6. Who will render to each one according to his works. 7. On the one hand, to those who by steadfastness perform good works for glory and honor and incorruptibility, He will give eternal life. 8. But on the other hand, those belonging to ambition and disobey the truth, but let themselves obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and rage.
Paul, just like the Word, doesn’t deal with hypotheticals. His writing against the moralist here isn’t going to sway anyone if it’s a mere ‘hypothetical,’ because hypotheticals don’t change anyones mind. Granted they make one think in an ‘if this happens…. then this happens’ or ‘this is the way to handle it’ sort of way. I find myself thinking through hypothetical situations from time to time, truth is we all do. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that’s not what Paul is doing here and to think so is just plain silly. Paul’s aim is to chop down that tree of moralism from branches to root. It seems to me that Paul’s writing here is mimicking John the Baptist’s sermon in Matthew 3:10 “even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Paul wants these moralists saved and first their moralist tree must be chopped down and burned because it only bears bad fruit. Unfortunately, the moralists have traded the truth of Christ on the Cross for their form of self-justifying morality. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Rom 1:25). They prefer their unrighteousness or as Lenski, in his commentary, calls it, “the spurious master made by wicked men for themselves and is, therefore, condemned and doomed to condemnation from the very start. What a master! One to be trampled under foot. To be obeyed? Never!” (p 153)
Paul wants those moralists in verse 8 to become the steadfast in verse 7. The only way that can happen is through the Word and not hypotheticals. This is The Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, that alone removes sins of unrighteousness and ambition. Christ on the cross removes these sins “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Jesus Christ “who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is 43:25) and has compassion on us; treads our iniquities underfoot. He has cast all our sins into the depth of the sea (Micah 7:19). Jesus is the only one that can turn these moralists in verse 8 into the steadfast in verse 7. Hypotheticals won’t help… not even a little.