The idea of judgment is a prominent concept throughout Scripture, from the beginning to the end. God's first command to humans was, "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:17) If you disobey God, you will die. Death is the judgment. The book of Revelation is filled with judgment as well. Some of the last words God gives us are... "I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book." (Revelation 22:18-19)
Sin always brings death because death is in sin. Romans 3:23 tells us, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Then Paul tells us in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." We are all familiar with John 3:16... “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." This is a wonderful counter to Genesis 2:17. But not as many people are familiar with verses 18-19 which say... "Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned,because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God. This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil." So as Jesus gives us God's great plan of salvation, He also explains the judgment associated with not receiving that salvation.
These are two of the greatest truths in the universe. Anyone who does not believe in (trust and follow) Jesus is already condemned. Anyone who believes in Jesus is not condemned. So much follows those two paths of existence.
But is the person who believes in Jesus then free from accountability since they are not condemned? Actually, the accountability level rises for the one who believes in Jesus. Becoming a child or God is not a pass to live like you want without consequences. Though our judgment for sin is set aside by the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross, our works as servants of God will now be judged according to the fact that we are now responsible before God to do what He says, and actually have the power to obey.
Jesus taught, "Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more." (Luke 12:48) More is expected of believers because our standing with Christ is different. We are now sons and not lost enemies of God. God expects sinners to sin. But He expects children to act like their Daddy.
So there is serious accountability in the life of the Christian. We are accountable before other believers, and we are accountable before God. Some may say we are even accountable before the world as they will come to believe in Christ as they see unity in us. So what does this accountability look like?
In some ways, the early Church was like us today. They were sort of judgmental at times. Paul once wrote, "We will all stand before the tribunal of God. For it is written: 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God.' So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God." (Romans 14:10-12) At some point in the future, God will take some time to judge all people. This includes sinners and saints.
Sinners will be judged according to their sins because their sins have not been removed. In fact, the judgment is already there, because it is in the sin. God will just have to reveal it. He will then pass sentence, which is eternal damnation. But as the passage tells us, even the sinner will at some point give praise to God, proclaiming Him as Lord.
Saints have already had their judgment for sin removed at the altar of the cross. This setting aside of judgment is not a way for us to go back out and live in sin. It is a freedom to go out and live for Christ. But in our living for Christ, we do not always hit the mark. Sometimes we actually exceed the mark. Along the way we do stuff that is exceptional in Christ, and other times we are lazy in our approach. God is taking notes. We are after all His servants... His children. There is a higher standard. Jesus talks about this in various parables.
And Paul, in another letter writes about this coming judgment of the works of the believer...
We are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day [of God's judgment] will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. (Romans 14:9-15)
Sinners will lose their souls in the fires of Hell. But there is a fire that will test the works of the saints. What you do today matters. How you serve God matters. What you do in the Kingdom matters. You may think it does not matter today. But someday today will be judged. It is not fitting for a redeemed child of God to be a slacker, lazy, selfish, short-sighted, stingy, etc. How we serve the Lord will have consequences in our lives, and in the lives of others. It will impact our now, and our eternity. This is about placing a premium on the power God has given us in our salvation. Sure, the penalty of sin is removed. But there are still consequences for our actions as His Kingdom workers.
When you decide to skip out on Church because you are 'not feeling it', that choice has consequences. When you give more than is reasonable to a missionary in response to God's nudging, that has consequences. When you make sure your name is mentioned in association with some ministry, that has consequences. When you clean the toilets secretly instead of complaining to the church janitor, that has consequences. Our works have consequences, even though our name is written in the Lamb's book of life.
Jesus died and rose again to free us from the penalty, pollution, and power of sin... not to set us free from consequences. He didn't set us free to sin more, but to serve well. Do not let the enemy trick you into bondage on this issue. God's grace is active in the believer. If you mess up and serve with wrong motives, or miss an opportunity to serve, do not worry about your standing with God. But serve the Master with zeal, realizing that one day you will give an account for your actions, and receive a reward for a life lived well before Him. In the end, these crowns and trophies will be presented to us, and in grateful love we will return them to the One who has enabled us to serve in His mission.
So our works are always and ultimately a gift to our King. If you are like me, you want to present Him with a great harvest of good works. Serve well today. You may give an account tomorrow.