Continued from last month
In last month’s issue of The Traveler, we introduced you to some thoughts about God’s judgments and justice. We also introduced you to the word “anthropomorphism,” meaning to ascribe human characteristics to non-human persons or objects.
Basically, we humans have done that with God; we’ve ascribed human thoughts and actions to God. If you really think about that, it’s kinda foolish for us to do it, but it’s just how we humans are. At the very least, it helps us to think we understand a little more about who God is and how He works. The reality is that God states very clearly in the Bible: “I don’t think the way you [humans] think. The way you work isn’t the way I work . . . For as the sky soars high above the earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” (Isaiah 55: 8 and 9.) I’ve written this before: The Bible is God’s full written revelation of Himself to humankind.” So . . . to even begin to understand a little about God’s judgment and justice, we must go to the Bible. We must not ascribe human thoughts and ideas about judgment and justice to God! That’s anthropomorphism.
Love. Justice. Mercy. Grace.
God is love; the Bible is very clear about that. That’s his basic personal character, his basic nature, underlying everything He says and does. Justice, mercy, and grace flow from his great and amazing love for us; they’re part of his love. God’s judgments are fair and good. Throughout the Bible God’s justice is always defined as “God setting all wrong things right.” Everything—everything!–that has ever been wrong in all creation, God will make it all right, restoring everything that needs restoration.
There is no conflict between God’s justice and His mercy. They both flow from His love. The justice and righteousness that flow through Jesus cause God’s love and compassion to be poured out on us. They are about God meeting us in at our points of need and liberating us from sin and oppression. “setting things right”—that is what biblical justice is about. There is no dichotomy between a “God of justice” in the Old Testament and a “God of mercy” in the New. There is no split in God’s character. God has always been a compassionate God, a God of love.
Jesus fully reveals who God is and who God has always been. Justice has always come through mercy. God is justified in forgiving our sins and implanting his righteous nature in us because Jesus has fully righted the wrongs our self-centered, self-absorbed sin has done to all of us. The key issue in God’s justice wasn’t necessarily that He merely paid for our sin. His justice was in the fact that He gave back what humankind lost by our sin. Justice is God’s grace and mercy at work in love.
When is Judgment Not Judgment?
There is another aspect of judgment I want to write about—a time of judgment which is not really judgment. This judgment is referred to in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 3: 9 – 15 and 2 Corinthians 5: 10. It is called “the judgment seat of Jesus.” The word for judgment in the Greek language is “bema.” Here’s a word picture of the bema judgment. In ancient Greece and Rome when athletic contests were held, there was an award ceremony at the end of the contests, much like we see in modern Olympics.
The winning athletes would be called to come forward and present themselves to the contest judges who were seated on the “bema seat” to pass out the awards. The winners would receive various types of awards while the losers would receive nothing; the losers weren’t punished; they simply received no awards. That’s what the bema judgment of Jesus is. It is a future time after He returns to earth, when Jesus will reward some believers for what they have done—their “works” on his behalf. But in this case, while some will receive rewards for works denoted by “gold, silver, and precious stones,” some will “suffer loss” denoted by “wood, hay, and stubble.” Those who suffer loss will not be cast into a burning hell; it is simply that their works of wood, hay, and stubble will be burned up. Yes, some of the people standing before God’s bema seat will suffer loss, but they will not be burned up . . . only their works.
“In the Spirit” or “In the Flesh?”
When the Bible uses the term “in the Spirit” it means that we work cooperatively with the Holy Spirit who permanently inhabits our human spirits. When Jesus entered our lives in his “unbodied form” of the Holy Spirit, our spirits were fused together and we became one spirit for all the ages of time and in the eternal state of being. “In the flesh” means essentially that we do what we do by ourselves without any cooperation with God. We let our own human thoughts and imaginings do what we do without reliance on the Holy Spirit who lives permanently within our spirits. We rely more upon our own reason and logic than upon the Holy Spirit within us.
