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What happens at the judgment seat of Christ?

The verses in question are:

Rom 14:10-12 ESV  Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;  11  for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”  12  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

2Co 5:9-10 ESV  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.  10  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.

The following position is taken from Got Questions. We will critique the view below.

In context, it is clear that both passages refer to Christians, not unbelievers. The judgment seat of Christ, therefore, involves believers giving an account of their lives to Christ.

  1. The judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation; that was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf (1 John 2:2) and our faith in Him (John 3:16).
  2. All of our sins are forgiven, and we will never be condemned for them (Romans 8:1).
  3. We should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives.
  4. Yes, as the Bible says, we will have to give an account of ourselves. Part of this is surely answering for the sins we committed. However, that is not going to be the primary focus of the judgment seat of Christ.

At the judgment seat of Christ, believers are rewarded based on how faithfully they served Christ (1 Corinthians 9:4-27; 2 Timothy 2:5).

  1. Some of the things we might be judged on are how well we obeyed the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), how victorious we were over sin (Romans 6:1-4), and how well we controlled our tongues (James 3:1-9).
  2. The Bible speaks of believers receiving crowns for different things based on how faithfully they served Christ (1 Corinthians 9:4-27; 2 Timothy 2:5).
  3. The various crowns are described in 2 Timothy 2:5, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4, and Revelation 2:10.

James 1:12 is a good summary of how we should think about the judgment seat of Christ: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

There seems to be a number of issues with this view.

1. We agree that this passage is referring to believers

This seems to be the view universally held.

2. We are judged for the good and the evil.

2Co 5:10 ESV  … so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

It is hard to imagine that our sins are not being judged here given that the verse explicitly states that “we will receive” according to the evil we have done.

The context of Romans 14:10 may also suggest the same. Here we have one brother warned against despising another. The reason for this admonition was that we ourselves will be judged by God.  The warning is one that is intended to produce fear – don’t despise your brother because you will be judged by God.

3. “Every” person and “each one” is judged according to their deeds

The Bible is also clear that ‘every’ person will be judged according to their works – good and bad.

Jer 17:10 ESV “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Rom 2:5-10 ESV But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

We are also warned to be careful not to grumble against our brothers because The Judge is near by and He will judge us for these evil deeds.

Jas 5:9 ESV Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

4. We are also judged for every word and it is linked to our justification

Jesus says that our justification is linked to what we say and that every careless word will be judged:

Mat 12:36-37 ESV  I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,  37  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

5. The judgment is scary

2Co 5:10-11 ESV  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.  11  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.

If it is true that this judgment is “God rewarding us for our lives” then why does Paul continue by describing the fear it produces? The believer’s judgment  is fearful – how much worse the judgment for non-believers.

Again, the Bible describes God first judging his people and that the process is very frightening:

Heb 10:24-31 ESV  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  
25  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  
26  For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  
27  but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.  
28  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  
29  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  
30  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  
31  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

6. The judgment may be eternal

It is generally understood that the first resurrection will not involve everyone. Only the believers will be resurrected – the rest will wait for the second resurrection at the end of the world after the millenium. Daniel describes that here. He says ‘many’, not all, will be raised after the tribulation. However some of those will go away into ‘everlasting contempt’!

Dan 12:1-3 ESV  “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.  2  And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  3  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Second, the parable Jesus gave about the wedding feast has noteable similarities between the marriage supper of the lamb described in Revelation 19. However the parable describes one who is ‘called’ to the wedding feast, arrives at the wedding, but is turned away.

Rev 19:7-9 ESV  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;  8  it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.  9  And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

Mat 22:1-14 ESV  And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying,  2  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,  3  and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.  4  Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’  5  But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business,  6  while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.  
7  The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.  8  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  9  Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’  
10  And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.  
11  “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  12  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.  13  Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  14  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

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