The Judgment Seat of Christ
Living with an eternal perspective

By I Gordon
 

‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.’
Jim Elliot – Martyred Missionary to Ecuador

Introduction

Last year, I did a series of messages in my church on Bible prophecy and end times. And I must say, I really enjoyed it… possibly I was the only one who did but as long as one person benefits (me) then it has got to be worth it right? There is something very good for a believer’s soul in spending time focusing on prophecy and end times, because it gets you to focus on eternity – and that is something we don’t do enough. This may be why the book of Revelation is the only book in the Bible that pronounces a blessing (which it does twice) for those who read and adhere to its words.

Now, part of this series got me examining what the Bible calls ‘the judgment seat of Christ’ or ‘the bema [1] seat of Christ’. Two studies have evolved from this. This one will simply look at the fact that we will all stand before the Lord and the impact that should have in helping us to live with an eternal perspective right now. The second will look at what we are rewarded for, in what ways we could lose our rewards and what God’s standard for measurement is. So let’s go!

What is your ambition, your purpose in this life?

2 Cor 5:9-10 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ , that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

When you read the Bible, you find that the Apostle Paul’s purpose, his goal in this life, was to please the Lord. He really wanted to please the one who had pleased him so much. And this ambition of Paul’s was very closely tied in with his thoughts of eternity [2] . So straight after saying that he wants to please the Lord, he says ‘for we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.’

What it is, and what is isn’t…

The judgment seat of Christ -

So Romans 14:10-12 gives us this soul searching thought…

“We will all stand before God’s judgment seat... So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” [3]

Gold and Silver or Hay and Stubble?

1 Cor 3:10-15 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work . If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

When we stand before the Lord, our lives will be examined by fire the scriptures tell us. The fire either purifies or destroys and it is the same when our works are examined. If they have something of the Lord’s life in them then they will stand the fire and come forth of precious materials, refined in the fire. If they are not based upon faith in the Lord Jesus and are our own ‘dead works’ then the fire will consume them. Note also from the above scripture that even if all a man’s works are burnt up, he will suffer loss (of reward), but he himself will still be saved. How much better though is it to live our lives now, with Christ as our foundation, laying up treasures in Heaven?

Desire for rewards… A wrong motive?

Some think that a desire for rewards is a wrong motive for living the Christian life. Now it would be if we were after earthly rewards! It is true that love is the best motive for anything that we do in this life, but it is certainly not wrong to desire heavenly rewards. In fact, it was that which strengthened and motivated some of the saints of old recorded Hebrews’ ‘Hall of faith’ chapter.

Keeping the eternal perspective

So we see from the ‘hall of faith’ in Hebrews chapter 11, that it was the sense of eternity and the longing for ‘the things to come’ that enabled the great saints of old to hold fast and walk in faith through their difficult times down here on earth. If you are honest however, you will agree that it is not always easy to keep such an eternal perspective. In fact, at times, it is tremendously difficult. Thankfully, Asaph comes to our help. [4] You see, Asaph, in Psalm 73, expresses feelings that we all have and in doing so gives some great advice on keeping an eternal perspective. Let’s look at different parts of this great psalm.

Seventy-Three

Vs 1-6 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.

This awesome psalm starts off in brutal honesty. As he looks upon the prosperity of the wicked, at their life of ease, and seemingly struggle-free existence, Asaph can’t help but be jealous. He envies their life. Can you relate to this? Have you ever looked at others in this way, at those who seem to have such an easy life, and envied the ‘prosperity of the wicked’? If so, you wouldn’t be alone. But remember that as Asaph does this, his foothold in his walk with God loosens and his feet come close to slipping…

Vs 10-14 Therefore his people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?”
This is what the wicked are like— always carefree, they increase in wealth.
Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.

Have you thought that it was in vain that you have lived a godly Christian life? When you get on this path of envying the wicked, the next stop is where Asaph finds himself here. It this part of the psalm, Asaph shows that even God’s people are tempted to join the wicked in their corrupt practices because of the seemingly easy life they live. So as he ponders this, Asaph is even closer to slipping. There is no view of eternal things in his mind. Only the here and now… Until –

Vs 16-17 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me.

