Before the judgment seat of Christ
As I was reading the Word of God, my soul was seized by a deep and reverent fear when I read the verse: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2Cor.5:10). I, I, I “…must appear before the judgment seat of Christ” to give account of myself, of what I have done in life, whether good or bad, whether secretly or openly! Give an account, even for an idle word (Mt.12:36)! Is there a man righteous in His sight? How careful, then, should I be to shun sin and act uprightly! Yes, I will be judged according to my works, by the things which were written in the books… What books? The books of my omniscient God – who is greater than my conscience – where my acts, good and bad, even my discussions, are written (Mal.3:16). Yes, on the basis of His spiritual law – the Scriptures – the touchstone by which the hearts and lives of men will be tried! And I asked my Lord reverently: Which are, my Lord and Savior, my works that are written in Your books? (Dan.7:10). The only answer I got in my spirit was: Do your duty according to my Word! Do not be afraid; there is no injustice in Me! You will see that ‘I will be found just when I speak and blameless when I judge’! (Ps.51:4 and Job 34:10-12)
Was it the first time that I had read that verse or was it for the very first time that I knew that all, that is none would be able to avoid the jurisdiction of this court! All, each and every one of us will have to give an account of the way he has led his life, of one’s own actions, and not of another’s actions. We must note, however, that priests and pastors will have to give an account for their flock (Heb.13:17), whether or not they behaved properly to those under their care. This does not relieve any one from his own responsibility. We will not be able to excuse ourselves by saying: “It was the priest’s or the pastor’s fault that I was not saved, that I did not repent and that I did not put my trust in Christ…” It is then that we will understand many things that we now cannot understand such as God’s mercy, His wisdom, His protection and His guidance as well as the way we have lived our lives.
It was, however, for the very first time, that the image or, better still, the scene or “vision” that I was trying to imagine of myself standing before the judgment seat of Christ made my soul so reverently fearful! If I were not redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ who forgives and forgets all true believers’ sins and cleanses them from all unrighteousness (Mic.7:19; Heb.8:12; 10:17; 1Jo.1:9), if it were not for His steady loving-kindness and if I had not been offered eternal life gratuitously, my heart would become desperately desperate! Then my heart exclaimed: “But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; in fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.” (Ps.5:7). Since that day, my heart has not stopped thinking about and meditating on what the Word of God says about the day when each and every one of us will appear before Christ’s judgment seat. Since that day, I have been praying my Lord for greater spiritual insight… Since that day, two things prevail in my spirit, which I would like to share with you:
First, a question: Who am I before the Lord or how does God see me? And,
Second, gratitude: Gratitude for prolonging my life day by day and for giving me the possibility of being transformed into what He wants me to be before I appear before His judgment seat!
Dear friends, since that day, I do not hold that word but that word holds me!!!
I. Who am I or how does God see me?
When Job received a kind of “vision” of Who God is, God’s wisdom and sovereignty; when he understood that he had uttered things too wonderful for him, which he did not know and understand, the first thing he did was to humble himself before God and to repent in ‘dust and ashes’ (Job 42:5-6). The fact that I, also, speak about things I do not clearly understand, which are too lofty for me and the fact that, “If He goes by me, I do not see Him; if He moves past, I do not perceive Him” (Job 9:11) has pushed my soul, since that day, to repeat very often what Job asked the Lord: “Teach me what I do not see; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more” (Job 34:32).
Let there be no misunderstanding: God has given us His Word and on the basis of that Word, as in a mirror, we must examine and compare ourselves with God’s exigencies, because on the basis of His Word we will be judged by His unerring justice! This is the best way to be taught what we do not see and stop sinning, if we have committed or have been committing iniquity. There is, however, a great difference between knowing a certain word of God – whether a commandment or a promise – and seeing that same word gripping our soul and seeing that word – activated by the Holy Spirit – awaken man’s conscience and feelings. Although I knew very well that “…we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad”, that verse had never affected so strongly my life in the past. I did know that:
Ø “…God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ec.12:14 and Lu.8:17; Lu.12:3);
Ø “…will render to each one according to his deeds” (Rom.2:6);
Ø “…each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom.14:12);
Ø “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Heb.4:13);
Ø “… And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Rev.20:12; 22:12).
