The Rewards You Can gain or Lose at the Judgment Seat of Christ – Program 2

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998
If we are judged by God, what is the standard against which we will be judged? What will the judgment encompass?

A Review of Your Life


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.

Ankerberg: Welcome. Do you know what the Bible teaches about the Judgment Seat of Christ? Will there be any tears in Heaven? It’s an interesting topic. I’d like you to listen to a conversation that I had with my friend, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, the senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. I asked him this question: If a person says, “I’m a Christian, but I have committed many terrible sins during my life before I got saved, the consequences of which are still going on. Is there any hope that a person like me can gain great rewards from Jesus in the future?” The wonderful news is, “Yes.” Listen:
Lutzer: John, you know, I received a letter from a woman who said that she was a star in pornography movies. And she said, “Now, I’m a Christian.” But she said, “The impact of what I have done continues to go on. Is there any hope for me?” First of all in salvation. Actually she had become a Christian so the answer to that question was already, “Yes.” But she said, “Can I gain any rewards in Heaven?”
Now, that’s a very interesting question and we need to sort out certain ideas here. First of all, here she comes to Jesus Christ as a sinner and she receives His forgiveness freely. The Bible says that eternal life is the gift of God. It is not of works. But now that she is a Christian, she is going to be evaluated by Jesus Christ as one of His daughters. And you know what the good news is? The answer is, “Yes,” she can receive rewards from Jesus Christ. In fact, she may even get to reign with Him. We’re going to be talking about that in a future program – the fact that we are going to have the privilege to be with Christ and some of the awesome promises that are given to those who are faithful.
And the apostle Paul, you remember, was a persecutor of the Church and yet he expected to do well at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. He even looked forward to it. He felt that he had run the race very well. So let’s be clear about this. When we receive Jesus Christ as Savior, it is because of His gift, not of works. But having received Him, the Bible says that, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” That’s talking about me. It’s talking about you as a Christian, individually, looking into the eyes of Jesus and having your entire life present before you. In fact, the Bible says that, “We shall be made manifest… we shall appear.”
Now, you think of a house after a tornado has gone through the neighbor and all of the hidden things, the closets and what’s in the basement, are suddenly all laid bare. Now, that may be very scary when you think about standing in the presence of God. But I want you to know that there are certain things that Jesus Christ will be looking for. He will be gracious.
And you know, John, that might be a good place for us to begin as we think about the Judgment Seat. A couple of comments, a couple of characteristics are so important. First of all, we will be judged fairly. After all, the Person who is doing the judgment is none other than our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; our Brother, the One who died for us. Let’s remember that when we do stand before Him, He’s on our side. He wants us to do well. He is going to do all that He possibly can so that we will be adequately rewarded and we will be received and welcomed by Him.
Also, we will be judged, however, thoroughly. Now, many people wonder whether or not we will see our sins in the judgment and maybe in a future program we will talk about that in more detail. Let me simply say this: that the Scripture talks about some people who suffer major loss. That’s 1 Corinthians 3:15. If we do see our sins, most assuredly they will be represented to us as totally forgiven by God and under the blood of Jesus Christ. But let me say this: but the way in which I live today is going to have an input into the Judgment. Remember the illustration of the wood, hay, and stubble, and gold, silver, and precious stones? The way in which I live today determines whether I will have more wood, hay, stubble, or gold, silver, and precious stones. And then it’s going to be torched. That’s the imagery. And Jesus Christ is going to separate the true from the false; the reality from the fake. And it’s all going to be “made manifest,” the Scripture says, and some people shall suffer great loss. They’ll be saved, but they shall suffer loss. [1 Cor. 3:11-15] We’ll discuss that in more detail in our next program.
Ankerberg: Another question concerning the Judgment Seat of Christ is, “Do you think that all Christians will receive the same reward from Christ? Or do you think that ten minutes after you have appeared at the Judgment Seat of Christ it won’t matter for the rest of eternity how well you did?” You may be surprised. Listen:
Lutzer: You know, John, it is not true to say that ten minutes into eternity it won’t matter how well I did at the Judgment, because as we shall be pointing out, the way in which we live here has repercussions throughout all of eternity. I’m even suggesting that possibly some people will not get the opportunity to reign with Jesus Christ because of unfaithfulness. Because reigning with Christ is always conditional: “If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him,” [2 Tim. 2:12] the Scripture says. If we are overcomers, we shall be able to reign with Him. But perhaps we can discuss that in more detail in a future program.
But how thorough is this judgment going to be? Alright, visualize two Christians who can’t get along. Maybe they’ve been divorced. All kinds of awful things are said between them. But both of them are believers. Both of them are going to appear in Heaven. Do you mean to tell me that when they get to Heaven, they’re going to walk in hand-in-hand and old animosities all forgotten, all hushed up; everything pretending to be okay? No! It’s the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ where final reconciliation and adjudication will take place.
That’s why the apostle Paul could say this to the people at Corinth: “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” [1 Cor. 4:5]
