It’s Not About Balance Scales

The judgement of the dead in the presence of Osiris

Behind my desk is a framed papyrus depicting a scene from ancient Egyptian religion. My son gave it to me from his trip to Egypt. The scene depicts the judgement of Osiris. Near the center of the picture is a balance scale. The balance scale has two pans or bowls suspended at an equal distance from a fulcrum. Weighing with such a scale might entail putting weights on one pan while the item being weighed on the other. Or two things might be compared. The heavier object’s pan will go down, and the lighter object’s pan will go up. In this judgment scene the deceased soul must weigh lighter than a feather. If it does, this person enters paradise. If not, the soul is eaten by the god Amenti who has a crocodile head. But it is not just ancient Egyptians who have a balance scale in their view of judgment.

I think many Americans think in terms of a balance scale. If my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, then everything will be good with God, and this good person will enter heaven. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Bible’s teaching.

Paul writes from Romans 1:18 to 3:20 explaining that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, ESV). Paul makes clear that no one can be justified by law keeping since all of us sin. And the standard is not good deeds outweighing bad deeds, but for law keeping to work, it requires perfection before a holy God. It requires sinlessness on our part.

In Romans 4 Paul also makes this clear with the contrast between wages and gift. If we could present sinlessness to God as our wages, we would have something to boast about before God according to Paul. But none of us can claim that. The alternative is gift. It is what Jesus has done for us by dying on the cross that will save us, and that means listening and following Jesus.

The gospel needs to be shared. The person who is thinking in terms of good deeds outweighing bad deeds hasn’t come to terms with the Bible’s message. It’s not about balance scales.

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