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 everyone by raising him from the dead. –Acts 17:31
The other day, I experienced my first time in a courtroom. I waited to stand before a judge and receive my “sentence.” Like many other poor souls, I got pulled over for speeding in the state of Virginia. In Virginia, there is a law that if you are going 20 miles or more over the speed limit, you don’t just get a normal speeding ticket; it is considered reckless driving, which is a criminal offense! I decided that, instead of hiring an attorney, I would just appear in court on my own behalf since I was going to be on the East Coast anyway around the date of my court case.
It was a sobering experience! Several people before me were sentenced to jail time, some for reckless driving. Others had their license suspended or were fined different amounts depending on the severity of their offense. I began to sweat, wondering if I made a mistake in not hiring an attorney and in trying to represent myself! Finally, when it was my turn, I was beckoned to approach the judge; I stood before him as he read my charges. I pleaded no contest. When he asked if I had anything to say, I totally blanked and stood there speechless for a moment! I finally did say a few jumbled things, and then he informed me of my penalty. I then walked out of the courtroom and stood in line to pay the fine.
However, the reason for this article is not about my court case. When I was sitting there, waiting for my turn to appear before the judge, it was a vivid reminder to me of a biblical truth that is often not emphasized as much as it ought to be. Still, it is a core part of the Gospel. That truth, expressed in different ways in different books of the Bible, can be summed up in this way: one day, every single one of us will stand before the Judge of the Universe and give an account of our lives.
Before you stop reading, I want to plead with you to hear me out. I know in this post-modern age where “truth” is subjective, this is not a popular topic and dismissed without much serious thought. But I am writing this especially for those who may not believe this (although it is very good for those who do need to be reminded of this truth as well). Consider that just because I believe something, doesn’t make it true (e.g. Santa Clause, when we were kids). Yet, the reverse is also true; just because I don’t believe something doesn’t automatically mean it is not true. This is not one of those area’s to be wrong on.
Jesus, along with the entire Bible, makes clear that one day we all will have to give an account of our lives. Romans 14:10-12 says: For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Have you ever even taken a moment to consider the weight of this?
One of the things our culture has completely lost is the “fear of the Lord.” Fear of the Lord is actually not a bad thing. The Book of Proverbs tells us over and over again of the benefits that the fear of the Lord produces in the lives of those who walk in it. In fact, Proverbs 1:7 states: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
A healthy fear of the Lord is what actually produces clear thinking, true understanding and wisdom which keeps us within safe boundaries and serves to position us to receive God’s blessings in our lives, such as peace, joy, life, health etc. It does not only have earthly benefits, but also eternal rewards, for the Bible differentiates between the judgment of the “righteous” versus the judgment of the “unrighteous.” Without getting into a long discourse on this subject, the righteous are those who have trusted in Christ and walk in obedience to him. The unrighteous are those who refuse to submit their lives to Christ or place their trust in him. The righteous are not those who never sin, but those who realize their need for a Savior and believe that Christ bore the penalty for their sin on their behalf. When that occurs, when someone turns to Christ, there is a transaction that takes place; not only is a sinner forgiven of their sin, but the righteousness and perfection of Christ is imparted to them. This is called “justification” (just as if I never sinned). This is the process by which God can remain just, but also demonstrate his mercy towards sinners.
Therefore, when a believer in Christ stands before God to give an account of their life, they will not be judged in regard to eternal punishment (Christ bore their punishment on the cross and paid the penalty in full), but judged in regard to determining the degree of reward! That is why verses like Colossians 4:23-24 are encouraging to us: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Earthly actions, no matter how “mundane” they may appear, can result in eternal reward when done unto the Lord!
However, when someone who has not put their trust in Christ stands before the Creator and Judge of the Universe and gives an account of their life, the judgment will be to determine the degree of punishment. Both the believer and unbeliever will be judged on what they have done, but one will be judged to determine the degree of reward for good things done, the other to determine the degree of punishment for bad things done. 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 states it clearly: So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it (speaking of death). For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Again, whether you choose to believe this or not, this is what the Bible teaches. Jesus himself spoke frequently about eternal realities, including heaven and hell, the resurrection and judgment (see Matthew 24-25 as one of many examples).
In Acts 10:42, Jesus’ disciples said it was also something that: he 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.
The last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, details very vividly what is yet to come. One of those realities is this: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens 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 they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-14).
The names found in the Book of Life are only those who have embraced the Name of Jesus. This is not a matter of one religion claiming to be superior over another religion; this is about there being only one person who lived a perfect life which enabled him to die a death that perfectly atoned sin. And after his death, he rose from the dead, showing that he has power over life and death and is therefore the rightful heir and judge of the world.
At this point, some may say: but what about those who have never heard? Well, while I stood before the judge in regard to my speeding ticket, I tinkered with the idea of claiming: well, I didn’t realize the speed limit was only 55. However, my “ignorance” was not because the speed limit signs were missing, it was because I chose not to pay attention to the signs. I broke the law, whether I was “ignorant” of it or not.
Romans chapter 1 says that all are without excuse and will have no excuse when they stand before God. Every mouth will be silenced, because the evidence of God is all around us and is clearly seen in creation (Romans 1:18-30). More than anything, the issue is our choice to ignore, reject or suppress this truth, not ignorance. However, it is true to say that some have greater “light” (understanding) than others. For example: The Jews were given the Law of Moses, certain nations have Bibles while others don’t, or, as in the case of America, we have access to every possible version of the Bible! In fact, this should cause us to be even more sober, because the greater the light, the greater the responsibility and accountability. Romans 2:11-13 puts it this way: All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.
There is so much more that could be written and expounded on. However, my goal and heart in writing this is a warning. You and I, believer or atheist, are going to stand before a holy God and give an account of our lives. He will judge us and the world in perfect righteousness, for he is righteous in all his ways.
The real question is: are you prepared for this day? We spend so much time planning our earthly lives; we plan for the future, we plan for vacation, we prepare for exams, we prepare for our career and retirement. Yet, how foolish is it, or how foolish would it be, not to prepare for eternity? Our earthly life is just a vapor compared to eternity! (read more here).
You are going to stand before the Judge of the Universe one day. You will give an account of your life. And since no one knows how much time we have here on earth, now would be the time to truly prepare for that moment. The bad news is that you and I are guilty of breaking God’s law. Yet, the good news is that there is a Savior and in him we can find forgiveness and eternal life! We stand before him guilty, but in Christ we can be declared innocent. He not only took our place in paying our penalty for breaking the law of God; he is also our Lawyer who stands in our defense! Oh…and he doesn’t charge a fee, rather his salvation is a free gift to all who will repent and believe the good news!
For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one.
Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.
The poison of vipers is on their lips.
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:9-26)