It is at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ that final justice will be brought. People perhaps have said things about you that are false. They’ve wronged you deeply and you’ve not been able to reconcile it. It’s at the Judgment Seat where it’s all going to come out and God is going to show Himself to be perfectly just.
That’s why the apostle Paul can say, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves. ‘I will recompense,’ says the Lord. ‘I will repay.’” [Rom. 12:19] We usually think of that in relationship to the unconverted, but Paul is talking about believers, also. And throughout all of eternity we are going to sing, “Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” [Rev. 15:3] That’s why the respected theologian John Murray even says that, “We as believers will want this kind of judgment as we stand before Jesus Christ. We will want to see His graciousness. We will want to see the final judgment on sin and the reconciliation that should have taken place here on earth but is going to have to wait until Heaven before it happens.”
Ankerberg: When we stand before Christ at His Judgment Seat, will we be able to hide any of our past? And will this judgment take place in front of my family, my friends, the people at church? Listen:
Lutzer: The way that I visualize it is this: that Jesus Christ brings to that Judgment Seat the two offenders. Their lives are exposed. Reality finally comes out. The Scripture text that I just read said that “the motives of men’s hearts will be disclosed” [1 Cor. 4:5] and there reconciliation will take place. Now, whether or not the individuals will ask one another for forgiveness, we are not told that explicitly in Scripture. But I can certainly imagine that taking place. But at last people will be vindicated. Think of the people to whom I speak today, and you may be one of them, my dear friend. You have been deeply wronged by Christians. It’s at the Judgment Seat of Christ where finally the truth is going to come out. And that’s why we don’t have to avenge ourselves. We don’t have to think that we have to right every wrong, every bit of injustice. We do all that we can, but we know that God is going to handle it. And that’s what the word “judgment” really means. It is the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Sometimes, you know, John, I’m amazed at the number of people who want to take the judgment out of the Judgment Seat. Well, this is the time when we all stand before the Judge and it will be very, very thorough. It will also be impartial. The Bible says that “there is no partiality with God.” [Rom. 2:11] You know, you say, “Well, what about pastors and missionaries. Will they get special privileges?” No. Actually the opposite is the case. It says that “We should not seek to be teachers because to us is the greater condemnation.” If I might say this, people who are in ministry like John, you, or myself, we will have greater responsibility when we stand before God. And so it’s very important that the way in which we teach, the lives that we live, I can’t overemphasize the fact that this will have repercussions that will go on and on and on.
Ankerberg: Here’s another question: What if I’m a Christian but I die with some unconfessed sins? Is the Lord going to bring those up? Then what happens? Listen:
Lutzer: You know, John, the fact is that when we stand before Jesus Christ, I’m sure that if we wanted to dispute one of His charges, we’d be given the opportunity; but we won’t, because reality will be present before us. All of the disguises, all of the shaping of truth, all of the manipulation that you and I become so skilled at doing suddenly is going to fall by the wayside because, finally, we are seeing things as they are.
You know, George Whitefield was a famous evangelist who was greatly criticized in his day and many people spoke against him. What he wanted to have on his grave stone was this—and what a statement: “The manner of man that George Whitefield was that day shall declare.” Do you know that at that time it will not matter what people think? The newspapers that wrote articles against him, whether friend or foe, it makes no difference. Suddenly, you have reality and the manner of man, the manner of woman we are, that day will declare. It is going to be a very thorough, impartial judgment.
You know, John, there is another characteristic that I’m convinced about and that is that it might even be public. I take that from the parables of Jesus, you know. Do you remember the unfaithful servant and he was given a talent that he did not use and it was brought to Christ or to the king, I should say, in the parable. And he said, “Take the talent from him and give it to the bystanders.” Now, that might be terrifying! Imagine my life in the presence of Jesus Christ and you, John, watching, and your whole television audience watching and everybody watching. Do you know what? It won’t matter a bit. I will not care if the universe is watching. All that I want to see is the approval of Jesus Christ. We’re all going to be in the same boat. It says in Romans 14:12 that, “Each man shall himself give an account to God.” And we’re going to stand there in the presence of Jesus and I believe that the look on His face is going to tell it all.
Ankerberg: If you’re seriously listening to what is being said, maybe you’re asking, “How can any Christian bear to stand before Christ and have Him go through every part of your life?” If that’s what you are saying, here’s some encouragement for you. Listen:
Lutzer: One of the things that we have to realize is this, that the best thing that we can do to prepare for the Judgment Seat in addition to living for Christ – and believe me, we are going to spend an entire program just on the topic of what Jesus Christ is going to be looking for. We’re going to be explaining that and answering some of your questions – but the other thing we have to do is to make sure that we are living in fellowship with Christ and have no hidden sins that we continually give an excuse for.
