Judgment Seat of Christ – Part I

I Corinthians 3:10-15

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
September 2010

I Corinthians 3 and 4 deal with the topic of the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is what I want to study tonight. I want to look at exactly what the Bible teaches about this judgment. I also want to look at some negative aspects of this judgment, along with some positive aspects of this judgment. Before we read, those passages, turn to II Corinthians 5:10. This passage tells us five things about the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Basic Facts about the Judgment Seat of Christ

1. The judge will be Christ (“We all must all appear before the judgment seat of CHRIST”).

Compare II Corinthians 5:10 with. Romans 14:10. What doe we learn from this? We learn that Jesus is God. Paul said in Romans 14 says that we will all stand before God’s judgment seat but he said in II Corinthians 5 that we would all stand before Christ’s judgment seat. That shows that Jesus is God.

Only God can judge people’s hearts and determine their eternal destinies and that is what Jesus will do. It is his tribunal or judicial bench. Jesus will be the judge of EVERYONE. He will judge both believers and unbelievers (Acts 17:31; John 5:22; Matthew 7:21-23).

2. This will be a judgment of believers (“WE all must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”).

Paul doesn’t say “you must all appear before this judgment seat”. He says, “We must all appear before it”. Many people have the idea that there will be one end-time judgment of everyone. The Bible does not teach that. There will be many different judgments of many different groups at different times.

This judgment of Christians will be universal (all believers). This will be a judgment just of Christians. Paul says, “we must all appear …” It is not only a judgment of believers, it is a judgment of ALL believers.

3. This judgment will be mandatory (“we all MUST appear before the judgment seat of Christ”).

There’s no getting out of this judgment. Peter will not escape this judgment. Paul won’t escape it. If you are a believer, you will be there.

4. This judgment will be individual (“EACH ONE will receive his due”).

This will not be a judgment of all Christians collectively as a group but individually. If this judgment will be individual, it will most likely be private. The Bible does not say this directly but we can infer it. Who are we going to be accountable to on this day?

Romans 14:12 says that “each one of us will give an account of himself TO GOD”. We are not giving account of ourselves to the church or the angels but to God. This is a matter between the judge and us, between each servant and his master. There will be no one there with us.

5. This judgment will be fair (“we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive WHAT IS DUE HIM”).

Jesus will look at the good and the bad (Rev. 2-3). This one will be completely fair, because it will be done by someone who is perfectly righteous. It will be done by a righteous judge. The Bible says that “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere” (Proverbs 15:3). He sees everything.

This judgment will also be perfectly fair because it will be based on works. It will test “every man’s work”. As Paul said in II Corinthians 5:10, “We will each receive what is due or whatever we deserve on this day for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:14; Proverbs 24:12; Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12). There used to be a sign in the registrar’s office of Dallas Theological Seminary that said, “Salvation is by grace. Graduation is by works”.

What This Judgment Will Not Do

What is the purpose of the judgment? That is the big question. Here is where there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation, so I want to spend a little time on this. First let’s look at what the purpose is not.

1. The Judgment Seat of Christ will NOT to determine who is saved.

It will not determine people’s eternal destiny. It has nothing to do with salvation. We see this very clearly in I Corinthians 3:10-15. Paul says that some Christians will not receive a reward but will still be saved. Some Christians will suffer loss but Paul says it will not be a loss of salvation.

2. The Judgment Seat of Christ will NOT punish or judge sins.

This judgment is not punitive. It is not a criminal court. No one is going to be sentenced at this judgment. We are not going to be punished for our sins at this judgment, if we are saved, because Christ already bore our punishment on the cross.

He already made the complete payment for our sins, both the ones we have confessed and the ones we have not confessed. Christ’s death completely satisfied God’s wrath for sin (Romans 5:9; 8:1; I Thessalonians 5:9).

If Olympic athletes in Paul’s day lost the race, they didn’t take them out and shoot them. They didn’t punish them. They just were not rewarded. The purpose of this judgment is not to punish but to evaluate.

