Part 3: The Judgment Seat of Christ

by Pastor Paul M. Sadler

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“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:13-15).

As we have seen, one of the symbols of the Word of God is fire. At the Judgment Seat of Christ it will be applied to our works and purge away the dross. Only those things done for Christ of a permanent nature will endure this Divine review. For those who consistently built upon the foundation with gold, silver and precious stones, their works will abide and they will be rewarded accordingly. While we are not told the nature of these rewards, we should always desire the fullness of what God has provided for us. It is a solemn thought that our present conduct will have a bearing upon us throughout eternity.

Those who carelessly built upon the foundation with wood, hay, and stubble are going to suffer irreparable loss, but Paul adds an interesting statement: “but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” God is always faithful to His Word. Even though a believer may suffer the devastating loss of eternal reward, according to the Word of God he will still be saved, for God has promised eternal life to all who believe (Rom. 6:23). You see salvation isn’t based upon our good works, but rather the finished work of Christ. It is after our conversion that we learn believers “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Notice we “should walk in them,” which strongly implies not all will see the importance of living for the Lord.

JUDGE NOT

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (I Cor. 4:5).

Judgment may take the form of discernment or passing final sentence upon someone. For example, we are at liberty to judge or discern the things that differ in God’s Word; however, we have no right to judge others. Those who hastily condemn their fellow man are treading upon Divine ground.

As the apostle says, we are to “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.” We simply are not in a position to judge anyone. Who among us can know the motive behind someone’s actions, much less the intent of their heart? Certainly no one can ever say they have all the details needed to make an impartial ruling. Even general observations in life are usually an inaccurate assessment of the actual circumstances. Allow me to illustrate:

Charles Swindoll one time related an experience he had in his own life. He was speaking at a week-long conference in California where, every time he spoke, a certain man would fall asleep after twenty minutes. By the end of the week, Chuck said that he was irritated by it, yet he said nothing about it.

After the last meeting, the wife of the man came up to Chuck and told him that her husband was too embarrassed to come. She went on to share with him that her husband was dying and the medication he took made him sleepy. But she said that he wanted her to tell Chuck how much he loves him, and that his final request was that he be able to attend a conference where Chuck were speaking.

Things are not always as they appear; therefore, we are wise never to judge anything before the time. You may just generate more wood, hay, and stubble than you bargained for when the trump sounds.

Notice in the above passage that it is when the Lord comes, “who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” We are to understand that this is the Lord’s Secret Coming for the Body of Christ, which of course, includes the Judgment Seat of Christ. So Paul is speaking here of the judgment of believers at that day. This raises the question as to whether or not our sins will be taken into consideration at this review, especially in light of the fact the apostle states the Lord will reveal the hidden things of darkness.

Clearly the believer is forgiven in Christ of all sins: past, present, and future. As the apostle says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). We are beyond the reach of God’s judgment as far as condemnation is concerned. With this in mind, if there is to be a fair and impartial hearing it will be necessary for our indiscretions to be brought to light. In other words, the Lord is going to set the record straight, without forgetting we are His children.

Take for example the pastor who embezzles the savings of a godly widow under the pretext that she’s helping the work of the ministry. He may think he’s gotten away with it, but at that day his evil deed will be exposed. Although the widow was deceived, she will be richly rewarded since she gave the gift out of concern for lost souls. Her intentions were as pure as the wind-driven snow! The pastor, on the other hand, will suffer shame and great loss for his actions. Paul warns all those who minister in the things of the Lord in this manner, “some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (I Tim. 5:24).

Unsound doctrine is closely associated with ungodly behavior. Usually the premise is that the end justifies the means. Sadly, the motive of some who preach the gospel is not always what it should be. Paul could surely relate to this, for he says regarding his ministry: “The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds” (Phil. 1:16). These types of sinful motives will be brought to light at the Bema Seat, not to mention the harm they caused the Lord’s work.

Those who are guilty of spreading lies and slandering others will have much to answer for when they stand before the Lord. Remember these words and remember them well: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). Those who have had their reputation ruined at the hands of carnal believers have this promise: God will right all wrongs.

The story is told of the American missionary organization that raised money for property, including buildings, in a country in Europe. When the Chairman of the European Board resigned, a local board member was able to usurp authority, rewrite the constitution of the organization, and declare himself owner. The Christian leader, in effect, stole the property from the Christian organization, expelled its leadership, and put the church and newly built apartments in his name. 1 It is hard for us to believe that the Lord would simply overlook such an injustice. Rest assured, those who engage in such behavior will have their corrupt ways laid bare and suffer unbelievable loss in the process.

In this connection the question is often asked, will there be tears in heaven? As sure as the sun rises in the morning, you can count on it! These will be tears of regret and remorse over what could have been if we had only remained faithful to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. The emotion at times is going to be overwhelming. But the greatest regret of all will be when we see the sorrow on our Savior’s face for how we mistreated one another as members of the Body of Christ. Thankfully these tears will be wiped away at the close of this judgment—there will be no more sorrow or crying. “Then shall every man have praise of God” (I Cor. 4:5). The same will be true of the prophetic saints as they prepare to enter the eternal state (Rev. 21:3-5).