Now this is what Paul said to the people in Corinth, many of whom were carnal Christians—that is to say, they were not full-grown believers living for Jesus Christ—he says, in fact, some people were judged and actually died because they dishonored the Lord’s Table. And then he says, “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged.” [1 Cor. 11:31] I interpret Paul’s words to mean this: that those sins that we commit that we ask forgiveness for, that we repent of, they will still have input into the final assessment of wood, hay, or stubble. You know, you can’t just live for yourself and then confess all your sins before you die and expect to do well at the Judgment Seat. But those sins will not be specifically brought to our attention at the Judgment Seat. It is the unresolved issues that we spoke about a moment ago that will still be judged. That’s why Paul said that “if we judged ourselves, we should not be judged.”
And so I encourage you today, even as I encourage myself, to simply say, “Lord, what is there in my life that is displeasing to you? May I turn from it in simple faith and repentance because I want to hear your ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’” [Matt. 25:23]
Ankerberg: If you’re beginning to realize that you alone will stand before God and you’re beginning to wonder if you’ll even be in Heaven, possibly it’s because you have never truly believed on Jesus Christ. Or maybe one day you truly believed in Jesus but you are worried because you haven’t lived for Him and there’s a lot of sin in your life even as a Christian. If either of these is true of you, then I’d like you to listen very carefully to this next part:
Lutzer: Now, of course, I may be speaking to someone tonight and you say, “Wow! How can we even bear it, standing before Jesus Christ! Nothing but reality!” Well, I want you to know that we will also be judged graciously. Remember—and I’ve said it before but we have to repeat—that the One who is doing the Judgment is the One who loves us and died for us. You might say, “Well, is Jesus Christ going to be angry when I stand before Him?” I don’t think it’s a matter of anger, but He might be displeased.
For example, let’s suppose if a father were to tell his son, “You know, if you mow the lawn ten weeks in a row, I’ll take you up in the airplane.” And the father is a pilot; he can make a promise like that. Now, the son mows the lawn the first time, maybe the second time. By the third and fourth time he doesn’t finish it. And by the fifth and sixth time, he’s not doing it at all. And now the time comes and the boy comes and says to the father, “Will you let me go with you up in the sky in your airplane?” What is the father to say? Is he angry with the boy? Does he chide the boy? No. But the father is displeased and the father says, “No. You can’t because you were unfaithful.”
And I suppose at this moment as I think about standing before Jesus, that’s possibly what He might say if we are unfaithful. You know, John, there’s a remarkable scene I saw on television and maybe you saw it, too. It was when Diane Sawyer asked Billy Graham the question, “How would you like to be remembered?” Billy didn’t really answer the question directly. He said something else. He looked at her and great sadness came across his face and then he said, “I would like it if the Lord were to say to me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’ But I don’t think He will.” Wow! I looked at that and I thought two things immediately.
Number one, “Billy, maybe you’re being more humble than you have to be. After all, you’ve preached the Gospel to so many millions of people.” The second thought that came immediately to mind is this: that if Billy Graham doesn’t think that he’s going to hear the “Well done,” well, John, what chance do you and I have? That’s the thought that came to me.
But I want to tell you this, my friend, today. In this respect Mr. Graham was absolutely right. The fact that he is famous, the fact that he has preached the Gospel to millions, will not be part of the equation. These are gifts that God has given to him. The fact is that you today as a banker, as a factory worker, as a farmer, as an attorney, we all have the same opportunity to be rewarded by Christ because we’re going to be rewarded on the basis of faithfulness with our time, our talent, our treasure. And every day that we live has some input into whether we are building with gold, silver, or precious stones, or wood, hay, stubble. And so in the end, it’s going to be burned and that which we thought was simply a 2×4 might turn out to be a piece of gold. That’s why some of the people at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ are going to be those of whom we’ve never heard and they’re going to do very, very well.
I told a friend of mine once, I said, “You know, I don’t even expect to see you in Heaven!” He was so shocked. The man had gone through so many trials—I won’t even tell you about them—and he was faithful. And I said, “You know, the reason is because you’re going to be so close to Christ and I’m going to be so far back that we’re not even going to meet.” Well, of course, I was kidding to some extent but there’s some truth in what I’m saying that those who are faithful with the trials and the labors that Jesus Christ has put upon them, they will do well. And so we think of the words of Whitefield which would apply to Billy Graham and to you and to me, “What manner of man Whitefield was that day shall declare.” One on one; just Jesus and you and nothing but reality.
Tonight I’m sure we’re talking to two different classes of people. In fact, the whole world breaks into two different classes. There are those of you who have never trusted Christ as Savior. God is not yet your Father. You have to believe in Him to be saved and that is a free gift. I want you to know today that you may be a criminal and you can come to Jesus Christ and receive His forgiveness, His cleansing, and you can become a member of God’s family. The other category, that, of course, we’re talking about, the members of God’s family, those of us who have believed. And as we’ve been talking about the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ, we’re reminded of the fact that we, too, shall stand before God. The issue will not be whether or not we get into Heaven because that’s never a matter of works. The issue will be our faithfulness and our rewards in Heaven. So let’s keep that distinct.
And I want to urge you today that if you’ve never believed in Jesus, do that right now. Simply receive His forgiveness and His love. And if you know Him as Savior, would you begin today to make sure that your life is yielded to Him, faithful in all that He has given you, so that you and I might someday look into His eyes and see Him say to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Read Part 3

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