Will we be Judged?
Will We Be Judged?
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
10 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. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 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. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire. (NASB)
There are many views concerning the Judgment Seat of Christ in regard to this passage of Scripture.
· Are there differing levels of heaven?
· Is there a distinction between the forgiveness we receive at the time of salvation and the degree of forgiveness we receive for sins committed after salvation?
· Are Christians to be judged?
And the list goes on. At the heart of this issue is the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ and how that is appropriated to the Believer. To adequately deal with this, these “peripheral” assumptions need to be addressed. I will focus on a few of these and then return to the passage at hand and the questions surrounding the Judgment Seat of Christ and Rewards.
Are there Differing Levels of Heaven?
There is a view of heaven that asserts multi-levels, which are assumed to accommodate the differing placement of saints based upon their good works. This view cannot be supported with Scripture for several reasons, many of which will be addressed later in this document. Nevertheless, it is “propped-up” using a passage found in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul describes a man (namely, himself) who was “caught up into the third heaven”. The view suggests that Paul was in the highest place of paradise. Of course, the assumption is then made that there must be a first and second paradise for those who are less deserving. The misplaced “support” allows this false view of a multi-leveled heaven to fall on its face when this passage is met by the hermeneutical reader, and the culture and understanding of the original audience is considered. John MacArthur, a respected pastor, author, and president of Master’s College in California, explains in his book, “The Glory of Heaven”:
The King James Version of the Bible employs the word heaven 582 times in 550 different verses. The Hebrew word usually translated “heaven,” shamayim, is a plural noun form that literally means “the heights.” The Greek word translated “heaven” is ouranos (the same word that inspired the name of the planet Uranus). It refers to that which is raised up or lofty. Both shamayim and ouranos are used variously in Scripture to refer to three different places. (This explains why in 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul refers to being caught up into “the third heaven.”)
There is, first of all, the atmospheric heaven. This is the sky, or the troposphere—the region of breathable atmosphere that blankets the earth. For example, Genesis 7:11–12 says, “The windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.” There the word “heaven” refers to the blanket of atmosphere around the world, which is where the hydrological cycle occurs. Psalm 147:8 says that God “covereth the heaven with clouds.” That is the first heaven.
The planetary heaven, the second “heaven,” is where the stars, the moon, and the planets are. Scripture uses the very same word for heaven to describe this region. For example, Genesis 1 says,
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.
The third heaven, the one Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 12, is the heaven where God dwells with His holy angels and those saints who have died. The other two heavens will pass away (2 Peter 3:10); this heaven is eternal.
That final passage of Scripture Dr. MacArthur references (2 Peter 3:10) declares that, “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” There is no one who claims that God will have any reason to destroy His habitation, heaven. There is no need to destroy the place of perfection – paradise – there is no sin there! Obviously, Scripture refers to other elements than Heaven as heaven.
Consequently, we can rest in the knowledge that there are not differing levels of heaven. Which leads use to the next topic on our journey.
Is there a distinction between the forgiveness we receive at the time of salvation and the degree of forgiveness we receive for sins committed after salvation?
Once again, there exists a view that would support the position that at the time of conversion all sins in our past are completely forgiven. So far, I am in complete agreement! However, this view would further assert that those sins we commit after becoming a Christian are a different matter, subjecting us to the judgment of God. Admittedly, this view has roots in the very biblical doctrine of fruit and rewards as they relate to the Christian (more on this later). From here it moves quickly away from the foundation of biblical truth.
We are made to believe that, while sins committed before we came to Christ are completely washed away, those sins that we commit after salvation are stored for a time of future judgment. We will not lose our salvation but we will face judgment and live as a “lesser” inhabitant of Paradise.
Because this targets the foundation of the Gospel itself, a cursory treatment of this is not satisfactory. Heresy and cultism find their roots in an initially very marginal movement away from sound doctrine and eventually gives birth to the devastating counterfeits that have robbed so many of their lives – both physical and spiritual. In light of this, several passages need to be explored to give a contextual view from the whole of Scripture.
