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The Judgment Seat of Christ

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2007-08-12 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons


Well, we do want to return tonight to our study of last things and specifically, we want to move ahead to the judgment that's coming and tonight, the judgment seat of Christ. I hate to admit to you, but most of the theology that I learned before college, I learned through a version of Christian comic books called Chick tracts. And I have to tell you, if you're familiar with them of all, that most of the theology was bad.

One of the tracts that I read made an indelible imprint on my thinking about the future judgment of believers. Perhaps you've seen it. In the tract, it showed a Christian standing at the judgment seat of Christ while a video of his entire life, especially his sin, flashed on a screen the size of New York City for God and everyone else to see. For many years, that tract badly distorted my own perspective about the judgment seat of Christ. But as with any doctrine, we have to really come back in the end to ask this basic question. What does the Bible say about this great event? That's the question that I want us to answer tonight. What about the judgment seat of Christ?

Now, let me remind you of where we are in our study of eschatology. I want to first begin by reemphasizing with you those strategic issues that are the non-negotiables in eschatology. We're talking about a number of things that we believe the Bible teaches, but not all of them rise to the same level. Here is a brief list of the non-negotiables. I've given this to you before. I'm not going to spend a lot of time with it. I just want to repunctuate it at various points in our study of eschatology. These are the main things. These are the issues that those who believe the Bible embrace. We may disagree about other things, but we agree on these things.

First of all, the eternal soul of every human being, the temporary separation at death of the material and immaterial parts of man, the present existence of a literal heaven and hell, the immediate passing of the soul at death into either heaven or hell, the consciousness of all the dead, the literal bodily return of Jesus Christ, the physical resurrection of every human being, the future judgment of every human being, the eternal conscious existence of every human either in the lake of fire or the new heavens and the new earth. Those give to us those essentials of eschatology. Again, those are the essential ones. And you'll notice, that one of those is the idea that every single human being will one day face God in judgment. That is a non-negotiable.

Now, to reorient you in terms of the flow of last things, we put together at the beginning of our study now several months ago a biblical "ordo eschatos" – that is, "an order of last things". And we (if you missed that, you can go back and listen online or listen to the CD because we) tried to put together an order based on the Scripture itself.

Now, you'll notice from left to right in the center, I have the great events that we're studying together. Eschatology really begins personally with the death of each believer.

From there comes the intermediate state, that is, that state between the death of the person and the resurrection.

And then comes after the intermediate state the rapture followed by a seven-year period called the (great, or called the) tribulation, a portion of which is the great tribulation.

Then comes the second coming when Christ returns to earth followed by a thousand-year literal reign of Christ on the earth. That's what we've just finished studying together.

At the end of that thousand-year period of literal, earthly reign comes the great white throne judgment. That is the next issue in our "ordo eschatos" – the great white throne of judgment.

Now, I am not going to go specifically to that judgment tonight because I think there's another one we need to look at. Next week, Lord willing (not next week because we have the Gettys), but the following week, we'll look at the great white throne of judgment. But there is another judgment that we have not put in our little scheme of things here because we can't exactly place when it will occur, but it is nevertheless a reality and it's the judgment of believers, the judgment seat of Christ, which I want us to examine together tonight.

Now understand, that there are those who refuse to believe that a God of love could ever act as judge. And yet, this is exactly what the Scripture teaches. It's very clear about the reality that no human being will ever escape God's judgment. Every one of us, without exception, will stand before God. Psalm 9:7 says, "the Lord abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment." Psalm 96:13, "Before the Lord, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness." Ecclesiastes 3:17, "I said to myself (Solomon said), 'God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,' for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.'" Ecclesiastes 12:14, "God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." And Paul on Mars Hill to the Athenians said in Acts 17:31, "Because God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Every human being, without exception, will stand before God.

Now there are several different judgments. Our amillennialist friends cite several passages which seem to imply only one general judgment at which both believers and unbelievers will be evaluated. They'll go to a passage like John 11:24 where Martha says to Christ, "I know that (my brother) will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.'" And they'll say there's going to be a general resurrection and a general judgment.

But the Bible seems to indicate differently, that there are several different judgments. I'm not going to take the time really to explain this, but I'll just give you some examples. For example, in Matthew 25, you have the judgment of the nations, or it's sometimes called the sheep and the goats. This appears to be, based on the chronology of that passage, at the end of the tribulation at the return of Christ. That's one judgment. By the way, it's not a judgment of nations. It's a judgment of individuals. The sheep and the goats are separated individually, but it occurs at the end of the tribulation with those living at the end of the tribulation, both believing and unbelieving.

Then there's the judgment of believers in 1 Corinthians 3 and in 2 Corinthians 5. We can't be exactly certain about when it occurs, but it occurs no later than during the time of the millennium. And then at the end of the millennium, Revelation 20 records the great white throne – the judgment of all unbelievers.

So, this gives you an example that there are several different judgments. Tonight, I want us to examine the judgment of believers at an event that Paul calls the judgment seat of Christ. Understand this, brothers and sisters. every single one of us individually will stand at the judgment seat of Christ.

Now, let's go through and kind of unfold this event a little bit and unpack what the Scripture teaches. Let's begin with the judge. All judgment, the Bible is clear, will be administered by none other than the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus Himself said in John 5:22, "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son." Later in that same chapter, verse 27, "He gave the Son authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man." Acts 17, you remember, we read just a moment ago, Paul makes the point to the Athenians that God has appointed a particular Man, and He's given proof that that will be the Man by having raised Him from the dead. So, it's Jesus Christ.

And there are a number of other passages that point this out as well. So, we will stand before Jesus Christ. If we didn't study anything else tonight, that should be enough to give us some serious contemplation, give us reason to pause this week and contemplate the reality that each of us, you individually, will stand before Jesus Christ at the judgment seat of Christ.

Now when does this judgment occur? What's the timing? Here we cannot be dogmatic. In fact, there is considerable disagreement about this. There are essentially four views concerning when Christians will be judged. Some say it occurs immediately after the rapture - with the resurrection comes the judgment. Others say no, it's a general judgment after the second coming. When Jesus comes back in glory, then there will be a general judgment that includes believers and unbelievers. Others would say it happens (this judgment of believers), during the millennium. And others would say no, it occurs even at the great white throne at the end of the millennium. That's not as common or popular a view, but it does exist.

Now there are some arguments for why the judgment of believers must happen before the second coming. Let me say that again. There are biblical arguments as to why the second coming is the benchmark and the judgment of believers happens before that. In other words, we experience the judgment seat of Christ in heaven during the seven-year tribulation on earth. What are the arguments?

Well, first of all, we could say Revelation 4:10 says that the saints already have their crowns and Revelation 4 is before the tribulation period so that implies that they've already been judged and received their rewards because there in 4:10, they throw down their crowns at the feet of the throne, at the feet of Christ. And so, one argument says that since the saints already have their crowns in Revelation 4, they must have already been judged and received their rewards at that point.

Another argument, and again, we can't be dogmatic about this, but I'm just giving you the reasons some would say this. Revelation 19:8, the saints there when they come back with Christ at the second coming are clothed in their righteous acts, we're told. Presumably, that means that Christ has already judged those acts to be righteous, and they've gone through the judgment seat of Christ before the second coming.

A third argument, Revelation 19:11 – 14, as the saints return with Christ, they return as a great army. Some would say that this implies that their rank has already been determined by Christ based on their judgment, based on the bema seat.

It is interesting when you look at a passage like Luke 14:14 where the resurrection is linked to judgment. In Luke 14:14, it says. "you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you (if you do good to those who can't do good to you); for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" which seems to connect the judgment seat of Christ to the resurrection. But again, we can't be dogmatic. It doesn't necessitate that the two are immediately connected. So, we don't know, but we do know that we will stand before Christ.

Now, who is it that will stand before Christ? The Bible sets forth two distinct groups - first of all, Christian leaders. This is a sobering concept to those whom God has put as the elders of His church, who are in any position of spiritual leadership. It's very clear. If you look at 1 Corinthians 3 (and we're going to turn there in a moment, you don't need to turn now), but if you look at 1 Corinthians 3, in its context that passage is not about all believers (although certainly it has application to all believers). It has direct application, direct emphasis, on Christian leaders, those in Corinth who were building on the foundation that Paul had laid, who were serving in the church in Corinth, who were leading the church there. And Paul makes the point that they will have their work, their service for Christ, judged and evaluated.

Peter makes the same point in 1 Peter 5:4. In the context of addressing fellow elders to serve faithfully and with the right motives, he says this, "when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory" if you serve faithfully as an elder, and if you serve with the right motive and for the right cause. So, Christian leaders will stand before the bema seat.

But all believers will as well. There are a couple of passages that make this very clear. First Corinthians 4:5, in the context of being servants, Paul says, "… do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light (the hidden things in dark) the things hidden in darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God."

Second Corinthians 5:10, verses 9 and 10 are especially clear because in the context of all of us decaying - I hate to tell you this, but your body's decaying. It started the moment you were born. It's going on right now. Some of us can see more evidence of it in the mirror than others, but it's happening. It's a reality. So, Paul is talking about this general truth that this happens to all Christians. And in that context, where he's not addressing Christian leadership, he says, "we must all [has to be a reference to every individual Christian in context, we must all] appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." Every Christian will stand before Jesus Christ at the judgment seat of Christ.

Now, let's look at the judgment itself. "Judgment seat", as we've seen it translated in several passages, refers to the place where the Lord will sit to evaluate believers' lives for the purpose of giving them eternal rewards. The word "judgment seat" or the words "judgment seat" in English come from the Greek word "bema". The 'bema' was an elevated platform in ancient cities where victorious athletes went to receive their crowns, their reward. The people in Corinth would have understood this because in Corinth were regularly held (the Peloponnesian,) the Peloponnesian Games. They were second in importance only to the games at Olympus, or as we call them, the Olympic Games. Vast numbers of people came to the Peloponnesian Games there in Corinth. And the winners of each event appeared before the bema to receive their winner's wreath. The bema was also a place where legal decisions were made.

Now, when you look at its usage in the New Testament, this Greek word 'bema', it's used twelve times in the New Testament. And specifically, when you look at it, you find that in Matthew 27 and John 19, it refers to Pilate's judgment seat at the crucifixion of Christ. In Acts 12:21, it refers to Herod's throne or judgment seat.

Turn with me to Acts 18 because this one is particularly interesting and important in light of the passage in (Corinth, the passage in) Corinthians (rather). Acts 18, here Paul finds himself in Corinth and notice, verse 12, that the Jews responded to Paul's ministry there in Corinth. "They rose up with one accord against Paul and brought him before (here's our word, the "bema") the judgment seat, saying, 'This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.'" Look down in verse 16, "An he drove them away from (the 'bema') the judgment seat." And, of course, what amounted to almost a riot breaks out and the leader of the city there in Corinth was not concerned about any of these things.

What's interesting about this is if you travel to Corinth to this day (and I've had the opportunity to, to go there), you can see the remains of the platform where both the athletic rewards were given, awards were given, and the legal justice of the city was dispensed including this event you read about here in Acts 18.

The word "bema" also occurs in Acts 25 when Paul stands before the judgment seat of Festus. Only two times in the New Testament is bema used of God's judgment seat - in Romans 14:10, "we will all stand before the judgment seat of God." And 2 Corinthians 5:10, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ."

Now to help us further understand this judgment, Paul gives us three illustrations in the New Testament just to give us some context. Three illustrations, first of all, he uses the illustration of a steward or a house manager in 1 Corinthians 4. He tells us that Christ is going to come back (1 Corinthians 4:5), and He's going to evaluate us. He's going to evaluate our service as a steward. It's required in stewards that a man be found faithful, Paul says in, in 1 Corinthians 4:1. The word "steward" comes from two Greek words, "house" and "manager". A steward was a house manager. It was used, the word was used in the ancient Greek culture to refer to a slave who was responsible for managing his master's property or household, for distributing wages and food to all the members of the house. So by using this image of a house owner coming and inspecting or asking for an account from the steward or the house manager, we get the picture that the evaluation that we're in for is based solely on faithfulness And that's what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4. Why? Because all of the resources and all of the opportunities don't belong to the steward or the house manager. They belong to someone else. He's merely managing them. That's why faithfulness is the main issue.

A second image that's used is that of a building contractor. In 1 Corinthians 3, we, (primarily dealing with leaders of the church, but it has a legitimate application to all Christians), we're told that we must build the church on the right foundation which is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And we must use the right materials in that construction process, or we will not be rewarded as workmen. In other words, the person who, who contracted us to build the house will come and inspect it, find that it's built in a shoddy way or on the wrong foundation and refuse to follow through with the terms of the contract. We will not be rewarded as workmen.

A third illustration that's used of the judgment seat of Christ is of an athlete competing in the games. In 1 Corinthians 9 as well as in 2 Corinthians 5, we're told that it's like an athlete who has competed in an event showing up at the bema seat to be evaluated as to how they performed. And the implication of this metaphor or this picture is we must compete according to the rules, or we will be disqualified and not receive the winner's wreath or reward.

So, those are the pictures, interesting pictures. We're house managers given a responsibility by someone who owns the house and we're supposed to be faithful in carrying out the duties we've been assigned. We're like building contractors who've been assigned a particular responsibility to construct, as it were, the house of God and we will be judged based on how we build. We're like athletes competing in the games, and the judges will decide, (the judge in this case will decide how) we performed and whether or not we stayed within the boundaries and whether we followed the rules, whether we deserve the winner's prize. Those are pictures of the judgment seat of Christ.

Now, let's move on to the criteria of the judgment. How, on what basis will we be judged? I think it's important to start with what the criteria will not be. We will not be judged based on anything prior to our conversion. Second Corinthians 5:17 makes it clear that "if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, and behold, all things have become new." You get a great picture of this, by the way, in Hebrews 11 when you have those great stories of the, the heroes of faith in the Old Testament. Guess what? You don't read any of the dirty laundry there, do you? It's about their faithfulness and their service to God, nothing prior to our conversion.

As well as, we will not be judged based on any sin. Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus." The whole idea of being judged for our sin runs contrary to justification. "Having therefore been justified by faith, we have peace with God," Paul says. Hebrews 10:17, in that great reciting of the new covenant promise, God promises: "their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more" and Jeremiah adds "forever". It's done. Your sin is done. We will not stand in judgment before God for our sins. Thank God our sins were judged once and forever on Jesus Christ.

So, what will we be judged for? Well, the Scripture gives us several things for which we will be judged. We will be judged for our works or our service for Christ and His kingdom. An illustration would be like a son who works for his father's business. The son, as an employee, has to give an accounting. The issue is not whether or not he's going to be a son anymore. He's always a son, but because he works in the company, his service in the company is evaluated. How has he acted as a servant to the company? That's what we're talking about. The judgment seat of Christ is not about whether or not we're in, whether or not we're saved, whether or not we're justified, whether or not we're adopted, whether or not we're elect. That was all decided and settled as we've learned in eternity past. The judgment seat of Christ is about how did we handle the family business?

Now that raises the question if we're going to be judged based on our works. Do we really have any good works? That's a legitimate question, isn't it? I know myself. I know my own sin. I know my best moment, my most shining moment of righteousness since I've come to faith in Christ, was tainted with sin and so was yours. Do we have any good works? I like the way the "Westminster Confession" puts it,

We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins [so forget your good works having anything to do with meriting something before God]; but when we have done all that we can, we have done but our duty and are unprofitable servants. And because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit [so if it's good at all, it comes from God's work in us], and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they cannot endure the severity of God's judgment.

You understand that? You at your best and brightest and most shining moment, if you can think for a moment about what you think was the highest point yet in your Christian life and experience when you were closest to God, when you were serving Him with the most full heart, it was in the words of the "Confession" "mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that it could never endure the severity of God's judgment." [But it goes on to say,]

Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God's sight, but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections. [Yes, believers have good works, but even our good works are only good because of God's grace.]

So, don't misunderstand. Our works are never the grounds or basis on which we are accepted before God. That's unlike Roman Catholic theology which says that good works have real merit and are the grounds on which God declares us righteous. But our good works are judged for a different reason. Robert Reymond puts it like this, "The issue to be determined at the final judgment with respect to believers will be not their justification, but their rewards for good works as the index to and the evidence of their salvation by grace through faith." Our works merely provide evidence of the reality of the grace of God at work in us. We will be judged on the basis of our works.

Now there are several passages that make this very clear. Turn with me first to 1 Corinthians 3. As I've said, this, this passage is primarily about the judgment of Christian leaders who are building the church. Verse 10,

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds [Paul says listen, I laid a foundation for the church there in Corinth and those who are now involved in leadership have to be careful how they build on it]. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

So, the foundation is Jesus Christ here going back to chapter 2 – Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It's the message of the gospel. It's Christ and all that He came to do. That's the foundation. You have to build on that.

But did you know what? You can start with the right foundation and still not get a reward. He goes on to say, verse 12, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw ..." Now don't try to see something different in each of those. In fact, really, there are only two categories here. There are, there is work done on behalf of the kingdom, on behalf of the Lord that is eternal, that's of eternal value. And then there is work done on behalf of the kingdom and for the Lord that is not, that is worthless, that won't stand the test of God's judgment. So, you have gold, silver, precious stones, probably a picture of the temple, Solomon's temple. And then you have wood, hay and straw, the cheap building materials of the day.

each man's work will become evident [it'll be manifest]; for the day [that is, the day of judgment] will manifest it because it … [will be] revealed with fire … fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.

Fire in Scripture is always a picture of God's judgment. This is a powerful metaphor actually. In the ancient world, picture a city, a city built with various types of building materials. And in those days, fire could easily catch onto one part of the city and sweep across the entire city before it could be arrested. You may have hidden the flaws in your building, the flaws in your structure, before the fire came. But after the fire swept across the city, only those built of permanent material stayed. Everything else was consumed. That's the picture behind this image. The fire is God's judgment, His discerning laser eye, which sees through everything and reveals the reality of what it is.

And when it's done, when His discerning eye is done, either there are works that have eternal, permanent value on behalf of the kingdom or they are consumed and gone – worthless. Verse 13, "the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work" – literally, of what sort each man's work is. That's the issue. What's the quality? What sort is the work? "If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire." In other words, we could paraphrase it. It's like our English expression, he'll be saved by the skin of his teeth. He'll be saved, no question, but there'll be no reward. Everything is gone except his eternal salvation.

Now how do we discern then what will last and what will not? John Murray writes, "Works done in faith from the motive of love to God in obedience to the revealed will of God and to the end of His glory are intrinsically good and acceptable to God." Notice the criteria he sets forth: works in faith – that is, done as a reflection of what you discover in the Word, done in obedience to the Scripture and with the twin motives of love to God and to the glory of God. Those are the ones that stand the test of the fire of God.

Now, look at 1 Corinthians 4. There's another passage. Paul says,

Let a man regard us in this [matter as] in this manner [rather], as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God [there's our word]. In this case, moreover, it's required of stewards [of house managers] that you be found trustworthy [faithful]. But to me it is a very small thing that I be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I don't even examine myself.

Now obviously, Paul urged all of us to examine ourselves about certain things. His point here is simply that our examination of ourselves is never perfectly accurate, so he doesn't put much weight in his own self-examination and how well he's doing with his work. Verse 4, here's the reason,

… [Because] I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet … this doesn't mean I'm innocent; for the one who will [ultimately, truly] examine me is the Lord [verse 5]. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes because He will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God.

A third passage that speaks of this judgment is 2 Corinthians 5. I mentioned this earlier. Second Corinthians 5:10, Paul says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ [by the way, "appear" here could mean one of two things. It could mean make a showing, show up, just like we appear in court. But it could mean more than that. The word actually means to be manifest, to be revealed. It could be saying, "For we must all be made manifest, be revealed for who we really are and what our work really is before the judgment seat of Christ'], "so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad."

By the way, "good or bad" is very important here. The word "bad" doesn't mean morally bad nor the word 'good' necessarily morally good. These, these words are a description of those activities that are either of eternal value or the word "bad" literally means "worthless". They have value in the kingdom of God, or they're worthless. That's the assessment that God will make. We're not talking about sin again. We're talking about our efforts on behalf of the kingdom. And they either have lasting, eternal value or they're worthless. And God will make that determination.

Now, when we talk about our works, we're really talking about several things. When God judges our works, He's going to judge us not our success, but our faithfulness. And it doesn't necessarily mean just teaching or some great enterprise for God. When we think of works, that's what we think of. What's the greatest thing I've ever done for God? That's the basis on which I'll be judged. No, there are a number of interesting passages. One of them is Romans 14:10, which makes it clear that we will be judged even about our decisions in the use of our Christian liberty. Did we make decisions about our Christian liberty based on the good of others? In Romans 14:10, Paul says don't be judging your brother about those issues of conscience, those things that aren't revealed in Scripture. "Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?" You just wait because each of us is going to stand before God, Paul says, and there we will give an account for what we've done with our Christian liberty, with the decisions we've made relative to the use of our Christian liberty.

Our works even includes how we treat those Christ has commissioned as leaders. This seems self-serving, but I have to say it anyway because it's in the Scripture. Matthew 10:41 says, "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward." How you treat those Christ has commissioned as leaders is part of your works.

But this is amazing. Another aspect of our works includes even the smallest of acts done in Christ's name. Matthew 10:42, "… whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones [speaking of followers of Christ] even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." We're not talking about the great and the mighty. We're talking about the simplest of acts but done out of love for God and love for His own will receive a reward. That's included in our works.

Not only will we be judged for our works, but we'll also be judged for our words. James 3:1 says, "Let [us] not [become] many … teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." We will incur a stricter judgment. James' point here, as he introduces the importance of controlling our tongues, is control your tongue because just as it is with teachers, what comes out of your mouth will condemn you. But James is not talking about the way our words condemn us with each other. That happens, doesn't it, our words catch us sometimes with one another? That's not what he's talking about because he says, "we will incur (future tense) a greater judgment." James is talking about the future judgment when we all stand before Christ. He's talking about believers – "we will incur a stricter judgment." He's referring to the judgment seat of Christ. Somehow our words will be part of evaluating the value of our service to Christ. And it really makes sense, doesn't it, because we're supposed to build up the church. What's the primary we do that? With our words. So, our words will be part of the judgment.

And our motives – I read it to you earlier, but 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, "… when the Lord comes, He will bring to light or disclose the motives of men's hearts." This is really the key issue. It's not about what you do. It's why you do it. You remember Matthew 6? Jesus says listen, when you, when you pray, don't go out on the street corner and pray so everyone sees you. Prayer is a great thing. Prayer is a wonderful thing. You ought to do it, but guess what? If God knows you're doing it to be seen, He says you have your reward. All the reward you're going to get is the people noticing. That's it - the same thing with several other spiritual practices. So, motives matter to God. It's not about just what you do. It's why you do it.

Now one question that comes up is, will our sin be revealed? Even though we won't be judged for our sin, will our sin be revealed at the judgment seat of Christ? And I'll be honest with you. There's a great debate about this. I read a number of books, and there are men who weigh in on each side. I believe the tenor of Scripture suggests that they will not be because Hebrews 10:17 says "… THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE." Christ has provided permanent and final forgiveness for every sin. But if our sin is made known at the judgment seat of Christ, it will only be in the context of helping to determine the quality of our service and the rewards we will receive. If that's so, then I agree with what A.A. Hodge wrote. He said,

Whether the sins of saints will be brought forward at the judgment or not is a question not settled by the Scriptures, though debated by theologians. If they should be, we are sure that it will be done only with the design and effect of enhancing the glory of the Savior and the comfort of the saved.

What's the outcome of the judgment seat of Christ? There are only two. First Corinthians (13, or excuse me, 1 Corinthians) 3 says we will suffer loss (that is, we will lose our reward) or we will receive rewards. First Corinthians 3:14, "If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward." First Corinthians 3:8, "each will receive his own reward according to his own labor." Now we don't merit rewards or earn them, but we will receive rewards. Our rewards, listen carefully, will be grace. Remember what I read earlier? The best deeds of ours are mixed with sin. So, any rewards we receive are grace. Who gave you the gifts and opportunities? God did. Who gave you new life to be able to use those gifts and those opportunities? God did. Who gave the fruit of that work? God did. And yet, God in grace turns around and rewards us for what He did. They're grace. That's why in Revelation 4, the crowns are cast at the feet of Christ.

So, what are the rewards we receive? What are the rewards? In the world of the New Testament in the first century, crowns or woven wreaths of greenery were given as (victorious, as) marks (I should say) of victorious achievements. So, the apostles choose crowns, this green wreath if you will, as a picture of the rewards we will receive. Don't picture some golden, glowing, jewel-encrusted crown. Picture a laurel wreath, a green, piece of greenery woven into a crown. You say, really? Is that all there is to it? Well, you and I probably are not going to receive and wear around actual pieces of greenery on our heads.

There are four types of crowns that are listed in the New Testament. There's the crown of righteousness in 2 Timothy 4:8, the crown of life in James 1:12, the crown of glory in 1 Peter 5:4 and the crown of rejoicing in 1 Thessalonians 2:19. All of those crowns describe certain aspects of eternal life. Part of our reward then is this. We will receive the crown which is righteousness. We will receive the crown which is life. We will receive the crown which is glory. We will receive the crown which is rejoicing. Don't imagine that you're going to wear something on your head throughout eternity. Instead, you're going to receive righteousness and life and glory and rejoicing, spiritual gifts or crowns.

Another reward that we're told about is the future potential for service, or I should say the potential for future service. In the eternal state, we will not be sitting around on clouds playing harps, thank God. We will be serving. Revelation 22:3 says, "His bond-servants will serve Him."

