There is one recurring theme in scripture that is rarely heard today in the preaching and teaching of the church: the judgment seat of Christ. Yet I think that many in our congregations need to hear it clearly. It may be mentioned from time to time in churches when there is preaching or teaching on the end times, but generally it is more put into place on a timeline and rarely mentioned during the normal preaching and teaching of the church as the genuine motivation to godly living that it really is. A fresh recovery of the significance of the judgment seat of Christ is essential, I think, to making the understanding and application of the Word of God as more than another kind of self help teaching.
Here’s why I think the peculiar absence of mentioning this in preaching and teaching contributes to a lackadaisical attitude toward believing and obeying the Word of God among many believers: their working standard by which they choose what they will think, say and do is based more on their own estimation of what will make them satisfied, happy and comfortable than on the written Word of God. They will disobey the Word of God in what they think, say or do if they believe for some reason that they may lose anything related to their satisfaction, comfort and happiness. And secular self help is based on thinking, saying and and doing what will supposedly bring a person satisfaction, comfort and happiness. When the preaching and teaching of the church attempt to emulate secular self help, it often does neglect this scripturally significant motivation to follow the Word of God: personal accountability to Jesus Christ.
Here is the basic summary from scripture about this coming event and its significance for the believer.
Every believer will appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give account for everything that he or she has thought, said or done.
“ . . . For we must all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written:
“As I live,” declares the Lord, every knee will bow to me,
And every tongue will confess to God.”
Therefore each one of us will give an account to God.”
(Romans 14:10-12, Dale’s sight translation)
Here are some further statements of scripture on the final judgment of each believer.
At the judgment seat of Christ we will give account to him and receive our just treatment for both our good deeds and bad deeds.
“For it is necessary for all of us to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one will receive our reward for everything that has been done in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10, Dale’s sight translation).
Justification by faith in Christ through the propitiation of the cross of Christ does not, according to the plain words of scripture, mean that no believer will ever have his or her bad deeds – sins – mentioned in the final judgment. Rather, it does mean that a believer will not face the eternal penalty for his or her sins and that he or she can live in fellowship with God because of the blood of Christ.
Believers will give account for everything that they have said at the judgment seat of Christ.
“But I say to you that men and women will give account for every idle word they speak in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36, Dale’s sight translation).
Here Jesus is telling about the personal responsibility that people have for what they say. It’s not, ‘Just talking.’ He obviously means something more wicked than small talk and chitchat about the weather. It’s the careless slander and reckless words that are let fly without regard to their truth or their effect (Ephesians 4:29-30). Sometimes even professed believers seem to have a definition of sin that is no higher than not having committed murder lately, or not having openly committed sexual sins that receive the disapproval from church people. Loose tongues receive little attention and talk is treated as something that is cheap. Yet even the words of believers will definitely be something that they give account of before Jesus Christ personally.
This will include everything that believers think will remain secret and hidden because it is not open and evident to other people.
“Therefore judge nothing before the time when the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make known the thoughts of their hearts; and then praise will come to each one from God.” (II Corinthians 4:5, Dale’s sight translation).
“For there is nothing hidden that will not be made manifest, and nothing secret that will not be made known.” (Mark 4:22, Dale’s sight translation)
This means that no one will ultimately get away with anything that breaks the moral law of God. This reality should drive believers away from any idea that their standard of conduct can remain as anything that trying to get away with before man that they can. This low standard of right and wrong is most likely part of the mentality of anyone who is trying to keep up a religious reputation but continues in thinking, saying and doing things which that person knows are contrary to the Word of God. Sometimes it seems as if some professed believers seem to think that their actions are OK if God does not immediately swat them down. Rather, the truth is that God may and most probably does allow some things to wait until he has a final day in court with each one of us.
The standard of judgment will be the moral law of God, whether received through the written Word of God or through the less reliable light of conscience.
“The person who rejects men and does not receive my words has something which judges him; the word which I have spoken judges that person in the Last Day” (John 12:48, Dale’s sight translation).
For those who do not have access to the Word of God, through being in an isolated part of the world, the moral law as reflected in the lesser light of conscience, as the apostle Paul wrote: “. . . for when the Gentiles who do not have the Law do by nature the things set down in the Law, they who do not have the Law are act as a Law for themselves. They show the deeds set down in the Law written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness with them, and their own thoughts either accusing or excusing them, on the day when God judges the secrets of mankind, according to my gospel, through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:14-16, Dale’s sight translation).
Moreover, this means that ultimately the only winner in the universe will be God, and he will ultimately have his own way in every situation.This reality should likewise drive believers away from thinking and acting as if simply “getting my own way” in a situation is the ultimate goal and satisfaction in a person’s conduct.
This should be a constant motivation to seek Christlike purity in one’s life, far beyond any kind of social acceptability.
This should incite believers to seek for entire sanctification, as holiness, righteousness, and Christlike love in all that they think, say and do. The ultimate motivation for this would then be to bring glory to God and demonstrate the power of his salvation in the day that he opens up the thoughts, words and deeds of everyone before the entire universe. For the person who has truly experienced salvation by faith in Jesus Christ and has come to love God with all his or her heart, soul, mind and spirit, this is motivation indeed. And this would then not be a standard and a coming reality that that person would seek to hold over the heads of others to try to keep them in line, but rather a coming reality that would motivate a believer himself or herself first of all. The apostle John put it this way: “Dearly loved brothers and sisters, now we are the children of God, and what we shall be has not yet been made manifest. We know that when it is made manifest, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3, Dale’s sight translation).
There is clearly more that could be written on this from the simple statements of scripture. A simple look through Nave’s Topical Bible, a concordance or a systematic theology would most likely show much more. I would encourage anyone who preaches and teaches the Word of God nowadays never, ever to skip over or minimize the clear statements of scripture about the final responsibility of every person, and especially, every professed believer in Christ to him.