How can one escape God's wrath and gain eternal life? On this crucial theological question, Paul differs from other members of the second-Temple Jewish community. Their soteriology is synergistic: for them, though eschatological salvation is due to God's merciful removal of human guilt, obedience to the Law is also indispensable. The divine and the human co-operate.
Paul however believes that under such a scheme anything less than perfect obedience to the Law is futile. In consequence, if there is to be salvation for sinful humans, it must be a salvation independent of all human effort and achievement, and thus solely through faith. Contrary to the recent consensus, Paul's concern was not primarily the inclusion of gentiles into the church.
This non-synergistic soteriology of Paul's may seem undermined by some of his own statements, that believers must submit to eschatological judgment and that the person without good works will be disqualified from eschatological salvation. But this conclusion is incorrect. For what he holds is that the good works indispensable for salvation are necessarily performed by the believer as manifestations of the indwelling Spirit present in those who have faith in Christ.
I would like to hear what Smith means by 'indispenable' as to whether or not he means 'grounds' or 'evidences'. On the one hand, as I argue in The Saving Righteousness of God, Paul's anthropological pessimism about human beings being able to do the Law is matched only by his pneumatic optimism that Christians through the power of the Spirit can fulfill the Law. And yet, the basis of acquittal in the final assize is not the spirit-enabled-obedience of Christians as much as it is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which enact the verdicts of the final day. Obedience, faithfulness and love are manifestations than authenticate and validate our faith and prove the integrity of the faith that we profess.
Barry D. Smith is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. He runs a very helpful NT resource website called: The New Testament and its Context.