“God shows no partiality.”- Romans 2:11
Among other things, the Protestant Reformation was sparked by the desire to get the order of salvation correct. Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin were reacting against the confusion of justification and sanctification that was being promoted by the medieval Western church. As crystallized at the Council of Trent, the Roman church was teaching—and still teaches today—that God will not finally justify us until we have some good works of our own to merit the kingdom. Our grace-enabled obedience is part of the ground of our justification. This is a deadly error, for before the bar of the Lord’s perfect justice, nothing we can do is good enough. The best of our works are always tainted by sin, and if we depend in any way on what we do for our heavenly citizenship, we will find ourselves severed from Christ, who is the only way to the Father (Gal. 5:4; see John 14:6).
To commingle the good we do in our sanctification with the righteousness of Christ in our justification is to deny the gospel. Yet we must never separate sanctification from justification. We can—and must—distinguish them. But as sanctification is part of the order of salvation, there cannot be a justified person who is not also being sanctified. Thus, Paul can speak of our obedience as a step in the sequence that leads to our final and complete glorification, but he never says our good works are the reason for God’s choosing, justifying, and perfecting His elect. All must travel the road of sanctification on their way to heaven, but grace alone puts us on that road and keeps us from veering off of it. John Calvin comments in book 3 of his Institutes: “There will be no impropriety in considering holiness of life as the way, not indeed the way which gives access to the glory of the heavenly kingdom; but a way by which God conducts his elect to the manifestation of that kingdom, since his good pleasure is to glorify those whom he has sanctified.”
Romans 2:9–11 reinforces this point by telling us that all people are equal before the judgment of the Lord. Jews have no particular advantage because they are Jewish. If they are right before God through trusting His promises and demonstrating that trust by seeking to honor the Lord, they will enjoy everlasting glory, honor, and peace. If their life shows no evidence at all that they trust in God, the Lord will not give them a pass because Abraham is their father according to the flesh. When it comes to citizenship in heaven, our Creator is impartial. Everyone must meet the same standard.
Only those who patiently do good in hope of immortality will enter into eternal life (Rom. 2:6–7). Yet no one even wants to do this apart from divine grace, as Paul explains in the next few chapters of Romans. Only those who have been declared just before God can in any sense do the good Paul mentions in Romans 2:1–11, but even then we obey imperfectly and never fully meet His just demands. He graciously forgives us, however, as we repent and keeps us on the narrow way to heaven.
Passages for Further Study