The Rewards You Can gain or Lose at the Judgment Seat of Christ – Program 4

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998
We will have to give an account for all the deeds we have done for Christ. How will Jesus evaluate our deeds?

Good Deeds


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’re a Christian, do you know what will take place at the Judgment Seat of Christ? Well, number one, you’ll be there. Number two, the Bible says we’re going to give an account of ourselves to Christ. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you know that some of the things that we do for our Lord are done with mixed motives. How will Christ evaluate such deeds? Listen to a conversation that I had with my friend, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. He answers this question.
Lutzer: Well, John, I think it’s very important to emphasize motives. We are supposed to want to serve God and to please Him. But let’s be realistic and admit the fact that our motives are always mixed, aren’t they? For example, we might help a woman across the street and we can hardly wait until dinner so that we can tell our family that we did the good deed for the day.
You know, I remember going along the road and I saw a woman who, obviously, her car was out of gas and she was walking along the road. So I went to a station. I bought a can. I bought some gas. And as I was standing there on the side of the road filling her car – or at least putting some gasoline in her car – I thought to myself, “You know, I just wish that all the people of Moody Church would see me now.” And that’s just the way we are, isn’t it?
How can these deeds be made acceptable to God? Well, the good news is, Jesus does that for those who are redeemed, for those who are saved. It says in 1 Peter that, “We are to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” [1 Pet. 2:5] And in Philippians Paul says essentially the same thing. He says, “The fruit of righteousness… which is for the glory of God through Jesus Christ.” [Phil. 1:11] So what I’d like to do today is to talk to you about those kinds of deeds that Jesus is actually looking for.
Ankerberg: What Erwin was just talking about is that when we try to serve Christ, if our deeds contain mixed motives, Christ cleanses these deeds and makes them acceptable to the Father. Let’s talk about this a little bit more. What exactly will Christ be looking for in your life when you stand before Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ? When the Bible speaks about our works being either gold, silver, or precious stones, or wood, hay, or stubble, what’s the difference? Dr. Lutzer explains.
Lutzer: We’ve been leading up to this in this series of programs and, finally, we are here. What’s the difference between the “gold,” “silver,” and “precious stones” that we talked about; and the “wood,” the “hay,” and the “stubble”? [1 Cor. 3:12] So, if you’re listening today and you want to be pleasing to Christ and to do well at the Judgment Seat, I’d like to give you ten references in the Scripture that will help you to understand what Christ will be looking for.
I begin, for example, with, first, the ability to endure injustice in His name. Listen to the text as it comes from Matthew 5. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you.” [Matt. 5:11-12] I want you to know today that if you get the opportunity to be fired from a job for Jesus, don’t miss that opportunity because Christ said your reward will be great. And He brings persecution of various kinds into our lives however we might define that. Why? So that we can have the opportunity of a great reward – if we handle it biblically. Let me give you a second example of what Jesus is looking for.
Second, financial generosity. Remember in Matthew 6 He says, “Don’t lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up treasures in heaven.” [Matt. 6:19-20] In fact, Jesus frequently used money as an example of faithfulness. He said in one text if you cannot take care of that which is another’s [namely, what God gives to you] how will you receive the true riches? [Luke 16:11] So Jesus says to us: “What I want you to do is to live in such a way that you have rewards in Heaven.” Good investors will tell you that you need two things. Number one, a secure investment; and number two, one that increases. Nothing could be better than us giving generously to the work of the Lord so that we will indeed have something that meets us in the judgment day.
You know the old story about the man who goes to Heaven and he sees the shack and he is not very happy with it. And then, of course, the words of Peter that say, “Well, we did the best that we could with what you sent up here.” It’s a funny story but it has some truth to it.
Third, Jesus Christ is going to be looking for hospitality. Listen to these amazing words: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors lest they also invite you in return and repayment comes to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed since they do not have the means to repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [Luke 14:12-14] What an amazing statement! Jesus is saying that we should go up and out of the way to treat those people who can never invite us back to give generously without the intention of receiving. And God takes note of these things and they become important to Him. Those are the kinds of deeds that Jesus Christ will be looking for in the day of judgment.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’ve been talking about things that Jesus wants to see in your life when you stand before Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. These are the things that He will reward. I next asked Dr. Lutzer to comment about the importance of the attitude of our heart. Here’s what he said:
