This question is usually a doozy for all of us, especially if we’re serious about our walk with God. And we should be:
“For we must all appear and be revealed as we are before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive [his pay] according to what he has done in the body, whether good or evil [considering what his purpose and motive have been, and what he hasachieved, been busy with, and given himself and his attention to accomplishing]” (2 Cor. 5:10 (Amplified). This appearance isn’t to determine our salvation but what we did with God’s Son once we accepted Him into our life. This holy fire of God will test the kind of work, its motivation – for His glory or for self-glory, the substance of which the Bible describes as “wood, hay and straw” or “silver, gold and precious stones.” The first group of deeds will burn, while the second remains and results in rewards: “According to the grace (the special endowment for my task) of God bestowed on me, like a skillful architect and master builder I laid [the] foundation, and now another [man] is building upon it. But let each [man] be careful how he builds upon it, 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is [already] laid, which is Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). 12 But if anyone builds upon the Foundation, whether it be with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 The work of each [one] will become [plainly, openly] known (shown for what it is); for the day [of Christ] will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done. 14 If the work, which any person has built on this Foundation [any product of his efforts whatever] survives [this test], he will get his reward. 15 But if any person’s work is burned up [under the test], he will suffer the loss [of it all, losing his reward], though he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire” (I Cor. 3:10-15). I hasten to add that I don’t believe the “evil” mentioned in the 2 Cor. 5:10 is about sins committed – once repented of they are forgiven and remembered no more – Jer. 31:34, so why would those be brought up again? The word evil, the word “poneron” in the Greek, can be rendered as “bad.” So we could see these as “bad works” as opposed to “good works.”
Summarizing the Judgment Seat
My guess is you’ve not heard many sermons, if any, on these passages, which, in effect, are tied together regarding the judgment seat of Christ. Before we move on to discuss other aspects of “What God Expects,” let’s consider several things found in these texts. 1) Paul warns that we should, after making Christ our foundation for building our lives, be careful how we build. 2) We should understand that our motivations for service should be done for God’s glory and not to impress others or for selfish kingdom building. 3) Our works will be open before God, with no excuses for our lack because He is omniscient and therefore, keenly aware of every reason why we couldn’t or didn’t build on the foundation of Christ, accordingly. 4) We will receive rewards from the Lord for those works that are categorized as gold, silver or precious stones, according to the quality of our works. 5) And, even though someone’s work turns to ashes, he or she is saved.
Fear of the Judgment Seat
By the way, 1 John 4:18 helps those of us who are still dealing with fear about the idea of being judged at the judgment seat of Christ. It says, quite simply, that if we are fearful, we have not yet come to a full revelation of the agape kind of love that is ministered deeply inside of us as we continue our journey: “There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love [turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and [so] he who is afraid has not reached the full maturity of love [is not yet grown into love’s complete perfection]” (I John 4:18, Amplified). The coming judgment seat is to bring a holy fear in us, not because of possible punishment, but because we can and should grow in love and awesome respect toward His holiness and love for us. The wrong response to this question “What Does God Expect?” results in performance orientation or “working to please God,” a very wrong response for a Christian. The right response reflects a better biblical and revelational perspective. Despite protestations that “faith without works is dead” (more on this in a few paragraphs) a misunderstanding of salvation (God’s finished work) verses sanctification (cooperating with God for a changed life), can wreak havoc through anxiety and fear for most believers.
Love & Fear
Think of it this way. Everything in us flows out of two emotional opposites, fear and love. 1 John 4:18 clearly states, “there’s no fear in love, but that “perfect love [a God kind of love called agape) casts out fear.” So, we are motivated by either fear or love in serving God and others. The more we set our love on God and allow His love to fill us, the less fear we have in this life. In this way, we understand that to the degree we fear, mature love is lacking. Incidentally, our ability to set our love on God is only possible because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). The way we view God comes into play, too, if fear not love, is our motivator. Jesus told the story of the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) in which three men were given a certain amount of money to invest. He was pleased with the first two because they invested well and got the expected return. The third man “was afraid and hid his talent in the ground,” and was called “wicked and lazy.” He said, “he knew” the benefactor (God) was a “hard man, reaping where he hadn’t sewn.” This man had a wrong view of God and rather than acting out in love to do what was asked, he feared and did nothing. If we think God is “hard,” it’s really our own hard hearts that cause us to feel this way. As we allow God to remove hardness from us, which based on wrong perceptions, we will see Him differently. David put it this way: “With the kind and merciful You will show Yourself kind and merciful, with an upright man You will show Yourself upright, 26 With the pure You will show Yourself pure, and with the perverse You will show Yourself contrary” (Psa. 18:25,26).
Our Vocation & God’s Will
We often ask, “What’s God will for me?” (usually we mean vocation), which is likely not as big a deal as we make it). It’s true God has equipped us with certain skills/gifts that are both given at birth (motivational), as found in Rom. 12:4-8, and we are also given gifts of the Spirit through the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-11). As long as we use these gifts in whatever we do, we are doing God’s will. However, just be sure to make your calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). For example, God made me a “secular” teacher (I taught school as a vocation and at other times I trained people in business), but I have the gift of teaching – given by the Holy Spirit). The Lord also has blessed me with a writing talent and the anointing in that as well. In whatever capacity, I have tried to serve and glorify God with these. You should have this understanding, although most likely with different emphases. Incidentally, I’ve worked at banks, a college, at a nuclear plant, in a large corporation, at a tourist spot and in the medical field. Regardless, I was a PR guy who taught and wrote in all of these, while attempting to serve the Lord in each capacity. As someone wisely said, “Your pulpit is where you are.”
