Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #832 -- October 23, 2021
Work is an extension of personality. It is one
of the ways in which a person defines himself,
and measures his worth and his humanity.

Peter F. Drucker [1909-2005]

Impartially Judging Our Works
Is Eternal Salvation Tied to Our Works?
Reflective In-Depth Study of 1 Peter 1:17

The Russian author and political activist Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), who was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote, "When work is a pleasure, life is a joy. When work is a duty, life is slavery." When one loves what he does, and even longs to engage himself in it, it is difficult to think of it as "work" or a "duty." Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) observed in his journal, "Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul the work of the soul, and good for either the work of the other." We are most fulfilled when actively engaged in that which we love, even though that work may consume much of our time and energy, for through it we truly express the nature and purpose of our being. Our Father intends for His beloved children to be actively engaged in doing that which is good. Not for the purpose of becoming His children, but because we're His children. We are saved for good works, not by good works. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Very few devoted disciples of Jesus deny the view that our God expects His people, both individually and collectively, to engage in "good deeds" during the course of their lives here on earth. Indeed, as the apostle Paul clearly stated above, the Lord prepared these deeds/works "beforehand so that we would walk in them." The real question is not the reality of these works, but rather of their purpose and place. Is our eternal salvation conditioned upon our performance of these "good works"? Do we engage in them in order to be saved, or do we engage in them because we already are saved? Those of us who believe we are saved by grace through faith, take the position that our salvation is not performance-based or works-based. Yes, we most definitely reflect the reality of our redemption in our daily responses to His gracious gift of salvation. We have faith, and we show it (a point the brother of Jesus makes powerfully plain in James 2). We do various good works, as we have opportunity and ability, as faith- and love-responses to the One who saved us. On the other hand, there are Christians who genuinely believe that our admission into the presence of God on "Judgment Day" will be determined only then, and not before, and that it will be based on His judgment at that time of how successfully and correctly we performed these "deeds." Thus, salvation becomes more about what we do than what He did. If I'm good enough, and work hard enough, and do enough good to outweigh the bad in my life, then He just might allow me into His presence. One of the passages in the Bible that such misled disciples employ in seeking to validate their works-based theology is 1 Peter 1:17, which urges us to "pass the time of your sojourning here in fear," because "the Father judgeth according to every man's work" (KJV).

Well, there you have it, they tell us. God will judge our "works," and since we are never sure if we've done enough, we therefore go through life "in fear." What a miserable existence! But, wait a minute! Is this really what the apostle Peter is saying here? We have often been told this is his message, but is it?! As Patrick Mead might say (in his video series), "Who told you that?!" A valid question, and one we need to be asking far more often than we do. Rather than seeking the fountainhead of this misinformed misinterpretation, let's take our search even farther back: let's take it to Peter himself. What was he seeking to convey to these early disciples in that particular passage? The main message of the first part of Peter's first epistle to the "elect" of God who were "scattered about" is: You have a living hope and a sure salvation, which is certainly a far cry from a sojourn characterized by fear (if we accept the view that "fear" is here referring to being afraid).

Just prior to verse 17 of this first chapter of his first epistle, Peter tells his readers, "Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (vs. 13). Notice that our "hope" (our confident expectation) is to be fixed completely on GRACE. That is not a minor point. If our hope is fixed on our own works, and whether or not we have done enough of them, and done them well enough, then hope is demoted to fear. True hope is in His promise, not our performance! Our love for Him and our faith in Him lead us to a "joy inexpressible" (vs. 8). The outcome of faith is salvation (vs. 9), and "as to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry" (vs. 10). This was good news that grabbed the attention even of the prophets who spoke of it in ages past. This was a radical Gospel "into which even angels long to look" (vs. 12). And it is ours, by grace through faith, and NOT of any works we may have done! So, what are we to make of 1 Peter 1:17, which, we are told by some, proclaims the "good news" that God will one day judge our works, and in light of such we should live in fear during our sojourn on earth?! Let's begin this investigation into authorial intent by noticing how a number of versions of the Bible have translated this verse:

  1. Common English Bible - Since you call upon a Father who judges all people according to their actions without favoritism, you should conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your dwelling in a strange land.
  2. Complete Jewish Bible - If you are addressing as Father the One who judges impartially according to each person's actions, you should live out your temporary stay on earth in fear.
  3. English Standard Version - If you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.
  4. Holman Christian Standard Bible - If you address as Father the One who judges impartially based on each one's work, you are to conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence.
  5. New International Version - Since you call on a Father who judges each person's work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
  6. New Century Catholic Bible - If you address as Father the One who judges everyone impartially on the basis of each person's deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile here.

Obviously, we could list scores of additional translations here, but most all of them emphasize the same salient points, even though they may phrase those points differently. (1) Peter's readers are disciples of Christ Jesus and sons and daughters of God the Father. They love the Lord and have faith in Him. They have a blessed hope based on His love, mercy, and grace. (2) They have a bold confidence that allows them to address God as "Father." (3) God doesn't play favorites with His children. He is impartial; He doesn't base His feelings for one over another by comparing and contrasting them with one another; He is fair. (4) His children are scattered abroad; dispersed throughout the land, yet they are never beyond the reach of His love. (5) He knows their deeds/works; He knows their hearts, and what motivates them to act or not act in any given situation or circumstance. (6) He judges the value of each one's work. (7) God longs for their respect and reverence in all they say and do. (8) This world is not their home; they are strangers and sojourners here; their eternal future lies in the new heavens and earth. A day is coming when this hope will be fully realized. In light of this, "what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:11-12).

As we reflect more deeply upon this passage, a number of key words jump out at us demanding closer examination. Father ... Judge ... Impartial ... Works ... Sojourn ... Fear. Entire sermons and classes could be (and have been) done on each of these terms and all that they signify for those of us who are disciples of Jesus. Some of these terms are not necessarily "triggers" for heated debate, while others most definitely are when employed by those seeking to promote a particular party perspective. The word "fear," for example. There was a time when it was considered advantageous to those in positions of religious power to promote a view of God that left "the common church folk" in absolute terror of God and His "clergy class" if they failed to comply with directives "from on high." Anyone familiar with church history can cite case after case of such clerical abuse of the laity, all laid at the feet of a cruel, harsh, ever-ready-for-reprisal God. In more recent times, thankfully, we have come to realize that God never desired nor intended for His people to live in fear or terror of Him. The phrase "fear not" appears throughout the Bible, but these were often pushed aside as "not helpful" to maintaining control of those in the pews. Yes, we should have a healthy respect and reverence for our Father, as He is our great Creator and Sustainer; He is Sovereign, and deserves to be revered as such. Those who oppose Him and seek to harm His people, as well as all those who once served Him, but now have turned against Him, will indeed at some point experience the terror that will befall them for such lack of reverence, apostasy, and godlessness (Hebrews 10:26-31). God's beloved children, however, have no need to fear Him; indeed, they are instructed not to. Most of us today understand this distinction, so we don't struggle with the term "fear" all that much. For those brethren who may still struggle with this, I would suggest a reading of and a reflecting upon my following two studies: "The Fear of the Lord: Should the Disciples of Christ be Fearful of their Father?" (Reflections #473) and "Breaking Free of Fear: Enjoying the Liberty of Grace" (Reflections #556).

Peter also refers to the faithful Christian as a sojourner on earth, a temporary resident of this realm, a "stranger in a strange land" (to use the title of a classic Robert Heinlein novel). His first epistle is addressed to "those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood" (1 Peter 1:1-2). The book of Acts speaks of a persecution that broke out against the church in Jerusalem, "and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles" (Acts 8:1). Luke also noted that "those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" (vs. 4). Several places in Hebrews 11 we read of believers throughout the ages who regarded their stay on earth as temporary, and that their citizenship was elsewhere. "By faith Abraham lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land ... for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (vs. 9-10). These men and women of faith who are listed in this chapter "confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth, ... that they were seeking a country of their own, ... they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them" (vs. 13-16). It was to such saints as these that Peter wrote: beloved children of God, who are privileged to be able to call upon Him as "Father" (1 Peter 1:17). "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. ... Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:1-3). Those to whom Peter wrote shared this hope; thus, Peter urged them to live lives of holiness during their brief time on earth (1 Peter 1:13-16).