Until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.

From an earthly perspective it is all hard to fathom. The wicked prosper while the righteous struggle. It was too oppressive for Asaph UNTIL he entered the sanctuary of God. In God’s presence we can see clearly, for we receive an eternal perspective! From this viewpoint, Asaph wrote, ‘then I understood their final destiny. I saw that at any moment they could slip and there would be no coming back. It is a slip that will last for eternity and there will be no one to help him back up.’ [5]

Vs 19-20 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

What sobering and terrifying verses! Can you remember your last dream? I’m sure you can remember the sense of relief and peace that comes when waking from a scary dream and realising that it’s not actually reality… whew! Or maybe you have experienced the disappointment of having a really pleasant dream and again waking to find it’s not reality. Well, in these verses, Asaph likens the life of the wicked to a dream. You see, they too will die and like waking from a dream they will find that this life on earth wasn’t reality. And having mocked or ignored God they will find that the actual reality is a lot worse! Their sense of peace and comfort will be stripped in one day and no money, power or connections that they had in this life will be able to help them. Sobering thought.

Vs 21-25 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant
; I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory
.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

Having come into the presence of God and having seen life from an eternal perspective, Asaph finally sees things clearly. ‘I was an ignorant beast’ he says. ‘I was living and acting like this life is all there is, like an animal would!’ Like Asaph, we will not see with an eternal perspective unless we learn to come into God’s presence and let Him speak to us about the things that actually matter. And, to state the obvious, it is the things of eternity that matter. The Lord graciously guides us in this life and then we are taken to be with him in glory! It is so important to keep the right perspective. Think carefully about the quote by Jim Elliot that started this study off – ‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.’ True wisdom is found by keeping an eternal perspective [6] .

Psalm 90:12 ‘Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

One of the last things Jesus told us in the Bible was -  

‘Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.’

May we learn to live in the present with this thought in mind, so that our faith ‘may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ (1 Pet 1:7)



[1]  The Greek word ‘bema’ simply means ‘judgement seat’. It was an elevated seat on which the judge of a contest sat. After the contest, the competitors would stand before this seat to receive their awards for their achievement in the contest.

[2]  There are people who use the cliché ‘He is so heavenly minded he is no earthly good.’ Now, that sounds fine but have you actually met somebody that would fit this category? I don’t think I have. I have met some super-spiritual Christians who speak a strange language called ‘Christianese’, and some of them struggle to be understood by normal people in the world… but I don’t know of anyone who I would say thinks too much about heaven and eternity so that it makes them useless down here. Having said that, the opposite is definitely true… there are plenty of Christians of whom it could be said that they are so ‘earthly minded that they are no heavenly good.’ Make no mistake, where your heart is your treasure will be also.

[3]  Daniel Webster was once considered the greatest of all living Americans. He was a statesman, lawyer, and orator. At a banquet held in his honour, among his fellow peers and leaders of America, he was asked this question – ‘Sir, what is the greatest thought that has ever entered your mind?’ To which Webster replied, ‘The greatest thought is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life!’ Well said!

[4]  Isn’t Asaph great? So talented! He is… aye? You haven’t heard of him? The outstanding musician in the time of David… the appointed minister of music in the temple… the composer of 12 psalms in the Bible… the father of many singers and musicians…(1 Chr 15:19, 16:5, Ezra 2:41) Oh dear, where have you been? Mmmm, ok, I didn’t know much about him either. But thankfully, and far more important than any of his musical achievements, Asaph was a very honest man and wrote psalms expressing his doubts and failures as well as his victory and faith. This is what we shall see in an awesome psalm he wrote (Ps 73).

[5]  Having written that last sentence it can’t help but make a Christian thankful again for the secure position they have been placed ‘in Christ’. Speaking of the righteous’ fall, David wrote ‘When he falls he shall not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the one who holds his hand.’ How terrible is the fall of the wicked mentioned in Psalm 73 however. There is no one to catch him as he has relied on himself his whole life.

[6]  I’ve written this quote a few times but it is always worth remembering. CS Lewis said ‘If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought the most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.’