Does the Lord judge now or at the Judgment?

[This article was taken from our book The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul.]

 

It is commonly believed that God judges people “today” and that He does so by causing good things to happen to “good” people and bad things to happen to “bad” people. Some four thousand years ago Job’s friends held this belief, and it has continued through the ages. [1] In spite of its many supporters, Scripture indicates that this belief is erroneous. When something bad happens to a Christian, it is not God judging that person. [2] With rare exception, God does not judge people in this life, but awaits the Day of Judgment to execute justice. This appendix will make the point that God is not judging the sins of carnal Christians now, but that some Christians will indeed suffer loss, shame, and be “punished” at the Day of Judgment in the future. In the process of clarifying this subject, some apparent contradictions in Scripture will be resolved.

Some verses in the New Testament state that carnal Christians who die without repenting and confessing their sins will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, be judged, and suffer loss, punishment, and shame. Some of these verses were covered in Chapter 6, including 1 Corinthians 3:10–17; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:23–25; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–6; 2 Timothy 2:12; and 1 John 2:28. However, there are other verses that say Christians have been justified (Rom. 5:1; 1 Cor. 6:11), sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11), and accepted (Rom. 15:7). These verses have caused some people to conclude that although Christians who have lived carnal lives will not receive any reward, neither will they suffer loss or be ashamed.

The Bible never contradicts itself. When verses seem to conflict, the wise Christian does not “choose sides” and play one verse against another, but works diligently to see how the seemingly contradictory verses can be reconciled. Knowing that difficult verses must be understood in light of clear verses is an important key to resolving apparent contradictions. [3] If there are nine clear verses and one unclear and seemingly contradictory verse on a subject, it is more honest and sensible to determine how the one unclear verse fits with the other nine, rather than to ignore the nine clear verses in favor of the one unclear verse. This appendix will reconcile these apparently conflicting scriptures. It will make the point that God is not judging the sins of carnal Christians now, but some Christians will indeed suffer loss, shame, and be “punished” on the Day of Judgment.

Whenever we discuss a subject, it is important to make sure that we are not just arguing over semantics. Saying that God will “punish” Christians who have been involved with sexual sin in their lives and have not confessed it, is using the language of Scripture (1 Thess. 4:6). [4] Exactly what the punishment will be in the Kingdom is not clear in Scripture, although it is obvious that some people will have less honorable positions than others. It is possible that when Scripture uses the term “punish,” it is equivalent to “suffering loss” and means that one will receive less reward than he could have received, or little reward, or no reward at all. [5] By definition, “suffering loss” is punishment. Scripture makes it clear that Christians will receive what they are due for the way they have lived. If they receive little or nothing as an inheritance, that is a punishment.

Some people believe that punishment would serve no purpose in the Kingdom because at that time there will be no ungodly behavior that needs to be modified or changed. However, that misses the point of the concept of “punishment.” Punishment is a penalty or a consequence for a sin or an offense. Punishment means “a penalty imposed for wrongdoing.” Punishment, by definition, is not something designed to change the behavior of a person; rather, it is a consequence for a sin, crime, or fault. Punishment is a vital part of justice, because without consequences there is no justice. While some punishments are used to motivate correct behavior, by definition, correction is not a part of punishment. For example, God is just, so the unsaved will be thrown into the lake of fire and consumed. There is no change of anyone’s behavior. They simply suffer the consequence of their actions on earth. The death penalty was prescribed by God as a punishment for a number of crimes in the Old Testament and was not designed to reform the person’s behavior. [6] At this point it is important to note that punishment does not necessarily mean beatings, whippings, inflicting pain, etc. Receiving no inheritance because of an ungodly lifestyle will be punishment, a penalty imposed for wrongdoing.

There are a number of words for consequences designed to modify behavior. “Chastise” usually means to inflict a punishment with a view to reforming or changing the person’s behavior. “Chasten” usually means to correct by punishment. “Discipline” often implies punishment in order to bring or restore control. “Correct” often implies punishment for the purpose of improving or reforming. [7] So, “chastisement,” “chastening,” “discipline” and “corrections” are punishments that are designed to correct or improve a person’s behavior. However, none of these words are used in relation to the Judgment. No verse of Scripture says that what a person receives at the Judgment is “correction,” “chastening,” or “discipline.” Each person will receive a reward or loss based on his works, and what he receives is a consequence of his actions in his past life.

The word “punish” in 1 Thessalonians 4:6 expresses what will happen at the Judgment to those who were involved with sexual sins and did not repent and confess those sins. In simple terms, God says that there are consequences for disobedience, and this is true for all people. When God speaks of the assignments in the Millennial Kingdom that will be given to the priests and Levites who were unfaithful to Him in their first life, He simply says they “must bear the consequences of their sin” and they “must bear the shame of their detestable practices” (Ezek. 44:10–13). They lived in sin in their first life and that sin will have a consequence. When He speaks of the Christian Judgment, He simply says some “will suffer loss” (1 Cor. 3:15). Each person will “receive what is due him for the things done while in the body” (2 Cor. 5:10). “Anyone who does wrong will be paid for his wrong” (Col. 3:25). Those who have denied him or marred the Christian Church will be denied (2 Tim. 2:12) or marred (1 Cor. 3:17). [8] The Bible does not say that the consequences people receive for sin at the Judgment will be corrective. Consequences are a payment for the “job” that was done in the first life. A job well done merits a reward. A lousy job merits loss.

