Judgement Day

I remember the talk well. It was at a youth evening, and it was put on in response to some concerns that the young people had an inappropriate view of the last days and of judgement. It was designed to set the record straight. The speaker painted a graphic picture of us being caught unawares, not living up to the expected standards, all of us suddenly called to Mount Sinai to face judgement. We would wait there in tents, apparently, full of trepidation and uncertainty as to our fate. When our lives were held up for public scrutiny, every thought, word, deed, every inclination of the heart, how would we fare? The books would be opened, and our name might be written in the Book of Life, or might have been blotted out because we just didn’t measure up. As Robert Roberts, the pioneer Christadelphian wrote,

Those who are alive when the Lord comes, and those who emerge from the grave at that period, will be on a footing of perfect equality. They will all be gathered together into the one Great Presence, for the one great dread purpose of inquisition. Not until they hear the spoken words of the King will they know how it is to fare with them. All depends upon ‘the account’ [which each must give of their life].” [1]

But is this really the way it will be? On face value, Roberts seems to be saying that even a Christian who takes their faith seriously and endeavours to please and honour God in their life cannot be certain of their salvation. Have they been good enough? Have they done enough “works”? Have they confessed and been forgiven for every sin? Are they sufficiently Christ-like? Certainly, after that chilling talk, I wondered whether anyone could have any assurance of salvation. The judgement was portrayed as the ultimate examination. Sure, you could study hard and do your best in this life but that didn’t really guarantee a “pass” …Did it? I’ve asked quite a few Christadelphians over the years whether they are sure they will be in the Kingdom. The answers were usually evasive and self-deprecatory, a concern with not being “presumptuous,” and acknowledging personal “unworthiness.”

But of course we are unworthy! Of course we are powerless to save ourselves by any righteousness or works of our own! That’s why God himself intervened to do what we could not do. We are saved by grace, God’s freely bestowed, undeserved favour (Rom 3:24; 5:15; 11:6; Eph 2:8–9). Isn’t that the whole point of the Gospel — the GOOD news (not the guilt-building, threatening, uncertain news)? Because salvation is all about what God in Christ has done for us, about being clothed with his righteousness and being already justified — accounted righteous. If we are justified, according to the Bible we are already glorified (Rom 8:30); there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). Thankfully, many Christadelphians now seem to have moved away from Roberts’ pessimistic and unscriptural stance, as can be seen from more recent writings.

[God] always gives due notice to His creation of what His purpose is and what he wants people to do… The basis of judgement will be our response to what God has revealed in His Word and what the Lord Jesus has said and done… Whichever way we choose to respond to God’s offer of salvation, we should be aware of the possible consequences of our decision… We could either be classed with those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thess 1:7–10) or with those who believe, obey, and are counted ‘worthy of his calling.’ …We are saved by faith, but that faith is expected to change our actions… our thoughts, words and deeds demonstrate the quality and reality of our faith, though none of the things that we can do can ever be enough to merit what God has in store for those who love Him. [2]

Some people imagine they will have to prove their worthiness at the judgement. This is not scriptural. We will have to give an account for our actions. But, it is by God’s grace we are saved, not by how many times we have sinned or how many times we have asked forgiveness. Besides, forgiven sins are forgotten sins, never to be remembered.” [3]

Those who are Christ’s, who acknowledge him as Lord and Saviour, who have come to him with the empty hands of faith, repenting and receiving his grace and walking in newness of life, have truly been born anew. We have been adopted as God’s children (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1–2) and are justified; we have eternal life (1 John 5:13) and can approach the throne of grace (Eph 3:12). There is no condemnation, and no fear in love (1 John 4:18). We have a sure and certain hope (John 5:34; 10:28–29; Rom 10:9–13; Phil 1:6). This begs an important question; if we are already “saved,” why do we still face judgement? Is it possible that our hope will be disappointed and that we might still be rejected? If so, how could that happen? And what does it mean that we will be judged according to our works, if salvation does not depend on works?

Paul, writing to Christians, states that we must all stand before the judgement seat of Christ (God) to give an account of ourselves and to receive what is due for what we has done in the body, whether good or evil (Rom 14:10–12; 2 Cor 5:10). “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Rom 2:6–7). It is absolutely true that our works will be judged. But we are not saved on the basis of works, but despite them.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor 3:11–15)

The judgement will be time for the revealing of secrets (Rom 2:16), the unmasking of everyone, the righting of wrongs and the vindication of the wronged. God does not need to try us in a courtroom, to hear evidence, as if he could be swayed by a good defence. He already knows our hearts, and he knows what his decision will be. The judgement is for our sakes, for all people, good and bad. It will be a public declaration of God’s justice. The wicked and hypocrites will be seen for what they are, those who prospered in wickedness in this life and appeared to get away with it will be called to account and given the punishment they truly deserve (Psalms 37 and 94). The poor in spirit, the downtrodden, the humble Christians living for Christ amidst ridicule and persecution, the martyrs and the water cup providers will be recognised (1 Pet 4:5–16; Rev 6:10; 11:18). The publicans and harlots who at first rejected God’s demands but then embraced them, will go into the kingdom while the self-righteous and hypocrites look on (Matt 21:28–31; Luke 13:27–28).

