Although we yearn to fully embrace the promise of grace, many verses seem to throw a stumbling block in our way. For instance, Jesus warned the church at Thyatira:
- “I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”(Rev. 2:23)
The prospect of being judged according to our “deeds” is reiterated throughout Scripture (Psalm 62:12; 2 Cor. 5:10). This is disturbing. It seems to suggest that we haven’t truly been separated and cleansed from our sins and will be judged according to them. Even if we are not to be judged according to our sins, the idea that we will be judged according to our “deeds” is still troubling. Perhaps this means that we might eternally grieve and regret our sins of omission.
It also creates theological problems. For one thing, it disrupts our assurance of oneness and unity in Christ, which is assured by the fact that we all share “one hope” or inheritance (Eph. 4:2-4; Romans 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:21-23 ). Perhaps even worse, it reintroduces, through the back door, a theological basis for boasting: “I have this greater position in heaven because of my good deeds!”
However, to this same Thyatiran church – and they had been promised that they would be judged by their “deeds” - Jesus offers the hope of a joint reign with Him:
- “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations--He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Rev. 2:26-27)
Well then, what does it mean to “overcome?” How can we be certain that the blessings of the above verses also pertain to us? In the seven letters to the seven churches, promises of eternal life and heavenly blessing are promised to “him who overcomes.” What then are the conditions for this blessedness? For the two most faithful churches – Smyrna and Philadelphia – there was only one condition. They simply had to remain faithful.
For the five other churches, there was surprisingly only one condition. They had to repent; they had to swear-off their sins, and this would make them overcomers – co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). Yes, they would be judged by their deeds, but repentance was the deed (even if it is, before all else, a gift – 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Acts 5:31; 11:18) that would trump all the rest.
I know that this sounds too good to be true. So perhaps a Biblical example might be fitting. Job had made many false and unjust accusations against his God. The prophetic Elihu confronted Job with his rash words (Job 33:8-12; 34:5-6). Following this, God reiterated the same charges against Job (Job 38:1-3; 40:8). Although, Job didn’t curse God and die, as his wife had suggested, Job had been majoring in accusations against the Divine (Job 9:21-24; 27:2-6; 16:12-17).
However, Job repented (Job 40:4-5; 42:3-6), and this was followed by one of the most incredible verses in Scripture:
- After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." (Job 42:7-8)
Job’s three friends had hurled no railing accusations against God, as had Job, but Job had repented, and that made all the difference in the world. Everything he had charged, prior to this, had been forgotten and forgiven. Only one word remained: “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). Nothing further was needed!
We will all appear before the judgment seat of the Lord to receive according to our deeds, but we will already have been transformed into His likeness:
- Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
We will be standing before the judgment seat safe-and-sound in the glory of our Savior:
- For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thes. 4:17-18)
Only this remains for us to do – to repent of all of our sins!