If you take our reading from Romans 2 out of context, it can be a little troubling to us Lutherans, especially verses 6-8 where Paul tells us that, on the Day of Judgment, God will grant eternal life to those who seek for glory and honor, but give condemnation to those who don’t obey the truth. But, fear not. When we look at the broader context, Paul is still very much speaking like a Lutheran.
In all of this, Paul is addressing Jewish Christians who have been corrupted by pride, those who are convinced that they are more worthy of God’s love than the gentile converts because they were given the writings of the Old Testament. They received the commandments, the law of Moses. They’ve received those things. But, as Paul notes, they haven’t actually done those things. And so when Paul speaks to them about the obedient being judged worthy of eternal life and the disobedient being judged unworthy, he’s not really telling them that we are justified by works, something he’ll make quite clear in chapter 3. He’s telling the Jewish Christians in Rome, “you’ve got your categories all wrong. God doesn’t divide between those who have heard the law and those who haven’t. He divides between those who have fulfilled the law and those who haven’t. And because of your arrogance and self-righteousness, you’re revealing that you haven’t kept the law. Hearing it doesn’t do you any good. Keeping it does.”
So yes, in a sense, we will be judged according to our works. We will all have to stand before God and give an account of how we’ve lived. But in the courtroom of God’s judgment, when God renders His verdict, for Christians, He renders it according to the works of Christ, to the righteousness of the One who credited all of His perfection to us when He took all our sins away.
On the Last Day, when you stand before your God in judgment, you will say, “I am an unworthy servant, I heard but did not keep your law. And even when I did, I only did what was my duty.” But your Judge will respond, “I don’t know what sins you’re talking about. I don’t see any of them. All I see is every work of righteousness you needed to inherit eternal life resting in your hands. Every act of obedience you needed to live with me forever is now your eternal possession, given and credited to you by the blood of your Brother, Jesus Christ. So don’t fear. His works are your works. His reward is your reward. Well done, good and faithful servant.”