From what we have said in the three previous articles we can discern that:
1/ A basic judgement that would consist of weighing good and bad works seems ruled out. God’s justice is not about moral deeds (even if it leads to moral decisions) because morality does not offer clear and stable rules that allow us to have certainty about the choices we have made. Paul understood and explained it so well in Romans 3,21-28.
2/ In the same way if judgment is based on vengeance (even from God) it is not justice because it does not restore anything, it doesn’t help anybody. Revenge adds suffering to suffering and appeals to a new revenge with no end neither in time nor in violence.
3/ Predestination that postulates that God has predestined by decree, from all eternity (i.e. in advance), those who are chosen and those who are condemned1 is not in tune with what we have found in John 3 and 12. Even if some isolated passages seem to justify such a position, the whole pattern of the Bible is against such a theory.
4/ There is a fourth group of theories based on the greek notion of apocatastasis2 which means re-establishment or restoration. The Church fathers of Alexandria (Clement 150-215 / Origen 185-253) taught that in judgment there is no punishment but a remedy: God’s judgement will heal us from the damages of sin and restore a righteous world. This attractive alternative is based on many passages3 and may contain a part of truth (as it is biblically based).
It has been used later to justify the doctrine of purgatory were sinful souls would be sent to get purified before eternal life.
It is also the root of universalism a quite popular thinking among theologians today that claims that God will heal every one from sin and save only the good part of each human (although there is a purification - 1Corinthians 3,15).
As attractive as they can be, theories of this group are weakened by at least 3 problems:
a/ they do not take into account the dialectic of grace and justice in the New Testament4,
b/ they imply that grace annihilates the freedom God gave to humans to chose between a life (or a world) with him and a life (or a world) without him. What could an atheist think if you tell him that God will save him without his consent?
c/ if universalism is the spiritual rule, then there can be no real judgment, and then no real justice because God is bound by this rule. Universalism looks like a human fantasy that has similarities with the rule of the serpent of Genesis 3,5 that we have already mentioned: the desire to be God, to take God’s place, to rule our universe (and often, other’s universe too!). But Jesus is clear : our motivations or desires will be revealed and judged (Luke 12,2-7) not purified because purification, with the help of God is for this earthly life, it is called... repentance or conversion.
5/ One of the most fashionable theories today is judgment based on faith alone as implied by Luther’s translation of Ephesians 2,8:
For you are saved by grace through faith
Luther added the word "alone" that is not in the greek text. But this view is disqualified even in the immediate context of this passage:
6/ Ephesians 2,8-10
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
We, as saved by grace, are created in Christ as an anticipation of the next new creation. As you see the main goal for christians is not, as it has been assumed during many centuries, to "make it to heaven". The goal is to prepare for participating in a new creation through good works.
Here is one of the main principle about judgement: to be reluctant to produce good works, means we have missed the meaning of grace. So, our actions and works will be judged not for themselves, but as evidence of our faith. Galatians 6,7-10 says a similar thing starting not with faith but with the Spirit.
This is subtle and the temptation is strong to produce good works to prove our faith (or our being in the Spirit). This can even be unconscious! So unconscious, that sometimes, as we do not produce those good works or think it is an impossible task, we create a fake to hide our failings or weaknesses. This shows we do not understand grace or that the environment in our community (church) does not teach grace properly.
But God does not give commands so that he has a basis on which he can juge. He gives commands to help us grow and most important of all because he has faith in us, or more exactly in has faith that the sacrifice of his son will at the same time motivate us, and change our vision of who He is. That is why in the Sermon On the Mount Jesus gives an exemple of a conversation between God and religious people that takes place in the day of judgement: Matthew 7,21
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’
Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’
Those religious people have an impressive spiritual track record. Where is their mistake? It can be twofold and cumulative:
1/ to have as motivation to make their ego shine or
2/ to have as a motivation to do what they have to do to be rewarded by the master.
In both cases there is no relationship. In both cases, they only exist by obeying either to themselves or to a master of whom they have a twisted image (Matthew 25,25-30).
So here is another main principle about judgement: judgement is about relationship. The question will not be: what have you done? but: who did motivate you to do it?
And the verdict will not be: you are punished (or not)! but: I (don’t) know you!
1 Much could be said about this topic, but there are few who still believe in this doctrine in a radical way.
2 ἀποκατάστασις — This word is found in the NT only in Acts 3,21 Heaven must receive him until the time of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about through his holy prophets from the beginning.
3 Romans 11,32 ; Ephesians 1,3-10 ; Colossians 1,17-20 ; 1Timothy 2,3-6 ; 4,10 ; Titus 2,11 ; 2Peter 3,9 ; John 12,31-32.
4 Origen himself acknowledges it is more speculative than biblical.