Christians in the Judgment

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Authentic Ministry 11/Second Corinthians

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As Christians, we must live our lives here in the light of the life to come. Those who live in the ways of YOLO are like pigs under a vast oak tree, looking for acorns. They do not consider what is above them, not at all, they do not care about the source of their blessings, not at all, and they keep their snouts pointing toward the dirt always, hunting for the next acorn. But we are summoned to a way of life that is completely and entirely different. 

The Text

“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:1–10).

Summary of the Text

So we begin with a summary of this passage. Paul starts by comparing our mortal bodies to tents or tabernacles, which are to be replaced by an eternal body in the heavens, fashioned by God Himself (v. 1). Dwelling in these tents is a time for groaning, as we look for our permanent heavenly house, which will clothe us (v. 2). If we are clothed in this way, we will not be found naked (v. 3). While we live down here in these tent bodies, it is a burden, and we groan under it. But we do not groan in the direction of “no body,” but rather in the direction of “ultimate body,” so that our mortal bodies might be swallowed up by life (v. 4). God has fashioned us for this very thing (v. 5), and He has given us the earnest payment of His Spirit (v. 5). An earnest payment is a guarantee, meaning that if the promise is not fulfilled, the earnest payment is forfeited. This means that if a believer is lost and goes to Hell, the Spirit goes with him, which would be absurd. All this means that the Spirit is dwelling here now, and He is with us in these tents. This is the ground of our confidence—we know that to be present in these bodies is to be absent from the Lord in Heaven (v. 6). We walk by faith (faith generated by the Spirit who is that earnest within us), and not by sight (v. 7). But the confidence we have while not seeing with our eyes is a confidence that is looking forward—to the time when we leave this body, and are present with the Lord (v. 8). This is why we work as hard as we do, so that whether we see Him with our eyes or not, we are nevertheless accepted by Him (v. 9). This is what we want and need, because absolutely every one of us is going to appear before the judgment seat of Christ (v. 10). The upshot of this judgment is that we will all receive according to our deeds in the body, whether good or bad (v. 10).

The Spirit Helps Us to Groan

When Paul points out we live in a tent, he says we groan (stenazo, v. 2). With the burden of tabernacling, we groan (same word, v. 4).

He teaches us something very similar in Romans 8. The whole creation groans (stenazo), like a woman in labor (Rom. 8:22). We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan as we look forward to the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8: 23). So the groaning is aimed at the day of resurrection. Yearning toward that same end, the Spirit Himself labors with groans too deep for words (Rom. 8:26). This is because the entire cosmos is pregnant with the new creation. The creation groans for the day of resurrection. We believers groan for it. The Spirit helps us in the groaning. When we look at this, and experience this, our basic question ought to be “when’s the due date?”

What Happens When We Die

Putting all this together, we can see what happens when believers die. Our bodies are called tabernacles, and this is where we live now. If this tent is destroyed, we are (Paul says) “with the Lord.” This is some sort of intermediate state, and too many Christians confuse this intermediate state with our final eternal state. That final eternal state is after the dead are raised. So being a ghostly spirit in Heaven is not our final hope. We are Christians, and this is why we believe in the resurrection of the body.

Christians and the Judgment to Come

As we consider the end of the world, we must distinguish between two different aspects of how God will judge the world at the last day.

In the first instance, there is the Great White Throne Judgment. We see this in Revelation 20:11-15. This is a judgment that distinguishes and separates the saved from the lost. We see the same thing in Matthew 25, in the separation of sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-36). Those who are saved through this judgment are saved on the sole basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to them by the grace of God. You will stand in this judgment, or not, on the basis of whether or not you are found in Christ. Salvation is based on whether or not our names are found written in the “book of life from the creation of the world” (Rev. 17:8). The basic question here concerns your justification. Have you had the righteousness of Christ imputed to you, or not?

But there is another judgment, often called the bema-seat judgment. Bema is the word that is used for the judgment seat of Christ in v. 10 of our passage. This is a judgment that evaluates the lives of Christians, and rewards them (or not) on the basis of how they lived. This is an evaluation of our sanctification. Paul refers to this in our passage here (v. 10), but also elsewhere. “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ . . . So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10–12). If we compete in accordance with the rules, we will be crowned (2 Tim. 2:5). “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Now because of justification, we know that in the judgment that separates the sheep from the goats is a judgment that will declare us to perfect. Perfect in Christ, but perfect. We have nothing to fear as we come to stand before God. And because we have nothing to fear with regard to that, we can long for the day when God evaluates all our words, actions, thoughts, disputes, and snarls. Let us say you had a falling out with a friend. What this doctrine does is help you to yearn for the day when God will tell you whether you were right or wrong. And if you can’t yearn for that day, this means that you already know that you were in the wrong.

As believers, we come to the bema-seat having already had the vindicating verdict pronounced over us. That verdict is “not guilty.” That verdict is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). And that is the foundation for everything else that we do.  

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11 months ago

Wow. Thank you.

James in Texas
James in Texas
11 months ago

That final eternal state is after the dead are raised. So being a ghostly spirit in Heaven is not our final hope. We are Christians, and this is why we believe in the resurrection of the body. This is an intellectual problem for many Christians, I think. We tend to think of eternal bliss as being a state of pure spirit where we remain united with God. The body and material universe necessarily imply all sorts of things that would render eternal bliss very difficult. While death and disease would no longer exist in a fully redeemed Earth, I’m assuming we… Read more »