Final Judgment Based on Works
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, June 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Despite the vast scientific progress of the past few centuries, one thing has not changed: the death rate remains the same. All human beings eventually will die; the question is, where do they go after death? Evolutionists say men and animals all have the same destiny. Philosophers like Schelling do not believe in a future final judgment. According to him, the history of the world is the judgment of the world. Thus, judgment is seen as a present, immanent historical process determined by the moral order of the world.
Such views are false. There are certainly judgments in history, and those judgments come from God, but all judgments in history point to the final judgment that is coming.
The last chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith gives us the biblical doctrine of the final judgment:
I. God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given by the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.
II. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and [for the greater consolation of his people] and of his justice in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
III. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity; so will he have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 33, Sections I-III)
The doctrine of the final, eternal judgment is the last and foundational doctrine of our faith, as we read in Hebrews 6:1,2. Abraham our father understood this idea long ago, expressing that it is God alone who judges all the earth with justice. It is necessary, therefore, to examine some aspects of this final, eternal judgment.
Divinely Originated Judgment
This judgment is a divine judgment. The Sovereign God, who is the ruler and lawgiver, will judge all rational beings, both humans and angels, with justice.
Jesus Christ Is the Judge
God will execute this judgment through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom he gave this authority because of his incarnational obedience (John 5:27).
Jesus himself spoke in Matthew 25:31 of his appointment to judge, saying, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory." Peter said the same thing in Acts 10:42: "[Jesus Christ] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead." In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul wrote, "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." While preaching to the philosophers of Athens at the Areopagus he declared, "For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). In 2 Timothy 4:1 we find this idea again, as Paul speaks about being "in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead."
Universality of Judgment
This judgment will be universal, meaning that God will judge the whole cosmos and everything in it: angels and humans, believers and unbelievers, the living and the dead. Everyone must appear before him in the great, final judgment: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Caiaphas and Pilate, Stalin and Hitler. There is no exception. There will be an effectual, divine summons.
Additionally, when we appear, there will be no covering up; everyone will be seen as he is. The wicked will be shown to be wicked and the holy will be holy. There will be no self-justification or blameshifting on that day.
You may ask, "What about believers, who are told that God will remember their sins no more? If God casts our sins behind his back, hurls them into the depths of the sea, and blots them out, how can the Scripture say that we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ? Why will our deeds be exposed, and why will we be judged on the basis of deeds? The answer is, God's judgment will affect everyone and everything we did in the body will be exposed. But if we are people of saving faith, at the end of every sin, two letters will appear-PP-which stand for "paid for" and "pardoned," and at the end of every good work there will be two more letters-GG-which stands for grace given. That is why believers do not need to worry about the revealing of their sins.
Why, then, do our deeds need to be revealed? God will give us great memory power that we will remember it all and acknowledge, "Oh, yes, I have committed these many horrible sins." But then we will praise God because he in his rich mercy pardoned them all.
The purpose in the revelation of deeds, both good and bad, is that those who have trusted in Christ savingly will glory at the sight of these sins, seeing that God pardoned them, by grace, and that God's righteousness and holiness will be manifested when he metes out punishment to the wicked.
Impartiality of Judgment
There will be no favoritism, no influence-peddling possible on the final judgment day. Romans 2:11 tells us there is no favoritism with God, and Colossians 3:25 repeats it, adding that anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong. In 1 Peter 1:17 we read that God will judge each man's work impartially.
The Standard of Judgment
This judgment will be based according to the light of revelation each man has been given. Everyone in the universe has a knowledge of God because the creation itself declares God's glory. Additionally, God has built into each man a consciousness of deity and has written his law in human hearts. Because of this general revelation given to us by creation and conscience, Paul writes in Romans 2 that "everyone will be without excuse" on the day of judgment. We are all accountable to live in accordance with the light we have received.