Clearly, the judgement will result in condemnation of the wicked. (Psa 1:5–6; Isa 13:11; Mal 4:1–3; Matt 3:12; 2 Thess 2:8–12; 2 Pet 3:7; Rev 20:15). Roberts’ opinion cited above might suggest that someone who thought himself to be a Christian could actually get to judgement day and find that he was, after all, among the wicked. But God doesn’t play games like that. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He does not overlook sin, but he has provided the way of forgiveness. Only those who reject that Way will remain in their sins (John 8:24; 12:48; Rom 1:18ff; Rev 14:9–10; 20:15).

Jesus said that the Kingdom was like a field of wheat in which the enemy had sown weeds. The two will grow together until the harvest, when the wheat will be separated from the weeds and it will be clear who is who. He also likened the Kingdom to a net full of fish, some good, some bad; the judgement will be the sorting. The nations will be assembled before him and judged according to how they treated Christ’s brothers and sisters. Paul, writing to Timothy, noted, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Tim 5:24). He told the Corinthians, who were prone to judging their brothers and sisters, “When the Lord comes, he will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart, then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor 4:5).

There will be hypocrites exposed at the judgement seat. But are we not all hypocrites? God knows our hearts, whether our hypocrisy extends to a pretense of being Christ’s whilst inwardly rejecting him, or whether it is part and parcel of our frailty for which we will be forgiven. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, the “brood of vipers,” when he said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”(Matt 12:36–37). But he also said that speech reveals the heart (verse 34). This passage against the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees, who had just accused Jesus of demonic activity, should not be taken out of context, as if sinful words already forgiven to a Christian will be dredged up and held against him or her again. But it is not enough to say “Lord, Lord,” and yet work iniquity, disregarding Christ’s words (Matt 7:22–23). In contrast, no matter what a person’s life has been before he turns to Christ, and no matter how he may fail in his weakness, if that person’s trust is in Jesus there will be forgiveness. Those sins will not be counted against him or her, no matter how grievous (Rom 5:8; 1 Cor 6:9–11; 1 Tim 1:15–16). To fear that some sin of ours is too bad for Christ to forgive is to dishonour Christ and his all-sufficient work.

The basis of vindication or rejection at the judgement will not be a catalogue of our sins dredged up, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our salvation rests on our response to Christ (John 12:48). If we are in Christ, we need have no fear, we have been justified by his blood. He has been faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8–9). We are justified by his grace, not by our works. But for those not in Christ, who have rejected him, either overtly or covertly — he will know — they do not have that saving grace, that covering. They will stand unwashed, unclothed, with only their wretched works, which will count for nothing, no better than fig leaves. If someone has turned their back on Christ, rejected his grace, there is no safety net (Heb 10:26–31). But to whoever repents and turns to Christ, the door is open (John 18:25–27; 21:15–19).

Jesus knows those who are his, and he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion; no one can pluck his sheep from his hand (Phil 1:6; John 10:27-29). For those in Christ the judgement is not something to be feared, in the sense of lack of assurance or hope. It will be truly awesome and absolutely humbling, as we realise just how much Christ has done in cleansing us from our sins and just how worthless our works are; we will fall before him in absolute gratitude. But because of his justifying blood, we can look forward confidently to the day as the day of our reward (2 Tim 4:8; Heb 12:23; 1 John 4:17). This is not presumption, and it does not mean we continue in sin that grace may abound; we are called to persevere and enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit, our guarantee (2 Cor 1:21–22; 5:5; Eph 1:13–14). But our salvation does not depend on our success in good works, but rather in holding on to Christ in all our brokenness. Thus we can say with all assurance, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God; not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor 3:5–6).

References
1. Robert Roberts, Christendom Astray from the Bible (repub. West Beach South Australia: Logos, 1984), 126
2. Tecwyn Morgan, Understand the Bible for Yourself (Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 2006), 276.
3. Rob J Hyndman, ed. The Way of Life (Beechworth, Vic: Bethel, 2002), 207. Author’s italics.

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