For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10
Given that those who put their faith in Christ are saved strictly on the basis of what Christ has done (Rom 8:1, Eph 2:2-9), how are we to understand Paul’s teaching that Christians will receive what is due us for deeds done in the body?
In his book, A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 1-6), Volume 1: 100 Daily Meditations on 2 Corinthians, Sam Storms makes 10 helpful observations about the judgment seat of Christ. These points are abridged (pages 140-145). You will need to consult the book to hear his full argument for each point.
- Who is to be judged? The broader context of 2 Corinthians 4-5 suggests that only believers are in view.
- What is the nature or purpose of the judgment? Eternal destiny is not at issue; eternal reward is.
- When does the judgment occur? Paul doesn’t seem concern to specify when. The most that we can be sure of is that it happens after death.
- Take note of the inevitability of judgment for everyone. This is not a day that can be set aside as irrelevant or unnecessary. It is essential for God to bring to consummation his redemptive purpose and to fully honor the glory of his name among his people. No one is exempt. Paul himself anticipated standing at this judgment . . .
- Paul emphasizes the individuality of the judgment (“each one”). As important as it is to stress the corporate and communal nature of our life as the body of Christ, each person will be judged individually (no doubt, at least in part, concerning how faithful each person was to his corporate responsibilities!)
- Observe the mode or maner of this judgment (“we must all appear”). We do not merely “show up” at the judgment seat of Christ but are laid bare before him. As Paul said in 1 Cor 4:5, the Lord “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart . . .”
Is it not sobering to think that every random thought, every righteous impulse, every secret prayer, hidden deed, long-forgotten sin, or act of compassion will be brought into the open for us to acknowledge and for the Lord to judge? But don’t forget: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
- This judgment has an identity all its own (“judgment seat of Christ”).
- The judge himself is clearly identified (“judgment seat of Christ”). This is consistent with what we read in John 5:22 where Jesus said that “the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.”
- Of critical importance is the standard of judgment (“what he has done in the body, whether good or evil”). Reference to the “body” indicates that the judgment concerns what we do in this life not what may or may not be done during the time of the intermediate state itself.
- The result of the judgment is not explicitly stated but is certainly implied. All will “receive” whatever their deeds deserve. Paul is slightly more specific in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15: “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” The “reward” is not defined, and the likelihood is that the “loss” suffered is the “reward” that he or she would otherwise have received had they obeyed.
Sam concludes the chapter:
Two closing comments are in order. First, our deeds do not determine our salvation, but demonstrate it. They are not the root of our standing with God but the fruit of it, a standing already attained by faith in Christ alone. The visible evidence of an invisible faith are the “good” deeds that will be made know at the judgment seat of Christ.
Second, don’t be afraid that, with the exposure and evaluation of your deeds, regret and remorse will spoil the bliss of heaven. If there be tears of grief for opportunities squandered, or tears of shame for sins committed, he will wipe them away (Rev. 21:4). The ineffable joy of forgiving grace will swallow up all sorrow, and the beauty of Christ will blind you to anything other than the splendor of who he is and what he has, by grace, accomplished on your behalf.