The basic truth behind this connection is that we must answer to our Creator and Redeemer when we leave this world.
The undeniable fact of future accountability before God is repeatedly made in Scripture. “…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27).
“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone…. 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” (Romans 14:7-12).
Future accountability of believers (2 Corinthians 5:8-10)
“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 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.”
- “Even for the Christian there is to be a day of reckoning. We must all, apostles and the rest, whether living or dead at Christ’s coming, be made manifest before the tribunal of Christ. … All the implications and consequences of appearing before the judgment-seat of Christ will not be known until the day itself arrives; but meanwhile the Christian is left in no doubt that he is regarded by God as fully answerable for the quality of his present life in the body” (Philip Hughes, Second Corinthians, NICNT, 179-180, 182-183).
Although all the implications and consequences of our future appearance before Christ’s judgment seat are not known, Scripture is not silent about the subject.
What is involved in accountability to God?
In II Corinthians 5, we learn of a future evaluation of our present lives focused on “the deeds of the body.” These deeds will prove to be either “good” or “bad” (“bad” means “worthless” or “of no enduring value”). This will happen at our “appearing” or “being made manifest” before Christ’s judgment seat.
- We “will be open to the scrutiny of Christ…for it is only the divine gaze which penetrates to the very essence of our personality: ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). The conduct of our lives should constantly be influenced by the solemn remembrance that ‘there is no creature that is not manifest in God’s sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5). In that day both the hypocritical and the hypercritical will be shown for what they really are.”
- “’Because much is required of those to whom much has been given,’ comments Tasker, ‘the thought of the judgment seat of Christ has for the Christian a special solemnity. It is not meant to cloud his prospect of future blessedness, but to act as a stimulus.’ The incentive is to Christian living that is marked throughout by complete integrity, both in what is apparent and in what is not apparent to one’s fellow-men, so that the outward, instead of concealing the inward person, corresponds to it. It is only in Christ, through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, that this wholeness of being, free from division, can be realized. ‘Let us then imagine Christ’s judgment-seat to be present now,’ urges Chrysostom, ‘and reckon each one of us with his own conscience, and account the Judge to be already present, and everything to be revealed and brought forth. For we must not merely stand, but also be manifested. Do you not blush? Are you not dismayed?’” (Hughes)
- “In the light of the ultimate realities of which he has been speaking every genuine follower of Christ should apply himself earnestly to ‘the perfecting of holiness in the fear of God’ (7:1). By ‘the fear of the Lord,’ then, the Apostle does not mean that terror which the ungodly will experience when they stand before God’s judgment throne (cf. Rev. 6:15ff), but that reverential awe which the Christian should feel towards the Master whom he loves and serves and at whose hands he will receive ‘the things done in the body’” (cf. 1 Peter 1:17-19) (Hughes).
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus exposed those who prostitute sacred acts of devotion to God (giving – vv. 2-4; praying – vv. 5-6; fasting – vv. 16-18) in order to promote themselves. He then contrasted such ways with those who serve God in secret – not seeking an audience or an applause. This group is seen by and will be rewarded by the Father.
Motives of the heart appear to be the criteria for judgment. I Corinthians 4:5- “…wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”
The One who knows the motives of men’s hearts will expose them, and it will be very personal—“at that time each will receive his praise from God.” Yet some also will “suffer loss” (1 John 2:28) as their works prove to be “worthless” (i.e. of no enduring value). (cf. Hebrews 4:12). This distinction might also explain the difference between the categories of “gold, silver, costly stones” and “wood, hay or straw” spoken of in I Corinthians 3:10-15.
In heaven, there will evidently be reward and loss of reward in relation to our earthly lives (i.e. “our acts of righteousness” or “deeds done in the body”). Some of what we’ve done will be of the quality that endures (done for the Lord in secret); some will disappear like fire consuming wood, hay or straw.
The picture used in I Corinthians 3:10-15 is trial by fire, and the materials are either destroyed by fire (wood, hay, stubble) or resistant to and indeed purified by fire (gold, silver, precious stones). The Christian whose work abides after the test will receive a reward, whereas he whose work is consumed will suffer loss—‘but he himself shall be saved’ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).” (cf. Revelation 1:14-17a).
Reward not salvation
“The declaration of Christ’s judgment-seat is not the ultimate of salvation or damnation; for it is the redeemed alone who stand before it, and their doing so results either, on the one hand, in their hearing the Lord’s ‘well done’ and the receiving of a reward, or, on the other hand, in their suffering loss, that is, through failing to receive a reward. The rewards themselves vary in proportion to the faithfulness and diligence of each individual (cf. Luke 19:16ff).” (Hughes)
Life and service for our Lord is an accountable stewardship of various talents, gifts, opportunities, and abilities.
The Lord’s parables stress this truth. Reward and loss are a certainty but their exact nature is not as clear. Evidently, the quality of each person’s work is either temporal or enduring. Acts of devotion done for temporal glory will have no eternal significance. And there will be awareness of loss.
I Corinthians 3:10-15 is most likely a reference to efforts at building Christ’s Church. Do we build based on worldly wisdom or Christ and His teaching? In verse 15, it’s the man’s work (evidently in building the church) that could be burned up, while the man himself is spared.
This is “one of the most significant passages in the New Testament that warn—and encourage—those responsible for “building” the church of Christ. In the final analysis, of course, this includes all believers, but it has particular relevance, following so closely as it does vv. 5-9, to those with teaching/leadership responsibilities. Paul’s point is unquestionably warning.”
“It is unfortunately possible for people to attempt to build the church out of every imaginable human system predicated on merely worldly wisdom, be it philosophy, ‘pop’ psychology, managerial techniques, relational ‘good feelings,’ or what have you. But at the final judgment, all such building (and perhaps countless other forms, where systems have become more important than the gospel itself) will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or his gospel in it. Often, of course, the test may come this side of the final one, and in such an hour of stress that which has been built of modern forms of sophia usually comes tumbling down.” (Gordon Fee, First Corinthians, NICNT,) (cf. the seven churches in Revelation 2/3)
Prayerfully reflect on these Scriptures:
- Colossians 3:23-24 – “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.”
- Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight.”
Connecting earth and heaven
Although we know that good works do not accomplish our salvation, we must take seriously the connection between this life and heaven. Do we anticipate God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
Richard Baxter wrote, “Live now as you would wish you had done at death and judgment.”
On degrees of reward, see Dan. 12:2; Matt. 6:20-21; 19:21; Luke 6:22-23; 12:18-21, 32, 42-48; 14:13-14; 1 Cor. 3:8; 9:18; 13:3; 15:19, 29-32, 58; Gal. 6:9-10; Eph. 6:7-8; Col. 3:23-24; 1 Tim. 6:18; Heb. 10:34-35; 11:10, 14-16, 26, 35; 1 Peter 1:4; 2 John 8; Rev. 11:18; 22:12; cf. also Matt. 5:46; 6:2-6, 16-18, 24; Luke 6:35; 19:17-19.