2 Corinthians 5:9-11; 1 Corinthians 13:13-15
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9-11,
9Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. 10For 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. 11Knowing 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.
In a book a few days ago I came across a statement that gripped me. The statement was this: Do you realize that we are only a heartbeat away from a fixed state of reward, be it joy or shame. The phrase that really got hold of me was that phrase a fixed state of reward. Just one heartbeat, just one breath away from what I will be throughout all eternity. More and more I began to think about this fixed state, realizing that where I take off in time, I take up in eternity. As a man lives, he dies; and as he dies, he lives again in that condition throughout all eternity—just a heartbeat away from a fixed state of reward. The thought that came to me is if this heart should take its last beat, and I come into that fixed state of reward, is it what I want it to be? Realizing that there is nothing that can change it after that, that all I am going to do to determine my life, my existence in eternity, must be done this side of that heartbeat, what would it be? Would it be of joy or of shame? Paul realized that this life is just a prep room for eternity—that everything we do in this life, everything we do in our bodies in some way or another determines our fate, our condition, on the other side of that heartbeat. As he writes to these Christians at Corinth, his mind is traveling to that judgment seat, and he recognizes that all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and there receive for what we have done, good or bad.
So Paul, in verse 9 says, wherefore we labor, we endeavor, that whether we live or die, we may be well pleasing to him because we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Here is what Paul is saying: the most important issue is not whether I live or die, but it is what my condition will be before the judgment seat of Christ. This issue is more important than the issue of life and death. Whether I live or whether I die is beside the point. That fades into insignificance in light of the judgment seat of Christ. Whether I live or die, I labor, I work, I make it my ambition, the aim of my life, that when I stand in his presence, I will be well pleasing to him.
He is not talking about that judgment where those who do not know Christ will stand. That is a different judgment when they will receive eternal punishment. He is talking about that judgment seat to which every believer will someday appear. The Christian is not going to be judged himself as to determine whether he is saved or lost. It is not a matter of salvation; it is a matter of stewardship. I thank God that Jesus said, he that believeth on me shall not come into condemnation but has passed from death unto life. Romans 8:1 says: He that is in Christ Jesus hath no condemnation. The one that condemns us is Jesus Christ who died for us and is right now interceding for us. The believer’s condemnation is past and done with. God judged me at Calvary, and I’ll stand in jeopardy of my salvation. I will never stand before God and receive salvation or loss of salvation. I’ll never come to that condemnation. I myself will never be judged, but my life, my works, what I have done as a Christian will be judged.
The Greek word he uses here for judgment seat is the word beama which comes from the athletic games they used to have in those days. The beama was where the judge sat and observed all the athletes as they participated in the games. When the games were over, the athletes stood before that beama, that judgment seat, and there they received their wreaths, their crowns, their trophies—or they did not receive them. There they received their reward, their prize, for running in the race. God uses this same word to say that every Christian as he lives his life is living it in the sight of that judge and when our life is finished, which may be only a heartbeat away, we will stand before that beama, that judgment seat and there Christ will reward us according to what we have done in our body, whether it be good or bad. That is going to be a day of revelation.
He says we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. To appear doesn’t simply mean to put in an appearance or to make a showing. The Greek word means we will be led into the light. It means to be turned inside out, to be displayed as to our proved character.
So the judgment seat of Christ is a time of revelation. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13-15:
13Every 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. 14If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Paul says that we will all be led into the light of Christ, of that judgment seat. Our lives will be examined in the light of God. We will appear, be made manifest (1 Cor. 3:13). Every façade, every mask, every hypocrisy, every pretense will be ripped from us. We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ turned inside out. It will be a time of revelation.
The light is bad down here. I often examine and judge my life in the light of your life. I see what you do, and what you fail to do, and I judge my life in the light of your life and think I’m all right, pretty good. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear someone say, well, nobody is perfect. We are always judging ourselves in the light of someone else’s life. The light is very bad. Some of us have an idea that we are pretty good Christians and that when we were saved 15 or 20 years ago, baptized and joined the church, that’s all there is to it. We come on Sunday. We may give an offering or tithe. We support the work of the Lord. That’s it—all that God asks of us. If somebody were to ask are you a faithful Christian? You’d say, sure, I go to church and I pay my tithe. There is so much more to it than that.
