The Basis of God’s Judgment

Orthodox icon of the Last Judgment

As believing Orthodox Christians, we must take care not to take the outcome of God’s final judgment for granted. Just because we are part of Christ’s Body the Church does not guarantee us anything in the age to come. This is why, in every Divine Liturgy, we pray “for a good defense before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ”. In this post, we examine Romans 2:2-16, which describes God’s judgment and shows us how we can prepare ourselves for it.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

According to Truth

“But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?”

Romans 2:2-3

No matter how hard we try, we can hide nothing from God. He sees everything and knows the truth about each of us. One of mankind’s great self-deceptions is to say, “Who sees us?” (Isaiah 29:15) and think there is no judgment.

According to impenitent hearts

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…

Romans 2:4-5

An unrepentant or hard heart despises God’s goodness, gathering up the wrath of God at the judgment. A repentant heart, on the other hand, is grateful for God’s patience and abides in Christ, practicing a lifetime of repentance, which produces confidence before Him at the judgment (1 John 2:28).

According to our deeds

…Who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)…

Romans 2:6-15

What does it mean to “do good”?

The “doing good” referred to in 2:7 is not an attempt to gain merit with God. Nothing we do can ever “earn” us anything as far as salvation goes. Rather, this refers to the unity of intentions with actions, faith with works. Even unbelievers are rewarded for good works, apart from spiritual understanding (2:14, 15). Note the following:

  • “Doing good” means seeking God’s glory and honor, not our own (2:10); it means seeking the Kingdom of God and eternal life (Mt 6:33), not reward here and now.

  • Good intentions alone, or faith without works, will not save (2:13). Those with true faith, “the doers” of the truth, practice virtue from pure and repentant hearts (Jam 1:21–27).

  • “By nature” (v. 14) people are inspired by and cooperate with God’s grace. Therefore, good deeds are natural to us, whereas evil deeds are contrary to nature. Because we all fail, we need God’s mercy (3:9–19). The presence of God’s law in our conscience (2:15) condemns anything we do contrary to true human nature. Therefore, even Gentiles—people not under the Law of Moses, those who do not know of Christ—have an internal law from God, the natural law written in their hearts, according to which God will judge them. Melchizedek, Job, and the Ninevites are Old Testament examples of non-Jews judged to be righteous.

  • Those who are condemned choose to reject God. He does not “predestine” any of us for condemnation; rather, His judges us justly on the basis of our exercise of free will. Although sin impairs our powers, it does not destroy God’s image in us or our free will.

By Jesus Christ

 …in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

Romans 2:16

In the day of judgment we are not judged directly by God the Father, whom we cannot see, but by the incarnate Son whom we do see, Christ Jesus (Acts 17:31; see John 3:16–21, 35, 36). Christ will judge on the basis of the light He
Himself has given to each of us (John 1:9) and our response to His light (John 3:16–21). “The secrets of men” (Rom 2:16) are “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

Keep Reading: What Happens After We Die?

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