Testimony in the Gospel
First we must see forgiveness as explained from the lips of the Savior. In Matthew 18:21 Peter asked Jesus an interesting question, “‘Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’” Even more interesting is the response he received in the next verse, “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”
God wants from us to be found exhibiting His character. Many times that is very foreign from our own character. Isaiah chapter one records God calling us to reason together with Him. In God’s economy, reasoning may seem much less than reasonable to us; in fact, it may seem backwards. Peter was trying to go to the next level. He was saying, in essence, “I’m going to really stretch things. Suppose I was willing to forgive up to seven times a sin that a brother commits against me – is that exhibiting the character of God?” An interesting side note is that the number 7 represents completion in Hebrew thought. Peter wanted to know the limit he had to endure before he could hang a brother out dry. Jesus explained that Peter’s motivation corrupt. We are not to look for, to anticipate, the last straw; we are to continually look for the opportunity to forgive. Also, did you notice the absence of a phrase? Peter did not ask how many times he should forgive one who confesses or asks to be forgiven. His question was “How many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” Jesus response showed Peter that the character of God is forgiving and it is God’s desire to forgive ALL sin.
Another instance that shows the forgiving nature of Christ is found after His resurrection in Mark 16. An angel, who is a messenger of God, appeared to Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salom. He offered words of reassurance concerning the Lord’s resurrection and then gave instructions for them to deliver to the disciples. Those instructions recorded in verse 7 are: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.”
Of special interest here to me is the reason God used this angel to single Peter apart from the disciples. Had Peter lost his standing as a disciple because of the sin of denying Christ, not once but three times? Was God concerned that Peter was no longer among the number – not together with the 12 (11 in the absence of Judas)? John 20 indicates that Peter was with the other disciples at the time of the resurrection; Thomas was the only disciple not present, and needed evidence of Christ’s resurrection for himself, but Peter was there. Since God would certainly have known that it is reasonable to assume that this is not the reason he was singled out. Perhaps Peter had lost his standing as a disciple. We see clearly in the book of Acts that he is assuredly a disciple. However, this is very close to the reason.
Peter had offered his most committed loyalty to the cause of Christ, as he understood it. Remember his words in Matthew 26:35? They were in response to Christ’s charge that he would deny Him three times before morning. I am certain his words stung his own ears that resurrection morning. “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” (I wonder which was worse, denying Christ or questioning His word?) Have you ever found yourself in Peter’s position? A commitment was made. You set your mind and your will to move forward and not falter. Yet, your flesh was weak and you fell – failed in your promise to your Lord. If you have (and I’m sure you have) you can, no doubt, relate to the emotions Peter must have been experiencing. He was confronted with the final evidence of his unworthiness to be called a follower of Christ. He was a failure. The opportunity was there to stand. But he cowered… he ran… he denied the Lord. In His desire to forgive and restore, Christ instructed the women, through the words of an angel, to rally the disciples. He was saying that they were to continue in His instruction and meet Him in Galilee. The only disciple whose name was specifically used was the name of Peter. Jesus wanted to be certain that Peter grasped the fullness of His forgiveness and restoration. Again, the character of God is forgiving and His forgiveness involves restoration. It is completely foreign from the nature of God to forgive the sin and still hold us somehow accountable for that sin as a look at the New Testament epistles will show.
Testimony in the Epistles
The entire book of Galatians speaks to this issue. While I recommend a study of the book as a whole in dealing with our complete forgiveness, I will pull several passages out to give us a direction of Paul’s thought under the inspiration of the Spirit.
In verses 6-10 Paul expresses his shock at the Galatians’ willingness to embrace so quickly “another gospel”. Further, he speaks cursings on the “evangelists” of this “other gospel”. It would be of great value to us to know the context of this falsehood so that we can avoid, at all cost, teachings like the one that had so moved Paul to write in this manner. So who were these false teachers and what were they teaching?
