This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Nick's Question about Justification Now and Not Yet--Part 2

As I progress in my response to Nick's question, I believe that it will be helpful to visit a portion of The Race Set Before Us where Tom and I discuss Romans 2, not exhaustively but nonetheless pertinently. Find the following segment on pages 165-167. I trust that it will edge us toward an integrated and systematic theology of justification that is in accord with Scripture.

Paul solemnly avows that when God judges, he will reward everyone according to their deeds.

To those who by persevering in a good work seek glory and honor and incorruptibility, he will give eternal life. But upon those who act out of selfish ambition and who disobey the truth and instead submit to unrighteousness, he will inflict wrath and anger. There will be tribulation and distress for every person who does what is evil, both the Jew first and also the Greek, but there will be glory and honor and peace to everyone who accomplishes what is good, both to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God (Rom 2:7-11).

Using two sets of designations–“eternal life” and “glory and honor and peace”–Paul affirms twice in this passage that God will reward perseverance in good deeds with “salvation.” This causes no small dilemma for interpreters who want to avoid the notion that the apostle contradicts his own clear statement that “no flesh will be justified by the works of the law” (Rom 3:20). However, the dilemma is in the eye of the reader, for Paul plainly affirms that the principle of God’s impartial judgment is integral to his gospel, for he speaks of “the day when, according to my gospel, God shall judge the secrets of humans, through Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:16). So, “judgment according to one’s deeds” is not alien to his gospel but an essential element of it. Paul echoes the principle of Ezekiel 18, for both the apostle and the prophet insist that God is an impartial judge who will render his judgment in keeping with one’s deeds. Paul confronts the same problem Ezekiel faced: Israelites who possess the Law but fail to obey the Law. This is what Paul denounces in Romans 2. But in the midst of his prosecution of disobedient possessors of the Law, he reaffirms God’s thoroughly impartial principle of justice that holds out hope for all who do the things the Law requires, because “not the hearers of the Law are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law shall be declared righteous” (Rom 2:13). This is not a fictional offer that no one attains, nor is this salvation based upon one’s own works. Though it is true that he speaks of judgment and justification, here Paul is not speaking of the legal basis or ground of justification, for the basis is the obedience of Christ alone (Rom 5:12-19). Rather, he speaks of the kind of person whom God will justify in the Day of Judgment. It is the obedient, not the disobedient person. It is the doers of the Law, not the possessors of the Law. Who are these “doers of the Law”? At the close of chapter two Paul explains their identity. They are people who, though they may not even have the Law, do the things the Law requires. They are ones who, though perhaps not circumcised in the flesh, have hearts circumcised by the Spirit of God. Therefore, Paul succinctly summarizes his argument of Romans 2 by reiterating the principle of his gospel that the true Jew is not one who possesses the Law and who is circumcised in the flesh; but the true Jew is one who keeps the requirements of the Law from a heart circumcised by the Spirit. This person “will receive praise from God,” which is another way of saying “will be justified” (Rom 2:13) or “will be reckoned as circumcision” (Rom 2:26).

Therefore, since he indicts unfaithful Israelites for failing to keep the Law which they possess by privilege from God, and since Paul orients his discussion to the eschatological Day of Judgment, his primary concern is to answer one question: “Who will be justified?” Like the prophet in Ezekiel 18:21-23, the apostle Paul answers that one who will be justified in the heavenly courtroom of God is the person who does what God requires. The promise of eternal life is conditional, but the condition must not be confused with the basis of one’s right standing before God. This is because Paul does not confuse the two. He makes it clear that God’s righteous judgment laid his wrath upon Christ Jesus in order that God might be just when he justifies all who belong to Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21-26). So, Paul does not answer the question “On what basis will one be justified?” until Romans 3:21ff. In Romans 2 Paul makes one thing clear: God’s promise of salvation is conditional. On the Day of Judgment God will award eternal life to those who persevere in good works (Rom 2:7, 10), because God does not justify hearers of the Law but doers of the Law (Rom 2:13). Praise from God belongs to all who keep the requirements of the Law, to all who obey from hearts circumcised by the Spirit (Rom 2:26, 29).


Nick Nowalk said...

