Christ's Merit vs Our Merit

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Are eternal rewards based only on Christ’s merit, or does our merit count too?
There are some voices today that argue that there are kind of there's a kind of pair of justifications. We're justified now as sinners because of what Christ has done on our behalf, bearing our guilt in his own body on the tree, but then at the end when God asks, as it were, "Why should I let you in here?" then you are justified at that stage partly on the basis of Christ's work and partly on the basis of how you have lived. As one prominent scholar has put it, you're justified on the basis of the whole life lived. And if you ask him, "On the basis of the whole life lived?" he stops and thinks about it and says, yes, he wants to stay with that terminology. But that's hugely troubling, because that means that the justification received in the first instance is not safe, it's not certain, and ultimately there is a kind of dependence on further, I don't know what else to call it, but "merit" quality of life, that becomes the basis, or at least part of the basis for getting into glory on the last day. So, that's troubling. On the other hand, you have to do something with this notion of reward because reward language is used quite a lot in the Bible. I think that there are several things that help clear the air just a wee bit. If we do good things that are consummated at the end in glory and reward, the question becomes, are those things the basis of our acceptance or not? C.S. Lewis told a parable, as it were, that brought some clarity to my own thinking in this regard. He pictures two men. One wants a woman, goes to the red light district in town, pays his money and has his reward. The other falls in love with a young woman, treats her with enormous respect and wins her heart and mind and is trusted by her family and eventually there's a great and wonderful union not only of the couple but of the families and a happy celebration of a glorious wedding, and he has his reward. What's the difference? What Lewis says is in the first case the payment and the reward are so incommensurate that the transaction is obscene, whereas in the second, the reward is simply the consummation of the relationship. So, it seems to me that Christian rewards in the new heaven and the new earth are bound up with this consummation of the relationship that is already itself the fruit of grace, which is why Romans can speak of rewards being reckoned according to grace. And so that our works don't become the basis, as if they have some independent contribution to make, but there is some connection between what we do and reward there out of the fullness of the grace of God in our lives that enables us to do certain things. But the ground of our acceptance before God is Christ's righteousness imputed to us and our sin imputed to him, and he's borne the whole and given the whole, and that is the ground of our acceptance before the living God on the last day.

Answer by Dr. D.A. Carson

D.A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, and Co-founder of The Gospel Coalition