How You Can Do Well at the Judgment Seat of Christ – Program 3
|By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998|
|What is the difference between the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment? Do Christians need to worry about the Great White Throne Judgment?|
The Great White Throne Judgment
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 to our program. What is the difference between the judgment in the Bible called the Great White Throne Judgment and the judgment called the Judgment Seat of Christ? What kind of judgment will God conduct at each of these? And since God says all of us will appear at one or the other of these judgments, which one should you want to appear at? How can you make sure that you appear at the right judgment? My guest today is my good friend Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. I want you to listen as he answers these important questions:
- Lutzer: John, the thing that we must always do is to make sure that people understand that there are two important judgments. We’ve been emphasizing the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is for believers and that determines our reward in Heaven. But there’s another judgment called The Great White Throne Judgment, and unbelievers of all the ages are going to be before God and individually judged.
- Listen to the account found in Revelation 20: “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 delivered 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.” [Rev. 20:11-15]
- Now friend, I want you to take a moment and visualize this scene. First of all, I want you to notice the diversity of the people who arrive here. “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.” Those who had lived long lives. Those who had lived short lives. Those who lived in one part of the world and those who lived in another part of the world, whether Asia, Africa, Europe or wherever. And then you think of the difference in time frame; some who lived centuries ago and some people who are living now. All of them stand before God and they all have a common fate. And here you have the minister standing with the missionary. You have the nun standing with the minister. I mean, you have the righteous—what we sometimes call righteous—and then you have the criminals and they’re all before God. And the books are opened and they are judged.
- Two different books are mentioned here. Whoever is not in the book of life, the Bible says, “is thrown into the lake of fire.” [Rev. 20:15] But there’s another book which is the book of works and they are judged out of those things that were written. Now, we have stressed that nobody is saved by works. The purpose of this judgment is not to determine who will go to heaven or hell. There is no such judgment in the Bible. The decision as to where they will be has already been made. All who gather here are judged. All are thrown into the lake of fire. Works do not save but works are a basis of judgment. God will individually evaluate and judge people on the basis of what they did with what they knew. Jesus said he who knew his Lord’s will and did it not shall be beaten with many stripes; the person who did not know God’s will shall be beaten with few stripes. [Luke 12:47-48]
- What is it that all of these people lack? Was it because they weren’t good people? No. They were good people by every human standard. But, my friend, today they were not good enough; because as we have emphasized, you have to be as perfect as God to get into Heaven and only Christ can make us that perfect. When we believe in Him, His righteousness is credited to us so that as far as God is concerned, there is no distinction between the righteousness of Jesus and the righteousness that has been credited to my account. Therefore, I am welcomed into Heaven on His basis.
- But for those who have never trusted Him in that way, for those who say, “Yes, I trust in Jesus but I also trust in my baptism and my good deeds and my rituals,” they, too, shall be lost because it’s not the amount of faith that you have in Christ, it is the object of your faith—whether your faith, even if small, is in Jesus Christ alone.
- So, John, the Great White Throne Judgment is a future event. All people will be individually judged. At the end of the time, they will be thrown into hell. I know that we struggle with that, but we’re not the One who makes up the rules; and furthermore, I believe that the judgment is going to be so meticulous that throughout all of eternity we’re going to sing, “Just and true are thy ways, O King of saints!” [Rev. 15:3]
- But the good news is that today you can turn from your sin, turn to Christ, receive His righteousness so that then you will be at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. And what a different judgment that will be that determines the rewards that we will receive in Heaven.
- Ankerberg: Once we realize the difference between the Great White Throne Judgment, where all those who are lost will be judged, and the Judgment Seat of Christ, where all Christians will have their lives evaluated by Christ, you may ask the question, “When will the Judgment Seat of Christ take place?” Here is the answer. Listen:
- Lutzer: John, I think there are good reasons to believe that the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ—that’s the judgment for Christians—is going to take place after what we call the rapture of the Church. We are taken into Christ’s presence. It is then that we are evaluated by Him. And you know, there are people who say, “Well, He couldn’t judge all of us individually because if He does that, it will take years and years and years.” And I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question except this: number one, we are talking about God. He does not have to call any attorneys. Your friends don’t have to show up to put in a good word for you because suddenly all you have there is reality and that can be present to us in a moment of time.
- So we’re not sure exactly how long the judgment will take but certainly, by the marriage supper of the Lamb which happens after the rapture of the Church, apparently then all believers have already been judged and we will know exactly what Christ thought of the way in which we lived here.
- And as we pointed out in a previous program that at the marriage supper of the Lamb—you need the righteousness of Christ, of course, to get to Heaven—but then it says that “the bride was clothed in the righteous acts of the saints.” [Rev. 19:8] And so by then we need our clothing, don’t we, so that when we appear at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we’ll be appropriately dressed? That’s part of what we talk about when we speak about rewards.
