Why Must Christians Be Judged on the Day of the Lord?
James R. Aist
“…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this comes the judgment…” – Hebrews 9:27
The Bible refers to two different judgments, both presided over by Christ, whereby all mankind will be judged. At the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), non-Christians will be judged, found guilty of their sins and condemned to hell (the Lake of Fire). But, it is at the Judgment (or, Bema) Seat of Christ that Christians will be judged (2 Corinthians 5:10). Have you ever wondered why born-again Christians will be judged? After all, Jesus died to pay the price for our sins, and God has forgiven them, right? So, what is left to be judged? Answers to these questions can be found in the unique nature and purpose of the Judgment/Bema Seat of Christ, the judgment reserved for all true believers.
There are four fundamental, biblical facts that must first be set forth before one can understand why Christians must be judged. First, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Second, all of our actions – whether good or bad – are recorded in heaven and are, in some way, attached to our account in the Book of Works (Revelation 20:12). Third, God does not allow any bad or evil thing to enter heaven (Psalm 5:4; Revelation 21:27). And fourth, the Judgment/Bema Seat of Christ is for Christians only and will not be a judgment of our sins – which were judged and punished on the cross – but a judgment of our “good” works (e.g., Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10) after we were saved. Can you see already where I am going with this?
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
This verse from 1 John is often quoted as a proof verse for the doctrine of forgiveness of sins, as well it should be. But why did John tack on “…and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”? What’s that about, anyway? After our sins are forgiven, what is the unrighteousness from which we still need to be cleansed?
I suggest that this unrighteousness is the stain or record of unrighteousness that is attached to some of our efforts to build on the foundation that Jesus laid (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) and that remains in the Book of Works (Revelation 20:12) until we pass through the Judgment/Bema Seat of Christ. Jesus referred to this judgment in Revelation 22:12, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me to give to each one according to his work.” The Apostle Paul described the process of this judgment in this way: “For no one can lay another foundation than that which was laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or stubble, each one’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If anyone’s work which he has built on the foundation endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss. But he himself will be saved, still going through the fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Thus, I propose that the purposes of the judgment that Christians will undergo between death and heaven (Hebrews 9:27) are to 1) purify them from all unrighteousness pertaining to their works that do not survive the test, and 2) reward them for their works that do survive the test. Once purified, they can now pass into heaven with their good works without bringing any unrighteousness with them.
Paul used the analogy of the well-known (at that time) process of purifying precious metals with refining fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) to help us understand the nature and purpose of the Judgment/Bema Seat of Christ, and his analogy works very well. Another analogy, perhaps one which is more familiar to us in this day and age, would be a water purification filter. We use such a filter to remove undesirable, chemical contaminants from water while allowing the water itself to pass through freely. More specifically, the contaminants are bound (stuck) to the filter, but the water is not. Thus, when we drink the purified water, we are not contaminating our bodies. Similarly, the Judgment/Bema Seat of Christ “cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), and we can pass through the judgment without contaminating heaven.
So, while we will probably not enjoy having our works exposed and tested in this manner, we should, nonetheless, look forward to this judgment, because that is what will keep heaven pure when we enter into our final and eternal destination. And, we just might receive a reward from Jesus for some of our works!
(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE)