WHAT WAITS FOR CHRISTIANS?
Christians face a judgment but an entirely different one from the unsaved. We shall look at this passage – Heb 9:26–28 “… but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”
Man is appointed to death and then to judgment. However, even though verse 27 can be understood as being a universal truth, this Hebrews passage is applying, I believe, more to Christians. They are the ones who have availed themselves of His sacrifice putting away sin, and waiting for that second appearance (the Rapture) with eagerness.
The judgment for Christians is that which is known as The Judgment Seat of Christ (sometimes referred to as the “Bema”). The judgment seat will have nothing to do with death or penalty. These verses shed some light on this matter:
(1). John 5:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
In passage (1), we are told the righteous will never come into judgment, those who believe and have eternal life, so Christians will never be judged. However, this word “judgment” in verse 24 must be understood as that eternal judgment of condemnation and not the judgment seat for Christians, which has nothing to do with life or death because they are already the living ones with eternal life.
(2). Rom 4:8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
The Romans verse in passage (2) tells us our sin will not be taken into account, but this can only mean the sin of separation, that is, the sins that have separated us from God. Once we become Christians, that sin that meant eternal separation and death will no longer be taken into account because we are blessed with eternal life.
(3). Rom 14:10 “But you, why do you judge your brother, or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
Passage (3) is a serious one. It concerns the partial Christian who takes judgment into his or her own hands and condemns a brother in the Lord (because of pride or personal status, negating the practical instructions of Romans 12). It is not for us to judge another man’s servant, for we are all to appear before the judgment seat ourselves, before the proper Judge, our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe this verse clearly says, “Don’t judge because you are going to be judged anyway.” Let us at all times encourage and edify our fellow Christians because our numbers are small and the days are tough, so don’t start snapping the strands of our Christian rope one by one with judgment and do damage to the cause of our Lord.
There is a very interesting expression here that indicates yet again the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. It says “the judgment seat of God,” but we know this event for Christians to be “the judgment seat of Christ.” Jesus is God, perfect God and perfect man. In case one might wonder if we should ever judge or discern, I say “Yes,” BUT not our fellow believers to condemnation. We must judge error and false teaching of the wolves. We need discernment, and discernment comes with wisdom, and wisdom is enhanced by the word of God.
(4). 2 Cor 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Passage (4) is a serious verse. We are going to spend a bit of time on it. None of us likes having to give an account or having what we do scrutinized, and we get nervous and anxious; at least I do. The verse is very clear that we all will undergo this; but we are the redeemed of the Lord, so is this meant to be a stressful time? I cannot see it as that, but you hear speakers and hymns speak of being ashamed when we stand before our Lord, and all that, so how do we feel? How profitable will we be? The verse speaks of recompense, and that relates to good and bad. Are we going to be recompensed and judged for the bad?
What is the bad (what is useless)?
Is it the wrong things done, the wrong things we do, and wrong attitudes we have as Christians? Is it a worthless list of service for the Lord done in self-pride or carelessness? Is there going to be penalty, and if so, what sort of penalty? These may all be valid questions, and I don’t know if they can be answered properly, but we will look into this.
(5). Heb 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
Passage (5) is a serious one for those in Christian leadership and ministry. They, too, will have to give an account to God. The one in ministry is required to give account to the Lord also of those in his charge, and the hope is that it can be a joyful account.
GOD HAS APPOINTED US TO JOY, NOT SORROW
The presence of the Lord will be a position of joy forever. Would God cause it for us that in eternity in heaven, then on earth, and then in the New Jerusalem, we will carry around with us disappointment, a sense of failure, regret eating us away, remorse? I find it very hard to reconcile that with the verses we have later in Revelation – Rev 21:4 “and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And with the idea in Peter – 1 Pet 1:8 “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
Joy is such an outcome of salvation that I can’t see sorrow controlling an unprofitable child of God after the judgment seat of Christ. Honestly, I am not able to give any concrete ideas on this, just how I feel about it. It will be sad that a Christian would stand before the judgment seat of Christ and his Christian life just count for little, but I don’t think that one will be a sad heap of misery for eternity because he let the Lord down.
There is a vital passage that does enlighten the road for us. It is this one: 1 Cor 3:10-15 “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the Day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Paul is saying that a foundation has been laid and we build upon it. There are several foundations mentioned in the New Testament, but the one here Paul is speaking of is the foundation of the work of Christ in salvation. Our part is to build on that, and the idea is service and profitability and fruitfulness.
THE FIRE WILL TEST OUR WORKS
There is a graphic picture given here that would relate to the judgment seat of Christ. “For the day will show it,” means the examination of our work in the day of judgment. Our work upon the foundation already laid will be set on fire. When the flames have ceased, what remains will indicate what was genuine and correct in service for the Lord. In the flames, the straw will flare up and be gone.
Straw burns with catchy brilliance but has no endurance. So much Christian work is superficial and without substance, looking good with a flashy brilliance and with the Hollywood touch, but it is worthless, done in human strength and for the praise of man. Hay burns well also but endures a bit longer; but alas, the flames consume it as well. Are we making hay for the Lord while the sun shines? All we will have to offer the Lord is ashes.
My patio is made of belian wood that comes from southeast Asia. It is about as hard and durable as any wood can get. It makes saws go blunt. The Australian kauri and jarrah eucalypts are really, really tough. When subjected to the flames, these hard woods take quite some time to ignite and last for a long time, much longer than pine as they have endurance; but alas, in the fire of judgment, they will be eventually be consumed. Some of us will be surprised that our works of wood actually will become ashes. They seemed so good and so hard at the time. Wood, hay, straw, all will be lost; all will end as ashes.
WHAT GAINS THE REWARD?
Three other items remain: gold, silver, precious stones. These works are tried through fire and have remained. They will indicate the work for the Lord has been at His direction and leading, and have been genuine. The Lord has been pleased with His servant. The work done and which remains through fire is well rewarded, but the work burnt up will result in the person suffering loss (of reward), even though that person will be saved, part of the body of Christ and fully blessed by the Lord. What it will be like to be part of the redeemed and unrewarded, I do not know.
No need to speculate. We just do not know. However, we should be under the Lord’s direction all the time. I am sure all of us have wood, hay and straw, but what about the other three qualities? Do we have those? The Lord is generous and merciful and wants to reward us, but He can’t reward laziness or carelessness, the “near enough is good enough” attitude.
A GOD OF SMALL THINGS
Personally, I think God is eager to reward us, but some of us think we have to accomplish great things to have reward. Missionaries, great preachers and those in service like the musicians (and I love The Cathedrals Quartet) are considered ones who will have the rewards while the “lesser folk,” the nobodies, don’t have much to do in service. God rewards faithfulness! He is a God of little things. From those he has greatly equipped, He requires great responsibility.
I want you to look slowly at these verses following, to notice the simple things and the correct things that God takes account of, and it mentions rewards. God wants simple service and faithfulness.
Matt 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them, otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” (Live humbly as true servants. Humility will have its reward.)
Matt 10:42 “Whoever in the name of a disciple, gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward.” (Just meeting small practical needs of Christians or of others, helping an elderly brother or sister, doing their shopping or tending to needs – doing it as unto the Lord.)
Luke 6:22-23 “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.” (Suffering genuinely as a Christian, being persecuted and abused, or for example, not being promoted, but being defamed, etc.)
Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (This may be a surprising one, but it is the Lord who said it. Take note!)
2 John 1:7-8 “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.” (Another interesting one where we are asked to be true to the faith and to correct doctrine. Guard your Christian heritage and apply the scriptures that you receive a full reward.)
