Most of us can recall a time when an authority figure required us to come see them. It may have been the school principal or the company boss or the coach of our team or someone else. But as we anticipated the meeting, most likely we became somewhat stressed about it, not knowing what was going to happen and what things would be like after the meeting was over.
Far greater and far more significant than that meeting with some authority figure will be that scheduled meeting that we have with the Lord Jesus Christ at what is referred to as the “judgment seat of Christ.” Any earthly meeting cannot rival this future meeting which all believers in Jesus will be attending. Now, some of those human authority figures may not have really wanted our best or were interested in treating us fairly. That will not be true of the Lord Jesus. He is loving, merciful, good and gracious. He loves to give good gifts to His children and always desires what is best for His own. But He is also holy which requires that He deal justly with us and evaluate us fairly. He will not overlook the good we have done, but He will not overlook our sin and selfishness. So, the question we want to address here is, just what will be the basis of Jesus evaluation of us as believers at the judgment seat. When we study the Scriptures, we discover that there are three primary criteria that Jesus will use.
CRITERION #1: HOW CLOSELY DID OUR LIVES ALIGN WITH GOD’S TRUTH?
There is going to be an objective standard that will be used as Jesus evaluates our lives, and that objective standard is God’s Word. The Scriptures give us all that we need to know to live well for the Lord Jesus and to serve Him. The following verses give us a needed reminder of this.
Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet. 1:3)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Because the Word of God gives us all that is necessary to honor Christ and live well for Him, this same Word will be used to evaluate how we lived our lives. This is certainly one reason why it is so important that we are “people of the Book.” The Apostle Paul observed that we will not receive reward if we do not live according to the rules that God has set up.
“And also, if any one competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Tim. 2:5)
In his enlightening discussion of the Judgment Seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul uses the helpful picture of building a structure. He notes that all of us as believers are building. We should observe that the question is not “am I building?” The question for each of us is what kind of building materials am I using?”
In his illustration, he tells us that all believers are given the foundation on which to build. The foundation on which we build is the same for everyone. That foundation is the truth about Jesus Christ, His person and His work (1 Cor. 3:10-11). Our lives and service are built on our relationship with Christ. By faith, we have received God’s gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of our sins. From the moment we are saved, we begin to build on this foundation.
Paul informs us that we have two types of building materials available as we build. The first are those materials which will not perish when touched by fire (gold, silver, valuable building stones), and second, those materials that are combustible (wood, hay straw). Again, we must remember that every day we are building, which means that last week you and I built. And the crucial question is what kind of material we used last week.
But what do these materials represent? The imperishable materials (gold, silver, valuable building stones) represent the wisdom of God which is found in the Scriptures. The context determines this. The discussion of the Judgment Seat found here in 1 Corinthians 3 has been preceded by a lengthy discussion of the importance of the wisdom of God. From 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul has been arguing for the critical role that God’s wisdom plays in people getting right with God and with its significance in living life. When we live and serve according to the standards, commands and guidelines of Scripture, we are building with these wonderful, permanent materials. On the other hand, the perishable materials represent those views, philosophies and ideas that are not part of God’s Word. Some suggestions will be given on what these things might look like.
Living according to the guiding principles and commands of Scripture is building with gold, silver and precious stones. For example, in our family relationships each of us have roles and responsibilities as set for by the Bible. When I, as a husband, love my wife and give her biblical leadership then that is one area that I am building with imperishable materials. As we guide our fiscal lives according to God’s principles on money and material things, we are building with these lasting materials. So, whether it is in my vocation, my responsibilities in the Church, my relationship with the unsaved, the way I budget my time, the decisions made related to recreation or a dozen other matters, we can be choosing to live by the appropriate principles and guidelines found in Scripture.
This, of course, leads to a fundamental issue of whether or not we are spending the needed time in studying the Scriptures to both understand and then apply the truths of God to the various areas of life. What we do or don’t do will determine the receiving of rewards, or not, at the Judgment Seat.
What might the perishable materials of wood, hay and straw represent in the lives of believers? These represent any alternatives to the revealed standards and principles of God in His Word. In the context of 1 Corinthians, in a very fundamental way, this represents the “wisdom of man.” Believers can and often do make decisions in life based on things other than the wisdom of God. In order to try and take this out of the realm of the abstract and to see what wood, hay and straw might look like today, several suggestions are given.
- EXPERIENCES. Believers will sometimes make decisions in life or prioritize what is important in life based on some circumstances or coincidence they have experienced. I have known people whose course was charted based on an alleged vision they saw or voice they heard. Others say they were “slain in the Spirit” and this experience determined choices made in numerous areas of life. But experiences, though real to a person, must be evaluated by the Scriptures. Some experiences come from God but others do not. They instead are generated by the human mind and yet others by Satan. The Scriptures alone can determine the authenticity of experience.
- TRADITION. Believers can program their lives by their religious traditions. And while some traditions might prove helpful, they might not. As we all know, the traditions of the Pharisees in the days of Christ, brought terrible consequences to many. Tradition are fundamentally man made, and though they might at times be helpful but it is only the Word of God that evaluates tradition.
- PSYCHOLOGICAL IDEAS. Even pastors in their sermons can substitute current psychological ideas for biblical truth. Current cultural thinking is no substitute for biblical thinking. For example, child raising can be done according to biblical principles or according to current trends in psychology. Some will focus on digging back into a person’s childhood instead of focusing on the present and future (Phil. 3:13-14). The psychological views that come out of the culture are always in a state of flux and are more like quick sand than solid ground.
- DOCTRINAL ERROR. The greatest concern of the Apostles was the influx of false doctrine into the church. The distortion of biblical truth affects every area of life, and the Apostle John warned that embracing that which is error will bring about the loss of reward in the future (2 John 7-8). In today’s church setting, with the growing influence of “progressive Christianity”, erroneous teachings are growing like dandelions.
Building is going on daily in our lives. Whether we are building according to the Word, or on other things, will determine the gain or loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is no small matter. And it becomes obvious to the thinking person that understanding and applying the truth of God in life is a primary task of ours in the present. And it is the Scriptures that will be the objective basis of our evaluation by the Lord Jesus.
In our next study, we will look at the matters of faithfulness and motivation as the other criteria that Jesus will be using in our evaluation and rewarding at His “judgment seat.” In the meantime, be in the Word and allowing the Holy Spirit of God to instruct us and guide us into truth centered living.