- Ankerberg: Now, if that’s when the Judgment Seat of Christ takes place, when does the Bible say the Great White Throne Judgment will take place? Listen:
- Lutzer: And when does the Great White Throne Judgment take place? It happens after the Tribulation Period, after the Millennial Kingdom, just before Eternity properly begins, if we can put it that way. It is then that the Great White Throne Judgment takes place. And as a result of that, Eternity begins, and at the end of the day there are only two categories of people: the saved and the lost. There is just Heaven and there’s Hell for all of Eternity.
- Ankerberg: There is one question which everybody seems to ask concerning the Judgment Seat of Christ. Here it is: Do you think that the Judgment Seat of Christ will be public? Won’t this be done somewhere in private? Or will Christ evaluate and judge your life in full view of your family, your friends, church members, and the people that you worked with who know you? Listen:
- Lutzer: You know, John, the question is often asked, “Is this Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ going to be public? Isn’t it just going to be private, off in a corner somewhere?” Well, we’re not sure, but the Bible does seem to indicate it might be public. Remember that parable in Matthew 25 and the similar parable in Luke where the faithful person was rewarded and the unfaithful person was rebuked in the presence of bystanders, it says.
- Now, if the judgment is public, that seems terrifying. Just imagine my life open to all of my friends to see. Who could possibly even endure that!? Well, a couple of things. First of all, remember, this is the Judgment Seat of Christ. Our sins legally have been taken away; therefore, our sins will be represented to us if we do see them as forgiven. That’s number one.
- But number two – and I want to share this with you because I believe this so very deeply – in the end, it will not matter because I want you to know that it is what Christ thinks that will be the only thing that matters. You know, it’s interesting, in this life we are worried about what other people think. People say to themselves, “Well, I wouldn’t want my friends to know all the sins that are in my heart, but God knows about them and it’s no big deal.”
- Well, I want you to know that finally, when we stand before Jesus and we have our resurrected bodies, the big deal will be: What does Christ think? The fact that others are watching will be totally irrelevant to the situation. Therefore, I think it is so important for us to focus on one thing and one thing only: What does Jesus think? Because in this life we’re going to be misunderstood, misinterpreted; we’re never going to please everybody. The question is, “Are we pleasing Him?”
- Ankerberg: Now when Jesus Christ saved us, He forgave us all of our sins, right? So when He evaluates our life at His Judgment Seat, how will our forgiven sins enter into Christ’s evaluation? Will our sins come up at all, since God says He will remember our sins no more? [Isa. 43:25] Dr. Erwin Lutzer answers this important question:
- Lutzer: You know, John, I’ve often thought about that question because the Bible says that God remembers our sin no more. [Isa. 43:25] But, of course, the text cannot mean that God has no knowledge of our past sins because then God would not know all things. What it means is, He does not regard them; He does not hold them against us. We are not going to come under His severe judgment for those sins.
- But having said that, there is the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ where our lives are going to be evaluated. And no matter how we interpret this, the apostle Paul apparently felt that there was no contradiction between believing that we are legally forgiven and in God’s sight we do not come under His condemnation because Jesus absorbed that for us. There’s no contradiction between that and believing the fact that our life will be reviewed and judged, even those things that are good and bad.
- And as we said in a previous program, you know, possibly God will take our lives and evaluate them on the basis of gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or stubble” [1 Cor. 3:12], and He will torch them and we will actually see the way in which we lived without necessarily seeing specific sins, although as I have mentioned, if we do, they will be represented to us as being under the blood of Christ.
- But in one way or another, the evaluation is going to come. And my friend, today, just so that you understand, it is not optional. It is not something you can get out of. There will be no attorney that you can call. There will be no way that you can wiggle out of this because all of us, Paul says, will stand before Christ as believers. [Rom. 14:10]
- Ankerberg: Next, let’s talk about your use of money in reference to the rewards the Bible says you can someday receive from Christ. I asked Dr. Lutzer, “Why are there so many biblical references to how we use money? Why is this so important?” Listen:
- Lutzer: John, I think the reason that Jesus uses money so often as an illustration and as a basis actually for the way in which we’re going to be rewarded is because He knows that our hearts are so naturally greedy and desire security. We do not want to trust God for tomorrow. That’s the problem that the children of Israel had in the desert and so they, of course, wanted to hoard the manna.
- And God said, “No, you hoard it and it will get stale on you, it will rot; because every day I want you to trust me.” [Ex. 16] So Jesus is saying this. In Luke 16, He makes the astounding statement—He’s talking about money; the Pharisees are critical of Him. They hate what He has said—and He says, “That which is highly esteemed among men.” Now, what is “highly esteemed among men”? The answer, of course, is “money.” I mean, people steal for it. They lie for it. They’ll manipulate for it. And Jesus said, “It is detestable in the sight of God.” Detestable. [Luke 16:15]
- Now, in the very same context He uses an illustration of how to use money. He talks about the parable of the steward who went out and actually used his influence to buy some friends who would help him after he was fired. You know the story. Jesus does not commend the morals of this man but He does say he was “shrewd.” That’s in Luke 16.
