THE FINAL JUDGMENT
It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment
The judgment of God is a major revelation of Jesus to humans. When the Old and New Testaments are studied as a unit then we can understand Judgment. As with many Old Testament teachings the truth about God’s judgment was modified and amplified by Jesus.
We will limit our discussion here to God’s judgment at the end of time. We will not discuss the command for Christians to “judge not”, nor will we look at Church discipline as an exception to this rule, nor will we discuss God’s judgments on us while we are still alive on earth.
The main issue that this essay examines about the final judgment is whether our judgment is based on our faith, our works or on both faith and works.
Now, many verses in the New Testament teach on God’s judgment. A list of such verses makes for a good study, (see attached list below) but for now we will just use Matthew 25 as our source.
Study reveals that some verses seem to teach that entrance into heaven (or exclusion from heaven) depend on faith alone. That is, that “Justification” leads to “Salvation” without any need for “Sanctification”. Other verses seem to indicate that sanctification needs to be added to justification in order to be saved. Thus some Christians believe they must obey God even after they are justified (that is progressively be sanctified) and that this obedience is not an automatic consequence of being “born again”, but that an effort of discipline must be applied to faith. Yet others believe, however, that “real faith” (or “saving faith”) automatically leads to sanctification and hence while we are still saved by faith alone this faith (real faith) leads to works. Under both of these lines of thought, however, the believer is taught that they must change (or else question their faith) and obey God. Failure to enter into sanctification (or failure to obtain real faith) leads to judgment.
A few people teach that sanctification is completely irrelevant to judgment and salvation. Thus, a person need not change and can live any way they want as long as they believe in Jesus. This is not a serious view and will not be considered in this essay.
Then there is one more division of thought: One school thinks that without works a person can still get into heaven, but through judgment will lose rewards. For example 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now a man can build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones or he can build with wood, hay or stubble. Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built upon the foundation, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work gets burned up, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." Another school thinks that without works (without real faith) a person may not even get into heaven at all. For example 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God”.
Well, that’s a bit of a mess isn’t it? Considering the gravity of the topic, however, we better keep studying.
So, let’s look at Matthew 25. Here is a quote from James Montgomery Boice (from his book “Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace”): “Most of our contemporaries, even Christians, have lost appreciation for all cause-and-effect links, especially in moral areas. So, a judgment of God at the end of human history, where sin will be punished, seems like a fantasy to them. Is it fantasy? Or is it actually the most reasonable thing in the universe? We can approach these questions by thinking of three great parables of judgment, found in Matthew 25: the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins; the parable of the talents; and the parable of the sheep and goats. Each makes similar points, so the cumulative of the three stories is quite strong.
1. There will be a future reckoning for all people. This first point is so obvious both from the teaching of the Bible and from our experience of life that it seems almost juvenile to stress it. Yet it must be stressed, if only because people think in precisely opposite categories. Jesus spoke of judgment being obvious, but most people think of judgment as being the most irrational and least-to-be-anticipated thing in the world.
What do most people think of when one speaks of dying? Most probably do not want to think of it at all; they are afraid of dying, and they are not certain of what, if anything lies behind death’s door. If they do speak about it, assuming that something does lie beyond this life, most people think of the afterlife in good terms. At the very least they think of something like a continuation of life as we know it. Or, if it will not be that, it must be something better. Very few consider that it may be something worse. They cannot imagine God to be a God of judgment.
Our contemporaries are irrational in this, as they are in other spiritual matters. Ours is an evil world. All sins are not judged in this world, nor are all good deeds rewarded. The righteous do suffer. The guilty go free. If this is a moral universe, that is, if it is created a ruled by a moral God, then there must be a reckoning hereafter in which the tables are balanced out. The good must prosper and the evil must be punished.
In most theological volumes on eschatology (the last things), there are three great points of emphasis: the return of Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the final judgment. But of the three, the only one that is truly reasonable is the last. There is no reason why Jesus should return again. He came once and was rejected. If he were to write us off and never again give so much as a thought to this planet, it would be completely understandable. It the same with resurrection: “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). If that is all there is, who can complain? We have had our lives. Why should we expect anything more? There is nothing of logical necessity in either of those two matters in and of them-selves. But judgment? That is the most logical thing in the universe, and these three stories say quite clearly that there will be a final day of reckoning.
In the first story the bridegroom returns suddenly, and the women who are not ready for his coming are excluded from the marriage feast (Matt. 25:10).
In the story of the servants, the master returns to settle his accounts, and the evil, lazy servant is condemned: “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth: (v. 30).
In the final story the king separates the sheep from the goats, sending the wicked “to eternal punishment” and the righteous “to eternal life” (v. 46).
2. The judgment will be based on our good works or the lack of them. This is a surprising point for Protestants especially. We have been taught that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works, and here the judgment is on the basis of what people have done or have not done. In the first case it is the failure of the foolish virgins to prepare for the Lord’s coming. In the second case it is the disuse of the talents given to the servants by their master. In the third case it is the care or neglect of those who were hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick or imprisoned. This seems wrong to Protestants because we have been taught that the judgment will be on the basis of whether or not we have believed on Jesus as our Savior.