Yes, I knew all these holy verses very well but they had never gripped my soul as it happened that day. Since that day, the fear of God and the consciousness of having to give an account to Him who will judge the living and the dead have deepened in my heart. The consciousness that the eyes of the Lord are always on me, and He sees all my steps, all my deeds, plans, purposes, thoughts, words, desires and all the secrets of my heart and life from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (De.11:12 and Job 34:21) has been intensified! All that has been thought, desired or done will come into review and man must give an account for all. No sin that has been concealed and/or not confessed and put in order in this life will be revealed there; no sin that has evaded all human tribunals will escape there. The sole motives/virtues recognized by God as sound and good will be faith, repentance and love to God. Very relevant and significant is the verse, which says, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1Cor.4:5).
On that day, all our works will be tried by the fire of the holy presence of Christ that will reveal the quality of our works (1Cor.3:10, 13). The more we judge ourselves and our works now and conform ourselves to what is just and good the less we will be judged now as well as on that day by the Lord (1Cor.11:28, 31). Our big and important achievements will not measure if our motives were but for our self-promotion. And we should never forget what Peter the apostle tells us: “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1Pe.4:18).
It is a great thing to live all day long in that consciousness. Then, man watches his steps more and more to lead a holy life and give himself with much diligence and self-denial to the duties of his calling. This is the reason why all men of God should be diligent and laborious before they appear before the judgment seat of Christ, who is the appointed Judge of the whole earth, our Great God Jesus Christ (Tit.2:13), the only omnipotent and omniscient, righteous, holy, impartial and true.
When I see the faces of Christians – whether young or old or new born again Christians – shine from love for their Savior and how they rejoice in the Lord and in His salvation, in other words, how they devotedly worship the Lord, certain questions of comparison, rightly or wrongly, come spontaneously to my mind. For example:
- · Who am I in your eyes, Lord Jesus?
- · Do I really love You or simply …in word and in tongue and not in deed and in truth? (1Jo.3:18);
- · Do I apply diligently the golden rule, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them…”? (Mt.7:12);
- · Do I apply faithfully the Holy Spirit’s instruction that, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”? (Jas.4:17);
- · Am I conscious that… teachers…shall receive a stricter judgment? (Jas.3:1);
- · Do I forgive others from all my heart as I was forgiven by You? (Mt.6:14-15)
- · Shall I be surprised and ashamed when the books will be opened and I see the “product” of my life? Oh, Lord Jesus, let it never be so!
But why such questions come to my mind? They come because I cannot forget what the Bible says:
Ø “And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.” (1Cor.8:2)
Ø “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Gal.6:3)
Whenever I remember how God saved us, me and my whole family from being killed when I went to sleep while driving at 120 km per hour, when God prevented me, the very last second, from having another terrible car accident (just another step would have taken me), how God has overlooked the stupid and dangerous way I have treated my health, but above all how God saved my soul from Hell, thanks to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross at Calvary, my heart gets flooded with gratitude and praise! Why has He spared my life from death and my soul from eternal damnation? When these acts of His grace took place I did not know the reason why I was not consumed but now I know: He loved me with an everlasting and unconditional love; I am here on earth on trial because I am a responsible moral agent; I am placed here to form character for eternity as a member of His household. It is proper and necessary then before I receive my eternal allotment to have been transformed into His image; yes, before I appear before His judgment seat!
I thank Him day and night for prolonging my life day by day through His mercies, which are new every morning and for His unfailing compassions. Great is His faithfulness (Lam.3:22-23). I thank Him for He renews my possibilities of being transformed into what He wants me to be. I thank Him for everything, even for the afflictions that His love and wisdom permit in my life, being conscious that He makes all things work together for my good (Rom.8:28); I thank Him, even if I have to spend years “in the wilderness”, because I know that all His plans are plans of peace and not of evil in order to give me the expected blessed end (Jer.29:11).
My life has been very-very difficult since my youth. Nowadays, it is so difficult that very often I lose my bearings; I have been passing through moments of severe perplexity, but thanks to His grace, He has never permitted me to be in despair! He has made me prisoner of hope (Zec.9:12). So, I often repeat in my mind or with my tongue two phrases from a song of Ira Stamphill: “He washed my eyes with tears that I might see” and “He gave me borrowed time before eternity to do what I must do. I do not know when my borrowed time is through”.