Peter's readers (and that includes us today as well), were called to conduct themselves in their daily lives in a manner that reflected their deep love and reverence for their Father, as well as their love and devotion for one another. "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart" (1 Peter 1:22), and "put aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, ... growing in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:1-2). Peter wrote to people who were saved; he wrote to the redeemed, to true believers who were seeking to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which they had been called" (Ephesians 4:1), and to "be imitators of God, as beloved children; and to walk in love" (Ephesians 5:1-2). This is the context within which we find our text in 1 Peter 1:17. With all of this in mind, we find this statement by Peter about our God and Father: He "impartially judges according to each one's work" (1 Peter 1:17, NASB). When we read this statement, our minds tend to focus on the word "judge," and it is true that ultimate judgment is in the hands of Deity. A "day of the Lord" is coming when a great consummation and transformation will occur, as well as a great separation between "sheep and goats" (Matthew 25). It is easy to see why some would assume it is "Judgment Day" that Peter had in mind when He wrote this statement. The context, however, doesn't really support that assumption. Remember, it is not the redeemed being judged here; these people are already saved; "in Christ Jesus" the verdict has already been rendered regarding their eternal fate. Jesus Himself declared, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:11-13).

When Peter refers to the Father's "judging," he is not speaking of eternal salvation; he is not referring to the ultimate separating of sheep from goats. Peter is telling these saved saints that their Father is aware of their service to Him, their daily deeds and works performed as His beloved children, and that He is fair and impartial in His evaluation of these many "works" being done in His name and to His glory. Unlike we humans, God will not "play favorites," elevating one person over another based on their deeds done in the flesh. We are each unique in our abilities and opportunities; my service to Him will not be evaluated by the "standard" of your service to Him. He judges/evaluates our work individually and impartially. Contrast this with how some in Corinth were judging/evaluating the work/service of men like Paul and Apollos: elevating one above the other. "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now, he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). The "reward" of which Paul speaks may well be experienced temporally (here) as well as eternally (hereafter). Such has been referred to by scholars and theologians as "degrees of reward and punishment." This doctrine seems also to be the emphasis of Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 5:10. Paul is certainly not suggesting in this text that our salvation is unsure, or that we'll only find out our eternal fate on "Judgment Day." The point he makes is simply that "on that day" ALL of mankind, good and bad, will stand before Deity, with the saved experiencing "degrees of reward" and the lost experiencing "degrees of punishment." Commenting on this passage, Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown write, "Though salvation be of grace purely, independent of works, the saved may have a greater or lesser reward, according as he lives to, and labors for, Christ more or less" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1240]. Although there has been significant speculation over the centuries about this doctrine of "degrees," it is important to note that the text does NOT teach salvation by works, but only that there will be various levels or degrees of appreciation and reward experienced by the saved! We will gladly leave it to the Lord to sort out what that will look like for each of us! I truly can only imagine!

"God is impartial. Outward appearance, wealth, culture, social position, family background, education, beauty, intellect, all things that more or less sway the opinions of man, do not count with God when it comes to appraising a person's" work and service [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2 - 1st Peter, p. 40]. "God sees (judges) not as man sees (judges), for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). As Jesus evaluates His church (represented by the seven churches of Asia Minor), He often points out: "I know your deeds..." (Revelation 2:2, 19; 3:8, 15), just as He also points out to some, "I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God" (Revelation 3:2). The Lord judges and evaluates the deeds/works/service of His people. Some are on the right track, others need some encouragement in their service to Him, and some even need to redirect their efforts to be more in line with His purposes and expectations. Such judgment is not necessarily being linked to heaven or hell, life or death; rather, the Lord evaluates our efforts to keep us on course during our sojourn here on earth. Sometimes, during our sojourn, we hear from the Lord, "well done; keep it up" ... other times we may be cautioned if we are drifting ... sometimes we may even be warned that we are "off course." It is such impartial "judging" of each believer's "work" that Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 1:17. It is not about our salvation, it is about our service.

