How You Can Do Well at the Judgment Seat of Christ – Program 2
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998|
|When Jesus evaluates your life, will you be sorry about what he tells you? Does that mean there will be tears?|
God Will Wipe Away All Tears
Christians are told in Scripture, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” [2 Cor. 5:10] But what is the purpose of this judgment? Didn’t Jesus pay the full penalty for our sins and God remembers them no more? If so, why will Christians still be judged by Christ? This judgment has nothing to do with salvation. Salvation is entirely the free gift of God and received the moment a person believes in Christ. We could never earn salvation by our good works.
But the Judgment Seat of Christ has to do with how we have lived for Christ after He saved us. Everything we have done for Christ will be evaluated and rewarded. As the Bible says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” [2 Cor. 5:10] We can understand being rewarded by Christ for the good things which we have done for Him, but what does the Bible mean when it says we will also receive what is due us for the bad? Could it be that the unfaithful Christian will not receive the same reward as the faithful Christian? Will there be tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ because of the way we have lived? Will there be a loss of rewards, honors and privileges that will determine our status in Heaven for all eternity?
If Christ is going to reward every Christian for every deed done for Him, what about those Christians who have been disabled by disease or confined to a wheelchair? What about the person who has had his life cut short by an accident? If someone does not live a long and full life, will he be able to receive a full reward from Christ? To help us answer these questions from the Bible my guest today will be Dr. Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. We invite you to hear what Jesus will be looking for when He evaluates your Christian life and learn how you can do well at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
- Ankerberg: Welcome. If you are a Christian, I’m sure you are thinking that at the end of this life we are going to get away from this world to someplace better, to Heaven. There will be no more sin, no more evil, no more death, no more sickness or dying. But the Bible also says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” [2 Cor. 5:10] This brings up the question “If God finds a lot of bad in your Christian life, that is, you haven’t lived faithfully for Christ; you’ve lived selfishly for yourself, when Christ evaluates your life and you see it as He sees it, will there be any tears or sorrow in Heaven?” I asked this question to our guest, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. I think that you’ll be interested to hear what he had to say:
- Lutzer: Well, you know, when it comes to tears in Heaven, it seem as if that surely can’t be the case. But there you have it in Revelation 21. It says that, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” [Rev. 21:4] He would not have to wipe them away unless they were there. And the question is, “Why?”
- Some people think, well, it’s because there may be loved ones in hell. That could be part of it but I believe that at that time we’re going to see everything from God’s viewpoint. And if God can be happy forever, we can be happy forever. I tend to think that the tears are tears of regret. When we think of the way in which we lived in light of all the blessings that Jesus gave us, He who shed His blood and purchased us, and to think that so often we just simply went our own way. When we think of what we’ve missed, well might we cry on the other side of the celestial gates. But, of course, we won’t cry forever because our tears will be wiped away and even if we do poorly at what we’ve called the Judgment Seat of Christ, the fact is that God will make sure that in Heaven everybody happy, everybody serving the Lord, but not everyone having the same degree of privilege and responsibility.
- You know, another question that is asked is, “Well, will we envy those who are above us in Heaven?” I like Jonathan Edwards’ answer. He says, “No, not at all. Because we will be so free of envy, we will rejoice in the success of others as if that success were our own.”
- So when you get to Heaven, it’s not two categories of people: the faithful and the unfaithful. Most of us are going to fall somewhere in between. But the way in which we live here and the person that we are here in some sense influences the person that we shall be and the privileges that we shall have for all of eternity.
- Ankerberg: After a person becomes a Christian, do his bad sins cancel out his good works in terms of his reward from Christ? Another way of asking this question would be: What if someone serves Christ faithfully for 20 years and then has one year of moral failure? Does his moral failure cancel out all of his years of faithful ministry? Listen:
- Lutzer: Oh, John, where did that question come from? That is a very good question. I’ve never been asked that before, though. How can you throw that at me?
- Let me speak to the issue, okay? If you ask the very specific question, “How does God balance all of our sins and our failures?” How would God, for example, balance 20 years of successful ministry and one year of moral failure, I don’t think that we can answer that. All that we know is that the Bible is very clear that God takes care of that which we have done and rewards us for the good. We also know that we are going to be judged for the bad. And I guess the desire that every one of us should have is to make sure that we have lived our lives as best we can for Christ, knowing that both the good and bad are going to be part of the final equation.