Having said what I said concerning the feelings I had when I read that verse, I think it is necessary to add some other thoughts about this verse:
“For we must ALL appear before the judgment seat of Christ”
Is the verse that we are examining only for believers? By no means! Believers and unbelievers will have to give an account of their deeds, of their thoughts, of their desires, of their purposes and plans (Heb.12:13 and Rom.2:15-16)! Yes, of everything! There is, nevertheless, a great difference between believers and unbelievers. Believers have passed from death into life and have everlasting life: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (Joh.5:24). In addition, there is “… no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Rom.8:1). Though salvation is purely of grace, what do the words of the apostle Paul mean “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? (Php.2:12); and what is the meaning of the exhortation “… make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed” (Heb.12:13) etc., etc.? Though salvation is purely of grace, he who is saved may have a greater or less reward, according to the way he leads his life and labors for Christ, according to the faithfulness with which he discharges his stewardship. Unbelievers shall not see life because the wrath of God abides on them: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (Joh.3:36). And the Bible again says: “Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (De.32:29). However, if the fear of God was in their heart they would be wise enough to depart from evil. If they departed from evil, they would acquire understanding and they would consider their latter end with serenity! As regards people who have never heard Christ’s Good News we do not know which will be God’s criteria before His Judgment Seat. The only light we have is: “who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (Rom.2:15-16). God is a just Judge!
Different levels of rewards and of judgment
There are also different levels of fruitfulness, rewards or crowns according to the believer’s fruit: “But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred” (Mrk.4:20) and different levels of condemnation (Jas.3:1; Mt.23:13; Lu.20:47). We should not also forget that there are different levels of sin [example: “Jesus answered, «You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (Joh.19:11)] as well as forgivable and unforgivable sins (the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). These distinctions are useful but are not decisive of man’s destiny except the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. One thing is, however, sure and certain; this is that even those who commit “little sins” (if we are permitted to say so) or live in indifference will be finally condemned, if they die without repentance and faith in Christ. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Gal.6:7). If their sin is not forgiven by the blood of Christ, their “gentleness” or their so-called “good works” will not save them! This is the reason why our Lord Jesus said: “And when He (the Comforter – the Holy Spirit) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me” (Joh.16:8-9).
“According to what he has done, whether GOOD or BAD”
This phrase means “as he deserves” or “as he ought to be treated”. The word “deeds” (Rom.2:6) refers, in reality, not only to our external conduct but also to all acts of the mind and to their motives. In other words, to our character or conduct (Pr.24:12; Mt.16:27; Rev.20:12; Jer.32:19). We can be saved only on account of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ (Tit.3:5), but God will reward us according to our works (Mt.16:27 and 1Cor.3:8), or better still, according to the product of our faith! We should never forget Jesus’ answer, when people asked Him about God’s works: “Then they said to Him, «What shall we do, that we may work the works (plural) of God?» Jesus answered and said to them, «This is the work (singular) of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.»” (Joh.6:28-29). Faith, true faith, is the work of God! True faith includes repentance! True faith includes pure motives, good willful choices (Pr.4:23) and faithful obedience! True faith produces good works! This is the reason why our Lord was commanding: “…Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mrk.1:15). Repentance and faith are our best “deeds”, or the Alpha and Omega of our spiritual life!
An additional conclusion: Do not judge!
Given the fact that we shall be called to give such a fearful account to God, we should abstain from judging and condemning our brothers. This verse invites us to humility. We are not to judge one another, usurping the office of judging, that is, of condemning or offending. In this way, God excludes those malignant censors who try to find out something faulty in the lives of their fellow men. This is why the Holy Spirit commands us: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1Cor.4:5)
I would like, however, at this point, to close by citing something that someone wrote: “Satan’s great priority today is to silence all reproof, to shut the mouths of all prophets and watchmen, and to discredit all preaching against sin by saying it is too judgmental……… To judge after the flesh is to judge vindictively. This is often mean, arrogant, and self-righteous. This is the kind of judging the Word forbids. But to judge righteously is to judge redemptively. This is born of love: first, of love for His precious Word – then, of love for those that you weep for because you see them in danger. Holy judging comes from a broken heart.”
May God bless us abundantly!