This study helps us with the doctrines of soteriology, the gospel, good works and Christian service, the Christian life, heaven, hell, and rewards. There is nothing new here. I simply refocus and clarify of the Great White Throne Judgment, how God views the deeds and works of people in relation to Christ’s substitutionary death, and the importance of Christian service.
This word is significant in many passages: general good works, Pharisee self-righteous deeds, responsible works, human good and bad works, evil and sin, works will not save, Christian service, the Judgment Seat of Christ evaluation, and the basis of the Great White Throne judgment. Significant passages are Revelation 20.11-15; John 3.16-21; 7.7; 8.21-24, 41. Furthermore, Matthew 11.20-24; 12.33-42; Mark 12.38-40; Luke 12.47-48; 20.45-47 suggest there are degrees of punishment, and if so, what is the basis of the punishment—sins, good works, or both?
Εργον is a significant word used in the Great White Throne Judgment. One understanding is that the Great White Throne judgment involves only the unbeliever’s good works based on the fact that Christ died for all the sins of the world, and so sin in not an issue. A second view is that εργον refers to both good works and sin. The unbeliever rejected Christ’s sacrifice for all his sins and so he stands under his sins and his good works are not enough to qualify him for everlasting life. Both are the basis for which God judges the unbeliever.
One especially significant passage is Revelation 20.12-13. God will judge unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment according to their εργα/deeds/works. Does this refer to good works only or to all works including sin? John is the author and we should first look at John’s usage of this word.
John’s gospel, 25 times. Sin, evil (John 3.19,20; 7.7; 8.41); good deeds (John 3.21; 8.39); Jesus’ works (John 4.34; 5.20,36; 7.3,21; 10.25,33,38; 14.11; 15.24; 17.4); God the Father’s deeds (John 9.3,4; 10.32,37; 14.10); the work of God is to believe in His Son (John 6.28,29)). John uses the word for evil deeds, godly deeds; the Father’s deeds through the Son; God’s work is to believe in the Son; Jesus’ works; Abraham’s deeds; unbelieving descendants of Abraham do works of the Devil.
1, 2, 3 John, 5 times (sin,1 John 3.8,12; good, 1 John 3.18; evil-sin,2 John 11, 3 John 10). Used for the works of the Devil; Cain’s evil deeds; to love in deeds; evil deeds.
Revelation, 19 times (Revelation 2.2,5,6,19,22,23,26; 3.1,2,8,15; 9.20; 14.13; 15.3; 16.11; 18.6; 20.12,13; 22.12). Used for good deeds of the churches; Nicolaitans’ deeds; Jezebel type deeds; the Lord’s deeds (his work and will); dead works; lukewarm deeds. Also for rebellious mankind’s deeds; martyr’s deeds; the Lamb’s deeds; deeds of those in the beast’s kingdom at the fifth bowl; sinful deeds of the people of Babylon the great; the Great White Throne Judgment where unbelievers will be judged based on their deeds; When Jesus Christ returns to earth he will bring his reward and pay back the filthy and the righteous, to each according to his deed.
John 8.21,24 both say that the unbelieving Jews will die “die in your sin,” and “die in your sins.” This seems to indicate that for the unbeliever they will stand under God’s judgment because they rejected his sacrifice for sin and now have no other remedy.
Conclusion from John’s writings. John uses the word εργον for both good and evil, right deeds and sin. Therefore, it appears that unbelievers will be judged and found wanting because their good works are not sufficient and they are guilty sinners because they rejected God’s payment for sins made by Jesus Christ. It is true that Christ died for the sins of the entire world, but if a person rejects that substitutionary payment for sin, then he left to his own devices. His good works cannot help, and he still stands guilty under sin. I think that we should let people know that sin separates them from God, and that Jesus Christ took our deserved judgment. Faith in him is the only acceptable way to get out from under God’s judgment. If we reject Christ we stand guilty and helpless.
The gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke use the word in common ways we would expect. Matthew uses εργον for good works (Matthew 5.16; 26.10); for Jesus’ works (Matthew 11.2); and for Pharisees’ works done to impress people (Matthew 23.5). Mark uses the word for household responsibilities and good works (Mark 13.34; 14.6). Luke uses εργον for sinful deeds (Luke 11.48) and the mighty deeds of Jesus (Luke 24.19).
Luke in Acts uses εργον for good deeds (Acts 9.36; 26.20); sin (Acts 7.41); Moses work in Egypt (Acts 7.22); apostles’ work (Acts 5.38; 13.2; 14.26).
Paul uses εργον for a range of meanings, among are them these examples: for sin/evil (Romans 2.6-8; 13.3,12; 1 Corinthians 5.2; 2 Corinthians 11.15; Galatians 5.19; Ephesians 5.11; Colossians 1.21; 1 Timothy 5.24-25; 2 Timothy 4.14,18; Titus 1.16); works of the law (Romans 2.15; 3.20,27,28; Galatians 2.16; 3.2,5; Christian service (1 Corinthians 3.13-15; 9.1; 15.58; 16.10; 2 Corinthians 9.8; Ephesians 2.10; 4.12; Philippians 1.22; 2.30; Colossians 1.10; 3.17; 1 Thessalonians 1.3; 5.13; 2 Thessalonians 1.11; 2.17; 1 Timothy 2.10; 3.1; 2 Timothy 1.9; 3.17; Titus 1.16; 3.1,5).
Hebrews uses εργον for God’s works (Hebrews 1.10; 4.3); human works (Hebrews 4.10; 6.10); dead works (Hebrews 6.1; 9.14); good deeds (Hebrews10.24).
James uses εργον twelve times: for the result of endurance (James 1.4); faith without works (James 2.14,17,20,26); faith with works (James 2.21,22,24,25).
Peter also uses εργον for the human works God the Father judges (1 Peter 1.17); good works (1 Peter 2.12); lawless works or sin (2 Peter 2.8); works destroyed at the Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3.10).
Jude uses εργον for ungodly deeds which God will convict about and judge at the second advent (Jude 15).
The conclusion from the New Testament use of εργον indicates what we would expect. As with John’s usage, the word can refer to good and evil, right deeds and sin, Jesus’ work, God the Father’s work, the apostles ministry, and even normal activity without the description of good or evil. Therefore, the conclusion to the initial study of Revelation 20.12-13 is that unbelievers will be judged and found wanting because their good works are not sufficient and they are guilty sinners because they rejected God’s payment for sins made by Jesus Christ. It is true that Christ died for the sins of the entire world, but if a person rejects that substitutionary payment for sin, then he left to his own devices. His good works cannot help, and he still stands guilty under sin. I think that we should let people know that sin separates them from God, and that Jesus Christ took our deserved judgment. Christ is the issue, but sin is why Christ came and gave himself as an offering for sin in our place. As someone once said, people need to be lost before they think they need to be saved. Faith in him is the only acceptable way to get out from under God’s judgment. If we reject him we stand guilty.