The Believers Judgement

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The Believers Judgement

25 October 2023 Hits:1673

Someone recently asked this question on social media: Do believers in Christ still face judgment? Many replied “yes,” but others were not as sure. If we’ve accepted Jesus as Saviour, aren’t our sins forgiven and not counted against us anymore, so what is left to judge?

Others indicated that judgement was favourable as a reward for good work. Is that true? Will some of us get fewer rewards in heaven than others? What does that even look like? I’ll do my best to answer these excellent questions in this blog.

Do Believers in Christ face Judgement?

The short answer is YES, but judgments may be separated, with the New Testament suggesting one for unbelievers and another for believers.

Consider 1 Peter 4, in which the apostle contrasts the lifestyle of “pagans” and Christians. I’m not too fond of the word the NIV uses here. “Pagan” is unwarranted and very “us and them” language. Everywhere else in Scripture, the Greek word (ethnos) is rendered “Gentiles” or “nations.” It refers to groups of people who are not Jewish. In context, Peter is writing about non-Jewish people who live in sensuality, especially in connection with idolatrous temple worship:

They are surprised you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. This is why the gospel was preached even to those now dead so that they might be judged according to human standards regarding the body but live according to God regarding the spirit. The end of all things is near. The last statement probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D., a few years away. If not, Peter is way off with his prediction!

Preaching to the Dead?

There is disagreement amongst theologians as to precisely what Peter means in 1 Peter 4:6, Which is why the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead. There are several ways this verse is understood:

  1. The gospel was preached to people when they were alive, but they have since died.
  2. The gospel was preached to people when they were dead.
  3. Peter refers to Christians who faced judgment by earthly courts (human standards) and were executed for their faith in Jesus. These persecuted believers would live according to God regarding the spirit.

Whatever the case, the outcome is positive. “They” live according to God regarding the spirit. For more, listen to my podcast, What Jesus Did in Hell.

God’s Judgment Seat

In Romans 14, Paul instructs the church not to judge others over “disputable matters.” The Greek word refers to a person deliberating with themselves, trying to determine right and wrong in matters of conscience. He then gives two examples: what people eat and when people worship. In Romans 14, Paul writes about our interrelatedness with one another and our reliance on the Lord. I encourage you to read and reflect on Romans 14:8-15.

We could summarise this chapter: Don’t judge each other because that’s God’s job, not yours. We belong to the Lord, and we will give an account of ourselves to God. And this is very important because Paul’s judgement is about accountability. Our salvation is not in question here. It is NOT a judgment of condemnation. It’s more like an evaluation of KPIs in which God interviews us about how we lived out the Royal Law, the Golden Rule, and what we’ve done with our resources, time, and talents.

Christ’s Judgment Seat

In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul writes, for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that we may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Judgement seat (Gk. Bema [bey-ma] = throne, rostrum, or tribunal).

The Bible.org website says the Bema appears in classical Greek to identify the judge’s seat in the arena of the Olympic games. The Bema was the seat whereon the judge sat, not to punish contestants, but to present awards to the victors. When Christians stand before the Bema of Christ, it will be for the express purpose of being rewarded according to their works. There is no idea of inflicting punishment.

In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul again refers to accountability. A person’s salvation is not in question. It’s not about condemnation, as the context reveals. Read and reflect on verses 1 to 10 of that chapter where Paul writes about our longing to be at home with the Lord. Paul is yearning to be in his new body with Jesus. He is not fearful of seeing God or in trepidation of judgement. He’s not concerned that he might die and not be good enough and be condemned to eternal hell.

There are no threats or coercion in these words. Christians are to rest on the salvation gained through Jesus’ completed work. But we should not use God’s grace as an excuse to lead a sloppy or sinful life. We will be accountable for how we conduct our lives, so we make it our goal to please him.

Whether Good or Bad

The believers’ judgement is not about dragging up sins that have been dealt with by the Cross. This judgment assesses our life’s work and actions. But there does appear to be some accountability for destructive things done: each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (worthless, wicked, evil and vile).

How do we balance God’s forgiveness of sin with someone who persists in debauched behaviour? For example, Jesus’ statement, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Consider the numerous cases of Christians who abuse children. There appears to be ultimate justice in Jesus’ words.

And what about a pastor who abuses a member of their congregation, a husband who beats his wife, or a parent who gambles money away instead of supporting their family? Consider Paul’s sobering words to Timothy, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8).

We need to weigh these things. Our sins are forgiven, and none of us is perfect, but the Scriptures point to ultimate justice for those who maltreat others.

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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One reply on “The Believers Judgement”

Carolyn Elliottsays:

Thank you Ps Rob. Lots to think on here.

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