In Matthew 25 (and I don't have time to turn there but in Matthew 25) you have that parable Jesus tells about the ones who are given certain amounts of money to invest. And those who invest it wisely are then rewarded with greater authority, with greater opportunity, would be a better way to say it. And the point of the parable is this. Faithfulness here merits and accrues greater opportunity there. Our reward for faithful service in this life determines our capacity for service in the life to come. Think about that for a moment. Your capacity to serve God in eternity will be reflective of your faithfulness to serve Him here.

There's one more aspect of the rewards we receive and that's divine praise. This is amazing really. First Corinthians 4:5 says, "… each man's praise will come to him from God." Second Corinthians 10:18, "… it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends…." And we get a picture of that, what that might look like, in the story the Lord tells, the parable in Matthew 25, "Well done, good and faithful slave." One of the greatest rewards that we as followers of Jesus Christ could ever imagine is standing before Him on that day and hearing praise from Jesus Christ for our faithfulness to Him in this life.

Now what we do with all of this? What's the motivation? And again, I'm just going to have to skip through these because we're out of time.

First of all, be faithful in our service here because our faithfulness here will determine our capacity for service there in eternity.

Secondly, do good and be loving toward all, even your enemies because in Matthew 6:35, we hear if we do that, great will be your reward in heaven.

Thirdly, fulfill the necessary responsibilities of this life as to Christ. In Colossians 3, slaves are told to serve their masters with all their hearts - not waiting for others to look, but rather doing it with their heart as to the Lord. And then it says, for from the Lord you will receive the reward." Folks, as you and I fulfill the necessary responsibilities of this life as to Christ, we will be rewarded for it. Nothing in this life is mundane. When you go to work tomorrow, don't think you're working for that employer. You're not working for that employer. Don't think, students, that you're trying to get a good grade for that teacher. You're serving Christ. And as we live and act that way, we can actually earn rewards (not truly earn, again it's all grace), but in the figure of speech we can earn rewards from God simply by doing what we're supposed to do here as unto Him.

Another implication is, discipline your body. You know what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27? He says the race we're running to get the prize requires self-discipline. And if we fail to exercise self-discipline over our bodies, we risk being disqualified. We're not going to get the prize. We're not going to get the reward. Don't ever let go of disciplining your body. Your body is not your friend. Don't listen to it. It is your enemy. You tell it what to do. You don't let it tell you what to do. That's what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27.

He says, in 2 John 8, the apostle John says that we risk losing reward if we're not careful. He says in 2 John 8, "Watch yourselves, that you do not lose [what you have] what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward." If you're not careful, in other words, you won't get a full reward. Why? In context, basically he says this. You better be careful to discriminate to ensure that your fellowship and support is only for those who embrace the truth.

John Macarthur puts it this way, "All the eternal reward one earns can be diminished by aiding and abetting false teaching." That's exactly what John says in 2 John 8. You better be careful who you support. Make it your daily ambition to please Jesus Christ. That's what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. Just before he says, "for (or because) we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ", he says, it's daily my ambition to please Jesus Christ. And what drove him to that was the reminder that the judgment was coming.

And finally, live in expectancy of His coming. Turn to Revelation, the very last chapter of this great book. Revelation 22:12, Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." Live in expectancy that Jesus is coming, and with Him comes an evaluation of our labor and faithfulness here.

Do you really believe that there is coming a day when you personally, alone, will stand before Jesus Christ and give an account of your life here? If you really believe that, what changes do you need to make tomorrow? What changes do you need to make this next week about your priorities in life? The Bible says it's true, and it's coming. The question is do you believe it enough to adjust how you live? Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me."

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for the great reality of the judgment seat of Christ. It's impossible, Father, for us to ever thank you adequately for the fact that we will never stand before You in judgment for our sins because they were, they were judged in full on Christ on the cross.

And yet, Father, we are caused to shudder, to tremble, at the thought that we will stand before our Lord Jesus Christ and give an account of our lives here.

Lord, help us to take it seriously. Help us to live in this life, in how we use our time and the priorities we have, in a way that anticipates that day. Father, help us to live in light of this reality.

Lord, there are those of us here tonight who, in light of this truth, need to make changes to our lives this very week. I pray that You would help us to do that. Help us to take this seriously, to evaluate and to live in the light of this reality.

We pray in Jesus' name and for His sake. Amen.

Systematic Theology