- Ankerberg: In talking about the Judgment Seat of Christ we should never confuse this judgment and being evaluated on our good works with earning salvation. None of us can live good enough to earn God’s forgiveness and eternal life. He gives that to us as a gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.” But once we have placed our faith in Christ and believed on Him and He has saved us, the works that we do for Him as Christians He promises to reward at His Judgment Seat. Look at Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God has prepared in advance opportunities and good works that He wants us to do. What if we do not do them? I asked Dr. Lutzer to comment about this verse in light of our appearance before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Listen:
- Lutzer: Well, John, first of all, as I think of that passage of Scripture, I’m reminded of the fact that our works are very important to God. He prepared them ahead of time. And you know, the Greek word is the word poemai from which we get “poem.” So we are God’s poem. It’s as if He created a poem in Heaven and then we live it on earth.
- The second observation is simply this: that faithfulness, therefore, is very, very important to Him and important to us; namely, that we fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Remember as we said in an earlier program, it is God’s intention that we be as much like the Creator as it is possible for the creature to be. So for us to walk in those works that God has before ordained—and I don’t think we have to quibble here about whether or not it means the will of God in specifics—I think those works are acts of righteousness that can be performed by nurses and doctors and lawyers and factory workers and housewives and all of us. Those are the “acts of righteousness” that are really the fruit of Christ’s work in our lives. And we should walk in those good works and we’ll be rewarded for it.
- Ankerberg: Now, along the way in this series of programs we have talked about whether or not Christians are worthy to reign with Christ. What does it mean when the Bible speaks about a Christian being worthy? How can we be worthy of reigning with Christ and receiving other rewards? Dr. Lutzer explains:
- Lutzer: First of all, I think we should point out how important this question is because it is Jesus Himself who raises the issue of worthiness. Listen to His words: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. He who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” [Matt. 10:37-38]
- Paul says in the book of Ephesians we should “walk worthy of the vocation with which we are called.” [Eph. 4:1]
- Now, what does that mean? It means very simply that we represent Jesus Christ very well, that we are His representatives and He has put us here in this world in His stead and people who look at us should see Jesus at the end of the day. That’s the important thing. So it’s “worthiness” and, of course, it’s a life of growth; it’s a life of commitment, a life of faith, a life of discipline. All of the things that we know about as Christians are wrapped up in that word, “walking worthy.” And if you are, of course, as we’ve been emphasizing in this series of programs, we will be rewarded.
- Ankerberg: Are the rewards that we will receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ one for one payments for deeds we have done for Christ? That is, if you work for a period of time you get so much reward? The answer is, “No.” That’s not the way it works. God promises to reward us far more than we will ever deserve. Listen:
- Lutzer: Again, John, we need to emphasize the fact that rewards are not payments in the usual sense of the word. You know, you work a week and you get a check for your work. That’s not the way it works. Jesus Christ, first of all, rewards us far more generously than He should. There’s no way we can say that we “earned” these rewards. So first of all, we need to emphasize that.
- Secondly, yes, somebody who has been faithful and has served the Lord many, many years may receive greater rewards than he who comes into the Kingdom late, but as we’ve emphasized in a previous discussion of the parable, the late comers also are blessed beyond what they could possibly imagine. You remember those who had served early in the morning, they thought they should get more because they had a wrong attitude. They came there with the intention of saying, “We will not step into the vineyard until we have been paid.” The others were willing to trust the landowner and that’s why he was so generous with them.
- We cannot always analyze exactly how any specific person will do at the Judgment Seat. You know, the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4, he said, “I have nothing against myself. So far as I know, my conscience is clear. But,” he said, “not even I can judge myself. It is the Lord who is going to judge.”
- So there are some matters that we must leave to Him. Our responsibility is to do the very best we can with what He has given us and to love Him with all of our hearts.
