In his For Everyone commentary on 2 Corinthians, N.T. Wright raises the same question that we’ve been wrestling with the past few days: How is it that we’re saved by grace but judged on the basis of works? He reminds us that “when someone believes the gospel, confessing Jesus as Lord and believing that God raised him from the dead, the future verdict is brought forward into the present.” This means, among other things, that we believers can face future judgment with confidence rather than fear and uncertainty.
‘Justification by faith’ does not mean that God has decided that moral behaviour doesn’t matter after all, and that the only thing that matters is something else, called ‘faith’, so that as long as I have this ‘faith’ it doesn’t matter what I do. On the contrary. When Paul says that ‘there is no condemnation for those in Messiah’ (Romans 8.1), he at once explains that this is because (a) God has condemned sin in the Messiah, so ultimate condemnation is impossible for those who are ‘in him’, and (b) God has given his spirit to the Messiah’s people, and the spirit will enable them to become, in their moral behaviour, the people he has already declared them to be in justification…
Second, people often suggest that since God is a God of love he will surely forgive everyone anyway. This gets near the heart of a major confusion of our times. Forgiveness does not mean moral indifference. If someone were to murder my best friend, it would be my difficult duty to forgive them; but that would not mean pretending it didn’t matter, or that it hadn’t been deeply hurtful, or that the living God does not hate such actions and will judge them. We mustn’t mistake forgiveness for mere tolerance. God doesn’t tolerate evil. He hates it. He will not allow it into his new creation. If he did, he would be an evil, foolish and unjust God. Paul believed, with the whole Jewish tradition behind him and the death and resurrection of Jesus before his gaze, that God was and is good, wise and just, and that one day the whole world will know it.[†]
† N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 58-59.