DID YOU KNOW?

Sadly, most believers have little interest or concern regarding the Judgment Seat of Christ. They live as though they will never stand before the Lord and give an account of their life. By the time they take the matter seriously it will be too late. But did you know there are at least three areas that will profoundly affect our walk throughout eternity?

“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (I Thes. 2:19,20).

In Paul’s epistles there are three crowns promised to those who faithfully serve the Lord. This particular passage seems to indicate that these are not literal crowns that will be handed out; rather they will be honors bestowed upon those who have earned them. The crown of rejoicing has been called the soul-winners crown. Paul had personally led many at Thessalonica to a saving knowledge of Christ. He rejoiced that they had been delivered from the power of idols, which can neither speak nor reason, to worship the true and living God.

Think of it, if the angels rejoice when one sinner is saved, surely heaven will resound with a shout upon the completion of our redemption. In that day, the Lord is going to publicly acknowledge Paul and all those who had a burden for lost souls. This will be a reward in itself to hear the Savior say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” The rejection and ridicule we experienced at the hands of unscrupulous men will be but a passing memory.

“If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us: If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself” (II Tim. 2:12,13).

Every member of the Body of Christ is said to be seated with Christ in the heavenlies; therefore, we will rule and reign with Christ over the earth. But not all will hold the same position or degree of authority. This will be determined by our willingness to suffer for His name’s sake, here and now. We are going to assume the positions of authority left vacant when Satan and His fallen host are cast out of heaven. Each of these positions represent degrees of authority which have been patterned after God’s orig-inal heavenly order; they are: principalities, powers, mights, dominions, thrones, etc. (Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16 cf. Eph. 6:12).

If you had a choice, which earthly position of authority would you wish to hold—a Cabinet post in Washington or a Clerk at a small town County Seat who files court records? You see, “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him,” but if we are ashamed of Christ due to the fear of men, “He also will deny us,” that is, a higher position and greater degree of authority. Bear in mind, there will be no room for advancement in eternity since our position will be fixed by what transpires at the Bema Seat. Perhaps we need to follow the motto of the Army, “To be all that you can be,” but in this case for the Lord. You will not regret the decision!

If we “believe not” that this is true and that He is able to keep us, He abides faithful, even though we are unfaithful, because He cannot deny Himself. In short, He has promised to save us and will honor His Word. The honor of His name is at stake.

Apparently, the degree we are going to be glorified in the resurrection is also determined by our current conduct and service. As Paul develops the theme of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, he states:

“All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory” (I Cor. 15:39-41).

I have always believed that this passage is clear proof that evolution is the Devil’s lie. “All flesh is not the same flesh.” How true! If we evolved from the lower life forms as the evolutionists claim, then the flesh of fish should be compatible with human flesh; yet one is warm-blooded and the other cold. Nor is it possible to give a transfusion of blood from animals to humans, which you would think could certainly be done since this is farther along on the evolutionary timetable. Of course the point Paul is making is this, terrestrial bodies differ from one another and each has its own glory.

He now contrasts earthly and heavenly bodies. As we look heavenward, the sun has a greater glory than the moon. It sustains life upon the earth. Interestingly, God created the sun on the fourth day of creation to demonstrate that He could sustain life upon the earth apart from the sun. He is sovereign! The very essence of His being is greater in power and glory than the sun.

The light of the moon which graces the night sky has a greater glory than the stars. Its phases during the course of a month are a heavenly demonstration of God’s handiwork. Amazingly the moon’s gravitational pull upon the earth causes both high and low tides that show not only order, but design.

Although the moon has a greater glory than the stars, the apostle adds, “One star differeth from another star in glory.” Man continues to build more and more powerful telescopes to peer into the universe, but with each one he discovers more of these heavenly bodies called stars. He is increasingly frustrated because he’s unable to number them. But consider this: God “telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names” (Psa. 147:4). We agree with King David, “such knowledge is…high,” it’s infinite!

Astronomers tell us that stars vary in size—some are much larger than others. In fact some, like the North Star, are brighter while others form constellations such as the Big Dipper. Paul would have us understand that in both the earthly and heavenly realm there is diversity and differing degrees of glory. Then he adds, “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (See I Cor. 15:42).

Thus, there is a major difference between these natural bodies we possess and the resurrected body. One is sown in corruption and eventually will perish, but the other is raised in incorruption never to perish again. One is sown in dishonor due to the Adamic nature while the other is raised in glory. With creation as a backdrop, there will also be differing degrees of glorification in the resurrection, based on whether or not we faithfully served the Lord. This could well mean that the faithful will have greater adaptation to their eternal surroundings and perhaps greater responsibility.

The Judgment Seat of Christ ends the administration of Grace. As we witness the dawn of eternity, wonder of wonders, God is going to “show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). May the love of Christ motivate us to live for Him rather than ourselves. After all, the things around us which we call prized possessions are merely temporal, but the unseen things that we’ve laid up in heaven will impact us for eternity.


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Notes:

  1. Your Eternal Reward by Erwin W. Lutzer, Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois, pg. 66.