The carnal Christian who lives an ungodly lifestyle and never confesses his sin will be “punished” for wasting his life—a gift from God. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand this, so he told them a parable about it (Matt. 25:14–30). He spoke of a servant who was given a talent and buried it in the ground so it did not even earn interest. When the servant did not take advantage of what was given him and lost the possible profit from his talent, the master called him “wicked,” “lazy,” and “worthless” (Matt. 25:26 and 30). Like the servant in the parable, each and every Christian is given “talents” to use for the Lord. [9] Will the Lord feel any differently toward those Christians who waste the life they have been given, especially since they have been saved by his own blood sacrifice, made powerful by holy spirit that he gave them, and given the very Word of God as a guide and reference, yet who bury their “talents”?

Some people believe that the verses saying we are “accepted” and “justified” mean that Christians cannot suffer loss, shame, or punishment at the Judgment, and therefore God must judge Christians in this life. This conclusion cannot be correct. First, many clear verses indicate that there will be loss and shame for some Christians at the Judgment. 1 John 2:28 says, “when he appears” we will not be ashamed if we have obeyed him. This implies that those who did not obey him will be ashamed. 2 Timothy 2:12 says that if we endure, we will reign with Christ in his Kingdom, but if we deny him, he will deny us. Obviously, if a Christian is denied, then he will suffer loss. These verses are not talking about the present, but about the future. Colossians 3:24 says that the one who works for the Lord will receive an inheritance, meaning an inheritance in the future Kingdom. Then verse 25 says that those who do wrong will be “repaid” for their wrong. “Repayment” for doing wrong and “payment” for doing right will both occur at the Judgment in the future. Other clear scriptures outside the Epistles are Matthew 16:27, which says that Christ will reward people when he comes and Revelation 22:12 where Christ says he is coming “soon” and his reward is with him. The unclear or seemingly contradictory verses should be understood in light of these very clear verses.

The second reason to believe that God is not judging carnal Christians now, but is waiting for the Day of Judgment, is the prima facie evidence that disobedient Christians are not being “judged” in this life. If they were, there would be a noticeable difference between obedient Christians and disobedient Christians. There are Christians who openly worship the Lord, pray, go to a home fellowship/church, give of their time and finances, share their faith with others, and in general live very obedient lives. There are also Christians who, even if they go to church, do not make a serious attempt to obey the Lord, and instead are involved in various types of sin: they may lie and cheat in business, commit adultery, use illegal drugs, or participate in any number of ungodly activities. Can anyone honestly say that “carnal Christians” are being judged and disciplined by God in any way that clearly sets them apart from Christians who really try to walk godly before the Lord? Are they sick more often? Do they die younger? Do their businesses fail more often? Do their cars break down more frequently? Do they live in smaller houses and have fewer clothes? Do they lead more tragic lives? The answer is obviously, “No.” In fact, many times innocent and godly Christians appear to be worse off than the carnal Christians. [10]

Of course, it is true that there are carnal Christians who receive some consequences for their actions in this life. Some Christian drug users get AIDS from dirty needles; some Christians drive their automobiles at high speed and become crippled or die in car wrecks; some corrupt Christian politicians get caught and go to jail; and some Christian women “sleep around” and get pregnant. [11] But that does not prove that God is judging these Christians now.

God is no respecter of persons. When He does judge, He will not judge one person for his sin but overlook the sin of another. The fact that only some Christians who sin receive consequences for their actions is a clear indication that they are not coming under the judgment of God. It is more reasonable to conclude that they are receiving the natural consequences of their foolish behavior or that they are under attack from the Adversary. Also, many people do not receive what would be considered “fair judgment” for their sins. Some murderers get the death penalty while others get only a few years in prison. Some thieves spend years in jail while others get parole. When God’s judgment does come, it will be equitable. Every person will get what he deserves, not just “some” people getting “a part” of what they deserve.

The reality is that this earth is a war zone. The forces of good are battling the forces of evil. Satan and his forces of evil come to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He causes mental and physical disease (Luke 8:26–36; 13:10–13). He hinders and even occasionally stops the work of God (1 Thess. 2:18). He places thorns among God’s people (2 Cor. 12:7). Both good and evil people alike are his victims. Meanwhile God supports the people who love Him. Scripture says, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28a). He equips His people with “weapons of righteousness” (2 Cor. 6:7). Furthermore the Lord “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5b). So God resists the ungodly and carnal and He works hard to bless those who love Him. The war rages and both the innocent and the wicked are casualties. [12] The fact that circumstances are not going well for a particular person is not evidence that God is judging him. [13]

Both Scripture and life make it clear that God is not judging the sins of mankind now, but He is waiting for the Day of Judgment in the future. What about verses that say Christians are justified or accepted by God? If it means that they cannot be disciplined at the Judgment, it would also mean that they cannot be disciplined here and now. The New Testament is written from the viewpoint that each Christian has been judged in Christ and is justified in Christ. Romans 6:1–8 makes it clear that God identifies us with Jesus Christ and that when Christ died, we died with him. So, if a verse that says Christians are justified or accepted by the Lord means that they cannot suffer loss, shame, or punishment on the Day of Judgment, then those same verses would also mean that Christians cannot be punished now. Yet it is clear from previously cited scriptures that the carnal Christians will suffer loss, shame, or punishment at some time. The logical conclusion based on the clear scriptures is that it will occur at the Judgment in the future.

