The Judgment

Standing before the Maker of Victoria Falls

The thunderous roar of water was deafening as it pounded the rocks some 250 feet directly below where I stood wide-eyed and fairly quivering with excitement. I stood suspended in space before Zambia’s Victoria Falls—a stunning 250-350 foot high water fall stretching an entire mile across its length.

Imagine standing in front of a sky-scraper and counting up 30 stories. Then take that height and stretch it out for one mile. The waters of the mighty Zambezi River hurl angrily over this precipice into a gorge measuring a mere 400 feet in width. The converging waters detonate with such force as they pour into this narrow chasm, the spray can rise over one mile into the air and be seen from 25 miles away. The mist is so heavy and the sound so cacophonous, I confess I felt Victoria Falls more than I actually saw its splendor.

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The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 8

Read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

The Public Testimony of Believers

What concerns our loving Lord is not only His daily relationship with each of His children, but also the long-term impact and influence of our Christian lives and ministries upon others. This is especially true with regard to Christian leaders. For example, if the pastor of a church commits a serious public sin, his position of leadership in the church is (with possible rare exceptions) finished, even though he might genuinely confess his sin to God.

As Paul wrote to Timothy, “A bishop then must be blameless…he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (NKJV, 1 Tim. 3:2,7). And, “be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

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The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 7

sunsetRead parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

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).

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The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Parts 5 & 6

sunsetPeviously, in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Purgatory and loss by fire

What kind of a superstructure has a Christian built upon his or her life in Christ? This is the supreme issue to be dealt with at the bema—for believers in ancient Corinth, and for all of us today.

This is the heavy part of God’s final word on this subject:

Now if anyone builds on this foundation (i.e., the finished work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead) with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (NKJV, 1 Cor. 3:12-15)

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The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 4

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Our Lord Jesus Christ will evaluate us some day, not only on the basis of our motives, but also on the basis of how much we knew of His will and Word, because “for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48, NKJV). Therefore, “that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes” (Luke 12:47).

But if we did not know His will, are we not completely free of any consequences? No, for such ignorance is culpable: we should have done everything possible to learn His will for our lives through reading, believing and obeying His Word! Here is an earthly illustration: what would happen to me if I were stopped by a traffic officer for driving 90 miles per hour though the city on my way to a conference? Would I be completely excused if I told him that I didn’t know what the speed limit was? His answer would be: “Sir, you are driving a dangerous machine! You should have found out what the speed limit is here. Explain your case to the judge!”

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The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The Judgment Seat in Paul, Peter and John

The Apostle Paul used the term “bema” when he wrote to the church at Corinth about our final confrontation with Christ to determine the gain or loss of rewards: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat (bema) of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad [phaulon, worthless]. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:10, 11, NKJV).

The Corinthians were very familiar with this word, for it was inscribed on the front of the large marble judgment throne where judicial issues were evaluated by the supreme judge, such as Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, before whom Paul stood one day (cf. Acts 18:12, 16, 17). It was my privilege to see this bema during a trip to the ruins of ancient Corinth on Aug. 21, 1952. Amazingly, it was before the bema of Pontius Pilate that our Lord took His stand (cf. Matt. 27:19, John 19:13).

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The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 2

Read Part 1.

In spite of having a sin nature like all of us, the Apostle Paul struggled valiantly, through Christ (“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but…I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” [Phil. 3:13-14; cf. 4:13, NKJV]), to be ready for the great day when he would see his Lord.

Precious indeed are his final words to his closest disciple, Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).

The Apostle Peter had the same anticipation when he encouraged pastors to be “examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:3, 4).

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The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 1

All true Christians must surely rejoice at the thought of God’s wonderful promise and provision that, “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, NKJV).

But how does this divine provision relate to Christ’s confrontation with His church, His body and bride, at the judgment throne? Does participation in the marvelous promise of 1 John 1:9 eliminate the threat of possibly losing a reward or a crown on that great day? This is a very confusing issue for many of God’s people today.

The Purpose of the Judgment Seat Confrontation

One point must be settled immediately—the issue is the gain or loss of rewards, not of salvation. Thank God, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2).

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