Forgiveness Now—But Fire Later?
At the Judgment Seat of Christ, it will be unworthy works that will be burned—not the believers! Thank God! Even though a believer’s “work is burned…he himself will be saved” (NKJV, 1 Cor. 3:15). But does not that reduce the bema confrontation to total insignificance? No, for “he will suffer loss…as through fire.”
Does this mean, then, that some believers will be in a state of depression forever? No, for “it would not be heaven if we were to spend eternity in sadness because of what we did not do. Undoubtedly there will be regret, but our overwhelming emotion will be the realization of the wonderful grace of God that saved us and brought us to heaven. There will be rejoicing in heaven instead of tears” (C. Swindoll and R. Zook, Understanding Christian Theology. Thomas Nelson, 2003. p. 1279).
How, then, do we relate all of this to the forgiveness and cleansing He provides for us when we confess our sins: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)? If we confess our sins now, does this cancel out any potential loss of rewards at the bema?
David and Bathsheba
Perhaps the clearest answer to this question is provided for us in 2 Samuel 12. King David had sinned grievously against the LORD by having one of his faithful generals, Uriah the Hittite, killed in order to obtain his wife Bathsheba (see 2 Sam. 11). When David refused to confess his sin, God sent Nathan the prophet to him. He related a tragic story about a rich man who took a poor man’s “one little ewe lamb” to prepare it for a guest (2 Sam. 12:3).
David, of course, was enraged: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!” (2 Sam. 12:5).
“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!…Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife’ ” (2 Sam. 12:7-10).
That did it. David immediately saw the magnitude of his own sin and cried out, “I have sinned against the LORD” (v. 13).
Psalm 51 is a profound expression of David’s deep and genuine repentance to God: “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:3, 4).
Now did this genuine confession change anything? Yes! Nathan replied immediately: “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).
Then was everything wonderful again? No! “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die” (2 Sam. 12:14). Furthermore, “the sword shall never depart from your house…I will raise up adversity against you from your own house” (2 Sam. 12:10, 11).
Among the disasters that followed were the horrible sins and rebellions of his sons Absalom, Amnon, and Adonijah.
Question: Did the LORD truly forgive David? Yes.
Question: Were the full consequences of his sin totally wiped out? No.
That is the ultimate issue. When we truly confess our sins, God graciously forgives us and restores fellowship with us. But the full consequences of our sins must still be brought to light and dealt with by the LORD. That will be the function and purpose of the bema.