If we are not going to be punished, then what about I Corinthians 3:10-15? Roman Catholics believe in something called purgatory. We believe in heaven and hell. They believe in heaven, hell and purgatory.

What is purgatory? Catholics believe that some people who die go to heaven but other people who are saved and die in a state of grace need to go to purgatory first to receive some punishment for some of their sins before they can go to heaven. It purifies them and makes them fit for heaven. They believe that this passage proves their doctrine. Are they right? Are some Christians going to face fire?

Does I Corinthians 3:15 refer to Purgatory?

All Christians will face fire. This was will be a judgment of FIRE but this fire has nothing to do with purgatory for two reasons.

WORKS are burned, not people

Hell is a place where people will go and burn with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12; 13: 49-50). This fire only burns works. Your works will either be purified or fried.

This fire does NOT punish or purify

Their works are and the purpose of the fire is not to purify but to reveal and test the works. If they do not pass the test, they are burned up, not made better.

So what is the purpose of this judgment? There are three purposes of the judgment. Why will we all stand before this judgment seat?

Three Purposes of the Judgment Seat of Christ

1. The first purpose is to REVEAL things.

Everything will be open. Everything will be open and everything will come out on that day, the good and the bad. God is the one who searches the hearts. Paul said that these things will be revealed by fire.

The Bible says that Jesus the Judge has eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14). He can look right through you and will examine everything you did. Everyone is completely naked before God (Hebrews 4:13). What will this judgment reveal? It will reveal

  • Your Actions
  • Your Thoughts
  • Your Words (Matthew 12:36-37; 5:22)
  • Your Motives (I Corinthians 4:5; 13:1-3; Matthew 6:1-4)
  • Your Secrets or things we try to hide (Luke 8:17; cf. Romans 2:16; I Timothy 5:24).

2. The second purpose is to REVIEW our life and ministry and works.

We will be held accountable to on this day for the things we have done, whether good (αγαθός) or bad (φαΰλος) . This will be our final job review. Romans 14:12 says that “each one of us will give an account of himself to God”. Christians are declared righteous in God’s sight but are still held accountable to God for their good actions, as well as their bad actions.

We will not be condemned for our actions if we are truly saved but we will still have to give an account for them. What does that mean? Part of accountability is punishment for wrong doing. We will not be punished. We will be held accountable for our life.

We will be confronted with what we did or did not do with our life and have to face it before God and confess un-confessed sins that we did not confess on earth. There will be some consequences (ashamed, remorse, regret, loss of reward, lack of commendation, works burned up, status in heaven).

3. The third purpose is to REWARD believers.

The Bible says that God will give many believers rewards for faithful service. God will give rewards for different things (evangelism, martyrdom, trials). It will be an award ceremony similar to the award ceremonies after athletic competitions where the athletes receive their rewards. The Bema seat was an elevated platform where athletes at the Greek games got their rewards.

We will not all get the same reward. I am not going to get the same reward as someone who faced intense persecution and was tortured and killed for being a Christian. Some of us will get more rewards than others. Some of us may not get any rewards. Eternal life cannot be lost but rewards can be lost or forfeited (II John 8).

Paul said that your life and ministry is like a building and you are the builder. One day the building will be inspected by God and he will inspect the building by fire. What does the fire do? It tells which things were acceptable and which were unacceptable. It separates the gems from the junk. All of our works are in two categories in God’s eyes.

Paul mentions six different materials (gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and stubble) but there are not six different kinds of materials. There are only two. There is the kind that is flammable and the kind that is not flammable. One group of materials (wood, hay and stubble) will burn. The other group of materials (gold, silver and precious stones) will not burn. One group will survive a fire and one will not.

There are only two kinds of works that we can do. There are only two kinds of ministry that we can do – good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, profitable or unprofitable. There is a big difference between a baseball bat made of straw and one made of wood.

There is a huge difference building a house out of hay and a house out of wood. Wood is a lot sturdier but even if you build with the finest wood available (maple, oak, mahogany, etc.), it will one day be burned up. Those works will be gone. They will not last.

