Theology Matters

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Colouring in the Lines: Your Father is the Judge

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?

Image

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.


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Good News: Judgment Day is coming!

ImageThis picture is an artists representation of Daniel 7:9–10

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court [or judgment] was seated, and the books were opened.”

It’s a fearsome image. And I’m sure that the picture doesn’t even begin to do the “Ancient of Days” justice. Revelation 20:11 has a parallel description of the judgment, which makes it clear just how fearsome this event will be:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.

Why on earth is this good news?!

Before I get to that, I need to make it clear that the coming Judgment is not good news to all. There are good reasons why the notion of a day of reckoning—a day when all accounts are settled—is feared by so many.

The Bad News of the Coming Judgment

First, the God of the Universe, who will preside at this judgment, is a Being of unlimited power. Theologians use the Latin-derived term omnipotence (the omni bit means all and the potence refers to his power) to describe this attribute of God. He has the power over life, death, and eternity, and this is the Day when he will use that power to punish every sin.

Second, unlike human judges, who must always make do with limited and incomplete information, the Divine Judge, has unlimited knowledge. This is referred to as God’s omniscience (from scientia, knowledge—you get the picture). If you actually dwell on this attribute—there is not a single fact, occurrence, thought, deed past present or future that God does not know and see—it is probably the scarier of the two. For many, the fear of exposure is greater than the fear of punishment.  I’m not sure where I got this mental picture from, but I remember hearing somewhere that at the Last Judgment, all of the events of my life would be played on a huge movie screen for all to see. Scripture goes almost as far, for in the ‘books’ that are to be opened is recorded every detail of every life. Make no mistake. This judgment is coming. It will be very public, very scary and very final.

The Good News of the Coming Judgment

But its not all bad news. For this is also a Day when every wrong will be put to rights. Think about it. God’s punishment of sin is a fearful prospect from the point of view of the sinner, but every sin against God also has a human victim and from the perspective of those who have been sinned against, this day will have been long awaited. Finally, justice will be served on the perpetrators of child abuse, war crimes, sex trafficking, genocide, torture, slavery, murder and oppression. Every time a powerless victim cried out to God for justice; every time a dispossessed people raged against their oppressors to no avail; every time a little child’s pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears, God was watching, God was listening and God will make it right. This is the Day about which Romans 12:19 is written:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

And to the many who (sometimes quite rightly) think that “life isn’t fair,” this is good news indeed.

The Great News of the Coming Judgment

But the best news is yet to come. You don’t even have to appear at this judgment. Jesus will appear for you—if you let him. You see, when that great and terrible Judgment is seated, as Daniel tells us, the books of record will be opened. But Revelation 20:12 speaks of another book that is opened at this time. This is the Book of Life, and if your name is found in that book, the result of your case is assured. In fact, John 5:24 tells us that your case will not even be heard. In this verse Jesus assures us that

the one who hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and does not come into Judgment because that person has already crossed over from death to life.

In other words, for the person who trusts in Christ, the judgment has already taken place. It took place in Christ because he was sentenced in my place on the Cross. In the words of “The Pulpit Commentary”: “The judgment is over, the books are closed, the condemnation is no longer possible.”

Romans 8:1 puts it this way:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…

Condemnation is a word associated conceptually (and lexically in the Greek) with Judgment. It refers to an adverse judgment and the sentence of punishment that accompanies it.

Based on these verses, I imagine a scene where God almighty sits on the great white throne (as in Revelation 20; Daniel tells us only that it is on fire) in the final judgment. On the table in front of him are the books of record. But beside this, lies open, the Book of Life. As each name is read out, it is cross-checked against this Book. If a person’s name is found there, the case is dismissed. And guess who is there doing the cross-checking? Jesus himself. After all, Rev 21:27 refers to this as “the Lamb’s Book of Life.” As the “advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1) Jesus actually attends the court in our place. But he attends this court, not to plead our case, but simply to remind the court that the case has already been heard and decided in our favour. That, after all, is what justification means. We have been found to be “not guilty” because of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross.

Let me be clear. If you have placed your trust in Christ, your case has already been heard. Beside your name in the great books of record then, will be written this simple summary of the case: “Not guilty. Covered by Christ’s righteousness.”

That is why believers in Christ should not fear the final judgment. We do not need to appear before the court because the outcome has already been decided.

Of course, there is a “judgment” of sorts at which we will appear, but this is the judgment of rewards, which, as Christians, we may eagerly anticipate rather than fear. But more on that in my next post.