Friday, September 18, 2015

Why Will There be a "Judgment Seat of Christ?"

Someone recently sent me an interesting question. If Christians are saved by the work of Jesus Christ, then why will we face a judgment? After all, we are not going to be condemned (Romans 8:1). So what should we make of the Judgment Seat of Christ?

The Judgment Seat of Christ is mentioned in Romans 14:10-12 and 2 Corinthians 5:9-11. Though not explicitly named so, it is also what the Apostle Paul discusses at 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and 4:1-5. Beyond these places, it might also be correct to include Matthew 25:31-46 and Romans 20:11-15. Some people see these last two as being separate instances of judgment and distinct from the Judgment Seat of Christ, but I am not certain of that.

However you decide to decipher the chronology, there are a few things held in common across these passages. First, Jesus is the Judge of mankind (see also John 5:22, 23). Second, judgment centers around works. The things we do determine the outcome. And finally, Christians will be included in the judgment.

This last point is the source of the greatest confusion, and occasionally of concern. The concern does not need to exist, for the simple reason that Christians are the righteousness God (2 Corinthians 5:21, in the very same chapter as the Judgment Seat of Christ). When Christians are judged, we will not be condemned because Jesus’ sacrifice for us removes our punishment. It is the only thing that can. And think about it. Jesus is the Judge and the Condemned. He paid the price that He Himself requires. If we are in Him, we have nothing to fear.

Knowing this is what causes the confusion. If we are saved, why bother with a judgment seat? The answer to this question has a few angles.

The first one is probably the most obvious, the one most often assumed when discussing this issue, and the one most explicitly presented by 1 Corinthians 3:14. The works of Christians will be judged so they can be rewarded for the good they have done. This is something other than salvation itself. Salvation is the greatest good, of course, so much so that we cannot secure it for ourselves. But the good we do in this life will determine other goods we will receive in eternity, though we have no real idea what form they will take.

That is certainly part of the purpose for the Judgment Seat of Christ. However, we need to go further. 2 Corinthians 5:9-11 is explicit that Christians will be judged not only for the good, but for the bad. Perhaps this means nothing more than the withholding of rewards, which is certainly a way to read 1 Corinthians 3:15, as well. However, I think we need to go a bit further to understand the purpose of our judgment.

Recall the words of Jesus in John 5:22, 23. Judgment has been committed to Him so that He will be honored. The very purpose of human existence is the glorification of Jesus Christ. Whatever we do, whether good or bad, His name will be exalted.

This, then, is how I envision the Judgment Seat of Christ. When the saints are judged, all our actions will be brought back to mind and viewed through the filter of Christ’s blood. The good works we do, we will have chosen for Christ’s sake and will have been enabled to do in the first place only because He redeemed us to do so (Ephesians 2:10). In them, He will have been glorified.

On the other hand, when we are reminded of the bad works that we have done, we will see that we failed to live up to the opportunity for righteousness that had been provided to us. However, we will also see that Christ’s grace is extended to them, and they will not be held against us. This is not to say that we should sin for that reason (Romans 6:1, 2). However, when we do, we know we do not have to be afraid (1 John 2:1, 2). That is why we will praise Christ when He judges us: in gratitude for His grace, in loving for His love. In this, too, He will be glorified. 

This is what we know, then. Jesus will judge us. He will judge our actions, even the actions of Christians. Those actions will include both the good for which we will be rewarded, and the bad for which we will be forgiven if we are in Him. He will do so because He will be glorified, regardless of what those actions are.

Thought of this way, I think I understand the “terror” Paul speaks about in 2 Corinthians 5:11. There is no terror in judgment for myself, but only for those around me who might choose to remain outside God’s grace. He will be glorified in them, as well, but in their punishment that shows His justice. For He will be proven just, whether by our punishment for ourselves or by Jesus’ punishment for us. It is my desire to help as many on the outside as possible see this and turn to God, so they can take joy rather than fear from the Judgment Seat of Christ. And that, I think, is what will be most rewarding: helping them find the love that I have found.

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