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For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).
This Is Not Our Final Reality
The apostle Paul was a man who face great difficulty, but he did not lose heart (4:16). Why not? First, he knew that his struggles were temporary (4:18). And, second, he was looking forward to the lasting joys that awaited him beyond this life. We also look forward to these future joys.
- The glory of heaven is in our future. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17; cf. Matt. 5:11-12).
- A resurrection body is in our future. “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).
- The presence of Christ is in our future. “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
The Judgment Seat of Christ
The Greek word for “judgment seat” is bema. In ancient Greek culture, a bema was a raised platform on which a judge sat. The ultimate judge of all people is Jesus Christ. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
1. We will all be judged by Christ.
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (5:10a; cf. Rom. 14:10). “Each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
2. We will be judged according to our works in this life.
The purpose of the judgment is “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done, whether good or evil” (5:10b).
- “[God] will render to each one according to his works” (Rom. 2:6).
- “He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor” (1 Cor. 3:8; cf. vv. 12-15). God rewards faithfulness, not “success.”
- “Knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Eph. 6:8).
- “The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27).
- “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).
Our good works demonstrate the reality of our salvation and determine the measure of our reward.
Wayne Grudem writes that “this judgment of believers will be a judgment to evaluate and be-stow various degrees of reward, but the fact that they will face such a judgment should never cause believers to fear that they will be eternally condemned” (Systematic Theology, p. 1143). There is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
In the NT, our heavenly rewards are described as crowns or wreaths (like the wreaths awarded to victorious athletes in the ancient games). “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:24-25; cf. 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:2-4; Rev. 2:10). Even though there will be degrees of reward in heaven, the joy of each person will be full and complete for eternity.
Why Do We Do What We Do?
I have kept all of the trophies I won in my youth. Why? Not because they are valuable. (I've seen similar trophies in yard sales for 25 cents.) I have kept my trophies because of what they represent: past achievements.
Think about what heavenly rewards represent. They represent Christ being pleased with us. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please [Christ]” (5:9).
When I think about receiving a reward from Christ, I don’t think about a crown (cf. Rev. 4:10). I imagine what it will be like to hear Jesus say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23).
The greatest reward will be to hear that we pleased Christ.
We ought to be motivated to serve Christ not because we fear him as our Judge but because we love him as our Savior.