It would seem that were some Judaizers (legalists) who desired to add to the grace of Christ a need to adhere to the Law for justification. (Keep in mind that Paul was addressing long time believers, not new or potential converts. You will find no distinction in Paul’s writing, nor in the whole of Scripture for that matter, between the grace and forgiveness received at salvation and that which is continually poured out throughout our walk of faith.) Paul reminded the Galatians of his role and calling to the ministry of the Gospel of Christ, and of his presence at the Council of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15) where “false brethren [had] sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.” Who is “us”? Paul, at this time a born-again believer for more than fourteen years, and other believers at the Council. He referred to this experience because the Galatians were facing the same false teaching and he encouraged them to respond as he and the Council had: “But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” (Gal. 1:5)
In chapter 3 through the end of the book of Galatians Paul “preaches” the pure Gospel of Christ. As he sets the tone for his sermon Paul pens these words. Read them carefully: “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
But one may say that these words do not apply to the believer. Some might assert that we are justified by faith in Christ, but that we must seek perfection in the flesh after that moment of salvation or risk disappointing God and facing judgment (I am speaking of our eternal positioning). Listen to the words of Paul in the opening verses of chapter 3 as he addresses this very thing: “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Obviously, the answer is, No!
In the book of Colossians, Paul addresses our standing in Christ as well. In chapter 2, verse 8 he warns us to “[Let] no one [take us] captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” We are not to be taken “captive” by worldly or religious philosophies; rather, we are to be “captive” to the philosophy of Christ. What is the philosophy of Christ? As Paul explains in the beginning verse of 9 and continuing through 15 that philosophy is first the position and authority of Christ, and then our position in Him. “ For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” (Col. 2: 9-15)
Because Christ has all authority and has offered himself to extinguish the wrath of God rightly due us, He can pronounce us clean. Why? Because through His sacrifice we have “been made complete”, having been circumcised, placed within the covenant of God, by the hand of God. The incredible truth is that He has “forgiven all our transgressions”. And, whether it seems reasonable or not, all means all. We stand in right standing before God, because of the sacrifice of Christ, now and forever.
As a final look to the epistles, let’s glance through several passages. First, Romans 8 says that there are, in reality, two Laws – one that brings life and one that brings death. We all stand under one Law or the other. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (the law of grace) has set you free from the law of sin and of death (the Mosaic Law).” (Romans 8:1-2; parenthetical input mine) Back to Galatians, we are told that no one finds justification through the Law (of sin and death, the Mosaic law) but that the Law was instituted to point out to men their own sinfulness and cause us to turn to the grace of God. (Refer to Galatians 3:15-29) In chapter 4 of Galatians, Paul seems to cry out, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Even in the book of James, the book of works, which testifies that, “faith, if it has no works, is dead” speaks of the freedom that is ours in Christ.
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James: 10-13)
Did you catch that? We are to be judged by the “Law of Liberty”. Liberty means freedom. That sounds suspiciously like the Law of the Spirit Paul mentioned earlier. James is not referring to the Mosaic Law but the same law that Paul spoke of in Romans 8 – the Law of Grace. There is freedom in that because “mercy triumphs over judgment”. We, as true Believers – Christians, will stand before the judgment seat of God. But, we will be judged by the Law of Liberty. The Law of Grace in which there is no condemnation. Praise God!
Wood, Hay, and Stubble –VS– The Fruit of the Spirit
In answering the question of forgiveness before and after Salvation, the question of the judgment of Christians has been addressed – though not in detail. As we look at the meaning of the Corinthian passage that holds the text, “ 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”, I believe any questions concerning our judgment will be laid to rest.
As we begin to unwrap the meaning found in this text, keep in mind that the verse immediately following the one mentioned above states, “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.” The key here is the word reward. It does not say salvation, God’s favor, or a fabulous house right down the road from Moses. It says reward and we should be careful not to read more into than is there.