What happens if that takes place? You suffer loss. You did some things that you thought God would be pleased with. You might have spent a great deal of time doing them but it is all burned up. You get nothing in return for them. You get no reward. It was a big waste of time. What happens if you produce works that are good, silver and precious stones? God accepts them. They remain. They last.

Woodrow Kroll gives a good illustration of works that survive . In 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. Seven crew members were killed.

The commander of the ship was a close friend of Steve Green. He sang at his church two weeks before and even took one of his CDs up on the space shuttle. Among the miles of debris from Texas to Arkansas found on the ground was one of Steve Green’s CDs. It had survived intense heat and remained in tact. The Tupac and Beatle CDs didn’t survive.

Negative Aspects of the Judgment Seat of Christ

This judgment can be a little scary. What are some negative things about this judgment?

  • It is an evaluation.

Evaluations are often unpleasant. Many of us may have had negative job evaluations, so that brings back bad memories.

  • It is inevitable. No one can escape it. Each one of us has a divine appointment to stand before this judgment seat.
  • People will be held accountable on this day for their actions.  Most people don’t like to held accountable for things.
  • Christ will look at everything in our life. He is not going to miss anything.
  • Just because you think you are ready to face this judgment seat, doesn’t mean that you are.

Just because we have a clear conscience before God and man, doesn’t mean that we are innocent (I Corinthians 4:4). We are a little biased. It is difficult for us to be objective when evaluating ourselves.

  • Some works will be burned up.

ALL Christians will have some works burned up. Probably no one’s entire Christian life or ministry will be gold, silver and precious stones but some Christians (Carnal Christians) will have a lot more works burned up than others (Spiritual Christians).

  • Some people will suffer loss and be ashamed.

Positive Aspects of the Judgment Seat of Christ

Believe it or not, this judgment will not be all negative. There are some positive parts to it. This judgment can actually be something that we can look forward to for several reasons. There are seven reasons why we can be encouraged by this judgment.

  • This Judgment will NOT affect salvation. If you are saved, your salvation is eternally secure.
  • This judgment will be FAIR.

It will reveal good things done, as well as bad. It is not going to be all negative. It is encouraging to know that those that work hard will be rewarded (15:58).

  • You DO NOT have to be perfect to get a reward, otherwise no Christian would get one.
  • At the Judgment Seat of Christ EVERYONE will receive some reward.

Paul said that in I Corinthians 4:5 (“At that time each will receive his praise from God”). We just will not receive everything that we could have received, if we would have lived a life sold out to God.

  • You are NOT rewarded based on your ability.

We all know the parable of the talents. Some of us have one talents. Some of us have three talents and some of us have five talents. Those talents were given to people “each according to his ability”. Jesus doesn’t care if you have two, four or five talents. The important thing is what do you do with the talents he has given you.

Stewardship is faithfulness to the gifts and talents God had has given you. If God has not given me the gift to sing, he is not going to hold me accountable for not joining the church choir. My wife says that I might get a reward for not joining the choir, because I am such a bad singer.

The one who was faithful with one talent was rewarded just as much as the one who was faithful with five talents and may have been known all over the world. The reward was the same. Jesus said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant” and not, “Well done talented and successful servant”.

  • You DO NOT have to do great things to get a reward.

You don’t have to win a million people to Christ or be a pastor of a mega church to get a reward. Even smallest things done for Christ will be rewarded (Matthew 10:42). Jesus said that even faithfulness in small things is rewarded (Luke 19:17; 16:10). You don’t have to be faithful in really big things to get a reward.

  • It is possible to have CONFIDENCE at this judgment (I John 2:28).

We can actually be confident and unashamed at this judgment. The Bible says that some will receive a rich welcome into the kingdom (II Peter 1:11). Some will be commended. They will hear the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant” and the words “Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21).

2 Responses to Judgment Seat of Christ – Part I

  1. Wonderful job.. I want to ask you whether this judgement (I. Corinthians 3:10-15) is only for believers? Then what about the Judgement for unbelievers?

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