The Rewards You Can gain or Lose at the Judgment Seat of Christ – Program 3

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998
Why will we be judged? Hasn’t Jesus already forgiven all our sins?

The Purpose of 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.

Ankerberg: Welcome. If you are a Christian, do you realize that the Bible says someday you will appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ? Why? What’s the purpose of this judgment? Hasn’t Christ forgiven all of your sins? My guest is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, the senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. I asked him, “Why is it that so many Christians are mistaken about the seriousness and importance of this judgment?” Listen:
Lutzer: John, in my ministry I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t realize that the Bible teaches that we shall all, as Christians, “stand before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ to give an account for the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.” [2 Cor. 5:10] I’ve had so many people tell me, “Well, there’s no way that Jesus Christ can judge us like that because our sins are forgiven.” Yes, our sins are legally forgiven and God does not hold them against us. But as His children, He still evaluates us. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 3:15 that there are some people who, when the Judgment takes place—we’re talking about Christians now—are going to be saved but “so as by fire.” He says, “They shall suffer loss.”
So let’s remember that the Judgment is going to be very thorough, as we talked about on previous programs. It is going to be a Judgment that is going to reveal everything. The manner of people that we are that day shall declare. And the way in which I live today is going to have some input into where I will be slotted in the Kingdom—eternal repercussions. Of course, everybody in Heaven is going to be happy; everybody serving the Lord. But there are some people who are going to be given greater responsibilities than others, as we shall see in another program, because of their faithfulness. So what we’re talking about today is very important and fundamental.
And if you are not a believer in Christ, you will not be at this Judgment. You will be at another judgment that the Bible calls “The Great White Throne Judgment.” And that assesses your response to God’s revelation. You’ll be judged on the basis of what you did with what you were given. But unfortunately, you will be lost forever.
So let’s remember, two different judgments, two different classes of people. And today, John, we’re talking about the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ for Christians.
Ankerberg: Now, through these programs, we have been talking about the rewards you can gain from Christ when you as a Christian stand at His Judgment Seat. What you are going to hear next is the background, the basis upon which God graciously promises He will reward even our smallest deeds. This is very important, so please listen carefully.
Lutzer: You know, John, when I talk about this topic of what we can gain when we stand before Jesus Christ, I have to say that I reach the very limits of my imagination. This just boggles my mind. And I wonder if many believers who are listening today possibly have never heard this before. Now, in order to set this up and to realize what we are talking about, I need to give just a little bit of background. Remember when Adam and Eve were created, the Bible says that Adam was created and then God sought a helpmeet for him. And, obviously, Adam did not find that helpmeet among the animals so God took and created Eve. And He separated femininity from masculinity and Eve was created and she became one with Adam—the two became one flesh.
What was their responsibility back then? It says in Genesis 1:26, “Let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air.” Adam was to rule and Eve was to have full partnership with him in that rule. She was a bride to sit on the same throne with the same responsibility that her husband Adam had.
Now, you know, of course, that sin ruined the whole picture. But then Jesus Christ comes to earth and Paul says that Christ is “the second Adam” [1 Cor. 15:45], and He comes to, what shall we say, clean up the mess that was made by the first Adam. And when Jesus Christ comes and dies, in eternity past God promised Christ a gift of redeemed humanity. This is what we call “the bride of Christ,” the Church. And the purpose of the bride of Christ, the ultimate goal of the bride of Christ, is that she might be able to rule with Christ sitting on the throne of the universe.
You know, John, there’s a verse in the Book of Revelation, several verses I should say, that just take us to the very limits of our thought. This is what it says. “He who overcomes I will grant to him to sit down with me on my throne as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” That’s Revelation 3:21. Did we grasp what the text is saying? That if we are overcomers, we will sit with Jesus Christ on His throne just as He overcame and sat on His Father’s throne? John, this means that we are going to be sitting on the throne of the universe, the throne of God! Now, this has nothing to do with New Age teaching that talks about the potential divinity of man or the potential greatness of man. No! It’s all because of God’s matchless grace picking us up out the muck of our sin, cleaning us off, and then elevating us to heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and being the bride of Christ to be able to sit with Him so that we are His judicial equal.
Now, we will never be equal to Jesus Christ as to who we are because we are the creature and He is the Creator. But what I mean to say is that we’re going to get to reign with Jesus Christ. “He who overcomes, to him I shall give him possession of all things,” [Rev. 21:7] it says in another text. What that means is this. It is because of the solidarity of the family that we have that privilege. You see, angels will not have this privilege. In fact, the Bible says, “We shall judge angels.” [1 Cor. 6:3] Not in the sense that they need to be judged but that we shall rule over them.
Why can’t angels have this privilege? It’s because angels are not a brother to Christ. And they don’t have God as their Father. And they don’t have aunts and uncles and cousins and grandfathers and grandmothers, you see? And it is because of the fact that Jesus became one of us in becoming our brother, the text of Scripture says, therefore when the title deed to the universe is read—since we are His brother, God is our Father, we are heirs of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ—we have to be there to hear about our inheritance. And we’re going to be rejoicing in the privilege that we will have to be with Him. Now, the text of Scripture is very clear, then, that we are to be like Christ to the extent that the creature can be like the Creator and participate with Christ in the rulership of the whole universe. That’s what we have to gain at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Ankerberg: Now, I think you know the Bible says the Church is the Bride of Jesus Christ. When we get to Heaven, there’s going to be an event called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where Christians are united with Christ forever. Everyone dresses up for a wedding, right? It’s especially important what the Bride wears. As a Christian, as part of the Church, one who makes up the Bride of Christ, what will you be wearing? Where will you get your clothes? The Bible gives us a very interesting answer to this question. Listen:
Lutzer: Well, you know, John, when you bring up the topic of weddings, all of us remember those happy occasions. I know that our daughter was married just a few months ago, and what a delight it is to see her and to see the new son-in-law that God has given to me. And everyone is always interested in how the bride is clothed. And you know, the Bible says there is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. And I believe that this will take place after the Rapture when we’re in Heaven with Jesus Christ and all believers who belong to the Church are present. But many people read this text, Revelation 19, quickly and they don’t realize what the bride is wearing. Listen carefully. “Then let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” [Rev. 19:7-8] Most people read that and they think, “Well, the fine linen is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” But that’s not what the text says.
Now let’s be very clear about this. You need two different suits in order to attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. First of all, you do need the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I was explaining the Gospel to a friend of mine the other day and he said, “Why do I have to believe in Jesus?” Well, the answer is, “You can’t get to Heaven unless you are as perfect as God.” And not a one of us is as perfect as God. So we believe in Jesus Christ. We receive His righteousness as the words of a hymn say, “Clothed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.’” But once we are there, we are clothed in “the righteous acts of the saints.”
