WILL CHRISTIANS GO THROUGH THE JUDGMENT?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 10:39am
QUESTION: Some say that Christians will not have to go through the final judgment, based on John 5:24, where Jesus says this: “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” (NASB, &ff.). Others say, yes, we WILL go through the judgment, but our sins will not be brought up there. They base this on Hebrews 8:12, where God says, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” What do you think?
ANSWER: I have addressed this question in chapter 31 of my book, The Faith Once for All. The following is adapted from the relevant section there.
On the day of judgment, exactly who and what will be judged? The answer seems to be that on that day, all the works of all people will be judged. God is described as the “Judge of all” (Heb. 12:23). When Heb. 9:27 says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” no exceptions are made. God is ready to judge “the living and the dead” (1 Pet. 4:5; see 2 Tim. 4:1), “both the righteous man and the wicked man” (Eccl. 3:17); he will “judge the world” (Rom. 3:6); “all the nations will be gathered before Him” (Matt. 25:32). “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” says Paul. “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10, 12). In 2 Cor. 5:10 also he says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
We readily accept the idea that the wicked will be judged (Jude 14-15), but some have been misled to think that the righteous will not go through the judgment. Sometimes John 5:24 is interpreted to mean this (see the question above), but this is a false understanding of this verse. The word for “judgment” (krisis) often means a negative judgment, i.e., “condemnation.” The NIV gives the correct sense: whoever hears and believes “will not be condemned” (see Rom. 8:1). But as for the judgment event as such, the universal references noted above (“all,” “each one,” “the world”) clearly include believers. This is especially true of Romans 14:10 and 2 Cor. 5:10, where Paul uses first person plural (“we”), including himself and all Christians. In Matt. 25:31-46 the sheep are judged along with the goats. Certainly, “the Lord will judge His people” (Heb. 10:30). See Jas. 3:1; 1 Pet. 4:17.
Exactly what aspects of our lives will be judged? The answer seems to be, every one of them. The Bible puts a lot of emphasis on the fact that we will all be judged according to our works, according to what we have done in this life. Solomon in 2 Chr. 6:30 expresses the expectation that God will “render to each according to all his ways.” This language is repeated numerous times in the OT. E.g., God “pays a man according to his work” (Job 34:11); he will “recompense a man according to his work” (Ps. 62:12). God says, “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” (Jer. 17:10). In the OT see also Prov. 24:12; Eccl. 12:13-14; Isa. 59:18; Jer. 32:19; Ezek. 33:20.
The NT repeats this truth many times. Jesus says that when he returns in glory he “will repay every man according to his deeds” (Matt. 16:27). Paul says that “the righteous judgment of God” means that he “will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:5-6). “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” (2 Cor. 5:10). The Father “impartially judges according to each one’s work” (1 Pet. 1:17). The Messiah promises, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). In the NT see also Matt.12:36-37; 25:31-46; Acts 10:34-35; 1 Cor. 3:13; Eph. 6;8; Col. 3:25; Rev. 2:23; 20:12.
Special emphasis is put on the fact that even our secret or hidden deeds will be made known, and even the thoughts and motives of our hearts. “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14). Secret piety will be rewarded (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18) and secret sins revealed (Luke 12:2), since “God will judge the secrets of men” (Rom. 2:16). When the Lord comes he “will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5). See 1 Tim. 4:24-25.
By what standard will our works be judged? Quite simply, by the standard of God’s revealed will, whether it be that which is known only through general revelation (Rom. 1:18-32; 2:14-15) or that which is known through special revelation also, i.e., the teachings of Scripture. This standard will be applied to everyone in the same way. Each person will be judged impartially by whatever light is available to him, i.e., in accordance with his conscientious response to available light. This makes it clear that God as a righteous judge is judging impartially, “for there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11). Peter stated it thus: “God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). See Eph. 6:8-9; 1 Pet. 1:17. Indeed, “His judgments are true and righteous” (Rev. 19:2).
The realization that we Christians will have to go through the judgment, and that even our sins will be put on display, is nothing to look forward to; but it should not cause us to fear for our salvation. A close examination of the judgment scene as described in Rev. 20:11-15 show that even though we will be judged according to our works, this should not prevent us from entering the judgment with full assurance of our salvation. Here is what the text says:
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Here John seems to say there will be two stages through which all will pass at the final judgment. The first is a judgment according to “the books”; the second is a judgment according to “the book of life” (v. 12). When John says “the books were opened,” this refers either to the books in which all men’s works are recorded, or to the books that contain the standard by which these works will be judged. In either case, judgment by “the books” is a judgment according to deeds, a judgment to which everyone is subjected (vv. 12-13). Here is where even our sins will come to light.
What is significant, though, is that this works-judgment based on “the books” is not the final word in the judging process! Rather, the final determination of each person’s fate is based on judgment according to “the book of life,” indeed, the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 13:8; 21:27). The idea seems to be that, after the first phase of the judgment, the one according to works, no one is found to be worthy of entrance into heaven. But when the Lamb’s book of life is consulted, it is found that some have not trusted in their works but have accepted God’s offer of grace; these and these alone are admitted into heaven—not on the basis of their works but on the basis of the blood of the Lamb. But “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15). In the final analysis this and this alone—not our works—determines who will be in heaven and who will be in hell.
The purpose of the first stage (judgment according to works, even for believers) is related to the degrees of our rewards in heaven (see the next note). But there is another benefit of requiring believers to confront all their works, even their sins, before the final and fully-expected verification of their salvation is announced from the book of life. As a result of this full disclosure and remembrance of our works at the very threshold of heaven, it will be made perfectly plain that the only reason we are saved for eternity is because of God’s infinite grace and mercy. God’s own mercy is thereby glorified, and we will enter heaven with hearts that are overflowing with eternal gratitude and praise to the Redeemer.
(The meaning of Heb. 8:12 will be explained in the next note, “Degrees of Reward in Heaven.”)