Does God Judge the Elect?

Mark Goodacre mentions a media panel-discussion in which Tom Wright, Dom Crossan, and Paula Fredriksen take turns refuting the Lutheran dichotomy between faith and works. Wright and Crossan reconcile the two in terms of their inseparability. For Wright, good works are a necessary outworking of faith: “we’re not saved by good works, but for good works.” Crossan also thinks good works are necessary, stressing that a believer does them out of fear — not of God but the world: “there is ‘fear and trembling’ (Philip 2:12b-13) not because our God will punish us if we fail but because our world will punish us if we succeed.” And Fredriksen thinks the answer depends on whether one has the long- or short-term in view: “being saved is forever, good works are only for the time being”.

I’d like to focus on an aspect of Crossan’s response. He asks “If, after all, it is ‘God who moves within us’ both ‘to will and to work’, that is, to start and to finish, why should there be any ‘fear and trembling’ present at all?” His answer, as stated above, is that believers should fear the world for doing well (as Paul knows from being in prison) instead of God for doing badly — that God will apparently have no need to punish believers whose good works flow so naturally and inevitably. Is this correct?

Philip Esler thinks so. In Conflict and Identity in Romans (see pp 162, 265-266), he argues that Paul does not envision a judgment for the elect. A judgment requires that someone lay a charge, and Rom 8:33-34 implies that no such charge will be levelled against Christians; the righteous are simply waived through after giving an account of themselves and receiving their reward. The judgment of Rom 2 (and II Cor 5:10) would thus apply only to the wicked. “No one will bring a charge against God’s elect, since God is righteousing them…Paul does not appear to envisage a judgment for the righteous, even though they will appear before God.” (p 266)

Are Esler/Crossan interpreting Paul correctly?

UPDATE: More on this in God’s Elusive Judgment.

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