- But then Jesus says this; and I want you to think with me about this because this is so important. Jesus said, “If you are not faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you the true riches?” If you’re not faithful in that which God has given you, then how are you going to be entrusted with more? And then He calls money “unrighteous mammon.” [Luke 16:11-12]
- You know, we like to say, “Well, it’s neutral. It depends on how you use it. That’s true in some respect; but Jesus does not allow us to get by with such rationalizations. He calls it unrighteous mammon because you think of all the things that people have done in order to get it.
- You know, Haddon Robinson, I like to repeat what I heard him say one time. You know, the Bible says it is the love of money that is the root of all evil, [1 Tim. 6:10] and we like to rationalize by saying, “Well, I don’t love money,” and having said that, then we hoard it and keep it for ourselves. And Dr. Robinson says, “We rationalize. We say we don’t love it but we date it, we embrace it, we cuddle it, but, no, we don’t really love it.”
- Well, God, of course, sees beyond all of that kind of hypocrisy because He knows that we love money by nature and that love for money has to be broken.
- You know, John, I love that story that comes to us from Europe about the princess who married and her husband was a very wealthy man and he gave her some jewels after they were married.
- And she said to herself, “You know, I wish I could sell those jewels and begin an orphanage.” And he said, “No! Don’t you love what I bought you?” Etc., etc. We’ve all been through that – those of us who have been married.
- But finally she convinced him and he said, “Okay. You can sell the jewels.”
- So she sold the jewels and then she took them and used the money to build an orphanage. And here were children singing songs and memorizing verses of Scripture and she came home one day and she said to her husband, “I found my jewels! I found my jewels! I found them in the eyes and the lives of these little children!”
- John, she was a wise woman because all my life I’ve been told, “You can’t take it with you!”
- Yes, you can! But what you need to do, what we need to do, is to transmute it into something that will bridge the gap between earth and Heaven, and that is to invest our money in the lives of people who need to know the gospel; to give our money to those missionaries as Jesus even said in this parable, “That you might have friends to welcome you into everlasting habitations.” [Luke 16:9] Money has that kind of power; and unless we give it away, we’re going to be very, very selfish. So Jesus said be faithful in this and I’ll give you greater responsibility in the Kingdom.
- Ankerberg: Some of you who do not have a lot of money may be thinking, “Well, I’m sure that it is the amount that I give to God that is important. Therefore, since I have so little money to give, it won’t really matter to God.” Well, it is not the amount, it’s the attitude of the heart with which you give any amount that counts. Dr. Lutzer explains:
- Lutzer: And of course, there may be somebody listening who says, “Is it the amount?” No! It’s the heart with which you give. If you don’t have much but you give generously – you know, we go back to the widow with the two mites. Somebody figured out that if this widow who gave her two mites, if that money were taken and invested at 5 percent over a period of 2,000 years, I think I read it would be something like 19 with about 45 zeros! Now, all that to remind ourselves of the fact that God takes what we give and I like to think that we put it in the “Bank of Heaven.” It’s like in a mutual fund. And it continues to gain interest because the good that we do with money has those repercussions.
- And finally, we are generously rewarded because we gave away that which we naturally love; and because of that, the Lord takes note. Give what you can. Give generously and Jesus says that you will be welcomed into “everlasting habitations.”
- Ankerberg: One final thing before we leave you today. There in a lot of talk among Christians that since we have believed in Jesus Christ and are children of the King, we should therefore live like King’s kids. That is, we should be healthy, wealthy and wise in this world. Is that biblically true or false? Listen:
- Lutzer: You know, sometimes you hear it said that we should live like a “King’s kid.” After all, don’t we belong to God? Isn’t God our Father? Can’t we be healthy and wealthy and wise in this world? And can’t we accumulate all that we possibly can? Well, I want you to know that it is wonderful to be a King’s kid, but the Bible very clearly says that we should live like the Son of God did when He came here to earth. Our kingship is still something future. And Jesus said, “He who humbles himself is going to be exalted.” [Matt. 23:12] And, of course, all of us think of Jesus as He was born into a manger and born there is Bethlehem. Born to be our Savior in poverty.
- I don’t think that necessarily means that we have to work to become poor. But most assuredly what it teaches us is that not all believers have the goods of this world and we can’t judge people and say, “Well, you’re not a King’s kid because you’re poor.” That would exclude millions of our brothers and sisters around the world. What is important is to recognize that we have the responsibility, those of us who have been blessed financially, to be generous. We have the responsibility of humbling ourselves so that God someday in His own good time may exalt us according to His will.