The Bible talks a lot about judgment. Jesus anticipates the day when he will sit as judge over the nations (Mat 25.31-46). And readers of the Bible are all struck by the bleakness of John’s description of the Great White Throne judgment in Revelation (Rev 20.11-15). These are harsh and terrifying scenes.
I can remember wondering as a boy if I would come before Christ, confident that I was saved, and learn to my shock that I was mistaken: “Depart from me; I never knew you” (Mat 7.21-23). It’s a frightful thought.
Paul tells us that all believers will stand before Christ for judgment, and that this judgment will be on the basis of our works (2Cor 5.10). And he intensifies the picture with his main verb; the English says, “We must all appear,” but the Greek verb does not mean simply “we must all make an appearance”; it means, “we must all be made transparent.” There will be no hiding, no excuses, no covering up hidden secrets. Everything will be out there.
Is this our lot? Are we going to stand before Christ and face his disappointment with us—even his wrath, the “wrath of the Lamb,” because of our sin? And will all our sin be paraded before everyone, shouted from the housetops, with nothing held back? How can we live in “grace, mercy, and peace” in the face of that prospect?
It’s true that we’ll be made transparent before the judgment seat of Christ. But the description I’ve given is nothing close to accurate. Here’s why.
First, you and I will never have to face the wrath of God for our sin. We deserve to, and we would have no argument had God chosen to do that. But he has not chosen to do that; he has chosen instead to pour out his infinite wrath on his Son, who has equally chosen to receive it. Not only is the wrath of the Lamb not directed at his people, but the love of the Lamb is the very reason that he chose to intercede for us against the Father’s wrath. God’s wrath was poured out on him (Mat 27.45-54), and his wrath has been propitiated (1Jn 4.10); there is no more left for us.
You will never face God for your sins. The mighty Lamb, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, has done that in your place. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5.1).
So what’s the judgment seat of Christ about? The passage tells us: “that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2Co 5.10). We’re giving account, not of our sins, but of our service—whether what we’ve done for Christ has been valuable (“good,” Gk. agathos) or worthless (“bad,” Gk. phaulos). We’re giving account of our stewardship.
Christ often spoke of this in his parables. The master returns from a long journey and sees what his servants have done with the resources he left with them (Mat 25.14-30; Lk 19.11-27); the king calls his servants to evaluate the quality of their service (Mat 18.23); even the crooked servant is commended for his diligence (Lk 16.1-13). Paul describes our works being tested by fire, so that the worthless and insubstantial (“wood, hay, stubble”) will be burned up and the valuable (“gold, silver, precious stones”) will be left for display (1Co 3.10-17).
Paul writes of the judgment seat of Christ in a context of warning—as does Jesus in telling his parables. This is serious business; you don’t want to disappoint the master or position yourself as an incompetent servant. He calls for diligence.
But the judgment seat doesn’t have to be a disappointment. Won’t it be great, if you’re a diligent servant, to present your service to him when he comes? Isn’t it great when a little child joyously and confidently greets her father at the door with “Daddy! Come see what I made for you!” Won’t that be something?!
Our father’s out of town on a trip (metaphorically speaking). He’s left us lots of really important things to do, but things that he’s equipped us for, things we can do well, things that bring great enjoyment. So we devote ourselves to those blessed tasks, and we anticipate his return, when we’ll be able to show him what we’ve done: “See what I made for you!”
There’s nothing to fear here. There’s no need for doubt, or apprehension, or a nagging dread in the pit of your stomach.
Serve with joy, and prepare for the reunion with delight.
Photo credit: Arek Socha