Does it trivialize the judgment seat of Christ to put emphasis on the small things done by Christians? A camera is never made without small components, and even those components are made of smaller ones. All are important. All works done for Christ are important. The cup of cold water in His Name is important but considered small by the doer when the question was asked of the Lord in Matthew 24. You know, I think more to the point, it is not works that are rewarded as much as faithfulness. God is rewarding faithfulness; for out of faithfulness comes service, that willingness of joy and peace; and from service comes the reward.
Never go trying to do things for the Lord. Things will fail. Never do anything with a reward in mind. Be faithful. Just forget about rewards. That is what each of us must do. We remain faithful, and God uses us; and out of that, His reward will come. “Well done, you good and FAITHFUL servant.”
1 Cor 12:28 “God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” Look there at the gifts, and one is “helps.” We may not do great things, but we do what God has enabled us to do. Some may have been given 10 talents or 5 talents, and you were given just one. You double your one talent, and you have done better than the one with 10 who made only 8. God wants faithfulness and commitment, but most of all, for us to love Him.
Helps are small – doing the church flowers, writing to missionaries, making a cake for a sick Christian, sweeping or cleaning the church, driving a person to church, visiting a Christian friend in a nursing home, etc.
This is a plea for faithfulness. It is not a challenge to go out and work for Jesus! We can’t do that. We will go in the strength of human man, not through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Be faithful and available, and God will use you at that point in your lives.
UNCONFESSED SIN AT THE JUDGEMENT SEAT
What about unconfessed sin? Sadly, we are sinners, though saved by grace. We are not sinless. We are perfect in God’s eyes, for we are viewed as having the righteousness of Christ.
That most noble passage was written by John in 1 John chapter 1 – confession and cleansing as a necessary part of the Christian walk (1 John 1:9-10). There are some who hold to a holiness doctrine that teaches we are capable of attaining sinless perfection here, and others who say if we die or the Lord comes back, and we have sin in our life, our salvation’s lost. The Bible does not tell us those things. They are man-made.
I think sin will be dealt with at the judgment seat of Christ but only in the matter of expunging it from us forever (possibly burnt up with any wood, hay or straw we have). We are not judged for it. We are there to be examined for rewards. Nevertheless, any careless attitude to sin is not in order, and we are commanded to be holy as the Lord is holy.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THESE REWARDS GRANTED BY CHRIST?
What are they, in fact? Are people going to be moving around with decorations like medals on them as emblems of their achievements? I don’t know that answer, but I’d be rather shocked if that was so; but the following I do know:
- We are all worthless sinners.
- Any good we have, or are empowered to do, is all through the working of God’s grace in us through the Holy Spirit.
- Nothing good we have done for the Lord has ever come from ourselves, but we are merely the pipes through which God’s good deeds flow.
- Therefore, no reward is of our own doing, or to our own credit. It is all God’s equipping.
- Therefore, these rewards are not rightfully ours, and maybe all we are, are custodians of those rewards.
Have a good look at this verse:
Rev 4:10 “the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying….”
The verse seems to be saying that the crowns these elders have (probably the 12 sons of Jacob and the 12 Apostles), even these are too much for unworthy men, and the crowns are cast before the Lord because they are rightfully His anyway.
Any rewards we get are not ours; they are His, and He alone is worthy to receive all our rewards, for it is He who enabled them.
You who are reading today – consider the attitude of Paul to be your own so that Christ may dwell in you fully. Phil 3:7-8 “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”
Just one last verse as a reminder of what lies ahead. 1 Peter 1:17 “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth.” This was written to the dispersed Christians (probably Jews), and Peter addressed the practical issues – God is impartial in judgment; He will judge each man’s work; therefore, we must act and behave in the fear of God.
Having said that, I don’t know how it will all be played out, but can we take time to consider 3 stanzas of this hymn very thoughtfully?
By and by when I look on His face,
Beautiful face, thorn shadowed face;
By and by when I look on His face,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
More, so much more,
More of my life than I e’er gave before
By and by when I look on His face,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
By and by when He holds out His hands,
Welcoming hands, nail riven hands;
By and by when He holds out His hands,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
(Author – Grace Reese Adkins)