The Rewards You Can gain or Lose at the Judgment Seat of Christ – Program 1

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998
What is the purpose of the Judgment seat of Christ? Is it for Christians, non-Christians, or both?

The Judgment Seat of Christ


Christians are told in Scripture, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” 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.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome. If you are a Christian, the Bible says when we die, we will all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. What is this judgment? Well, I’d like you to listen in to a conversation I had with my friend, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Church. He answers this question.
Dr. Erwin Lutzer: You know, John, I think this is a tremendous truth. I mean, just imagine looking into the eyes of Jesus Christ, one on one, and He is going to evaluate everything that we have done since our conversion. And that’s exactly what the Bible teaches is that we shall stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. You know, the Greek word is bema and the reason for that is that it was a raised platform where some of the Greeks and the Romans stood, and it is there that the judges gave awards and wreathes to those who were in races and so forth.
And the apostle Paul says as we shall see today in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ.” He’s talking about Christians. He’s talking about himself. He’s talking about you and me. And many Christians have this idea that because Jesus Christ died for our sins that, somehow, we are going to slip into Heaven without an evaluation. And the Bible is very clear, that we will be evaluated by Jesus Christ, one on one.
Ankerberg: If you and I, as Christians, are going to be evaluated by Jesus Christ, why haven’t we heard very much about this Judgment? What will take place? Dr. Lutzer explains:
Lutzer: Well, John, there are so many misconceptions. For example, I’ve had people say to me, “Well, doesn’t Calvary cover it all? I mean, when I believed in Jesus, He took my sins and He put them into the depths of the sea and He remembers them no more. So I’m going to slip into Heaven regardless of the way in which I live without an evaluation.”
Well, that’s a misconception, because it is true that legally in Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven and we belong to God forever. We’ve been judicially acquitted before God and that’s how we enter into Heaven. But, that does not mean that God is not going to seriously review our lives at the Judgment Seat.
Here’s a verse, 2 Corinthians 5:10. I refer to it. It says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.” And that most assuredly rids us of the cherished hope that somehow we can live however we wish and we’ll never be seriously evaluated.
Think of this. Here’s Ananias and Sapphira. They are Christians so far as we know, and they believe in Jesus, and yet they are judged—this is Acts 5—and they actually die in judgment because they told a lie. Can’t you just imagine them arriving in Heaven and saying, “Now, why would God judge us? Peter told us that Calvary covered it all.”
Well, yes, of course, through faith in Christ they are legally acquitted. But the fact is that God still judges justified sinners. Just as David who committed the twin sins of murder and adultery and the child that was born to Bethsheba died. It was a judgment. Now, it’s interesting that David’s sins were forgiven. David will be in Heaven. And if God can judge us on earth because of disobedience, the fact is that there’s no inconsistency to believe that indeed He is going to judge us when we stand before him directly at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Now, what is the difference between the Judgment Seat of Christ and the judgment known as the Great White Throne Judgment? Listen:
Lutzer: John, there are many people who don’t realize that there are actually two judgments in the Bible. One of the judgments is known as “The Great White Throne Judgment.” That’s where the dead of all the ages who have never trusted Christ as Savior, who have never believed in the true God. They are the ones who will be judged by God and, unfortunately, their judgment will be hell. But hell will not be the same for everyone.
But in the very same way, we are talking now about a judgment that takes place in Heaven. This is a judgment for Christians. The issue at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ is not going to be whether we are believers or not, or whether we are going to enter into Heaven or not. The fact is that all of us who appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ will be in Heaven. But just like hell will not be the same for everyone, Heaven will not be the same for everyone. There are going to be different levels of responsibility.
Now, there are many people who say, “Well, if you believe in a judgment for Christians, then our works must have some merit.” Well, let me be very clear that before salvation our works have no merit at all. The Bible is so very clear when it says, “By grace we are saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works.” [Eph. 2:8-9]
So right at this moment even if there is somebody listening to this who thinks that they are going to be evaluated by God as to whether or not they get into Heaven based on their works, they are wrong. What they need to do is to accept Christ to receive the free gift of eternal life that He offers to all who believe. But nevertheless, having believed on Christ, we are judged for our works.
Now, John, as we’ve mentioned, there are some people who say, “Well, our works are always tainted and, therefore, how can our works be pleasing to God?” Well, the good news is this. Once we are saved, the Scripture says we are saved “unto these good works,” [Eph. 2:10] these good works are pleasing to God. And it is true—and we’re going to be looking at this in more detail in a future program—it is true that our works are always tainted. But the good news is, Jesus Christ makes these works acceptable to the Father. The Bible says that we are to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” [1 Pet. 2:5] And that’s why Jesus unashamedly tells people that if they are faithful, they will be rewarded.
For example, in Luke 14 He talks about those who invite the lame and the blind and those who cannot repay to a feast. He said do that “because you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [Luke 14:14] So our works do have merit in the sight of God. And it’s very important for us to recognize that the way we live today has eternal repercussions.