"God is not speaking of the final judgment of the soul. The thing spoken of here is the daily judgment of God's government in this world, exercised with regard to His children. It is a judgment applied to Christian life" [John Darby, Synopsis of the Bible, e-Sword]. God desires us to be holy during our sojourn here, and for our deeds and service to be consistent with His eternal purposes. Thus, He evaluates and if need be redirects us in our walk with Him. "Our text distinctly speaks of a present judgment. ... There is a perpetual present judgment going on" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 36]. It is a loving Father lovingly guiding His beloved child: at times encouraging, at times warning, always with love. "We had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness" (Hebrews 12:9-10). Our Father is keenly interested in and intimately involved with our daily walk with Him here on earth, and He provides guidance and counsel that we may not drift from the "highway of holiness" He has called us to walk upon. Understanding this aspect of His loving interaction with us, should we not revere Him all the more each day of our journey?!! This is exactly what Peter is talking about in 1 Peter 1:17.

The Scottish Baptist minister Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910), in his "Expositions of Holy Scripture," wrote, "I beseech you to ponder the thought that at each moment of each of our lives an estimate of the moral character of each of our deeds is present to the Divine mind. ... He has judged them already, in the double sense that He has appraised their value and estimated their bearing upon our characters. ... One sometimes wishes that people did not so much believe in a future judgment, in so far as it obscures to them the solemn thought of a present and a continuous one." The British Methodist theologian Adam Clarke (1762-1832) offered a similar insight: "It would be well if those sinners and spurious believers who fancy themselves safe and complete in the righteousness of Christ, while impure and unholy in themselves, would think of this testimony of the apostle Peter" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 847]. Let me close this study with the following two thoughts for you to ponder: "Justified persons are persons changed by grace, and they should walk in good works (Ephesians 2:10) as the evidence of that grace" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 224]. "In the whole course of your daily life, in all its details, as you move hither and thither among men, take the holiness of God for your pattern" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 9]. Dear Lord, may it be so in each of our lives, so that we may be more effective in our service to You!!


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Readers' Reflections
NOTE: Differing views and understandings are always welcome here,
yet they do not necessarily reflect my own views and understandings.
They're opportunities for readers to voice what is on their hearts, with
a view toward greater dialogue among disciples with a Berean spirit.

From a Reader in California:

Al, I have been blessed by your Reflections articles for years. You and I have "conversed" via emails during those years, but this is the first time I have ever actually seen and heard you speak. Good Lord's Supper devotional, brother!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, your comments on the Lord's Supper, which appeared on that YouTube video, were very good! Thank you for sharing your insight into the Scriptures in that presentation.

From a Reader in Australia:

Al, it has been a while since I last wrote to you, but that doesn't mean you and Shelly, and your kids and grandkids, haven't been in my prayers every day. You have. I don't think a day goes by when I don't think back to our times together at The Tulsa Workshop where you were speaking. I'm writing to let you know that this morning my wife and I watched you do the Communion meditation at "Our Safe Harbor Church." Thank you so much for what you said in that meditation. We were both encouraged by it, as well as brought into a right frame of mind to observe the Lord's Supper as "one with the body." Thank You! ... and my wife says to tell you thanks as well. I had been eagerly waiting to watch your meditation since I received Patrick's Newsletter several days prior in which he announced you would be doing that part of their service. I am so glad to see you still looking as fit as you did when we were together in Tulsa, OK. Patrick's live streaming of the assembly each week is probably the highlight of the week for us here. My wife and I have been tuning in to "Our Safe Harbor Church" from the very start of their ministry outreach. I came to know Patrick at Tulsa back in 2009, and I've been blessed by his ministry for God ever since. Patrick asked me also to do one of the Communion meditations earlier this year, and it was a blessing for me to be a part of that service. I am so fortunate to be able to have two great biblical-teaching friends (you and Patrick). You both continue to challenge my thinking and beliefs, which is great, for it helps me to grow. Take care, brother! Love you!

