To Each According To Their Deeds
The Holy Spirit defines God’s righteous judgment in Paul’s letter to believers in Rome. He begins the second chapter of the book we call Romans by declaring God’s impartial judgment.
1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
[The very act of judging, i.e., condemning not discerning, is in itself an overstepping of the authority of people. The sin that brought judgment on the people as stated in chapter 1 of Romans was not honoring God as God. To step into God’s place as judge is to not honor Him as God, for He has reserved judgment for Himself. Therefore, those who step into God’s place as judge do not honor God just as those described in chapter 1.]
2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?
[We are often eager to judge others though we do not realize we are sinning in the very act of judging. The sin isn’t that we discern another believer’s error, but that by judging (condemning) we take on God’s role for ourselves. Judgment belongs to God, and everyone who sins receives God’s judgment. God is the only one who can and does judge with impartiality.]
4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
[We are often impatient with God’s failure, or at least what we perceive as His failure, to immediately condemn others for their sin.]
5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you [who judge others] are storing up wrath for yourself in [not for or until] the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:
[To each person according to his, or her, deeds, this is the heart and soul of God’s system of righteous justice.]
7 to those who by perseverance in doing good [keeping God’s commandments] seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life;
[Those who do good are the ones who have repented and who keep the commandments of the Law by walking in sanctification at the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit.]
8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious [living according to the flesh] and do not obey the truth [do not keep the commandments], but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
[Those who do not obey the truth are those who have not repented and who do not keep the commandments by walking in sanctification, but walk according to their own fleshly desires; hence, they are selfishly ambitious.]
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek,
[God’s righteous judgment is administered to all, Jews and Gentiles alike, according to the same standard as stated in the laws, commandments, ordinances and statutes of the eternal covenant.]
10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 2:1-10)
Every sin receives a corresponding judgment. There are no exemptions made for anyone under this system. The judgment is the same for believers and unbelievers. Only the outcome is different. Judgement of repentant believers (those who have made covenant with Jesus Christ) results in discipline. How do we know this, the Bible says so.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in [covenant with] Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
Paul also taught the following in his first letter to believers in Corinth.
But when we [believers] are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:32)
Paul isn’t saying that a believer’s judgment for sin is different than that of nonbelievers. That would mean God shows partiality. Sin is sin in the eyes of God regardless who commits it, and the penalty is the same. The difference for believers who sin is not the judgment, but the result of that judgment. It rests in the attitude of the believer. Let me explain.
Note that in Romans 2:5 the sinner has an unrepentant heart. When such a person sins they do not repent of the sin. Therefore, they do not receive forgiveness. Their reward is tribulation and distress (verse 9). Romans 2:10 says one of the rewards of the one who does good is peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27) This peace is an important factor in a believer’s continual well-being. This is explained in Colossians.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
The Greek word translated as rule means to govern. This explains a lot. When a believer is walking right with the Lord, keeping the covenant and walking in sanctification, that person is at peace. There are no judgments coming against him or her. When that person commits a sin, God lowers His hedge of protection and the believer feels the pressure of God’s judgment. Unlike an unrepentant person who rejects God’s judgment, the believer, feeling the absence of the peace of Christ, seeks the Lord. In so doing, that person learns of the sin they committed and immediately repents. God forgives her or him of the sin and replaces the hedge of protection and peace is restored. This is the way the peace of Christ rules in the heart of a believer. And this is why Paul could say that when believers are judged, they are disciplined.
God’s righteous judgment is distributed to all people equally. The righteous judgment of God is a function of the eternal covenant. However, covenant judgment consists of two types of retribution … curses and blessings. Unrepentant persons who walk according to the flesh receive the curses, and those who have repented and walk according to the Spirit receive blessings.
In broad terms, the blessings and curses can be stated simply as life and death.
15 “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity;
16 in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.
17 “But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them,
18 I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it.
19 “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants,
[The above verse correlates life with the blessing and death with the curse.]
