Judgment in Favor of the Accused

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.

Speaking of God …

By Rick Booye

This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3.

Who is God?  In our day, even asking the question sounds a bit strange to people on the street.  We in the West live in a culture that considers it impolite (politically incorrect) to discuss God as a fact in the public square.  Though, truth be told, almost everybody thinks about God a lot more than they let on.  On the other hand, there seems to be little hesitancy to ridicule the idea of God in public.  A bus in London recently advertized in bold print “THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. Note in passing at least three ideas here:

  • First, the word probably.  This is simply a bald assertion, a dogmatic statement of doubt (?).
  • Second, the assumption that pretending there is no God should make us “stop worrying.”  The opposite is true.  If there is no God, life is absurd and cruel.  That should worry us a lot.
  • Third, the assumption that we can enjoy life if we pretend that God does not exist.  What utter foolishness.  That is only true if we plan on “enjoying” things we already know are evil.  Are we admitting our evil on the side panel of a London bus?

The Bible states that the awe of the Lord (the Old Testament phrase for knowing him) is the beginning of knowledge (Pr.1:7).  That means that a person has not even begun to think meaningfully until they have come to know God experientially, personally.  What a stunning thought to the modern mind!  If it is true (and it is) then there are a great many people who are familiar with the world, but have not begun to move into real knowledge, knowledge of ultimate reality.  True thinking begins with God’s thoughts, not ours. In the 17th century, Rene Descartes coined the Latin phrase cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am.  But he was mistaken to begin with our thinking.  He should have said, “God thinks, therefore we are.”

Just stating this in such stark terms shocks us.  That is probably because ever since Descartes humanity has sought to understand itself by thinking about itself.  Long before Descartes, Martin Luther identified humanity as “curved in on itself.”  The result is vast ignorance and moral disorientation.  Real knowledge begins with God, his thoughts, his mind, his will, his perspective.  Moreover, all of God’s thoughts toward us and our wrecked world focus on Jesus Christ (Heb.1:1-3).  We cannot begin to think rightly about ourselves or our world until we let God’s Word, the expression of his mind, open us to true knowledge—knowledge of him and his Son Jesus Christ.  We need the Word made flesh (Christ) to open the Word made text (Scripture) (see Luke 24:26-27, 32, 44-47).

The Importance of the Invisible

The Importance of the Invisible

Rick Booye

God always deals with the invisible issues before he deals with the visible ones.  The apostle Paul took it for granted that Christians would grasp this.  In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul specifically directs our attention to “the things which are not seen.”

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  (NASB)

Paul explains here that while experiencing the fallenness of this age (the outer man wasting away) he is “focusing” on something that obviously transcends our “this age” perceptions.  He says that it is unavailable to our five senses (unseen), but not less real for that.  In fact it is “more real” if for no other reason than because it is not transient, but permanent.  He is plainly and unapologetically talking about invisible reality in a matter-of-fact way, as though we should all “see” and be able to talk clearly about the same things he “saw.”

Furthermore, he speaks of this invisible reality as happening now, not just in the future, though it obviously finds ultimate completion in the future.  Later in this same section (2 Cor. 5:7), Paul pointedly states that we navigate our present material life not only (or even primarily) by what we see physically, but by what we know (see, hear) in virtue of our confidence in what God has revealed in Christ.  This is what he means by “we walk by faith, not by sight.”  It is a new way of perceiving reality.  Seeing the invisible is not only possible, it is crucial.

Believing is Seeing

What does Paul mean when he tells us with a straight face to look at the invisible?  He learned this from Jesus.  As with so much of the Lord’s instruction, this seems at first blush to be at least confusing, at worst nonsense.  In fact that is precisely how many in our era (even some churchgoing people) take such biblical language.  But the apostle Paul was not crazy and he was not misunderstanding Christ.  When Jesus told the theologian Nicodemus that he needed to have “the additional birth” [1] to see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus was incredulous.  What in the world was Jesus talking about?  Well, that is the problem, isn’t it?  What Jesus was talking about was not in fact limited to the world—that is to matter, molecules, motion, and the perceptions that our five senses and our experiences in this age are able to provide.  He was talking about something this world cannot understand or discover on its own.  He was talking about a “sixth sense” so to speak, a fresh, new sort of existential and relational knowledge that cannot be generated or discovered from within ourselves or our material realm.  This new ability to perceive God’s kingdom is so radical and life-changing that Jesus refers to it stunningly as being a new kind of birth, the beginning of an entirely new sort of life within existing human life and stretching infinitely into the tangible future.  As it turns out, this is his own life given to us, his Spirit enlivening and enabling us to perceive his reality.  It is a joining of his mind with ours, with the result that his sort of life is birthed within us and begins to grow.  Yet, this new life, with its accompanying ability to perceive invisible reality, is incomprehensible to those who have not received it by personally trusting Jesus as the Christ.  Jesus implies as much to Nicodemus and Paul spells it out unmistakably in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.