Lutzer: And, of course, as we have been emphasizing, the attitude of heart is so important. You remember the story of how Jesus watched that widow give her two mites. I’ve heard of the “widow’s mite” but actually I think the text says she gave two of them, bless her heart. And Jesus said she gave “more than all the others” because she gave from a willing heart and really was giving all of her living. [Mark 12:41-44] So it’s not the amount, it’s the attitude; it’s the heart of generosity that God is interested in. And we will be rewarded at the resurrection of the righteous.
Let me give you something else that Jesus will be looking for and that is, fourth, the spiritual disciplines. Now, these are listed in Matthew 6. He says, “When you pray, go into your closet.” Don’t make a public display of it. Do it for God. “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” [Matt. 6:6] The same regarding giving that we spoke about just a moment ago. Don’t give so that people think of you as a great giver; give secretly and give generously because God is watching. The same has to do with fasting. Let us do some things in our lives that are done just for God. And those are the kinds of works that will attract the attention of Christ at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ.
Let me give you another. Fifth, faithfulness in our vocation. In the third chapter of Colossians, Paul was talking to slaves, remember, and slaves had a very hard time. But listen carefully and we’ll see the application for us today. “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service as those who merely please men but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” [Col. 3:22-24] You may not be paid well in this world, but if you are faithful and you are serving Christ and you are working as if your responsibility is to Him, you will be rewarded, the Scripture says, and “receive the reward of the inheritance.”
My friend, today, I want you to capture the fact that Jesus is interested in the details. There are many things that we have done that we have forgotten about where we have blessed people and encouraged people, and we don’t remember them, but He is recording them and that’s why He can be so detailed and actually tell us that “a cup of cold water and you will not lose your reward.”
Ankerberg: Do you have to be somebody like Billy Graham or a missionary to do well at the Judgment Seat of Christ? No. So what are the things that every Christian can do that will bring a reward from Jesus in the future?
Lutzer: Now, I’ve given you five things that Jesus Christ will be looking for in the day of judgment so I have to turn to you and ask, “How are you doing so far? Do you have at least three of the five or two of the five?” I want you to know today that you can begin to do differently. If I were sitting in your living room and we could communicate one on one, I’d like to be able to hear from you where you are at, because I’m interested in you doing well in the day of judgment. I’m concerned, first of all, about myself; but I’m concerned about you, too. And so as we continue the list, hang in; don’t get discouraged. Because remember, the Lord Jesus Christ is on your side and He is here to help all of us.
Number six is loving the unlovable. You know, sometimes I hear people say, “Well, I want to be godly!” John, you’ve heard people talk like that. They’ll say they want to be godly and I’m sure they are sincere. Well, one way that we can be God-like is for us to love our enemies. Jesus said, “If you love your enemies,… you will receive a great reward and you will be like your Father who is heaven who gives blessings to the just and the unjust.” [Luke 6:35] So that person who is so difficult to love, I want you to see it as a challenge for you to learn to love so that you will be God-like. God loves the unlovable and we should, too. Our reward will be great.
Let’s go on to number seven: doctrinal integrity. In 2 John 1 we read that we should hold fast those truths that have been given to us that we might not lose our reward, or rather, that we should have a full reward. [1 John 1:8] You see, that reminds me, again, John, that it is possible for some people to receive a partial reward. This idea that everybody is going to be the same in Heaven; everybody is going to be rewarded the same is simply not biblical. The idea of rewards literally breathes and bleeds from the passages of Scripture.
Let’s go on to the next one. Eighth is our investment in people. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, “Who is our joy and our rejoicing? Is it not you at the appearing of Jesus Christ?” I’d like to think of the fact that when we stand before the Lord Jesus, the lives that we have touched, that is going to be an important component in our evaluation and in our judgment. And you know, you may be in a position today where you can help many people, where you can touch their lives and encourage them in the Christian faith, where you can witness to others. This becomes a part of what Jesus Christ is going to be looking for. Who is our “crown of rejoicing”? Who is our joy? It’s the people whose lives we have influenced for the cause of the Gospel. Well, we have two more and I hope all of you are doing well because all of us need to be reminded of those things that Christ considers important.
Number nine, watching for Christ’s return. The apostle Paul says that he is going to receive “the crown of righteousness.” But Paul says, “I want to receive the crown of righteousness that will be given not to me only, but to all those also who love His appearing.” [2 Tim. 4:8] And Jesus, in a parable in Luke 12 and elsewhere, He commended those servants who were faithful, who were waiting for their Master’s return. You know, any day Christ could come and He could come to receive us. And the question is, “Do we love Him so much that we desire to see Him and say, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’ or do we say, ‘Lord Jesus, don’t come back yet. Let me wait until I do this, this, and this, and then return.’”