John, what we are doing day by day is we are weaving a garment so that we will have something to wear at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. You see, our works before salvation do not merit anything in God’s sight, but after salvation they are very, very precious to God. And because they are so precious, we have the privilege today to prepare for that event. It’s sobering to realize that the way in which I live today will contribute to what I will be wearing at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, that is, “the righteous acts of the saints.”
Ankerberg: Now here’s a very important question: Is it possible for every Christian to get some reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ? Encouragingly, the answer is yes. Listen:
Lutzer: The fact of the matter is that everything we do is evaluated by Christ and becomes part of the equation. But let me encourage you by saying that Jesus said that, “A cup of cold water given in my name and you will not lose your reward.” [Matt. 10:42] I remember one day I knocked on the home of a friend just to make a delivery and the woman came to the door and her face was flush with tears and she said, “Please forgive me,” she said, “but you caught me in having my devotions,” and she said, “I spend time every morning praying for my family.” Now, John, that’s an example of a righteous act. Somebody who, in a way that nobody knows about, is serving the Lord Jesus Christ and as a servant is doing all that they possibly can for Him. It’s those kinds of acts that prepare us to stand before the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ and to know that He will not overlook them. Let me give you some encouragement. The Bible does say, “Each man shall have his praise of God.” [1 Cor. 4:5] John, I believe that God is going to search the “cosmic Internet” and He’s going to find something in all of our lives for which He can commend us and for which we will be rewarded.
Ankerberg: So far we have talked about what a Christian can gain at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Now is it possible that you as a Christian can lose rewards and privileges at the Judgment Seat of Christ that will impact you for all eternity? Listen:
Lutzer: John, we’ve talked about the glories of what we can gain if we are faithful—rulership with Jesus Christ; being overcomers. And I could just say parenthetically that many of us want to be overcomers but we do not want anything to overcome. But the reason that God gives us temptations and trials is so that we can become overcomers to rule with Jesus Christ. And just as we talked about the glories of what we can win, so to speak, what we can gain, the Bible also has warnings about what we can lose.
Listen carefully to the words of Paul. “Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” [1 Cor. 3:12-15]
John, the imagery there is of a house that’s burning and a man is running out of the house and he’s saved but everything collapses behind him. What Jesus is saying—and He’s talking here through the apostle Paul primarily to church leaders but it applies to all of us—is that it is possible to build a life on wood, hay, stubble.
Now, notice the contrast that we can see here between these two kinds of materials. You could have in your hand gold, silver, and precious stones and it would be of much more value than a whole field of wood, hay, and stubble. So it is not so much the quantity of what we do but the quality. Is it done for Christ? Is it done because we want to please Him or is it just an opportunity to showcase our own abilities? That’s the important thing that is being discussed here. The other thing that you have to realize is that the natural eye sometimes cannot tell the difference between these materials.
John, I like to think of it as Jesus Christ taking these and taking our works since our conversion—and that’s what we’re talking about—throwing it into the fire and there you can see that all of us have a mixture. And the real question is, after the fire has burned everything off, what is left? And we might discover that we can’t tell the difference always in this life between rubbish and rubies. But God will and the fire will. And also, it may well be that our works are turned into these kinds of materials, and so it would be possible for Jesus Christ to completely evaluate us without us seeing our sins directly. But everything that you and I do today I am either building with gold, silver, or precious stones, or wood, hay, stubble.
Ankerberg: Do you remember the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25 about servants who were given different talents by their master? Some were faithful in using the talents; some were unfaithful. Possibly, this parable is describing how some Christians will gain and some will lose rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Listen:
Lutzer: I think that what all of us would like to do is to have a picture of someone who suffered loss because it only seems very conceptual until we actually see the individual. Maybe the closest that we come is Jesus Christ’s parable, for example, in Matthew 25 where He talks about the people who were given different talents. You know the story. And there was one man who was unfaithful. He hid his talent because he said, “If I can’t be a ten-talent man, I’m not going to be a one-talent man.” And he had a very bad attitude and he hid it in the ground and then he presented it. And the master, you’ll remember, was very displeased with this servant. What did he lose? Well, first of all, he lost the approval of his master. In fact, the master said, “You wicked, lazy slave!” [Matt. 25:26] You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, would Jesus actually say something like that to a Christian, to one of His?” Well, possibly. Possibly. You know, not everyone is going to hear His, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” [Matt. 5:21, 23] Secondly, he experienced temporary rejection. Jesus said, “Take the talent from him and give it to somebody else.” [Matt. 26:28]
Now, of course, there are various ways to interpret this parable. Some people think that this unfaithful servant was not a Christian, and I can appreciate those who interpret it that way. But I think that there is a real important lesson to be learned here. And then the man was disciplined. He still was a servant, but he had lost something very important. He was not given authority over all of the cities. And the real motivation there should not have been, “Well, I want to have a lot of authority.” No, it’s pleasing the master. We always come back to that. The Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. I want you to know today that John said, “Let us live in such a way that we not have shame at His coming.” [1 John 2:28] And it’s very important that we remember that.
You know, John, so many people think that the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ is going to be unimportant and we’ve talked about the reasons they think that. I see it as the most incredible motivation one could ever have. In fact, I’d like to say that if standing before Jesus, looking into His eyes, and giving an account for the way in which we lived, if that does not motivate us to faithfulness and holiness, I suppose probably nothing will.
Ankerberg: What we have been talking about today are the rewards that you as a Christian can gain or lose at the Judgment Seat of Christ. You can’t lose your salvation, but you can lose rewards that will affect your status in Heaven for all eternity. Dr. Lutzer summarizes the rewards that you and I as Christians can lose in eternity for unfaithful living now. Listen:
Lutzer: Now, let’s just put this together in a capsule. What can you and I lose? Most important is we can lose the approval of our Master. Secondly, it may well be that some Christians will not get the opportunity to rule with Jesus Christ.
John, let me just clarify in some form what we can lose. We can lose the approval of our Master. Some Christians will not hear, “Well done.” Possibly, we might even lose the opportunity to rule with Christ because all of the promises of rule, regarding ruling in the Kingdom, are conditional: “If you suffer with Me, you shall rule with Me.” [2 Tim. 2:12] “If you overcome, to him I will grant to sit with Me on My throne.” [Rev. 3:21]
Thirdly, we can also forfeit very special privileges. You read the Book of Revelation and over and over again it says, “He who overcomes, to him I will grant….” and then it gives the blessings. It talks about intimacy with the Master: “I will give you a stone with your name upon it. I will give you hidden manna.” All of those promises have to do with the privileges of intimacy with Jesus Christ. All that can be lost and therefore I encourage you, beginning today, if you are not living wholeheartedly for Jesus, do it! Because we shall give an account.

