Judgment in the Life of a Believer and the Assembly
Isn't judgment a very serious subject? Yes, it is indeed and may the Lord give us a deep impression of this. But I hope to show that there are features connected with our subject that should be a joy to our hearts and a reason to praise our God and our Lord and Saviour more and more. The Bible distinguishes at least five different forms of "judgment" which have a relation to the believer. Let us study them briefly.
1. The substitutionary judgment of Christ
Right at the beginning of our meditation we find something that is an eternal joy to our hearts. There is a judgment that every sinner deserves-eternal punishment in hell. But the believer knows that this punishment will never reach him because Another has already borne the judgment in his stead. In the three hours of darkness on the cross of Calvary our blessed Lord bore the entire weight of divine wrath. "All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over Me" (Ps. 42: 7b), but "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it" (Song of Sol. 8: 7). And why did He take all this upon Himself? Oh, our hearts know the answer. It was for you and me. He bore the judgment of God for all those who have come to Him as their Saviour in repentance and faith. The words which a future remnant in Israel will utter can surely be applied to us: "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53: 5).
Although there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ (Rom. 8: 1; John 3: 18; John 5: 24), that does not mean that there is absolutely no more judgment in the life of a believer. As long as we are walking here on earth there is need for judgment in the sense of chastening, or discipline. And the first (and best) thing God expects from us is that we do this ourselves.
Self-judgment should be a constant feature of the believer's life. In connection with the Lord's supper the apostle writes to the Corinthians: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (1 Cor. 11: 28). This self-examination is not merely a matter for Saturday evening or Lord's Day morning. Rather, it should be our constant attitude to search our hearts, motives and consciences in His presence. In writing this the author of this article is fully aware of his own shortcomings in these respects. But self-judgment is the only way to escape further forms of divine chastisement.
3. Judgment in the governmental ways of God with a believer
The Corinthian saints had not always followed the instructions of the apostle, which meant that some of them had eaten and drunk unworthily. The result is stated clearly by the apostle: "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation (judgment-J. N. D. Trans.) to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11: 29-30).
If we fail to judge ourselves and bring our conduct into accord with the Word of God so that we "walk worthily," then God our Father has to discipline us in His ways with us on earth. This sounds very serious-which it definitely is-but we should be glad that our Father deals with us in this way. It proves that we are sons. "For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons... but He (chasteneth us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness" (Heb. 12: 6-10). The actual experience of godly discipline is of course something we don't like, but the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews knew about that and so he says: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12: 11).
There are two dangers as far as our reaction to godly discipline in our lives is concerned: "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him" (Heb. 12: 5). On the one hand we could despise His chastening, or regard it lightly. Perhaps there are those who, when a problem arises and there are difficult circumstances, roll up their sleeves and think "problems are there to be solved"-and we don't see the chastening hand of the Lord in the matter.
On the other hand there is the possibility that we faint when we are rebuked of Him. This is just the opposite danger. We feel more or less overwhelmed by all the difficulties and sorrowful circumstances,-and we don't discern the loving hand of our Father in His dealings with us.
May the Lord give us all to be rightly exercised by all the ways of God with us.
4. The judgment of the assembly
There was unjudged evil of the grossest kind in the midst of the assembly in Corinth and the apostle has to tell them: "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1 Cor. 5: 12-13). If there is wickedness or evil in the midst of a local assembly, the holiness of God requires judgment by the assembly in the putting away of the wicked person. The same thing is also stressed by the Lord Jesus Himself in Matthew 18: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven... For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them" (vv. 18, 20).
Whenever this sad, serious and holy necessity arises, and the saints, gathered to the Name of the Lord, have the duty to bind the sin on someone, then this judgment of the assembly is recognised in heaven. Of course, this is true as well of the happy occasion of the restoration of the sinner, and the consequent loosing of the sin in the judgment of the assembly. Next to the demands of the holiness of God this restoration of the one put under discipline is the aim of such an act.
It shouldn't need mentioning that an act of discipline which is recognised in heaven is also recognised by all the local assemblies on earth. The one put away from the saints in Corinth was out of fellowship in Ephesus, Phillipi and all the other assemblies. The same one received again (2 Cor. 2: 6-8) was received for the breaking of bread at all other places as well. This is still the pattern for those gathered to His Name in fellowship with one another.
5. The judgment seat of Christ
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5: 10). We started our meditation thinking about the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. And after some challenging considerations about judgment in a believer's life we close now with another thought that is challenging and encouraging as well.
When the believer appears before the judgment seat of Christ, he won't be judged in the sense of condemned. That matter was settled at Calvary. But he will be revealed. It should be a joy for the believer to think that at this moment he will-for the first time-see his own life entirely in the way the Lord Jesus sees it. And in our glorified bodies we will completely agree with this judgment. All this will lead to eternal heavenly worship.
There is not room here to dwell in detail on this important matter of the judgment seat of Christ. However, in the listing that follows I give some of the ramifications of the subject, together with the Scripture references. This is done as an incentive to personal study, which I trust will be of great value and blessing.
1. All men without exception have to appear before the judgment
seat (2 Cor. 5: 10; Ecc. 12: 14).
2. This tribunal has three different "sessions":
a) 2 Cor. 5: 10; Rom. 14: 10
b) Matt. 25: 31-33
c) Rev. 20: 11-12
3. It is the judgment seat of God in contrast to a human judgment
(Rom. 14: 11-12). Even the perfect Servant committed His work
to His God (Isa. 49: 4).
4. Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, will be the judge
(John 5: 22, 27; Acts 10: 42; Acts 17: 31; Rom. 2: 16).
5. Believers won't be judged or condemned there
(John 3: 18; 1 Cor. 11: 32; Rom. 8: 1).
6. They will appear there with glorified bodies (2 Cor. 5: 10).
7. The appearing of the saints before the judgment seat will take
place between the rapture and the marriage of the Lamb
(Rev. 19: 7, 8).
8. All deeds will be rewarded there (2 Cor. 5: 10; 1 Cor. 3: 13).
9. We have to give account of all our words (Matt. 12: 36).
10. The counsels of the heart will be made manifest (1 Cor. 4: 5).
11. Hidden things will be brought to light
(1 Cor. 4: 5; Rom. 2: 16).
12. Faithfulness in service will be rewarded (Matt. 25: 21).
13. The position of the believer in the kingdom depends on the
verdict at the judgment seat (Luke 19: 17).
14. Present personal faithfulness bears upon the future
collective part of the church (Rev. 19: 8).
15. Each one has to give account of himself (Rom. 14: 12).
16. A servant may lose reward by the unfaithfulness of those
whom he was instrumental in bringing to the Saviour
(1 John 2: 28; 2 John 8).
17. It is possible to suffer loss at the judgment seat
(1 Cor. 3: 14-15; Rev. 3: 11).
18. The thought of the judgment seat encourages us to be
well-pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5: 9).
19. To walk in the light of the judgment seat will give us a good
conscience (1 Cor. 4: 4; l John 2: 28).
20. Because Christ will be the judge we fulfil the ministry of
reconciliation (2 Cor. 5: 11ff).
21. The truth of the judgment seat makes us respect the freedom
of others in matters of Christian liberty (Rom. 14).
Statements 1-4 speak about the Judge.
Statements 5-7 speak about the believer and the judgment seat.
Statements 8-17 speak about what happens at the judgment seat.
Statements 18-21 speak about the present result in a believer's life
when he is occupied with the truth of the judgment seat.