Jesus, during His earthly ministry, was very interested in Fruit. Not apples and oranges, but the fruit that is produced in a life lived for Christ. In two of His parables, He focuses on this fruit. The first is the parable of the sower and the seed in Luke 8, beginning in verse 5. Without making a verse by verse study of this passage, take note that there are four types of soils the sower sowed in and there were four types of activity that resulted from the sowing. However, only one produced fruit – only one had spiritual life, evidenced by that fruit.
There is another passage of focuses on fruit after this manner is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14. In this parable a master gave talents to his three servants. Two of the servants produced gain – fruit. But one produced nothing. The two who produced received a reward while the one who produced nothing was shown to be not belonging to the master and cast out.
Christians produce fruit. There can be no two ways about it. Jesus said in John 15, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” The true mark of a believer is the bearing of fruit. Not a recollected feeling or experience, but a changed life. (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17) What is the fruit that Christ is longing to reward in the life of a Christian? Galatians 5 lists the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and, self-control. Ephesian 5 says that a Spirit controlled life is speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. That is certainly the bearing of fruit.
In 1 Corinthians 3, were we found our passage, the context suggests that the rewards are to be issued for what was built upon the foundation of Christ – in this case, as it relates to teaching and discipling the Church. In truth, Paul is using this as a way of underscoring the truth that the ministry under which one was called to salvation is un-important. God brings about the growth (fruit) in a person’s life. And Paul, being Paul, could not let that go without putting in a plug for sound teaching and the reward is received for the fruit that comes as a result of that kind of teaching. So the fruit that will be rewarded will be many, and Spirit birthed. But know this: All believers will receive rewards; not all will be the same in quantity, but all will be rewarded. How can I say that? Because, all Christians produce fruit. We have no choice. It is a Spiritual production that only comes from the indwelling Spirit of the Living God. He works to do in us what we are incapable of doing apart from Him.
Admittedly, not everything Christians produce is birthed from the Spirit. We still live in these bodies of flesh with their proclivity to sin. Therefore, not everything about our lives will be rewarded. Some very religious things have been done in the past, and to this very day, in the name of God, yet in the power of the flesh. Many people might expect reward for their religious or ceremonial “doings” only to find those things burned away in the purifying gaze from the eyes of Christ. There is much more that could be said in regard to this. However, in the interest of brevity I will point you to Matthew 5 and the Sermon on the Mount. Christ drove home the truth that the fruit He intends to reward is generated in the heart and is not an outward adherence to Law, custom, or ceremony.
Finally, with all these rewards floating around aren’t we back to our original question? How can there not be a class or hierarchy of some kind when some are rewarded more greatly than others? The answer lies in our use of these rewards. Revelation 4 says that we will join the 24 elders in casting our crowns at the feet of Jesus in an ultimate act of worship. Thus, relinquishing our reward, we will become equal in stature and, as a sea of saints, we will stand “shoulder to shoulder” for all eternity worshipping the King of Glory!
A Closing Note
Please do not hear me saying that our actions, our works, are insignificant. Paul says, in Galatians that we were “called to freedom” and yet that we were “not turn [our] freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.” I would call out with James that “faith without works is dead”. Not because our works somehow join into our faith in the Gospel of grace to save us, but that a faith that does not have the ability to produce in us the fruit (work) of the Spirit is not a saving faith. That kind of faith is without power and will leave you to face the most horrible of judgments. Hebrews 10 warns that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It is a horrible thing to consider, standing the presence of a holy God with Law of sin and death to judge us.
Remember the words of Christ in Matthew 7: “So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
The horrible truth is that many are living a life of legalistic adherence in the hope of gaining favor with God. However, God is not as interested in our outward activities, from a justification standpoint, as we would like to believe He is. Our self-appointed righteousness will leave us hopelessly wanting if we meet God in judgment and seek to stand in righteousness because of our “works”. Yet, would we only cry out today for mercy and bow our knee to the Lordship of Christ, giving our lives to Him we will receive mercy and the faith that can effect change and, by the Spirit’s power, produce fruit.
John F. MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth About Heaven, Angels and Eternal Life, (Wheaton, IL: Goodnews/Crossway Books) 1997.