The day of judgment will be a day of revelation when we no longer judge and evaluate our lives by the preacher or this deacon or that Sunday school teacher, but now we evaluate our lives by the person of Jesus Christ. What a revelation that will be—to see what we really are. The truth of the matter is that none of us really knows what the other one is like.
One reason we get our feelings hurt so easily is because we think more highly of ourselves than we really are. We have a wrong idea of what we are. The Scripture I read a while ago in 1 Corinthians, chapter 3, says that He will try every man’s work, of what sort it is. Notice it doesn’t say of what size. Every man’s work shall be made manifest. The same word used there is shall be dragged into the light, and day shall reveal its true nature, everything I’ve done, everything you’ve done, in the name of Christ, or not in the name of Christ, shall be weighed in the balances. God is not trying to figure out how big it is, the quantity of what we’ve done, but the quality of what we’ve done. The important thing with God is the motive of the heart. You may come to church, tithe, teach a Sunday school class but if your life as a whole is not lived for the glory of God, then you are not ready for this appearance before the judgment seat of Christ.
In Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus is talking about the way a Christian is supposed to live. He says that some people when they do good deeds do them thinking about the praise they are going to receive from men. They want men to reward them. This is why if we do something in the church and nobody pats us on the back, we get a little bit hurt and upset about it. He says some people pray, and when they pray, they are thinking more about how good they are, and how much more they pray than someone else, than they are thinking about what God thinks of their prayer life. If you live for Christ—pray, go to church, teach Sunday school—and you are more conscious of the presence of the people than you are of the presence of God, verily you have your reward right now. You will not receive a reward from your Father in heaven because the Father who sees knows the motive of what you are doing.
The biggest problem I have in my Christian life is evaluating my motives—why I preach, why I teach, why I live for Christ. What a day of revelation it is going to be.
It is not only going to be a time of revelation, it is going to be a time of rewarding. Notice what Paul says: that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. In the 1 Corinthians passage, he talks about receiving a reward. The purpose of it all is to reward us.
Notice that everybody is going to receive something. Sometimes I’ve heard it preached and taught that only those of us who are good and faithful to the Lord are going to receive anything. Verse 10 says that everybody is going to receive something. We must all appear above the judgment seat of Christ that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or whether it be bad. Everybody is going to receive something. Some of them will receive a booby prize, I suppose.
Notice what they are going to receive: the things done in their bodies. It is an interesting fact that the Bible teaches that every day I am building up a bank account in heaven. Do you have a savings account? I have a savings account. John B. Rockefeller has a savings account. The only difference between his savings account and mine is that I put pennies in mine, and he puts millions in his. Everything you do goes into that account. On the day of judgment God is going to give us the things done in our body. That is going to be a time of reunion when before the judgment seat of Christ I meet face-to-face everything that I have done for Christ as well as everything I have failed to do for Christ. Everybody is going to receive something, whether it be good or whether it be bad.
It is interesting to notice that the word bad doesn’t mean sinful or evil. It means worthless, trite, trivial. There are a lot of Christians who are separated from the world as far as getting drunk, taking dope, lying and stealing, and all those bad things. That’s not what he is talking about. He is saying that many of us are going to suffer loss at that judgment seat of Christ not because we have done those things that are not bad, evil, or sinful, but we have done those things that were worthless as far as God is concerned.
I wish I could get you to take a moment to review this past week. How many trivial things have you and I exhausted our time doing? Paul says that God has laid the foundation. That foundation is Jesus Christ. Now, you and I are to build a life on that foundation. What kind of materials are you going to use on building this foundation? He says some men use gold, silver, and precious stone for their foundation—building a life, a home, a tabernacle of their lives. This is good material; things that cost them something. They must sacrifice for it.