What about people who lived in Old Testament times? They will be judged, not only by general revelation, but also by the special revelation of the Old Testament scriptures. What about those of us who live in the inter-adventual period? If we have heard the gospel, we will be judged also by it. The greater the revelation, the greater our responsibility to respond to it and the greater our accountability as we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Degrees of Punishment
There will be varying degrees of punishment meted out at the last judgment. At minimum, individuals will be sent to hell, but hell itself has different degrees of punishment. For instance, Jesus said that the citizens of Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah would be punished less than the citizens of Chorazim, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, because the latter cities had a fuller revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ himself. We read about this in Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11, and Luke 12. Some will be beaten with many stripes while others only receive a few.
But the most terrible punishment will be reserved for phony pastors and Christians who come to church regularly, yet refuse to believe in the gospel. This includes children of Christian parents, who attend worship services regularly and yet reject the brightest revelation, which is the gospel. God has spoken to us finally in his Son; thus, to reject the gospel is the highest sin. There is no greater sin than unbelief in Jesus Christ. All other sins can be forgiven if one trusts in Jesus Christ alone for eternal salvation.
In John 3:18 we read, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." Even now people are either justified or condemned, but the final judgment will make a public declaration of that fact. In verse 19 we read, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." In verse 36 we read, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
This Judgment Is Personal
The final judgment will not be a judgment of a nation or class or group or tribe; it will be a personal judgment of every human being who ever lived.
All that we are and have done will be exposed at the final judgment. In Romans 14:12 we read, "So, then, each one of us will give an account of himself to God." Everyone must stand naked before God and be judged on whether we lived in obedience to God's law or not. There will be no opportunity for lying or evasion, for God will have books with all our deeds recorded in them. "This is your life!" the Lord will declare on that day, but he will not just reveal selective aspects. No, our lives in all their fullness will be put under the divine microscope, and nothing will escape him whose eyes are like blazing fire.
At that time also I believe that God will restore our full memory to us. All of us have selective amnesia when we think about our lives. But I believe at the resurrection everyone will be given the profound ability to recall everything. All our sins-whether of omission or commission-will be displayed. Jesus spoke of this when he said, "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36). Even the expletives we spoke in our frustration will be revealed.
No human court would make such an exhaustive exposure! Not only will our words and deeds be exposed, but also our thoughts and motives. In 1 Corinthians 4:5 we read, "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts." Romans 2:16 tells us, "This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares." All secrets that we kept from our husband or wife, from our parents, from the pastor, from the employer, and from anyone else, will be revealed on that day.
Judgment Based on Works
What will be judged on the day of final judgment? All the deeds we did while living in this world. Paul spoke of this in 2 Corinthians 5:10, as did Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46.
Did we live our lives in the name of and for the glory of Jesus Christ? That will be the question on which judgment will be based. (PGM) Even giving a cup of cold water-did we give it in his name and for his glory? As finite creatures, our responsibility is not to indulge ourselves, but to worship our Creator and do his will. Every word, deed, and motive will be judged by this standard.
Even believers in Jesus Christ will be judged by this standard. You may ask, "But isn't salvation by grace through faith? Didn't Jesus himself say in John 5:24, 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life'? Didn't Paul tell us that, 'since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God,' and 'therefore, there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus'? Why, then, are believers going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Why will they be judged in terms of their works, not their profession? Are they not justified by grace through faith and not by the works of the law? Are they not clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ? Were they not forgiven of all sins when they trusted in Christ?"
What is the answer? Believers must appear before the judgment seat of Christ because this judgment will reveal whether their faith is genuine, saving faith, or the phony, demonic faith of mere mental assent that is popular in many churches today. Salvation is by grace through faith, but our salvation is proved by obedience in good works. Thus, in the same chapter where Paul wrote, "By grace you have been saved, through faith," he also said, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:8, 10). James declared that faith without works is dead, and in Romans 1 Paul wrote that he received the apostleship to call the Gentiles unto the obedience of faith. Saving faith in Jesus Christ always issues in our delightful submission to God's will. Judgment by works, therefore, will uncover whether we had phony or genuine faith.
In Matthew 7:21-24 Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" You see, in verse 21 Jesus said these people were to do the will of his Father, but they did not. Though they claimed to have saving faith, their works proved them false.