The writer to the Hebrews refers to an aspect of this extra sense when he says, “By faith he [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible (emphasis mine).[2]  The word rendered “endured” means to persevere, to press forward against the odds.  The word for “seeing” means to pay attention, to perceive.  How did Moses press forward against the odds, with Pharaoh’s army on his heels and a million or so frightened people around him?  By faith, says the author of Hebrews.  In this context faith means tangible confidence in God and his word, in contrast to bare, material knowledge acquired via skepticism, based solely on the five empirical senses.  God’s word is the expression of his mind, his view of reality, conveyed verbally as what can and will take place in time and space.  Faith is a way of knowing, of perceiving the reality of God and the otherwise invisible realm.  For this reason it invariably leads to action of some sort.[3]  It is therefore a sort of “sight,” though not of the material kind.  This is why Paul insists that we live our lives in Christ not based primarily on the material sight that comes with being human, but on the new ability to evaluate reality from the perspective of the kingdom of God—that is, by faith.

Faith, contrary to almost universal usage, is not the absence of thought or factuality or knowledge, some sort of blind leap into irrationality. Nor is it the presence of a comforting fantasy, conjured by a frightened human mind.  It is a specific sort of perception, a way of knowing and thinking that begins with God and transcends materiality, but also includes and embraces the material.  It is the ability to discern certain facts that others do not grasp, because these facts are not immediately or primarily present to the five physical senses.  This perception puts one in touch with ultimate reality—the mind of God.[4]  So we might say that faith is viewing (seeing) Reality as God says it is, taking his word for it, and perceiving it at a level that does not rely entirely on any other sense that we naturally have.[5]  In 2 Corinthians 4:18 Paul uses the metaphor of “seeing” because he wants to get across the idea that one can perceive clearly and confidently things that God reveals in Christ and the gospel that cannot be perceived in any other way but by this God-given, internal (inner man) awareness.  He is talking about faith as a way of seeing the invisible.  It is not a crystal ball, but a worldview, a way of understanding and interpreting reality—past, present, and future.  It is also a way of living practically that relies on invisible reality, often more than on material sight, which is why Paul says we “walk by faith and not by sight.”

Does this mean that Christian faith does not find a basis in knowledge of real, historical events in which God has demonstrated his existence and his purposes for mankind?  Is it some sort of spiritual fantasy disconnected from material reality?  Not at all.  The Bible says that faith in the real God (the “living God”) is grounded in and grows out of actual historical events, beginning with creation.[6]  These would include such events as the call of Abraham, the miraculous creation and preservation of the tribes of Israel (most of the books of Genesis and Exodus), the divine Word that God sent through Moses and the prophets, and supremely of course, the Divine Word made flesh—Christ: his incarnation, lawful human life, death under the Law, resurrection, and ascension to lordship over the material and immaterial universe.  Faith perceives these occurrences in human history and understands them like a physicist perceives “space” and understands that it is not “empty,” at all, but full of all sorts of dynamics undetectable to the natural human eye.

So, we Christians are to live in a very counterintuitive way, a way shaped not only by what our eyes see, but by what our ears hear from the Lord in his Word, in the Gospel, and in His kingdom.  This will influence us to make different sorts of decisions than the culture around us makes, living with a different system of priorities, confident in a different sort of power.

[1] John 3:1-4.  The phrase “additional birth” is one that Dallas Willard uses.  I like it because it says “born again” in a new vocabulary.

[2] Hebrews 11:27.  NIV.

[3] Dallas Willard defines faith helpfully as, “… a commitment to action, often beyond our natural abilities, based upon knowledge of God and God’s ways.” (Emphasis his). Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 20.

[4] See Paul’s view of this, which he refers to as “wisdom not of this age” in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.  See also passages like Proverbs 1:7, where we see that one has not begun to think clearly until one has the fear of the Lord.

[5] This is not to say that a faithful person always has a perfect “God’s eye view” of things.  Our perceptions, even in faith, may be far less than perfectly certain in the Cartesian sense.  Yet they may still be based on what God says about life and reality rather than solely on what humanity can perceive of it.  The lack of clarity that sometimes occurs even in faith should be attributed to our “dark glasses.”  1 Cor. 13:12.