Faith & Works
Let’s consider the issue of faith and works for a moment. So much has been written over the ages that trying to address this in a few paragraphs is impossible. First, I prefer to call every good work a “grace work.” I don’t think it’s possible for a person to produce good works that are not actuated by grace. Below is a short study on grace/works by Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics & Research: Ephesians 2:8, 9; Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16 and James 2:24; Matthew 19:16-21 1. Saved by grace
- (Ephesians 2:8-9) – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
- (Rom. 3:20, 28) – “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin…For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
- (Galatians 2:16) – “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
2. Saved by works
- (James 2:24) – “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”
- (Matthew 19:16-17) – “And behold, one came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
God does not want a faith that is empty and hypocritical. James 2 is talking about those who “say” that they have faith but have no works. Therefore, people cannot tell if these people are true believers or not, because there is no obvious fruit in their lives. That kind of a faith is useless and is not a saving faith. True faith results in true works. In Matthew 19:16-17, Jesus was speaking to a Lawyer who was self-righteous since he wanted to put Jesus to the test (Luke 10:25). He asked what he must do in order to obtain eternal life, and Jesus responded with the requirements of keeping the commandments. If a person keeps all of the commandments, it would seem that they could obtain eternal life. However, nobody can keep all of the commandments. Therefore, Jesus’ comments to this man show this man that justification can only be by faith since no one can keep all of the commandments. This is why it says in Eph. 2:8 that we are saved by grace through faith. Also, Romans 3:20,28 and Galatians 2:16 tells us that no one is justified in the sight of God by the law; that is, by the works that he can do. There is no contradiction at all when we examine the contexts. We are justified by faith but that faith must be alive (James 2). The Law cannot save us because we are incapable of keeping it (Matthew 19:16-17). Therefore, salvation is by grace through faith.
The point of the matter is whatever is produced by us – good works — is by grace alone. If we could produce them ourselves, then we could boast. There is a very interesting footnote found in the Amplified Version of the Book of Habakkuk between chapters 1&2 that summarizes the progression of law and thus human works. It reads: “There is a curious passage in the Talmud (the body of Jewish civil and religious law) which says that Moses gave six hundred injunctions to the Israelites. As these commands might prove too numerous to commit to memory, David brought them down to eleven in Psa. 15. Isaiah reduced these eleven to six in Isa. 33:15. Micah (6:8) further reduced them to three; and Isaiah once more (56:1) brought them down to two. These two Amos (5:4) reduced to one. However, lest it might be supposed from this that God could be found only in the fulfillment of the law, Habakkuk (2:4) said, ‘The just shall live by his faith.’” A better rendering is, “By faith the just (justified) shall live”! To me, “What Does God Expect? can be encapsulated within the Micah 6:8 passage referred to above. In this wonderful passage, our loving Father spells out exactly what He requires: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?” All that we DO for God BY Grace flows like a mighty river from the three things above: 1) Do justly; 2) love mercy and kindness; 3) humble ourselves and walk humbly with God. To do justly means to follow after what is right, which isn’t always “fair.” God is just and justifier. He is never guilty of injustice, although Satan would tempt us to accuse God of such. In our earthly walk we often are not given justice, but we are to try to ensure justice is done through us to others. Bill Gothard, a wonderful teacher, once wrote a piece titled “Fairness: the Enemy of Justice and Mercy.” In it he shows how God is always just and merciful but doesn’t necessarily execute what we term as “fairness.” If things were fair, we’d all be in hell! For us to love mercy and kindness, it means we are to treat others in the same way. A good way to understand the meaning of mercy is to see how it relates to grace: Mercy–not getting what you do deserve / withheld punishment and Grace–getting what you don’t deserve / unmerited favor. Mercy is like a judge finding you guilty, but then withholding any punishment. Grace is getting something you could never have imagined, an inexplicable gift. It’s like the same judge awarding you $10,000,000.00, after finding you guilty! In the parable of the unrighteous steward (Matt. 18:21-35), Jesus shows how intolerable God is of us when we fail to show mercy after receiving it. He throws us in a prison of torment until we have forgiven and show mercy to our offender! We live in days when even fellow Christians’ love can turn cold toward us, but God tells us in Jude 21 to: “Guard and keep yourselves in the love of God; expect and patiently wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah)—[which will bring you] unto life eternal.” Last, we are told to walk humbly with God. Peter reminds in his first letter that God resists the proud (he’s referring to Christians), but gives grace to the humble: “Likewise, you who are younger and of lesser rank, be subject to the elders (the ministers and spiritual guides of the church)—[giving them due respect and yielding to their counsel]. Clothe (apron) yourselves, all of you, with humility [as the garb of a servant, [b]so that its covering cannot possibly be stripped from you, with freedom from pride and arrogance] toward one another. For God sets Himself against the proud (the insolent, the overbearing, the disdainful, the presumptuous, the boastful)—[and He opposes, frustrates, and defeats them], but gives grace (favor, blessing) to the humble. 6 Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you” (1 Pet. 5:5-6, Amplified). “What Does God Expect”? really comes down to these three things, out of which will flow all the ministry of grace that any of us could ever desire and hope to achieve! And, as we stay on this journey, fear will slowly but surely become a thing of the past and love will be the foundation of our lives.