From a Minister in Indiana:

Al, the Lord has used you to impact many lives! ... especially mine. Your Reflections, along with my Bible, was one of the primary resources that led me out of the chains of legalism and into a fresh, biblical understanding and perspective of the freedom that Christians truly have in Christ. There are not enough words of appreciation within the dictionary that can equate to the depth of gratitude I have toward you and your ministry!! As a brother in Christ, and as a fellow minister myself, you have encouraged me to proclaim God's love and to test everything that I believe, even when I am confident that what I believe is correct. Lord willing, one of these days I'll be able to bring my wife and children with me to visit you and your wonderful congregation there in New Mexico. I would be grateful on that day to shake your hand! Thank you for all you do, brother!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I just read the guest article in your latest issue of Reflections by Dr. Barry Perryman (Reflections #831). Powerful. I imagine it might upset the Pharisees and the "rule book" crew!! Keep at it, brother!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, I just read your new Reflections: the study by Dr. Perryman was very good. The book of Romans opened my eyes to many things, especially Romans 4, and 1:5, and 16:26 - the "obedience of faith." They say that if you "get" Romans, it "gets" you! Romans 2:14-16 is also very enlightening. I notice the mention of "allelon" in this text as it relates to one's conscience and behavior toward one's fellow man, which is significant as it mirrors the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. Thanks, Al, for sharing this university professor's study with us! God bless you.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, I am a slow reader, and am also slow at putting the 1-2-3 things together. I never was the sharpest student in math! The good doctor, however, helped on that. I'm sure some will disagree with what he wrote, and that is their privilege, because growth is sometimes slow and then at other times comes in spurts. I admire those who can put it all together quickly. I've printed out the Dr.'s article so that I can go back over it slowly. It did fill in some questionable holes that I have had a problem covering. If I find a questionable "hole," I'll write it down and send it to you and let you or the good doctor answer. My best to you and your family.

From a Reader in Montana:

Al, thanks for providing us with another great article ("Reflections from Dr. Perryman" - Reflections #831). I was a little amused by the typo I found in this sentence: "...even the most difficult bits of scripture in both old and new cannons..." I'm glad we're studying "cannons" now, hopefully spiritual ones! (LOL) I was really taken by this sentence in Dr. Perryman's article: "The righteousness of God and the justification of mankind is unmistakably made known by the faith of Jesus Christ." THAT gives me a whole different perspective on things that I haven't had before. It seems like as I get older, I have had several things happen that have given me a new perspective! By the way, my wife and I are planning on being in your city in a few weeks, and if you and Shelly are free one evening during that time, we'd love to meet you both and take you to dinner. I've been reading your articles for many years, and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to meet you

From a Minister in Ukraine:

Thank you, Al, for sharing Dr. Barry Perryman's edifying and encouraging reflection on "Christians Who Have Never Heard The Gospel?" My initial response, when I saw his picture alongside your introduction, was that it looked like a baseball card. So, perhaps both of you will excuse me for saying, He hit a home run!! Oh, the faith OF our Messiah ... beautiful. Many people seriously think that the Jewish people were saved by keeping the Law (Torah). Yet, reading Genesis 15:1-6 we see that because of Abraham's faith, righteousness was imputed to him. The apostle Paul uses the same foundational verse (Genesis 15:6) in Galatians 3:6 to teach that we are made righteous through faith, not by obeying works of the Torah. Nevertheless, it is extremely significant that this foundational issue is first taught in the Torah, not the New Testament! Even in Romans 1:17 Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 from the Tanakh. I have a question for reflection by your readers: "What is the purpose of obedience to the Torah?" I'd love to hear some of their responses! Also, would you please email me a copy of Neal Griffin's article titled "Bibliolatry is Idolatry." Thanks!

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