It’s certainly one of the most unnerving words in the Bible: judgment. Especially when we realize that God isn’t going to make any mistakes! We can’t hope that the smoking gun will stay hidden because no evidence escapes him. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes ends with this hidden-camera YouTube verdict: For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
On the other hand, have you ever waited anxiously for the day when a loved one – whom you knew was innocent – was vindicated in court? Have you quietly rejoice when a hypocrite or Ponzi scheme artist was caught and prosecuted? Many people who have been unfairly accused of wrongdoing have actually been glad to be summoned to stand before the judge. “I want my day in court,” they say.
For every born-again believer, judgment is something to anticipate, not fear! Why? Because in the Bible, judgment is essentially for the purpose of establishing before the entire universe one crucial matter: What did you do with Jesus, the Son of God? Did you accept him as your only hope of salvation? Yes or no?
John chapter 5 tells God’s children two things. First, Jesus himself serves as the role of Judge in this great drama between right and wrong. Verse 22: The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.
Interestingly, Jesus hastens to give his followers these great words of assurance about our own day in court. I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. The Revised Standard Version almost gives you an exemption from even appearing at the courthouse! “HE DOES NOT COME UNDER JUDGMENT.” Romans 8:1 reaffirms this good news: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So in a real sense, the Judgment happened – and was settled – when Jesus triumphed at Calvary.
It sounds wonderful, but how does this square with the many verses which explicitly talk about the universal nature of judgment? Here’s Romans 14:10, 12: We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. . . . Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Heb. 9:27: Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. Rev. 22:12: Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.
It seems clear from Scripture that we have to consider two types of judgment. First, just before Jesus comes – or when a person passes to their rest – God determines whether or not a person has accepted his Calvary plan of salvation. And passages in the Bible that seem to focus on works or charitable deeds, like the Matthew 25 parable of the sheep and the goats – the kind and the thoughtless – are simply heaven’s valid way of demonstrating whether a person’s faith in Jesus as Lord and example was real or a sham. (An omniscient God obviously doesn’t even need the judgment or any Exhibit As; the judgment is for us and the watching universe.)
But now this. Even those who are securely covered by the blood of the Lamb will have to face a defining moment before the Lord as well. Paul, who preached assurance and the totality of Calvary’s power to save us, still says this to believers in II Cor. 5:10: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.
The reality is that, even as saved Christians, our actions and attitudes count. They make a difference for God’s eternal kingdom. Our work for him, or our moments of neglect, are important. And it will be appropriate for God to kindly but firmly lean forward and say to us, “I gave you this and that opportunity to serve, to advance our cause, to change a life . . . and you didn’t do it. Why?”
Earlier, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul concedes that even as Christians, we carelessly “add to” the foundation of Jesus; we pile on extra things like our own gold, silver, wood, hay, or straw.” In the day of judgment, any such false edifice will be destroyed in the flames. It will be a painful moment for a child of God to admit his humanness. But then Paul adds: If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself WILL BE SAVED, but only as one escaping through the flames.
So as a Christian, you don’t have to fear the judgment. But you still strive to live a productive and godly spiritual life, anticipating that moment of giving an answer to the judge as he welcomes you to eternity.