Very, very helpful. You preserve both the already and not yet of justification, as well as the need to stress both the forensic grace of God and His transformative work through the Spirit to produce covenantal obedience in our lives. Yet (and herein lay the rub in today's debate) all the while accenting and emphasizing the objective, alien, outside of us righteousness of Christ on account of his death and resurrection. Here is our salvation we will sing to for eternity. And the wonder of it is, all who are justified in Christ will fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, will "do" the law in such a way where God's final judgment will not be a cosmic sham, but He will be vindicated over against this entire fallen world. So helpful, Dr. Caneday.

abcaneday said...


I am delighted that I can offer you some measure of insight to see how the already and the not yet aspects of justification cohere without subverting the obedience of Christ as our only hope of a righteous stand before God and without looking to our perseverance in faithfulness as the ground of our hope.

Indeed, our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. They provide no cover at all from God's wrath now or in the Day of Wrath. Our hope is to be found in Christ alone, for only his obedience, his righteousness, can shield us from God's consuming wrath.

Our obedience, which is faith protracted, is not rendered meaningless by God's already justifying verdict over us in Christ.

I will post more on the subject.

t.rob said...

Dr. Caneday,

First time caller. I've worked through TRSBU twice now, still trying to get my brain around it all. A couple of questions:

1. I'm wondering what you think of what has lately become known as "The Federal Vision", the largely presbyterian/reformed theological/pastoral "movement" (for lack of a better term.) In particular, I'm wondering what you think about how some from that general group have addressed and formulated the issue of apostasy/perseverance around the theme of "covenant" (i.e. Rich Lusk, Douglas Wilson, etc.) You appear to be attempting to do the same thing: allow the various strands of texts to have their say...though I've not noticed you've utilized "covenant" as an organizing principle for both "promise" and "threat."

2. Also, concerning "doers of the Law" your mind, what does that particular "law-keeping" consist of/look like in the new covenant? Is it basically persevering faith? Is it basically "love" fulfilling the Law? Is it the "law of Christ" now (only what is repeated from Moses)? Or somehow all of Moses, but transfigured redemptive-historically?

All apologies if these are off topic.

Thanks for the blog. Very helpful!

todd robinson
silao, guanajuato, mexico

abcaneday said...


Greetings! Welcome to my blog. Thanks for reading and for posting your questions. This is the purpose of my blog.

You observe rightly that there are some similarities between "The Federal Vision" view and what Tom and I have argued in The Race Set Before Us. However, the similarities are less real than they appear. My understanding of the view is likely inadequate, but from what I have read, the view depends very heavily upon a view of the "covenant" that Tom and I do not share. It is definitely a paedobaptist view of the covenant. Tom and I are decidedly Baptists.

As for the "doers of the Law," it seems to me that each of the descriptions in your series of questions describes them rather aptly: Is it basically persevering faith? Is it basically "love" fulfilling the Law? Is it the "law of Christ"?

"Doers of the Law" can be either Jews or Gentiles. It is not because we are under the jurisdiction of the Law. Rather, it is because we do the things required by the Law by virtue of having the Spirit.


Unknown said...

Dr. Caneday,

I've really been thinking about this statement from your post, "The promise of eternal life is conditional, but the condition must not be confused with the basis of one's right standing before God."

I keep thinking about the difference between a "condition" and a "basis."

Here are a few of Merriam Webster's definitions for "condition," "a premise upon which the fulfillment of an agreement depends; stipulation; covenant; a provision making the effect of a legal instrument contingent upon an uncertain event."

Here are a few of Merriam Webster's definition for "basis," "the bottom of something considered as its foundation; the principal component of something; something on which something else is established or based; an underlying condition or state of affairs."

I realize that these definitions are probably saying different things, but it seems to be a distinction without a difference. Perhaps focusing on "legal" definitions for these terms would be helpful.

I know there is a difference here, but I'm struggling as I try to explain these concepts to others in my church.

Can you provide any deeper explanation or perhaps use a metaphor or something to help me understand the difference between a "condition" and a "basis"?

abcaneday said...


You are digging back into the archives, I see. Since this is not recent, I will move your question to a blog entry to make it current. I trust that you do not mind. After all, the question you ask is one in which others, I believe, will be interested.