The Judgement Seat of Christ
Question & Answer
The Judgement Seat of Christ
The editors of the Truth & Testimony magazine receive much correspondence on Biblical subjects. Occasionally an interesting question is raised and an answer given which might be of benefit to others. We now commence a new feature in Truth and Testimony, which we hope will be recurrent, and commit it to the Lord for His blessing on our readers.
Question: If all our sins have been forgiven, why do we have to be judged at the judgment seat of Christ? - C. M., Finland
It is good to question a false claim - and even better to refute it. Satan, the enemy of our souls, wants to rob Christians of their peace and to trouble them with doubts regarding their salvation. His aim is to deprive believers of their joy and to detract from the value of Christ's work (if our salvation depended on ourselves, Christ's work would not have been sufficient after all).
The Christian position
Before answering your question, we should briefly consider the Christian position as developed in God's word. Unless a believer has come to trust the Lord fully and to rest on His finished work it is impossible for him to appreciate the purpose of the judgment seat. Once we have trusted in Christ
- we receive the 'forgiveness of sins' (Eph. 1:7).
- we are pleasing to God because He sees us in His Son (accepted, taken into favour, in the beloved', Eph. 1:5).
- having believed the gospel of salvation, we have been 'sealed with the holy Spirit of promise' (Eph. 1:13).
- we have become children of God (1 John 3:1).
- none can take us out of the hand of the Lord or from His Father's hand (John 10:28,29).
- we have (i.e. presently possess) eternal life (John 3:16).
A believer is entitled (and even compelled) to believe these statements from God's word - however bold and daring they may seem to the natural mind. We do not honour God in any way if we doubt His assurances, however humble and modest such attitude might appear at first sight. It is our prayer that every believer who still has doubts as to his or her eternal security and salvation may come to learn that the Lord Jesus 'is our peace' (Eph. 2).
The Christian and judgment
Once we have established that a Christian cannot lose his salvation we can look at the question of judgment. Again, Scripture sheds much light on the subject and gives the clearest possible answer. We quote from John's Gospel:
'Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth him that sent me hath everlasting life, and cometh not into judgment but is passed from death into life.'
The context makes clear why the judgment is for unbelievers only because verse 27 states that the Father 'hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man'. It is because the Lord was despised as Son of Man when here on earth that He will judge those who reject Him. They will be forced to honour the Son but believers do this voluntarily now. They honour Him by believing on Him, by 'hearing His voice' and by their devotion in their worship as well as in their lives. This is why judgment is for unbelievers, not believers. Another verse from John's Gospel provides assurance that believers will not be judged:
'He that believes on him is not judged: but he that believes not has been already judged, because he has not believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God.'
In the light of these Scriptures, we are surely right to question anyone who claims that believers will be judged.
The Christian before the judgment seat
Why then, you ask, do believers have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ? To answer this question, we need to consider a pertinent passage in 2 Corinthians 5, in particular verses 10 and 11:
'For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences'.
2 Corinthians 5:10,11
First, we should note that both verses do not say that we must all be judged before the judgment seat of Christ.
- Verse 10 says that we must all 'appear before the judgment seat of Christ'.
- Verse 11 that are all 'made manifest unto God'.
Appearing and being made manifest mean that the Lord will make us see our lives as He sees them. At different times, He has already done this during our lives when He made us see our pride or failure of whatever kind it was as He saw it, and in this way led us to self-judgment. But for many, if not all, believers there will be instances when this did not occur during their lifetimes on earth. If this was not resolved it would be detrimental on our communion with Him. If there was anything between Him and us as a result of situations where we did not honour him and acted in the flesh, perhaps with good intentions, how could we enjoy full fellowship with Him in eternity? In order for these things to be cleared away we will be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ. In fact, it will be a cause of praise and worship on our side when the Lord brings us into the fullest enjoyment of communion with Him by shedding light on our lives and giving us the same view as His on their every detail.
The terror of the Lord
Why then, you may ask, does the verse mention the terror of the Lord (v.11)? This question is answered by the verse itself: knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade (not ourselves, but) men. In verse 10, the apostle speaks about 'us all' including believers and unbelievers. All must be made manifest. In verse 11, he speaks about the unbelievers only, and to make this change clear he uses the term 'men'. Although our appearing before the judgment seat will lead to joy and increased communion, it is a solemn matter to think that nothing in our lives can just be 'forgotten about'. Impressed by this certainty, we persuade men. We know what awaits those that have only done 'bad' things (v.10), for these are the only actions unbelievers can produce.
The judgment seat and peace
Finally, we should notice that the very passage in which Paul speaks about the judgment seat of Christ contains a number of statements that shows that the speaker is at perfect rest and peace. In other words, the thought of the judgment seat does not unsettle him or fill him with any fear at all. To see this, consider the following texts from our chapter (2 Cor. 5):
'For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens' (verse 1).
'For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life' (verse 4).
Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit (verse 5).
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord (verse 8).
There is no trace or sign of fear in these verses, but rather joyful anticipation. The speaker is looking forward to the 'house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens'. He is conscious that the Spirit has been given to us as the earnest, a guarantee or assurance of future blessing. And it is in full confidence (verse 8), that he looks forward to being 'present with the Lord'.
Our condition before the judgment seat
A further aspect to consider is the condition or state in which we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. At the rapture, our bodies will be transformed into the likeness of His glorious body and we will be like Him as the following Scriptures confirm. They leave no room for human shame or fear, but only for praise and worship to our Lord whose work on the cross was so complete that nothing can possibly be added.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51
Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. Philippians 3:21
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2
 The meaning of the word used in the original Greek text (krinw) means 'judged', not 'condemned' as in the AV (see literal translations as for instance the New Translation by JND or a Greek dictionary).