empty-set view of Romans 2:13. What is particuarly convincing to me are Murray’s comments on Romans 3:20 and the footnote referencing Philippi on Romans 2:13.

Let me hasten to add that, though I respect John Murray a great deal and have sometimes named him as my patron saint (!), I find such a position somewhat contradictory and certainly unsatisfying.

Finally, let me address one claim that Irons makes in his argument which (after re-reading my posts) I find I did not address with a key argument. Irons claims that, since the overall thrust of Romans 1:18-3:20 is to show that “by the works of the flesh no man will be justified,” it is unlikely that Romans 2:13 is to be understood of evangelical works which vindicate saving faith.

Now leaving aside that John Murray and I agree that it is just such works that are in fact in view in Romans 2:6-11, Irons deduction from (what is undoubtedly) the overall thrust of the passage is contradicted by another patent feature of Romans 2. That feature is the lengthy description of evangelical good works in verses 25-29.

Romans 2:25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

By Irons’ reasoning we should not find all this stuff about the truly circumcised man who does good works and so proves that he is a true Jew in this context. And yet we do! I think this shows that it is perfectly possible that Paul also speaks of such works in Romans 2:13. Thus, we do not need to have recourse to the unlikely exegetical expedient which claims that the judgment of Romans 2:6-16 is hypothetical.

Follow Us In Social Media

Subscribe via Email

Sign up to get notified of new CBTS Blog posts.


Man of God phone
Implications of Jesus’ Relationship to the Law

Implications of Jesus’ Relationship to the Law

You remember that we are working through Matthew 5:17-20 under the theme we determined at the beginning of this blog series. That theme concerns Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament Scriptures. Those Scriptures are described in the way typical of the New Testament as the law and the prophets. Jesus’ relation to them is described both negatively and positively. It is not to abolish but to fulfill them. Jesus comes to bring the Scriptures to their intended goal or predestined destination. This relationship of Jesus to the Old Testament is the underlying theme of the entirety of verses 17-20.

The Perpetuity of the Law

The Perpetuity of the Law

This, then, is why Jesus feels the need to issue this warning. A new time—the time of the kingdom—has come. What will this mean for the law and the prophets? Does it mean that their time is over and that their authority has been overthrown? To this Jesus gives an emphatic answer. It does not! He does not overthrow their authority. Rather, the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures remains and must remain inviolate forever. It is not their abolition, but their fulfillment which Jesus brings.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This