In Part Two we looked at a plethora of New Testament passages calling attention to the fact that there is eternal accountability for temporal behavior and that God is impartial in judging.
Now, let’s ask and answer three questions:
1. How do people get to heaven? Answer: Through the propitious death of Christ apart from man’s effort. As Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).
2. What does a person have to do to obtain God’s gift of eternal life? Answer: Believe is the only requirement. In the New Testament faith and believe is the same word, and Paul teaches in Romans 4, although Abraham believed God, there was nothing meritorious, efficacious or salvific in what he did.
3. What is the evidence that a person has believed? Answer: Obedience. Obedience is the only sure test of regeneration. Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (John 14:21). “And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says ‘I know him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4).
– We want freedom of choice, particularly in selecting those with whom we have a relationship. If we do not like a person, we insist on the freedom to avoid relating to him.
Not so with God. We call Him unjust if He selects those with whom He wishes to relate and ignores others. As Paul teaches in Romans 9:14, election is not fair, i.e. it is not just. So we establish a standard of justice that applies to God, but not to us.
– We define justice by the Law of the Harvest; people ought to reap what they sow. If someone murders your little girl, you feel the person should pay for the crime.
o Not so with God. We want His grace to apply to us in such a way that He ignores our transgressions.
– We understand that forgiveness does not eliminate accountability. The man who murdered the people in the Charleston church: in forgiving him, it was not suggested that he be set free.
o Not so with God. We expect His forgiveness to remove all accountability, so that the forgiven in heaven will not have to reap the consequences of their sins; heaven will be the same for everybody.
In all of this we want to use God to meet our expectations, while freely admitting that we want Him held to a standard different from the one applied to ourselves. Nothing in Scripture suggests that God will affirm such thinking.
I quote another esteemed Reformed thinker, Charles Hodge, from his commentary on Romans 2:6:
The question has been asked, how the declaration that God will render to every man, whether Jew or Gentile, according to his works – to the good, eternal life, to the wicked, indignation and wrath – is to be reconciled with the apostle’s doctrine, that no man is justified by works, that righteousness and life are not by works, but by faith, and through grace. In answering this question, two things are to be born in mind. The first is, that notwithstanding the doctrine of gratuitous justification, and in perfect consistency with it, the apostle still teaches that the retributions of eternity are according to our works. The good only are saved, and the wicked only are condemned. “For we must all appeal before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether good or bad.”