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 Corinthians 5:10
People who have tasted the sweet forgiveness of Christ’s cross become desperate to know how not to waste their lives. Redemption is too good to ignore. Yet, fleshly complacency sets in and sucks the life out of us like the afternoon heat. Thank God, Scripture leads us in this, too.
The Bible describes who Jesus is to a Christian in many ways: friend, king, shepherd, brother, healer, advocate, savior, shield. Each biblical term for the Lord is saturated with significance and layers of meaning. Naturally we gravitate towards some more than others. However, one crucial, repeated title of Jesus, that I fear we too often neglect, is that Jesus is our judge.
For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. John 5:26-27
The remarkably modern-sounding book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew scriptures concludes this way:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
It is clear that the author is not using the word judgment here in the sense of condemnation, but rather in the sense of evaluation.
…on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:16
In 1 Corinthians 3, one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament, Paul speaks of a day when the fire of God will test all the things we devote our lives to building: our families, ministries, careers, reputations, possessions, identities. The worthless and vain things will burn and disintegrate. Only those things “built on the foundation” (verse 14), “which is Jesus Christ” (verse 11), will survive. Only Christ-founded endeavors will keep their value in the new heaven and earth. All else is vanity, destined to be forgotten.
Soon after laying out this teaching, Paul says this:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 1 Corinthians 4:1-4
To accept and daily live under the reality that “it is the Lord who judges me” drastically changes at least two things about the ways we typically think.
How our fellow humans judge and evaluate us becomes a “very little thing,” an insignificant addendum of which we ought to be as unaware as possible and about which we are free to be unconcerned. In the shadow of God, human commendation and condemnation become equally trivial. Together they amount to the immaterial opinions of small minds, which hold no weight in God’s court. “The Lord is my helper; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6) Amen, and the Lord is my judge. What can man say about me?
That the Lord judges me also means that everything matters. In this world, now, everything I do, and don’t do, counts. It all has dignity, significance, and potential. There are no parts of my life that God will not drag into the light on Judgment Day, whether I like it or not. That God will expose and judge every secret thing makes even my minor decisions very grave, and worth my attention. All things – all things – will be tested.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 2 Peter 3:10-12
Scripture says that redeemed people live in the love of God, in the service of him, in the worship of him, and also in the fear of him. No longer do we live in the fear of his punishment; without a doubt, Jesus dealt with that fear, one time, forever, with his death and resurrection. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, period (Romans 8:1). We live, however, in an honest recognition of his holy character and awesome power. We live recognizing the absolute claim of his ownership over us, analogous to the ownership of a potter over his clay (Romans 9:20).
Part of fearing God is admitting how unspeakably unworthy he is of our disobedience. If we properly understand God as he is, we fear displeasing him and grieving him (Ephesians 4:30) with our vanity.
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ… 1 Peter 1:17-18
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)
To not waste our lives is to live for the Father to commend us, which is to establish everything we are and do on Jesus only. To establish our labor on Jesus is to give ourselves fully to him, no holds barred. “I am completely yours, direct me as you will” is perhaps the scariest thing we can pray; yet it is the only prayer that makes sense, given the cost he paid to make it true (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
I think of it this way: if Jesus will judge me, and he will, I want to walk in the light, where he walked. I want freedom from the secrets and shame of the darkness, where neither God nor happiness live.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7