Read Part 4


  1. Paul Fishman on September 6, 2022 at 3:41 pm

    I honestly believe that ALL of us who appear at the Judgement Seat of Christ will have to varying degrees gains or losses of eternal rewards similar to gains and losses in financial investments. Our spiritual investments into Christ and the Kingdom of God with each of us will have different rewards and results like a retirement benefit. Some of us will have few rewards to none. Others will have a moderate amount with some losses. Yet others will have few losses and many rewards. We all have to expect some degree of disappointment at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Yet each of us has to hope we lived the best we could to the Glory of God. None of us will stand perfect before the Lord in deeds but ALL of us will be saved by faith alone.

  2. Tom Signor on January 15, 2024 at 6:49 pm

    I really appreciate this post. I’m curious on your thoughts on something you mentioned: “but you can lose rewards that will affect your status in Heaven for all eternity.” My question isn’t about what would be “lost”, but rather status in Heaven for all eternity. I’ve always been confused by whether our eternal state is in Heaven or will it be on the new Earth once it is created? Will we live there at that time for all eternity? Will our new eternal bodies and spirit be always in Heaven or will we occupy earth. I’ve tried to figure this out in the Bible but continue to struggle. Do you ahve a post about that?

    Thanks – I’m not sure this “comment” section is the right place to ask a question like this but I’d appreciate if at all possible if you could respond to my email. Thanks again!

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