[6] Creation itself is a major biblical theme in the definition of faith.  If one does not grasp that the immaterial God voluntarily created the material world, one cannot possibly understand the rest of what the sixth sense of faith has to offer.  This is why the creation issue is first in the Bible, and crucial to knowing God in Christ.  It is also why the sin matrix of Western idolatry rests tenaciously on the myth of evolution.  If spontaneous evolution is not true, creation must be—and that means dealing with what Francis Schaeffer called “The God Who Is There.”  See Gen. 1-3; Rom. 1:19-20; Heb 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5.

The Dangers of Visibility

Rick Booye

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

(Gen. 3:6-8 NASB)

            The creation account includes how evil entered the material world.  Genesis 3 relates the culpable, tragic, spiritual and material fall of the human race.  It happened through autonomous seeing on the part of Adam and Eve.  Humanity fell by not letting their hearing of God’s word condition their seeing of the material world he created for them.  Eve saw that the fruit was “good for food and a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise,” so she ate it, all on the advice (temptation often presents as advice) of an influential and beautiful creature—the snake.  She then gave some of the fruit to her husband, Adam, who apparently did not actually believe what the snake was saying.  Nevertheless he too ate the fruit, and they both experienced for the first time the terror of being alone and naked in the creation.  It says that their “eyes were opened” and they realized that they were naked.  What sort of “eye-opening” was this?  Was this new perception a good thing?  Or could we call it a delusion?

Note how Eve saw that the fruit was beautiful and assumed it was good, based on the influence of the snake.  She used her gift of physical sight autonomously (self-directed, self-law) without letting it be informed by God’s mind regarding the thing she was looking at.  Her hearing from God did not shape her interpretation of what she was seeing with her eyes.  If it had, she may have gone through a thought process something like this:

“Hmmm.  I see that this fruit is pretty.  And this snaky fellow says that it is magically endowed with the power to make me like a god.  That certainly appeals to me in some way I had not noticed before.  But I know something else about this apparently beautiful fruit, and that is that it is emphatically not good.  I know this not because of something I see in the fruit, (in fact I don’t see any badness in the fruit at all), but because of something I have heard from God about the fruit.  God’s word to me has informed me that if I eat this, against his clear instruction, I will die.  I don’t really know what dying is, but the Lord says it’s bad, and I trust his character and his word on this, and all subjects, more than I trust my own imagination, intuition, knowledge and wisdom.  And certainly more than I trust the advice of this snake.  So, no matter what this smooth character says, I am not going to eat this.  In fact, now that I think about it, I wonder what sort of person the Snakester is  that he would tell me to do the very opposite of what my best friend and Creator told me?  This creature looks good and seems very cool.  But there must be something wrong with him that he would try to influence me in this way.  I think I’ll talk this over with Adam and together maybe we could ask the Lord what’s going on here.”  … Or not.

What about Adam?  He did the same thing Eve did.  He did not allow his hearing of God’s word to inform his interpretation of what he was seeing in God’s creation.  The difference is that he was not looking at the fruit.  He was looking at the woman holding it out to him.  Paul says that Adam was not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14), which means he must have realized that the snake was lying.  So what could possibly induce him to eat?  Not the snake, and not the fruit, but Eve herself.  She had already eaten of the fruit and seemed pleased with the results.  Furthermore, if God had told them the truth (and Adam knew he had) then by not eating the fruit he would lose Eve to a different destiny.  So he had to make a decision about whether to listen to what God said or follow what his eyes were looking at—Eve, all shapely and inviting.  Adam might have thought something like this:

“Hmmm.  I know that this is deadly and evil because God told us not to do it.  But, I don’t want to lose this amazing creature with whom I have found completeness, love, physical, spiritual and emotional intimacy.  She’s just so beautiful in every way.  Look at her!  I can’t let her go … I’m getting dizzy.  Hey, what’s that I taste?  She’s put the fruit in my mouth with her long beautiful fingers … hmmmm … it does taste better than I thought it would.  Whoa!  I feel a chill!  Hey!  I need to find something to wear.  Good Grief! I’m naked and cold and alone, even though I’m with Eve …”

And the rest, as we say, is history.  Material sight has resisted spiritual perception (faith) down to the present day, and the only way to see clearly in the Spirit is to let God’s word condition and interpret the reality that our eyes behold, whether that reality be evil-looking or beautiful looking to our material eyes.  The Lord opens our eyes in the right way, to perceive him through the gospel and to live in his light.  That is living by the knowledge of God and his word (faith) rather than by sight (2 Cor.5:7).