Several verses teach that we must all face judgment:
- So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 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. 5:9-10; Rom. 14:10; Mat. 31-32)
Such verses are troubling. While we have been taught that our sins are all behind us, verses like these suggest that our sins are still upon us! Therefore, instead of worshiping Christ with joy and thanksgiving, these verses thrust our attention back upon us, replacing joy with morbid self-obsession.
Meanwhile, other verses suggest that God’s judgment does not ignore the things of the heart:
- “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jer. 17:10)
But this doesn’t give much consolation. If God judges my deeds by my heart and mind, and not by Christ, my status doesn’t seem to be much improved, or does it? The letter to the Church at Thyatira is revealing:
- Behold, I will throw her [the false teacher Jezebel] onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. (Rev. 2:22-23)
While it is distressing to once again read that God will judge us “according to [our] works,” we mustn’t miss another integer in this equation. Jezebel and her followers will avoid judgment if “they repent!”
Turning from the old (repentance), while turning to the new (faith in Christ), is the axle upon which all Scripture turns. This is the evident interpretation of “He who searches mind and heart.” He asks, “Is there true repentance here?” (Luke 18:9-14). Repentance chases away judgment like the opening of eyes from a bad dream.
God had been angry at Job’s three friends:
- The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (Job 42:7)
This is perplexing. It seems that Job had spoken far more wrongly about God than had his three friends. He had even made many accusations against God. For this, God had indicted Job:
- “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2)
Clearly, Job had spoken wrongly about God, even charging Him with wrongdoing. However, Job had repented in “dust and ashes.” As a result, he was now washed of all his sins (1 John 1:9). In God’s eyes, Job was not only forgiven, but also cleansed from all of his sins. His repentant words now trumped everything else he had said. God had judged his deeds by his heart and mind – a heart overflowing with repentance for his ill-conceived words and attitudes.
Similarly, the Book of Hebrews presents us with this troubling verse:
- Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews12:14)
This verse might also be a doubt-producer:
- How holy must I be? It doesn’t seem that any of my thoughts, motives or deeds are entirely holy. They are all sin-infested.
- Is there a certain level of holiness that I must attain before I can be saved? This verse seems to say that holiness is about me and my performance and not God’s gift to me. That’s why it says “make every effort!”
- Isn’t the Bible therefore a collection of contradictions?
Can we truly be confident of the grace of God when these questions remain unanswered? Not entirely!
Fortunately, the Book of Hebrews illustrates what it means to pursue holiness. Yes indeed, it is a matter of making Jesus our role model. However, Hebrews illustrates what failing to pursue “holiness” means through the example of Esau:
- [See to it] lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it [the blessing] diligently with tears. (Hebrews 12:16-17; NKJV)
Esau wasn’t rejected because of his sins – we are all sinners. He was rejected because he was unwilling to repent of the fact that he had sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, demonstrating that he did not esteem the things of God. Although he wept over losing his father’s blessing, the things of God remained mere foolishness to him. While he wanted the blessing, he had little regard for the Blesser!
Esau and many others illustrate God’s guarantee that if we confess our sins, He will forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9), like washing clean a messy blackboard.
Besides, even though we will all appear before God in “judgment,” our glorious destiny is already a done-deal:
- Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
When He returns, we will be transformed into His very image, rendering His “judgment” into an eternal celebration.