From the Confessions: The Athanasian Creed
He will come again to judge the living and the dead. At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, those who have done evil will enter eternal fire. This is the catholic faith. One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.
Pulling It Together
There is a lot being confessed in the closing of the Athanasian Creed. At first blush, it might seem to some that a salvation of works is being advocated. That interpretation would contradict the rest of the creed. “He suffered death for our salvation.” We did not suffer, nor have we done anything to merit our own redemption. It is the free gift of God (Rom 6:23). The Scriptures say so, as do the creeds. So, it cannot be, and is not, what the ancient Church confessed.
We are saved by the grace of God (Eph 2:8) but will still give an account of our lives (Rom 14:12). Do we think that all will bow the knee to Christ but us? Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of God. There will be no more finger-pointing and blaming of others. Each will bear his own load (Gal 6:5). Everyone is expected to follow Jesus, and that means a denying of self, of taking up the cross. There is no other way to follow Jesus. Therefore, when Jesus returns, he will repay each according to what he has done—whether or not he has borne his cross (Matt 16:27). All of this denying and taking up is not to prove you are deserving of salvation. It does however, show that you are a follower of Christ. Jesus said, “He who abides in me bears much fruit.” (John 15:5)
So in the end, at Christ's coming, “every one must stand on his own feet; his own personal faith is demanded, he will give an account for himself...” (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther’s Works, vol 36, p 49) Those who followed Jesus will, of course, have done some good, been forgiven for their sin, and “will enter eternal life,” their names having been written in the book of life (Rev 20:15). Those who did not believe will have committed the worst evil of all and will enter that place of eternal denial, regret, and fire (Rev 20:14). This is the belief of the whole Church and the faith that we confess.
Prayer: Lord, help me follow you, die in you, and live in you forever. Amen.
From Death to Life examines what happens when people die. In this book, the words of the Holy Bible, and others like Martin Luther, will speak to you, tell you the truth, and give you words of comfort, so that you too can have the sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.