Ankerberg: Wouldn’t a Christian be selfish if the real reason he wanted to live for Christ was to earn rewards? Isn’t that wrong? According to our Lord, apparently not. Listen.
Lutzer: You know, John, I’ve often heard it said, “Shouldn’t we serve God just because we love Him and not for rewards” and this sounds so very, very pious. Well, of course, God is worthy of our worship and our service whether or not we are rewarded. But the idea of rewards is not ours; it is the Father who is pleased to give us rewards. And it’s the Father’s idea that He is going to bless us and that’s why throughout the New Testament you have so many people, Old Testament and New Testament, motivated by rewards. See, one of the reasons we can serve God is because of selfishness.
But let me ask you something today. Is it wrong to want to serve God because you want to please Christ? I hope that you realize that it’s important that we please Him. I mean, I just am thinking about it now, John, and imagine looking into the eyes of Jesus! I’d love to hear “Well done” from Him!
And here’s what the apostle Paul says—and this is a very important text. We’ve already alluded to it but I want to read it so that we understand it with a great deal of clarity. When he says in 2 Corinthians 5 that we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ, he says, “Therefore, we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him,” [2 Cor. 5:9] and then he says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” [2 Cor. 5:10] And by the way, after he says that, he says in verse 11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade men.”
Many people look at that and they think, “Well, the apostle Paul must be talking about non-Christians,” but in context he’s talking about us. Now, we’re going to take a lot of time to put all of this in balance to realize that the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ should not be something that we exactly fear; but, nevertheless, John says that we should live in such a way that we will not be ashamed at His coming.
What am I saying? Simply this. It is not wrong to be motivated by rewards as long as we realize that the main reward is to receive the approval of Christ, to please Him. Now, with that in context, look at all of the times in Scripture that people were motivated by rewards.
Jesus was motivated? Why? “The joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross.” [Heb. 12:2] What about Abraham who “looked for a city which had foundations, whose maker and builder is God”? [Heb. 11:10] What about the eleventh chapter of Hebrews? Moses was motivated because he “had respect for the coming reward.” [Heb. 11:26] Paul says, “I run and I lay hold of the truth that I may not have run in vain.” [Gal. 2:2]
So for all of these reasons we should be motivated to do well. In fact, I like what Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian, said, that his desire was “to achieve as much happiness as possible in the future life by faithfulness here.” That was not a selfish remark. He wants to please Jesus and I hope you do, too, and that’s the real motivation.
Ankerberg: If God wants to give Christians rewards for living for Christ, is the reward going to be one-to-one, that is, a certain amount of pay for so much work? The answer is, “No.” According to our Lord, our rewards will be much more generous than we will ever deserve. Listen:
Lutzer: You know what’s important to realize is that when we talk about rewards, we’re not talking about a certain amount of pay—so many days you work. This isn’t like a paycheck. Do you know what the Scripture teaches is that God is pleased to give us more than we could ever earn? In fact, as we shall point out, rewards are not earned in the traditional sense and the understanding of the word. The Father delights to give to His sons. I’ll tell you why He has given us the opportunity to serve Him. It is simply this. Because He wants to test us to see whether we are ready for greater responsibility.
And, of course, we are motivated because we love God. But because we love God, we want to please Him. We want to be all that the Creator can possibly make us to be—and that’s the motivation. And if we live that way, along with that graciously come the rewards that God gives to those who believe. And so we have to look at rewards as a marvelous opportunity to prove our loyalty and our faithfulness to God. And as we shall be seeing, it is possible to lose rewards, to lose much at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. It is also possible to gain much. And when you think of the eternal repercussions, you just begin to come to the very limits of your understanding.
Ankerberg: In talking about the Judgment Seat of Christ, “Aren’t Christians going to take crowns that are given to them and cast them at Christ’s feet – therefore after our initial meeting with Christ, it won’t really matter how we’ve lived our lives?” This simply isn’t the case. Listen.
Lutzer: John, I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody has said to me, “Well, don’t you think that we’re just going to cast our crowns before Christ anyway? And because of that it doesn’t really matter the way in which I live the Christian life because ten minutes into eternity, I’m going to forget how badly I did and everything is going to be sweetness and light and it really won’t matter.” Well, a couple of comments. First of all, the way in which you live here will have eternal repercussions. Ten minutes into eternity it will still matter the way in which you lived for Jesus Christ here or did not live for Him. That is very important. But, secondly, the rewards are not medallions that we just cast at the feet of Jesus. Of course, if we have crowns we’d gladly cast them at His feet. I’m not debating that point. But the crowns themselves are not the rewards.