- Ankerberg: Now, what about the Christian who intends in his heart to do something for God but dies before he gets the chance to accomplish it? What about Christians who desire to do great things for God but can’t? Maybe the opportunity is not there; or circumstances aren’t right; or they don’t have the talent to accomplish their goal? What about the Christian who would like to give a million dollars to the Lord but doesn’t have the income to do it? Are such people penalized because they actually don’t give the big amount; they don’t accomplish their goals? The answers to these questions are very important. Listen:
- Lutzer: Well, John, I think it’s very important to point out that in the Scripture God sees our hearts; He knows all things. So I think sometimes He rewards us by what we would do if we had the opportunity. You know, here’s a young man cut down at the age of 15. He intended to serve the Lord. He was serving the Lord. And God takes that into account. Of course, again, we cannot see this as simply a payment for faithfulness. It is a reward over and above all things that includes motives.
- Paul wrote this regarding giving: “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have.” [1 Cor. 8:12] Now, there are different ways to interpret that verse but I understand Paul to be saying that if you desire to give $100 or $1,000 and you would give more if you had it, you’ll get credit for what you’d like to give. Now, we can’t use that as an excuse for stinginess and say, “Well, I’m not giving anything but I’d like to give something if I had more.” No. God sees through that hypocrisy. But the fact still is that there has been in my heart and in yours a desire sometimes to do more for God but we can’t. God sees that and we’ll be rewarded accordingly.
- Well, now, let me give you an illustration. Let’s suppose that you’re sitting in a service and you pull $5 out of your wallet and you put it into the offering plate and you think that you’ve given $5 but you didn’t see it very clearly and it’s actually $50, I think then maybe you’ll get credit for the $5 and not the $50. Well, of course, this become technical and we perhaps are trying to bring it down to those kinds of details, but it is important to realize that we will be judged for these matters and they will all be a part of the final equation.
- Ankerberg: Do you think that there will be any punishment in Heaven? Why do I ask that question? The apostle Paul taught, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” [2 Cor. 5:10] We don’t mind receiving rewards for the good things we have done while in the body, but what does the Bible mean when it says we will receive what is due us for the bad? Will Jesus Christ be angry with us and punish us for living disobedient lives? I’d like you to listen:
- Lutzer: Well, John, I think, first of all, we have to define the meaning of the word “punishment.” If you mean punishment in the sense that Jesus Christ is going to be angry and take things out of us, the answer is, “No.” He bore our punishment when He died on the cross. But don’t you think looking into the eyes of Jesus and seeing sadness and not hearing, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” [Matt. 25:23] I would take that as being a form a punishment. That, I think, would be strong enough for me to realize what a mistake I made in not living for Jesus Christ. After all, let’s keep in mind, we are talking about a judgment seat and therefore, we can’t try to spend our time trying to take judgment out of the Judgment Seat. That’s why I wrote this book. I feel so deeply about it because we’re talking about serious business. You and I giving an account to Jesus Christ for the way in which we lived. Wow.
- Ankerberg: When you stand before the Lord Jesus at His Judgment Seat and He evaluates your life, if you look into His eyes and see sadness and do not hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” and then you start to realize all of the rewards that you have lost for all eternity and the tears come, how long will the tears last? How long will you experience that sorrow? How long will you regret that you didn’t live for Jesus Christ while you lived on earth? Dr. Lutzer gives us the biblical answers to these questions. Listen:
- Lutzer: Well, I think that’s why the Bible is very clear in saying, John, that God shall wipe away the tears from our eyes. [Rev. 21:4] And we don’t know how long it will be between the time that those tears are wiped away and we actually enter into the full enjoyment of Heaven. But this much we do know: our position will be affected by the way in which we lived.
- Now, as we’ve emphasized before, that does not mean that we’re talking about two different classes of people. It simply means that as the old illustration says, “All of our cups will be full but some will be fuller than others,” or the illustration that I like to use: When you look at a chandelier, it has many different light bulbs. Some are very bright and big and others are smaller, all of them contributing to lighting the room, but not all of them contributing in the same way. Maybe that’s the way it’s going to be in Heaven. Everybody happy. Everybody serving the Lord. But some people having greater responsibility because they took Jesus Christ and His Word and His obedience very, very seriously here on earth.
- Ankerberg: Some of you may be thinking, “Well, John, if you believe that we will experience sorrow and regret and will even shed some tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ, are you talking about the Catholic doctrine of purgatory?” The answer is, “No,” and Dr. Lutzer explains why:
- Lutzer: I think it’s very important for us to understand that when we talk about losing rewards, we’re not talking about some kind of a purgatory that we’re going through before we enter into Heaven. You see, purgatory was a notion that arose because it was believed in medieval times that nobody died perfect enough to get into Heaven; and in that sense, they were quite right. Purgatory was intended, you see, to “purge” people so that they would finally someday after all of the sin and the failure was burned away, then they’d be able to get into Heaven.
- Well, once Martin Luther discovered that justification by faith meant that we are as perfect as God is right now if we believe in Christ, he realized, then, that purgatory is unnecessary. Thank God we make the transition from earth to Heaven immediately. Christ takes us and presents us to the Father complete. So this is not purgatory.
- What we’re talking about is a natural consequence of our disobedience to Christ and Christ’s treating us like I treat my children. You know, when the children are faithful, I can give them greater responsibility. “If you take care of the money and you spend it well, I’ll give you more next time. If you don’t, there is discipline; there is loss of reward.” We’ve all done that as parents and that is what God is doing for us.
- Now, once we get past that initial time and we begin in eternity, everyone will be happy. But I think that there will be distinctions within the Kingdom and possibly forever because of the fact that the way we live today is like a college entrance exam. God is finding out where we will be slotting in the Eternal Kingdom. That’s why your life today is very, very important.
- Ankerberg: Now, some of you as Christians are listening to us talk about the rewards you can gain from Jesus Christ in Heaven. You may be thinking, “I’m ambitious. I want to get all the rewards I can so that I will be considered great in Christ’s Kingdom.” Is it okay to be ambitious? Is it okay to try and achieve rewards for myself versus doing things because I love Christ? How do you balance or keep under control your ambition to achieve rewards for self versus really doing things for the love of your Master? Dr. Lutzer explains:
- Lutzer: Well, I think, John, if you just simply make the bald statement, you know, “Is it okay if I pursue rewards so that I will get a great place in the Kingdom?,” I think that is a wrong motivation. But if you tie that to pleasing Jesus and realize that’s what Paul does. He says, “I want to please Christ for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” [2 Cor. 5:9-10]
- Now we begin to understand that our motivation is really on a different basis. It’s not that I want to be somebody big in Heaven; in fact, Jesus would say that the opposite is true—that if we want a big place in Heaven, we have to be humble here on earth. So that’s not the point.
- The point is, do I want to disappoint somebody that I love? And this person whom I’m disappointing is One who says that if you are faithful to me, I’m going to bless you in ways that you can’t even imagine. I’m going to reward you all out of proportion to reason. And the question is, “Are we willing to serve Him?” Ambition, yes. But Paul says, right from the text of Scripture, “My ambition is to be pleasing to him.” So everything in our lives should rotate around that.
- Ankerberg: Some of you are listening and may be saying, “What difference does it really make if I live my life with the knowledge that Christ will reward me for how I have lived?” The answer is, it makes a big difference. It will give you an entirely different perspective. Dr. Lutzer explains:
- Lutzer: John, when you think of the difference that rewards should make, you know, people say, “What difference does it really make if I have my eye on the goal, if I live in the light of eternity?” Well, it’s a big difference because it will help you to accept some of the inequities of life. I’ll give you an entirely different perspective.
- I like to tell the story of the missionaries who were on the boat coming all the way from Europe to New York and apparently President Roosevelt was on the same boat as they were. And a great delegation was there to meet the President and his entourage. These missionaries began to feel very badly and say to themselves, “You know, that’s really something. Here you have the President and those around him and some of his advisors who serve the devil and you have all of this drinking on the ship and they arrive in New York and there’s a greater welcome for them. Here we serve you, Oh God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords. We get to New York and there’s nobody to welcome us.”
- And there was resentment in the missionary’s heart. But one day God took all that resentment away. He explained it this way to his wife. He said, “I told the Lord one more time how unfair it was.” He said, “I said, ‘They receive a reward when they arrive home; somebody is there for them. We arrive home; nobody’s there.’” And he said it was as if the Lord said, “Wait a moment. You’re not home yet.”
- Oh, my friend, today, I speak to some of you who are suffering; some of you who are going through difficulties. You’ve been mistreated. There are inequities of life. You’ve done things for which others have received the credit. People have shafted you. You’re wounded and lying along the side of the road. But you love Jesus! And you want to serve Him. Well, I want you to know that you’re not home yet and He knows and He understands and you will be rewarded.