Salvation is by faith, of course. These stories do not deny that. But they are pointing to something else that is also important, namely, that the faith through which we are saved is not a dead faith. Saving faith must be active. In teaching this, Jesus was one with the apostle James who said, “What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. (James 2:14-17).
Does that mean that we are saved by works after all? Were the reformers wrong? No, but it is a statement of the necessity of works following faith-if we are truly regenerate. It means that there is an unbreakable link between what we think and what we do. Those who are born again think differently from those who are not, precisely because they have been regenerated; regenerated people will begin to live out the superior moral life of Christ. No one believes on Christ who has not been given a new nature, and although the new nature does not show itself completely all at once, if we are justified, we have it and it will increasingly and inevitably express itself in forgiveness of and service to others, just as God has forgiven and done good to us. We are not justified by works. But if we do not do good works, we are not justified. We are not Christians.
3. None of our excuses will have any weight before God. As we read these stories we find that the people who were confronted by the Lord’s return made manifold excuses for themselves, just as people make excuses for their wickedness today. The man who had been given one talent and had hidden it in the ground explained that he had not done more because he knew that nature of his master too well: “Master…I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you” (Matt. 25:24-25). The man claimed knowledge of his masters’ character as an excuse for failing to do what his master desired. It was a foolish excuse, but many people today do the same. They use knowledge of predestination to excuse their failure to evangelize. They use perseverance (of the saints, i.e., eternal security) as an excuse for being lazy.
The master told the servant that if he were right about his master’s character, he should have worked all the harder. He also called him wicked and lazy—wicked because of his unjustified slander, and lazy because that was the actual cause of his zero-growth performance! By those standards, what wicked people must there be in our churches! How lazy some of us must be!
The third story shows another excuse. In that parable the wicked are judged because they have not cared for Christ’s brothers. But they reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you? (v.44). They complain that they did not see Jesus in those that were needy. To Jesus that is no excuse at all. He says, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me (v.45).
You can get away with giving excuses to other people—your boss, your parents, your pastor. But you cannot excuse yourself before God. The apostle Paul wrote that in the day of judgment, “every mouth [will] be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (Rom.3:19). When the judge takes the bench, there will not be a single protest.
4. Many who are condemned will be utterly surprised at this outcome. I have been to a few surprise parties where the person for whom the party was given was really surprised. Usually they have not been, because they have noticed the clandestine preparations or someone has unwittingly “let the cat out of the bag.” But sometimes the surprise has really come off. When I read the parables I realize that there will be a terrible for many on the day of judgment, and it will not be a pretend surprise either. Many will be astounded and utterly dismayed at Christ’s judgment.
This is seen in each of the stories. The five women who are left outside knock on the door and call out, “Sir! Sir! Open the door for us!” They are amazed when the door is not opened. The man who had buried the talent is equally surprised. So also with the “goats,” who have failed to serve others as they think they would have served Christ. They say, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (v. 44). They mean that they would have done everything necessary if they had only seen Christ, but since they did not see him they cannot imagine why they are being judged. Instead of judgment, each of these persons expected to be rewarded.
Here, I suppose, is the perfect portrait of the visible but unbelieving church, a picture of many who in their lifetime called out “Lord, Lord,” but did not do the things Jesus said and ultimately perished. We would not dare say this if the Lord had not said it first, but on his authority we must say that many who worship in apparently Christian congregations, who consider themselves good Christians, supposing that all is well with their souls, will be utterly surprised by God’s judgment. If people like this will be shut out from God’s presence, ought we not to do as Peter says and “make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10)? Peter tells how it must be done. He says to add goodness to faith, knowledge to goodness, self control to goodness, perseverance to self control, godliness to perseverance, brotherly kindness to godliness, and love to brotherly kindness (vv. 5-7), concluding, “If you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (vv.10-11). The emphasis is on “do”!
Now, as said above, another way to interpret these 3 parables is to say that even though all these people had been truly justified and regenerated they did not continue with Jesus in the process of sanctification. In other words, only those who follow Jesus after they have been born again will be saved. In the quoted passages above only “true faith” leads to works and to salvation. In the alternate system all people who believe in Jesus have true faith (and are justified), but sanctification must follow justification in order for the person to be saved. Notice then that in both systems a person has to both believe and then abide in Christ and obey God. The judgment of God will show who is really saved, since then all the facts, as well as the intentions of the heart, will become known.
To some people this still sounds like salvation by both faith and works and not by faith alone. They should realize that in both systems of thought it is not “dead works” that are being added to faith. It is either true faith producing works, or it is following Jesus (by faith) as he leads the believer through life. That is, sanctification too, like justification, is by faith. In both systems an individual has to have works in order to get a reward (or, worse, to even get into heaven) but these works do not come from merely following rules. For an expanded discussion of this truth please see the essay in the Monkipedia section entitled The Difference Between Legalism And Obedience.
1. 1st Corinthians 3: 11-15
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