Now, sometimes the apostle Paul talks about the “crown of righteousness” [2 Tim. 4:8] and so forth and in the future broadcasts we will see that it is possible to have many different crowns—at least several. Well, how would you look with five crowns on your head? Now, here’s what we’re going to be explaining, and that is that rewards actually are future responsibilities and future privileges. Of course, if we have crowns, we’re glad to cast them at Christ’s feet. He might then be giving them back to us because the Bible says we’re going to reign forever and ever.
But let us divest ourselves of the idea that rewards are equal to crowns and these crowns will be cast at Christ’s feet; therefore, rewards are unimportant. They are very, very important. You and Christ, one on one, with your whole life present before you. The Bible says that “We shall give an account for the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.” [2 Cor. 5:10]
Ankerberg: If you are thinking, “I am a Christian, but I’m not really living for Christ like I could, therefore I’m just going to slip into heaven and sit in the back row and not make too much of a commotion.” Well, to be blunt, that’s not going to happen. Listen:
Lutzer: You know, John, one day a man said to me, “I’m a Christian, but I’m not living for Christ.” He said, “You know, as long as I get into Heaven and just sit in the back row, I’ll be happy.” Well, that sounds very pious, doesn’t it?
But I said to him, “What if the fact that you were in the back row is a result of the fact that you did not please Christ? What if He wanted you in the front row but you’re in the back because you did not please Him and you did not live for Him?”
You see, it’s so very important for us to realize that the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ has to do with our relationship to Christ and whether or not we have pleased our Savior who shed His blood to redeem us. That’s the issue. And may I say also that it’s been my experience when I hear people say, “Well, you know, I am content with a little shack in Heaven,” many of these are not at all content with a little shack on earth. They are trying to build the biggest house they can and amass the most wealth they can. And I say, “Isn’t that strange. They’re content with a little cabin in Heaven, but that will not do on earth!”
I want you to know, my friend, that the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ is incredibly important. In future broadcasts we’re going to be talking about what Christ is going to be looking for, exactly the way in which we will be examined. We’re going to answering questions like whether or not we will see our sins and how that evaluation will take place.
But for now I want you to realize that it says in Romans, “Each man shall give account of himself to God.” [Rom. 14:12] You know, when I sing I always like to sing in a choir. I like to sing in a congregation. I have never publicly sung a solo. But I want you to know that when we stand before Jesus Christ, we’ll not be in a choir. You’ll not be able to hide behind someone else or hope that an attorney will be able to put the best spin on it all. It’ll be just you and Jesus Christ. Just you and complete reality with all of its details.
Now, if that’s terrifying, I want you to know that it is also comforting for reasons that we’re going to be discussing in other broadcasts. And remember, we’re all going to be in on it. We’re going to be together. And we are going to see Jesus Christ and we also might be surprised at how generous He is when He rewards us. So if you’ve never trusted Him as Savior, if you’ve never believed on Him, I want you to know today that you come not with your good works. You come with your sin to receive Him, and after you become His son or His daughter, then you begin to live to please Him and then you will be appearing someday, along with all the rest of us, at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. And that will be a time of exposure. It will be a time of reality. But it will also be a time when the Bible says that each one shall have praise of God. He’s going to find something in our lives for which He can commend us. Jesus said, “For even a cup of cold water given in my name you’ll not lose your reward.” [Mark 9:41]
I hope that you’ll be able to stay with us because we are going to be discussing some of the questions that people have about that very momentous day. And may I say that the person you are today is preparing you for the person you will be throughout all of eternity.
Ankerberg: If right now you’re cringing at the idea of appearing before God with all of your sin, the Bible has good news and this instruction for you. Listen:
Lutzer: You know what the good news of the gospel is? Perhaps somebody is listening today that says, “You know, I’ve sinned so greatly.” I want you to know today that Jesus Christ died for sinners. Our sins should never drive us away from God. Our sins should drive us to God because there is provision in Jesus Christ. And if you are thinking today that you have sinned too much for God to forgive you, let me tell you this. If you believe that Jesus did all that ever will be necessary for you to stand in God’s presence and you believe that, you will be saved and you will not come into eternal condemnation.
Let’s make that very, very clear. Through faith in Christ we are forgiven. It is not a matter of works. It is not a matter of bringing something from within our hearts and saying, “God, we present this to you.” Because everything that we bring from within our hearts is sinful. But we come to Christ in humility. We receive Him as Savior. And then we become His son and His daughter and then He begins to evaluate us and begins to “judge us” just like I do my own children, giving them an evaluation; disciplining them when they need it. That’s what we’re talking about on today’s program. So, there is hope for everyone.
And if you’re a Christian who has not been living for Jesus Christ, I want you to know today that through repentance and faith and yieldedness, you can do something today for which you will be rewarded because Jesus is generous. Don’t forget that the person who judges us as Christians is our Savior and our Brother. It is the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. So let’s keep that distinctive. If you’ve never believed on Him, do that today. If you know Him as Savior, live for Him because we’re going to give an account to the One whom we love.

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