20 by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” (Deut. 30:15-20)
Paul expressed the same idea of life and death in New Covenant terms.
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,
8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
12 So then, brethren, we [who have repented and enter into covenant with Jesus Christ] are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh —
13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body [if you are walking the walk of sanctification], you will live. (Romans 8:3-13)
Blessings and curses are integral parts of a blood covenant such as that which God made with Abraham and which Jesus fulfilled. It is this covenant you enter into when you repent and enter into covenant fellowship with Jesus Christ. For a detailed description of the blessings of this covenant please read Deuteronomy 27-28.
The righteous judgment of God is not a New Covenant (Testament) idea. Actually, there is nothing new in the New Covenant since everything in Scripture must be compatible with all of Scripture. Therefore, all of the writings of the New Covenant have their foundation in the Old Covenant. God’s plan of righteous judgment that makes all individuals accountable for their own sin is revealed in the prophecy of Ezekiel.
1 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
2 “What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, ‘The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children’s teeth are set on edge‘? [In other words, that children become accountable for the sins of their fathers.]
3 “As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore.
4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
[He then provides two examples. First of the righteous man.]
5 “But if a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness,
6 and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period –
7 if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing,
8 if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man,
9 if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully –he is righteous and will surely live,” declares the Lord GOD.
[In New Covenant language, the person who is described in verses 5-9 is one who is walking the walk of sanctification and receiving the blessings of the covenant leading to eternal life.]
[Next, he tells of the unrighteous man.]
10 “Then he may have a violent son who sheds blood and who does any of these things to a brother
11 (though he himself did not do any of these things ), that is, he even eats at the mountain shrines, and defiles his neighbor’s wife,
12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the idols and commits abomination,
13 he lends money on interest and takes increase; will he live? He will not live! He has committed all these abominations, he will surely be put to death; his blood will be on his own head. (Ezekiel 18:1-13)
Also consider the following from the Old Covenant:
According to their deeds, so He will repay, Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; To the coastlands He will make recompense. (Isaiah 59:18)
“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10)
The LORD also has a dispute with Judah, And will punish Jacob according to his ways; He will repay him according to his deeds. (Hosea 12:2)
And also from the New Covenant:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.” (Matthew 16:27)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:12)
Another way of the righteous judgment is indicated is with the use of expressions that indicate that we become the victims of our own devices.
The nations have sunk down in the pit which they have made; In the net which they hid, their own foot has been caught. (Psalms 9:15)
They have prepared a net for my steps; My soul is bowed down; They dug a pit before me; They themselves have fallen into the midst of it. Selah. (Psalms 57:6)
22 “If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath, and he comes and takes an oath before Your altar in this house,
23 then hear from heaven and act and judge Your servants, punishing the wicked by bringing his way on his own head and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness.” (2 Chronicles 6:22-23)
“Because you have not remembered the days of your youth but have enraged Me by all these things, behold, I in turn will bring your conduct down on your own head,” declares the Lord GOD, “so that you will not commit this lewdness on top of all your other abominations.” (Ezekiel 16:43)
Hold them guilty, O God; By their own devices let them fall! [according to their deeds.] In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out, For they are rebellious against You. (Psalm 5:10)
6 Arise, O LORD, in Your anger; Lift up Yourself against the rage of my adversaries, And arouse Yourself for me; You have appointed judgment.
7 Let the assembly of the peoples encompass You, And over them return on high.
8 The LORD judges the peoples; Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
9 O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
10 My shield is with God, Who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day. [He isn’t storing up His indignation for a future time, He is dispensing it today.]
12 If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready.
13 He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts.
[God has prepared the weapons of His indignation to be used against the unrighteous described below.]
14 Behold, he [the one who does not repent] travails with wickedness, And he conceives mischief and brings forth falsehood.
