By Rick Booye
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.5:10
Question: How and why does Christ evaluate us after we die? Does this mean all my thoughts, words, and deeds will be brought back to me in the Lord’s presence? I thought that being saved by grace meant never having any sort of evaluation of how I lived in this age. Didn’t God “forget my sin”?
Well … God did not “forget” our sins in quite the way we often take that phrase (He does not have Alzheimer’s.). The gospel includes news that is actually better than that. What he means by “not remembering” our sins (which we re-interpret as “forgetting”, see Heb.8:12; 10:17) is that he does not count them against us. Christ’s personal and sovereign grace saves us by releasing us from the guilt and condemnation of our sin based on his taking the blame for us at the cross (Rom.8:1-2). On the other hand, that grace is transforming and empowering. Through it, the Spirit enables us to serve him and his kingdom with a full expectation of reward (1 Cor.3:10-15; 2 Cor.5:21; Eph.2:8-10). Furthermore, 2 Cor.5:10 tells us that the Lord will evaluate all we have done in this life, both the good and the bad, for the purpose of rewarding us. This must mean that he will evaluate us within the grace that he has supplied abundantly through the cross (2 Cor.5:11-21; Eph.2:1-11; Rom.5:1-11). So yes, the Lord will reveal our thoughts, words, and deeds to us (our “exit interview” for this age so to speak) so that we will see how great is the grace of God that has saved us through the cross of Christ. The Lord has the ability to examine a forgiven life for fruit, even after he has removed all the guilt and condemnation from it. If this were not true, there would be no basis for reward in the next age, which is a concept that he clearly wants us to grasp as we serve him in this age (Matt.5:12; 6:4; 1 Cor.3:14; 9:17; Phil.4:14-17; Col.3:24; Heb.10:35; 11:26; 2 Jn.1:8).
Remember, the key among Christians is not that they cease to ever have a sinful thought, word, or deed (James 3:2 reminds us that we all stumble in many ways), but that they cease to have unrepentant, unconfessed sins. Genuine, healthy Christians are very aware of their ongoing battle against sin, a battle that sometimes wounds them badly. Yet, even when it wounds them and they fall, they get back up and re-enter the war because they know that the Lord has defeated the ultimate power and condemnation of sin on their behalf. They move forward in their lives, doing constant battle against the surrounding culture’s influence toward skepticism and lust (the “world,” 1 Jn.2:15-17), their own internal propensity to sin (the “flesh,” Gal.5:16-25), and the malign influence of the enemy (the devil, 1 Pet.5:8; 1 Jn.5:18-19; Cor.10:3-5). They take sin seriously, but rest in what Christ has done for them instead of what they themselves have accomplished in their personal victories and defeats (Gal.3:13). They do all this not with terror or foreboding, but with a serious and sober joy that comes from confidence in the Lord, his cross and resurrection, and his corresponding promise to regenerate the universe (Phil.2:12-13; Rev.20-22). In other words, they press through this dark age (Gal.1:3) by keeping their eyes on the Lord and his good future (Phil.3:12).
That same ultimate evaluation will occur for all humans of all time. However, in the case of the unrepentant and unbelieving they will bear the final judgment for their own evil (Rev.20:11-15). This is because they never asked for God’s forgiveness. They never repented or admitted they needed grace, either because they thought their own goodness apart from God’s grace was sufficient (moralism and Pharisaism) or because they refused to think of his presence and coming judgment at all and so lived in idolatry and rebellion against him (Rom.1:18-32). Either way, they stand in judgment at the end.
So the gospel, the good news of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, includes a final judgment of the righteous and the unrighteous (Jn.5:25-29). This is sobering, but not terrifying for Christians. And sobriety is a good thing in a drunken world, a blessing God has given us to keep us on the right side of the road that leads to life.