There seems to be a disconnect between the responses of typical Christians to Judgment Day and the Bible writers. Many Christians treat Judgment Day as a non-issue. There are wonderfully true verses in the Bible that teach we are justified before God by faith not by our works, and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 8:1). Based on those truths, Christian judgment must be about rewards for faithful service. So, many Christians think: “Who cares if I don’t get party favors as long as I make it to the party!”
I have also been taught by respected Bible teachers that the judgments of the Bible are separated out at different points of the end-times. The effect has been to not even worry about the big scary judgment, where people will go to hell, because we won’t even be present. Again, while unintended, the idea comes across that our judgment will be friendlier, more like seeing who gets awarded the most prizes.
But as I read the Bible, it seems like the authors were seriously motivated by Judgment Day. How do all of these various teachings fit together? There is no way to thoroughly cover all that the Bible says in such a brief article. Allow me to give you some ideas with biblical references, for you to do your own Bible fact-checking.
Let me begin with some summary statements and a question. There are many references in the New Testament to a big judgment when Jesus Christ returns. These references include both believers and unbelievers being present. This judgment will be individual and based on the person’s works. Instead of seeing these as different judgments, what if they are different facets of the same judgment?
Think about some of the references in the Scriptures. In Matthew 25, at the end of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave some parables and the picture of people being separated like sheep and the goats. In the parable of the talents, the master gave his servants different amounts of talents (units of money), which they were to use until he returned. When he came back, the servants were all evaluated based on their works. The first two were rewarded for their faithfulness and the last one was condemned based on his wickedness and laziness (Matt. 25:14-30).
The separation of the sheep and the goats directly follows this parable. Jesus tells us that it will happen when he comes and that it will include all the nations. Like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, so will the Lord do at the judgment. The results of this judgment will include eternal life in heaven and eternal punishment in hell. This separation is based upon the works of the individuals being judged (Matt. 25:31-46).
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he refers to gospel workers having their works judged, and later, about having our very motives laid open before the Lord at the Judgment (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 4:4-5). In the second letter that we have in the Bible to the church at Corinth, Paul speaks plainly about the awesome Day of Judgment. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10).
The most vivid scene of Judgment Day is described as the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. There the dead will be given up to come and stand before the Lord. Again the basis of this judgment is found in the book of deeds the people have done, and there is also a reference to names being written in the book of life. It appears that believers and unbelievers will be separated in this scene, like the others we have been considering.
In addition to these judgment teachings, we must include the truth that a sinner is declared righteous before God not on the basis of his works, but on the basis of faith alone (Rom. 3:23-26), and the beautiful assurance that there will be no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). The author of Hebrews succinctly declared: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” But the very next verse gives words of comfort to those who have trusted Christ: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:27-28).
My conclusion is that when Christ returns everyone will appear at the judgment. Everyone will be judged on the basis of their works. For believers, there is nothing to be afraid of, because God works good works into his children by his grace (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12-13; Rom. 8:28-30). I think that is the setting for the often misunderstood verse, 1 John 4:18, which says: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Your Christian love is proof of your faith in Christ, therefore you don’t have to be afraid of judgment.
Believers’ names are written in the book of life. They won’t face condemnation, but they will face evaluation. Their efforts to grow and minister will be evaluated by Christ face to face. That judgment ought to be taken seriously and ought to motivate us to persevere in the Lord. Paul said: “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:26-27). Paul wasn’t afraid that he would lose his salvation, but he was highly motivated to honor the Lord all the way to the finish line.
Peter adds a blending of a real relationship with God as one’s Father and yet a seriousness about God’s judgment to come. “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pet. 1:17). Christians really do know God as their Father through trusting the Lord Jesus, and yet out of their love and respect for their Father, they live in a way where they fear displeasing One who loves them so much.
Even if you don’t believe in God or Jesus you will one day meet God as well. Your deeds will also be evaluated, not according to the standard of your best intentions, but according to God’s commandments. Did you do what you did out of a desire to honor and obey him, or was it more about you? Throw yourself upon Christ’s mercy today. He offers gracious pardon, based upon Jesus’ death on the cross in the place of sinners and his resurrection. Christ is our only hope at Judgment Day.
By John Crotts