15 He has dug a pit and hollowed it out, And has fallen into the hole which he made. [As he has sown, he has reaped.]
16 His mischief will return upon his own head, And his violence will descend upon his own pate. (Psalm 7:6-16)
The pit dug by the evil doer is the same by which he will become imprisoned. This is the meaning of the idea of the principle that a person’s deeds will come upon their own head. However, the reward is not only commensurate with the degree of the offense, but also the type.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. (Galatians 6:7)
The Greek word translated as mock is myktērízō (mook-tay-rid’-zo). It means to turn up the nose, turning away to sneer; (figuratively) mock, or scornfully disdain (contemptuously reject). The English dictionary meaning of mock is to tease or laugh at in a scornful or contemptuous manner, to make (something) seem laughably unreal or impossible or to mimic (someone or something) scornfully or contemptuously. With these meanings in mind, you see that you can, if you choose, turn away and sneer at God’s word, or think God’s judgment is laughable or impossible, or you can just flat out reject the idea that all of your behavior receives a due reward. However, that would be a grievous error. God’s word is true, and His righteous judgment is real, and it is an integral part of the eternal covenant which is being administered today. Yes, even right now as you are reading this article.
God’s lovingkindness and judgment are immediate and direct. He does not delay and He deals directly with each individual.
9 “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
10 but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. (Deuteronomy 7:9-10)
The righteous judgment of God became the system of judgment for the entire world when Jesus Christ suffered death and rose again, taking His place on the throne of God.
7 But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, [His throne was established when Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and took His seat on the throne at the right hand of the Father to judge everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, according to their deeds.] (Psalm 9:7)
Jesus is the Righteous Judge.
There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)
Jesus judges the whole world in righteousness.
8 And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity. (Psalm 9:8)
Jesus judges each person according to their deeds.
15 The nations have sunk down in the pit which they have made; In the net which they hid, their own foot has been caught. [According to their deeds, or their deeds will come on their own head.]
16 The LORD has made Himself known [in Jesus Christ]; He has executed judgment. In the work of his own hands the wicked is snared. [This is God’s righteous judgment.] (Psalm 9:15-16)
In pride the wicked hotly pursue the afflicted; Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised. (Psalm 10:2)
20 The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. [This, too, is God’s righteous judgment.]
21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD [walked in sanctification], And have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all His ordinances were before me, And I did not put away His statutes from me.
23 I was also blameless with Him, And I kept myself from my iniquity.
24 Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, According to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes. (Psalm 18:20-24)
Make no mistake, the blessings of the covenant come to those who walk in sanctification. Just as you walk in righteousness, so you receive the blessings. It is the righteous judgment of God.
The one with integrity in His or her heart, who walks righteously, i.e., in sanctification, will stand forever, that is, they have eternal life.
1 O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. [He walks the walk of sanctification.]
3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; [He loves his neighbor as himself.]
4 In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken. (Psalm 15)
Listen as David describes God’s righteous judgment.
1 Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my groaning.
2 Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, For to You I pray.
3 In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.
4 For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.
5 The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.
6 You destroy those who speak falsehood; The LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.
7 But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness [the blessing of the covenant] I will enter Your house, At Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.
8 O LORD, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes; Make Your way straight before me.
9 There is nothing reliable in what they say; Their inward part is destruction itself. Their throat is an open grave; They flatter with their tongue.
10 Hold them guilty, O God; By their own devices let them fall! In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out, For they are rebellious against You.
11 But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You.
12 For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor [covenant blessings] as with a shield. (Psalm 5)
The righteous judgment of God can be seen everywhere in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. The sheer volume of references to God’s righteous judgment is astounding. There are far too many to quote in this article. Let me suggest that as you read and study the Bible that you use a distinctive way to mark every verse or passage you come across that is a reference to the righteous judgment of God. As you get used to spotting references such as receiving according to your deeds, your own behavior coming on your own head and being individually accountable for your own sins, you will find more and more verses and passages. Before long you will be amazed at the volume of verses you have marked.
This system of justice may seem harsh to you. It is easy to see it as just the wrath of God. That is, however, an inappropriate appraisal. The righteous judgment of God is actually a display of God’s great mercy. This is the subject of the next article.