In my last post, I wrote about the terrible coming Day of Judgment and why, terrifying as it will be, the Christian does not need to fear it. Nevertheless, that Judgment will be terrifying for the unbeliever, not just because of the power of the Judge and the finality of the result (not to mention the awful consequences of receiving an adverse judgment), but because in that Day every secret will be laid bare. Everyone who is not clothed with the righteousness of Christ will appear naked, as it were, before Him. No pretense. No hiding. No excuse. A terrifying prospect indeed.
Let me reiterate what I said in the last post: This judgment is not for the Christian. We have nothing to fear. Jesus, our Advocate, appears on our behalf, bringing with him to court the Book of Life, and reminding the Judge that our case has already been heard, and the verdict is “not guilty.”
And yet, Scripture also makes clear that we will be judged on the basis of what we have done in our lives. In Revelation 22:12, Jesus says
Look, I am coming soon and my reward is with me. I will give to each person according to what they have done.
How then is that different from the “Great White Throne” Judgment where the dead are judged on what they have done?
Let me assure you, it is as different as night is different from day. To the believer, God is not a judge dealing out punishments to criminals. Rather, he is a Father who delights to hand out rewards to his children. In order to better understand the implications of this, I must take what appears to be an indulgent digression and use an illustration from my own (imperfect) experience as a parent.
What do you see?
This is a colouring page that my 2 year old did. When you look at this, all you see is a mess. The colours do not always match what they are applied to, and there is plenty of scribbling outside of the lines. That’s because she’s not your daughter. Here’s what I see. She’s two alright?! I know where she’s up to. I know what she’s capable of. I’ve seen her work grow and develop since she first put crayon to paper. And I love it. I’m impressed by it. I don’t see all of the colouring outside the lines. That is not my focus. I don’t see all that she has gotten wrong; all that she has failed to achieve in this picture, and all that she should have done better. I don’t see what she hasn’t done. I see what she has done. I don’t see the scribble outside the lines. I see all that she has gotten inside the lines. I don’t see the places where she has gotten the colours wrong. I see the places where she has gotten the colours right. And that is what you’d expect. Because I’m her father. And because of that, she does not need to fear my disapproval when she brings me her work. I am delighted by it. She is assured of my approval because she is my daughter.
That is what it will be like at the ‘judgment’ of rewards. But unfortunately, even though most Christians have some idea of the assurance of their salvation—that they will ultimately be found to be not guilty—many still fear the exposure of that final day of reckoning. If we’re honest, we feel like, alright, its going to be ok. Its all going to pan out in the end, but what a terrible moment when the secrets of my heart are laid bare. How ashamed I will feel, even if only for a moment.
And yet, while your secrets will be revealed, it is not the secrets that you dread. No. They have been taken care of by the Cross. All of your darkest secrets, your hidden sins, your worst moments, your evil thoughts; those shameful things that only you on earth know about; all those things are called forgiven sin. God has promised that he will remove our sin from us as far as the East is from the West (Ps 103:12). Furthermore, he has promised to forget (Is 43:25; Jer 31:34; Heb 8:12). That does not mean that God chooses ignorance over knowledge. It means that God chooses never to call the sin to mind again; never again to raise the issue.
Yes, our secrets will be revealed, but not our dark ones. Jesus tells us, in the sermon on the mount what sorts of secrets will be revealed. All of your ‘acts of righteousness’ which only you and God know about.
Nobody sees when you pray in private. Nobody sees when you fast. Nobody knows the sacrifice of your faith-filled generosity towards others. God sees. God knows. And these things, he does not forget. Nobody saw what it cost you to choose to forgive that person. God saw, and Jesus tells us that “your Father in heaven who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Nobody knows what it cost you to choose to be selfless in that situation. But God was there. He saw and he rewards.
In short, God, as your father, does not judge you for what is outside the lines. In the case of the picture that is our life, that is called forgiven sin and God chooses to forget.
Of course I am not at all saying that we should “continue in sin that grace may abound.” In the words of the apostle Paul, “God forbid!” But to the yielded and repentant heart that desires above all to please God, God’s heart is not to judge you for what you haven’t done right, but for what you have. He seeks not to expose your dark secrets, but to reward your secret righteousness.
Unfortunately, too many of us see even this judgment of rewards as some kind of a balancing of the good deeds that we have done against the bad. I need to be ruthlessly frank here. That idea is not Christian. God has taken care of the bad deeds on the Cross so that when we repent of our sin he forgives immediately, fully, and finally. He is looking to reward you for all of your good deeds. Whatever they weigh, you will be rewarded accordingly.
What a marvelous motivation to do that for which we were created—the “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). God is watching. But he’s not watching so that he may catch us out when we make a mistake (though be assured, if we are truly his children, he will certainly correct these), but to reward us when we act righteously.