Some people believe that when a person dies, life is over for them. Others believe that when a person dies, there will be a future resurrection and then they will have to face judgment. Which view is correct? What is the weight of evidence? Is it true that someday everyone will have to give an account of themselves?
The Bible says that a time is coming when every human being will stand before the judgment seat of God. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” John 5:28, 29
We read in John 11 that Jesus raised the man Lazarus from the dead. This miracle was not performed in private; in fact, there was a great multitude of witnesses. Lazarus’ sisters, the mourners, and many others who had come to the burial were there, much like we attend our own funeral services today.
“Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.” Verses 39–45
When Jesus came the first time, He came for salvation. He stated it this way to Nicodemus in John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
But when He comes the second time, the Bible repeatedly states that He is coming to bring judgment. At this second coming, each individual will either be saved or lost; and when the judgment seat is set, every human being will have to give an account of himself to God. From the beginning to the end, the Bible assures us that there will be a judgment.
Paul says in Romans 14:12, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:5, “They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 32:36, “For the Lord will judge His people … .” We read in Psalm 9:7 that God “has prepared His throne for judgment.” And Psalm 50:3, 4 says, “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; a fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous all around Him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people.”
In this world, many believe that they can do wrong and get away with it just because no one knows what they have done. But there is Someone who knows. God knows even the most secret things we do. Solomon wrote about this in Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil.” David had something to say about this as well in Psalm 139:1–4, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
“You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.” God understands what you are thinking even before you think it.
Then David says in verses 7–12, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell [the grave], behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
It does not matter if it is daytime or nighttime, if you are on land or at sea, no matter where you are David says that the Lord knows. God is watching us and keeping record of what we think, do, and say. Jesus talks about this recordkeeping in Matthew 12:36, 37, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” God keeps a record of “every secret thing that is done.”
God keeps very good records and we find in the Greek New Testament that “Jesus saw their thoughts.” God knows what we do and what we say, but He also can discern our thoughts before they ever become actions or words. Isaiah 66:18 says, “I know their works and their thoughts. It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory.”
We find something very similar in 1 Corinthians 4:5, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.”
When the Bible says, “reveal the counsels of the hearts,” it means that our very thoughts, those that no one has ever known, will be revealed. Jesus said to the disciples, “Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” Matthew 10:26
In the judgment, every record that God has been keeping, all the things that cannot be hidden from Him—about every person, every society, every church, every nation, every institution, every government, every group of people, and every family—will be made known.
Should this make us afraid of the coming judgment? Jesus says in Matthew 16:24–27, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each, according to his works.”
Notice that the judgment is going to be based upon what we have done in this life. Very many are going to find this distressing when they think of the awful things they have done. They will be wondering what will happen to them. God has been keeping a record of the sins of every individual life and unless that record is expunged, or blotted out, we will be in big trouble.
And that brings us to the gospel, because saving people from their sins is what the gospel is all about. Anything that we have done that is contrary to the law of God must be forgiven and blotted out of our record. John says, “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. The sins committed in the past and their guilt, along with the power sin has over our lives, can all be taken away.
Paul describes this in detail in Romans 3:23–25: “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.”
Being saved, however, involves much more than just having our sins forgiven. While it is necessary for our sins to be forgiven so that we will be found worthy for heaven in the judgment, something more is involved in being saved than simply forgiveness of sins. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. Romans 6:23, first part, says, “For the wages of sin is death … .” And Hebrews 9:22, last part, says, “and without shedding of blood there is no remission” of sin. Jesus’ death on the cross, the shedding of His blood, paid the penalty for sin, but, 1 John 1:7 tells us, that “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from every sin.”
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5. If we are not born of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be saved and will not enter into the kingdom of God. That is why Paul was so emphatic about the fact that the judgment is according to works. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10. Our works have no merit to gain salvation, but our works demonstrate the miraculous change wrought by the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
When a person is brought before a judge in an earthly court of law, his conduct is measured against the standard of the law to determine if he has committed transgression. How does God determine whether what we have done is good or bad? He also has a standard against which our thoughts, deeds, and words are measured. This standard is the law of God.
Many decades after Jesus died on the cross, James tells us clearly that God’s ten commandments, His law, is the standard for His coming judgment. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” James 2:10–12
Here James is quoting the sixth and seventh commandments. Even if you keep the whole law, all the commandments, but one, you are a transgressor, guilty of breaking the whole law. The ten commandments are one law—one law with ten parts—and it is by this standard that we all will be judged when Jesus comes.
Paul, writing in Titus 2:11–14, says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” And Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8. Here is the reason that Jesus died on the cross—that He might redeem us, save us from every lawless deed, and purify us.
So, there are some questions we should be asking ourselves: Am I being purified? Am I being cleansed from my sins by the blood of Jesus? Am I receiving the Holy Spirit so that I now have a new heart and a new mind?
If we are to have lives in harmony with the law of God, then the answers to each of these questions must be Yes. For if we have not been purified and cleansed, if our hearts and minds are the same old, sinful ones we’ve always had, then we are not in harmony with the government and law of God and we will be in trouble on the day of judgment.
To be in harmony with any earthly government, we must be in harmony with the laws of that government. The same holds true of the heavenly government. Many people today make a profession of Christianity, but they have never been born of the Holy Spirit and are therefore not in harmony with the laws of heaven.
Romans 8:1, 2 say, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” But notice then what Paul says in verses 4–9, 14: “[T] hat the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. … For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
Those who walk according to the law of God and no longer according to the flesh, in the judgment will be judged to be the sons of God. But those simply making a profession of Christianity, who have not been born of the Holy Spirit, who continue in sin, while desiring and hoping to be saved, will be judged out of harmony with God’s government and law and they will be condemned.
Friends, our goal in this life must be to be like Jesus. Christlikeness is the standard of character that we must reach in this life, if we are to be judged worthy of heaven and eternity. We can read this in John 8 and 1 John 3 and in other texts throughout the Bible. “Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2
To be ready for Jesus’ second appearing and to be judged worthy of heaven, we must have reached God’s standard of Christlikeness in our lives. This is accomplished only by the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit. Paul describes those who will make up God’s church on the day of judgment in Ephesians 5:27, “[T]hat He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” This church is ready to meet the Lord when He comes. “And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.” Revelation 14:5
Someone might think that there is no hope for them, but if we commit our lives to Jesus Christ, He can and will work every miracle that is needed so that we can have the character of Christ formed in our lives just as He wants us to have. “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
God doesn’t do things halfway. If we will commit our lives to Him today, He will complete the work that He has begun in our hearts, just as He promised.
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.