When the Bible speaks of the righteousness, justification, and acceptance of the Christian, it is speaking in relation to everlasting life, not everlasting rewards. Each Christian will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged righteous and justified because of the work of Christ. But the fact that some people will receive a greater reward than others demonstrates that “justified” and “accepted” are not referring to rewards. Otherwise, because all Christians are justified, each and every Christian would get the same reward and that clearly is not the case. Salvation, justification, and acceptance before God are by grace and appropriated by faith. Rewards are earned; losses are also “earned.”

It is the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ that each Christian appear blameless before him at the Judgment. Christians do not lack any spiritual gift or blessing that keeps them from living a godly lifestyle (1 Cor. 1:7; Eph. 1:3). They are fully equipped to be obedient and godly. Furthermore, the Lord will forgive any sin that is confessed. Christ died for us.

Colossians 1:22 and 23a
(22) But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—
(23a) if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the Hope held out in the gospel.

Every Christian is responsible to live in a manner that is worthy of God’s calling on his life and the gifts and abilities he has been given. Every Christian should strive to appear before the Lord at the Judgment Seat holy and blameless. This can be accomplished through a diligent effort to continue in the faith, unmoved from the Hope.

Endnotes

[1] See Appendix F for more specifics on Job’s friends.
[2] Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, op. cit., Don’t Blame God!, pp. 95–116.
[3] Christian Educational Services, op. cit., 22 Principles of Bible Interpretation, pp. 2–3; Bullinger, op. cit., How to Enjoy the Bible, pp. 327–34; Panin, op. cit., Bible Chronology, pp. 19–21; Kay Arthur, How to Study Your Bible (Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR, 1994), pp. 73–76.
[4] Some versions use “avenger” instead of “punish,” but the basic meaning is the same. The Greek word means “an avenger, a punisher.” “Avenge” means “to inflict punishment on someone who has wronged oneself or another.” It is used “when the motive is a desire to vindicate or to serve the ends of justice or when one visits just or merited punishment on the wrongdoer.” The definition of “avenge,” like the definition of “punish,” does not include the concept of correction or modification of behavior. Vine, op. cit., Lexicon, p. 82; Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms (Miriam-Webster, Incorporated, Springfield, MA, 1984), p. 78.
[5] The possible equivalence between suffering loss and being punished is made stronger in 1 Corinthians 3:15 where “suffer loss” could also be translated “suffer damage” or “suffer punishment.” Vine, op. cit., p. 691; Louw and Nida, op. cit., Lexicon, p. 490.
[6] The death penalty was a vital part of God’s system of justice in the Old Testament. See John W. Schoenheit, The Death Penalty, An Affirmation of Life (Christian Educational Services, Indianapolis, IN, 2000).
[7] Definitions from American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Third Edition, 1996) and Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms, op. cit., p. 653.
[8] For the definition of “mar,” see the explanation of 1 Corinthians 3:17 in Chapter 6.
[9] It is a “happy coincidence” of the languages that in Greek the “talent” was a unit of weight (some money was weighed out) and in English a “talent” is an innate ability given to a person by God. Thus the point of the parable is brought home clearly in the English because some people take the talents that God has given them and “bury” them, just as the servant buried the talent given to him.
[10] There is more on the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent in Appendix F.
[11] These actions do not make a Christian unsaved. We have covered in other parts of this book that you can be a carnal Christian and still be saved.
[12] The war between God and the Devil is not the only reason for the calamities on earth. Some are caused by the free will decisions of mankind.
[13] This point is greatly expanded in Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, op. cit., Don’t Blame God!, pp. 9–40, 107–30, 145–53.

4 comments

  1. Every DAY I find new things,good words of truth and all I can do is pray for each one there . Also know I can influence others to go to the websites. Our God is so good . Truth is available like never before – keep up the good Fight. Great will be your rewards. Diane Curtin Blessed saint to know you dear ones

  2. Thank you for this article. But as we continue on in the Lord, let us never forget that it is not us who work but it is God who works out our salvation in us. We actually don’t even desire Him unless He puts that desire in us. He is everything for everyone of us. This is why we must always abide in Him. Be patient in Him, always trusting Him that we may fight the good fight. Take care, love in Christ, Daniel.

  3. This is great information and revelation of the sovereign God we serve. I started seeking for thought and scriptures on nations and it’s people that rebels against God. After seeing all these Hurricanes destroying the lands. The scripture you shared along with your revelation really help me with answers! God is merciful! yet he is also a just God! consequences through our actions.

    1. Thank you and may God’s blessing forever abide with you and family.

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