Over here this Christian has said you don’t want to get too fanatical about this business. You can go overboard. I’m saved, and that is the main thing. The foundation is laid. So he doesn’t want to sacrifice. He goes out to the junkyard and finds some wood, hay, and stubble—the most worthless junk. He says he will build his life with this. Then I can take all my gold, silver, and precious stone and spend it on what I want. I’ll take the prime time of my life, and I will use it the way I want to use it. I’ll take the bad times, the worthless things, and I’ll give the exhaust to Christ. I’ll burn all the fuel in my own life and give the exhaust to Christ—give him the leftovers. So there are many of us this morning who are building our lives with wood, hay, and stubble. Everybody has built something into your life this week. You’ve laid brick or you’ve laid precious stones.
The tragic thing is that so many of us today are building our lives with worthless junk. On that day God shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. It shall be tried by fire. Here is the figure that he is using. Here is a man who has built a house. The Lord comes up to see what kind of house he has built. Let’s just see how much this house meant to you—how much you were willing to sacrifice and put into this house. He sets a match to it, and the fire rages through the house. The only thing left standing was the well built part—the gold, silver, precious stone, steel girders are still there. The wood, hay, and stubble are all gone.
He says if a man’s work abides, 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. The Greek is that he shall be saved through fire. It is a picture of man caught in his burning house. He runs through the fire, gets out, and says thank God I’m saved. He looks back, and everything he possessed, everything he owned, everything he had lived for goes up in smoke. He comes out with nothing. His salvation is reduced to a minimum. He is barely saved. That is the way some of us will stand in the presence of Christ. Thank God, I’m saved; I missed hell. But we will have the smell of smoke on our garments, look around and there is absolutely nothing that we brought with us. Everything we did in our lives has gone up in smoke.
Do you see why the Bible teaches that you ought to live with eternity in mind? The biggest fool in this building is that person who lives only for this present time, not recognizing, not acknowledging that he is only a heartbeat away from that fixed state.
It will be a time of revelation and reward, but it will also be a time of regret. Ye shall suffer loss. 1 John 2:28 says that some of us will be ashamed before him at his coming. We often talk about the second coming of the Lord as a thing of joy, and the Bible does call it the blessed hope. The Bible also has a great deal to say about being embarrassed and ashamed at his coming. Because we are not ready; we will suffer loss. We may have worked a lifetime to build up our holdings, our possessions, but we will be paupers before that judgment seat of Christ.
The reason is that God is judging our lives as a whole. This is very important. Many of us have the idea that God is going to reward us like prizes in a carnival. Have you ever gone to a carnival? All those booths—robbery row I call it because they are going to take your money. Knock the milk bottles off and win this teddy bear. Take the gun and shoot it, and throw the hoops around the bottles. I’ve played these games. I’ll miss a lot, but I’ll come out with something. I don’t go home empty-handed. I’ll have something to show for all that money I blew at that ridiculous side show.
A lot of us think the judgment seat will be like this. I remember one time I prayed. Maybe God will give me a little prize for that. I remember one time I invited my neighbor to church. Maybe God will give me a little prize for that. I remember one time in a revival that I got right with God for about a week. I visited, tithed, and read my Bible for about a week. Surely God will give me something for that. I know I won’t be on the front row, receiving all of that, but I will have something.
No, that’s not the way God works. He takes life as a whole, as a unit. He is not going to take little isolated incidents, little unexpected occasions of service, and reward each one of those. He will give us one reward for the things done in our body. If my life has not been lived in submission to him for his glory, I will suffer loss. But it makes no difference how many times I’ve failed, or how many times I have disappointed my Lord, if I have lived my life to the best of my ability in submission to him–yielded to him for his glory, I shall receive a reward. God is going to take your life as a whole and judge it.
You say, what is that reward? I don’t really know. I can tell you what I believe the reward is. Every time Jesus himself talked about that time of judgment, here was the reward that he himself offered: Well done, thou good and faithful servant. I want to tell you that I am just a heartbeat from his presence and away from that judgment seat. If I can stand in his presence and just have him look at my life and say well done, that is enough. The golden streets and mansions and gates of pearl won’t mean very much is you do not have the Master’s well done.
Listen, if Christ cannot pronounce well done upon your life right now, then he cannot pronounce well done upon your life at the judgment seat. As you leave this life, you enter that life in the same condition in a fixed state of reward. Right now God is judging you and me. What is the pronouncement he makes on your life? If he cannot look at your life and say well done, then he will not be able to say it at the judgment seat.
©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2008