John, I’d like to think that you and I and the listening audience today so loves Jesus that they can hardly wait to see Him face to face. And if we love Him more, you know, we can even represent Him better. I like Gustave Dore who painted a beautiful picture of Jesus and somebody said, “You must love Him to paint Him like that!” And Gustave Dore said, “Yes, I do love Him. But if I loved Him more, I could paint Him better.” And my desire in life is to love Him more so that I can paint Him better.
Well, we’ve come to number ten, and that is: suffering. It says in 1 Peter 1:7 that, “We suffer in such a way that our faith might be refined and that we might be to the honor and glory and praise of Jesus Christ.” You know what I’d like to think? It is that God sends heartaches and suffering our way so that we can be rewarded; so that we can have something to present to Him. And that, of course, is presented to Him because we love Him. I want you to know, today, that I think that the rewards that Jesus Christ offers and the things that He is looking for, those deeds, the best deeds we can do are those that are done in total dependence upon Him. In fact, let me put it differently and say that the deeds that attract Christ’s attention is when Christ Himself is manifest in us and we are aware of the fact that there is no good in us but only good in Jesus. And to the extent in which we allow Him to live His life and to reproduce Himself in us, to that extent we are going to be rewarded.
There is that old story about Michelangelo who was walking along and he saw a block of marble and he said, “I see an angel in that marble.” And, of course, what Michelangelo did is he chiseled that block of marble until the angel came out, so to speak. You know, somebody once asked a sculptor, “How do you make an angel?” He said, “That’s no problem. You just take a block of marble and you chip away everything that isn’t angel.” Well, that’s what God is doing in our lives. He is chipping away everything that isn’t Jesus and the extent to which we love Him and live for Him, to that extent we will hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Ankerberg: Now, if you’ve been listening to the program today, I don’t want you to get the idea that it’s because of your good works that you are able to merit God’s forgiveness and earn Heaven. No one can do that. But then how do you get to Heaven and on what basis does Christ offer us rewards? Listen:
Lutzer: Now, I want to have a very important word with you. We’ve been talking about some very serious matters, namely, being judged at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. But I have a prior question to ask you. Have you ever wondered how perfect you have to be to get to Heaven? I’ve asked people that question and many of them say, “Well, I hope not too perfect or I wouldn’t make it.” I want you to know that unless you are as perfect as God, you will be lost forever.
But here’s the good news. When we stop trusting in ourselves and we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we receive His righteousness and in God’s sight we are as perfect as He Himself is. “He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might receive the righteousness of God in Him.” [2 Cor. 5:21] Isn’t that good news? I’m speaking today possibly to somebody who right now can say, “Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner. I receive your free gift.” Now, if you do that, it is then that you will be at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ to give an account for the deeds that you have done since your conversion; for some of you, since this very moment because now you have become a son or daughter of God and now, as a Father, He is going to evaluate you. That’s what we’ve been talking about. And I want you to know that all that you do for Him is recorded and it’s very important and precious to Him.
I have given you ten things that Jesus Christ will be looking for. We read over the list and we admit to ourselves that we don’t have all of these qualities. I may be speaking to Christians who have really messed up their lives. Where do you begin? You begin today by yieldedness and faith, remembering that every deed that you do from now on, those deeds can be made acceptable to the Father through Jesus Christ if you do them in humility and in dependence upon Him.
I’m reminded of that story about the Rajah, that wealthy man who was there in India. And if I may say, it’s a wonderful legend. He was riding along in a beautiful chariot and there was a beggar standing along the road with a bowl of rice, hoping to receive something. And the Rajah got off the chariot and went to the beggar and said, “Beggar, give me some of your rice!”
The beggar was incensed. “How could he ask me for something?” So very gingerly and angrily the beggar gave the wealthy man a grain of rice.
And the Rajah said, “Give me more of your rice!” And the beggar gave him a second grain of rice; and then a third. No more.
The Rajah got on to his beautiful chariot and road away. The beggar was absolutely furious! In anger, he looks at the grains of rice that were still in his bowl and he noticed that something glittered. He looked more carefully. It was a piece of gold just the size of a grain of rice. And then he looked even more carefully and found just two more. For every grain of rice, a grain of gold.
You know, that’s the way we’re going to find it at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. Our rice for His gold. Our lives and our witness for His blessing and the honor of belonging to Him throughout all of eternity. Let’s say today like the beggar did: “Oh! Oh! If I had only given him all of my rice!!” Well, we have the opportunity today to give to Christ all that we are and we will be rewarded. And by the way, John, that’s the gold that will survive the fire that we’ve talked about in another broadcast.

Read Part 5

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