According to the late Professor John Murray, judgment according to works does not contravene salvation by grace. Salvation is by grace through faith, but the faith that is saving will bear fruit in good works. Good works are, therefore, the index to a state of salvation. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was once asked, "What about the thief on the cross? Did he do any good work?" Spurgeon answered, "Yes, he rebuked the other thief." That was a good work which demonstrated the authentic faith of the thief. The truth is, none of us can enter heaven without good works; but with them, we will enter into the everlasting joy of eternal life in the presence of God.
All who have phony faith will, on that day, enter the hell of conscience and eternal fiery judgment of God. In Matthew 25 we read that to true believers Christ says, "Come, blessed of my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." But to those who rejected Christ all their lives, he says, "Depart from me, cursed one, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." He concludes, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (v. 41).
So there is going to be a public declaration of justification and condemnation at judgment day. The Lord Jesus Christ will say those on his right, "They are justified because they trusted in the gospel and lived a life in obedience to me." Then there will be a public demonstration of the justice of his judgment to those who are on the left, whose works demonstrate their wickedness. Based on their obedience of good works, the justified will also receive a reward which consists, according to John Murray, not in salvation, nor in eternal life, but in the degree of glory bestowed freely upon them by Christ.
The Necessity of Judgment
You may ask, "Why should there even be a judgment?" Let me tell you the answer: The Sovereign God will not put up with people dishonoring him by disobeying his law. Therefore, the final judgment will be a time when God's glory will be displayed in two ways: first, in terms of his holiness and righteousness, as he sends the wicked to hell; and, second, in terms of his grace and mercy as he welcomes the righteous to the eternal joy of his presence in heaven.
All Will Submit to God
At the final judgment all will submit to the Sovereign One. Even those who hated the word submission and gloried in the philosophy of autonomy will be forced to bow their knees to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2:9-11, Paul quoted Isaiah 45:23, saying, "Every knee shall bow." You may not like to bow down to Jesus Christ, but you will do it.
All Will Confess "Jesus Is Lord"
Not only will all people bow down and submit to Jesus Christ, but those who would not in this life make the confession of a Christian will do so on the day of final judgment. They may hate it, but their mouths will open and they confess, "Jesus is Lord"-before they are sent to hell.
This Judgment Is Final
Very simply, this judgment will be final, with no right of appeal. It will be the final, irrevocable decision of the heavenly Supreme Court.
The Time of Judgment Day
When will the final judgment occur? No one knows that day or hour. We do know that it will occur after the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of all dead. It will signal the end of history as we know it.
But our judgment will be determined forever on the day we die. That is why death is very serious. No one knows that day or hour, but sooner or later we will all die. What we think and do now matters for eternity! How we listen to the gospel matters! "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). The moment we die, our destiny will be sealed and we can do nothing to change it.
How do we apply this truth about the final judgment?
If you have not repented of your sins, bowed your knees, and confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord, I urge you to do so today. Trust in Jesus Christ right now, while you are still alive. Now is the day of grace and salvation.
If you are a believer, you must be vigilant. God saved you, not to indulge yourself in this world but to worship and serve him. I urge you to redeem the time and be rich in good works. Serve God with your time and talents every day. Spur your fellow believers on to love and good deeds. Encourage, rebuke, instruct, and exhort them that they also may be rich in good works.
Finally, because there is going to be a final, eternal judgment that results in the destinies of heaven and hell, we must evangelize. Share the gospel so that your children, friends, neighbors, and others may flee from the wrath to come by trusting in Jesus Christ. Do not be complacent. Awake, and declare the gospel, because faith comes by hearing.
Where Will You Go When You Die?
At the moment of death, believers go into the blessed presence of God to await the final judgment, which will result in fullness of joy. But the wicked go away from the presence of God, into torment, where they will await the final eternal judgment of the Lamb's wrath, which will result in fullness of torment. Where will you go when you die?
We tend to think that eternal judgment is far away and therefore we can forget all about it and spend our days pursuing happiness. May God help us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness! May we even today begin to think and speak and act in such a way that everything we do will be good works on the day of judgment. May God give us such great delight in doing his will so that we will say with Jesus Christ, "It is my food to do the will of God and to finish it." Amen
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Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
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