Five Arguments Against Future Justification Based on Works

By Rick Philips at Ref21. UPDATE 1 June 2009: Mark Jones responded to Phililips and Nick Batzig responded to Jones on this topic.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Thank you for pointing out this article! It is timely and encouraging!

    I just exhorted at Calvary URC in Loveland, Co. on Romans 4:1-8 this past Lord’s Day. I spoke directly against a future justification by works, which I believe, v. 8 speaks against as well, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will NEVER count against him. (NIV)” We are definitively justified now and for all time. What an awesome comfort!

    I hope and pray that our Confessional Reformed Churches never give up defending this gospel truth!

  2. Rick is likey to bring down on himself the wrath of Wright’s peanut gallery in the Federal Vision. I would like to hear Doug Wilson’s take on this since he recently subjected Wright’s response to Piper to critical anaylsis.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    Nick actually removed his post. Jones is clearly not defending NT Wright, as his use of Owen and Goodwin makes clear. There’s a difference between arguing for justification by works and a judgment according to works. The latter is Confessional/Reformed, but the former is not.

    Steve S.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    BTW, love the site. I don’t want to read into why you linked, but it seems to me that Jones was doing a number of things:

    1. He said Phillips’ post was helpful, but a little over-reactionary.
    2. He talked about a polemic against the NPP, not joining the NPP.
    3. He used godly men like Goodwin and Owen to make his argument.

    If I am reading Jones’ original post carefully, there is nothing in the post that denies the protestant understanding of justification by faith. The judgment according to works is God’s vindication of himself more than anything, according to Goodwin, which I had never heard before.

    Nick Batzig removed his own argument against Jones for some reason. Maybe he agrees now with what Jones was trying to do?

    Thanks for the blog, which I check every day.

    In Christ,

    • Steve,

      Thanks for the encouragement.

      I understand that some of our writers have taught a “judgment according to works” but I also understand Rick’s arguments and Nick’s initial reaction to Mark’s post.

      This topic must be handled with extreme care. I just did an electronic search and was unable to find the expression “according to works” in any of our confessional documents. The absence of this language doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t teach or discuss this language. The phrase “covenant of works” does not occur in the Three Forms but I think the substance of the doctrine is there. Nevertheless, the absence of the language “judgment according to works” should make us cautious.

      In recent history doctrine of the judgment according to works has been used as a vehicle to smuggle justification by intrinsic, Spirit-wrought sanctification into the NAPARC churches through the back door.

      Would it be more helpful to speak of our vindication according to works? The very expression “judgment according to works” tends to give the impression that though we are justified sola gratia, sola fide in this life, there is a second, final justification wherein we are, as it were, re-tried on the last day based upon the degree of Spirit-wrought, intrinsic sanctity. I’m sure that’s not what Mark and others intend but some have taken it that way.

      Another concern is that we might end up conceding unintentionally the Roman doctrine, which the Protestant rejected categorically, that, in order to produce obedience and sanctity in God’s people now, we must suspend their (final) justification and make it contingent upon cooperation with grace (works or sanctification).

      As I understand our doctrine we confess that all who believe are justified now on the basis of the perfect and all-sufficient righteousness of Christ imputed and received through faith resting and receiving. Christ has undergone the judgment for us. There will be a judgment but we do not fear it because Christ has finished the work for us. At the judgment. Here is a longer account of this. I’m quite influenced here by WLC 90.

  5. Scott,

    Thank you for your final comment here. I am very concerned that men who speak of eschatological aspects of justification, and tie them to the concept of judgment “according to works”–even when they are orthodox–are not helping clarify anything. Why can’t we simply say that the Spirit wrought good works are only the “evidence” of our having been justified in time? This is the clear, accurate and safe way to explain Matthew 25, etc. Why muddy the waters with terms that are not in our confession, as you so aptly noted. I, for one, am glad that Christ has redeemed me from the curse of the Law and from future condemnation by His blood and righteousness. And I pray that the fruit of the Spirit will be manifest in my life.

    One of the major arguments for eschatological justification has to do with the Paul/James harmonization in Reformed circles. Since these are two aspects of justification (one by faith alone before the Divine tribunal, one by works before the human tribunal) we can somehow read this into an already/not yet structure. The problem is, it seems that there is confusion as to which tribunal “future judgment according to works” will be. If we go to James to prove that there will be an eschatological justification according to works before God (as it seems many are saying) shouldn’t we remember that James is not writing in the context of the eschaton, he is writing in the context of the here and now (i.e. “you show me…I will show you”). And isn’t it important to note that he is dealing with the verdict of the human court. Why would we use James to prove eschatological judgment according to works then?

Comments are closed.