NOTE: Those definitions of “in the Spirit” and “in the flesh” are merely basic definitions; much, much more could be written, but those definitions are enough for our purposes in this issue of The Traveler.
What are the works “judged” at the bema seat? They are the differences between works done “in the flesh” and works done “in the Spirit,” a theme found throughout the New Testament.
Subjected to Fire
When gold, silver, and precious stones are subjected to fire, they are merely made more pure. When wood, hay, and stubble are subjected to fire, they are burned up. 2 Timothy 2: 20 refers to the same matter. Gold, silver, and precious stones symbolize God’s nature and character He is working into the lives of his children; it is what the Bible elsewhere calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” (Galatians 5: 22 and 23, as one example). Wood, hay, and stubble symbolize works people have attempted to do for God by their own religious efforts.
Another way of putting it is that at the bema seat Jesus believers will “reap what we have sown” (Galatians 6: 7). The criteria used by Jesus at the bema judgment will be: were our works done in cooperation with the Holy Spirit who lives within us . . . or, were they done by “fleshly” self-effort? In other words, what will be the source of the works done and who actually produced the works in our lives: Spirit or self?
The Book of Revelation puts this matter of the bema judgment this way. Our labor—our inner works of righteousness—must originate with the Holy Spirit living in our spirits and then produced in our lives by his ability and power, not our own. (John 3: 21) If that is the case, then we will be “clothed with righteous deeds.” (Revelation 19: 8) However, if the “flesh” is the source of our works, then we will produce unfruitful works and be found naked. (Revelation 3: 17; 16: 15) You realize of course that those people in these scenarios are not literally clothed in righteousness or literally naked.
If our works are prompted and empowered by the Holy Spirit who lives in our spirits, those works will withstand the fire at the bema judgment, and the believer will be rewarded. (1 Corinthians 3: 14 and Revelation 22: 2). If, however, our works originate with self-centered, self-absorbed motives of being seen and applauded by others, then that becomes its own reward. There will be no other rewards for such works. (Matthew 6: 1)
There is some indication in the New Testament that “crowns” will be awarded at the bema judgment of Jesus. These are crowns which are symbols or badges of victory. They are crowns won in public athletic events. They are not crowns which denote royalty. In the New Testament, there are two different Greek words used for the two types of crowns.
There are at least 5 crowns named in the New Testament, likely awarded at the bema judgment of Jesus:
The incorruptible crown—also called the victor’s crown—is awarded for self-control and having victory over the flesh. (1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 25)
The crown of rejoicing is awarded to Jesus believers for fruitful work in the lives of others. (1 Thessalonians 2: 19)
The crown of life is for those who have persevered, endured trials, even faced death—and yet remained faithful to Jesus. (James 1: 12 and Revelation 2: 10)
The crown of glory is for those who have shepherded and tended Jesus’ church. (1 Peter 5: 4)
The crown of righteousness is for those who have displayed to others their hope in Jesus’ return to establish his Kingdom. (2 Timothy 4: 8)
Much, much more could be written about the biblical subject of God’s judgments and justice. This teaching is intended to be only a very, very brief introduction to the subject. We hope we’ve given you food for thought and helped free you from fear just a little bit if you are worried about God’s judgments or wrath upon you after you die. God’s judgments will be just, flowing from his great love for all humanity whom He has created and is restoring into his clear image as best seen in Jesus.
Judge Not . . .
The following is sort of off the subject of God’s judgments, but Holy Spirit asked me to add it here to close out this issue of The Traveler. It’s about us humans judging other humans. When I see someone succumb to temptation and sin, there are four things I do not know:
How hard that person tried not to sin.
The power of the forces that assailed that person.
The exact circumstances or events as perceived and experienced by that person.
What I would have done in the exact same circumstances or events.
Therefore, I am never in a position to judge others when they sin. I see only what people do. God alone sees why they do it. God alone is judge, and He does not judge anyone before they die. How dare I! Furthermore, the more time I spend judging others, the less time I have to share God’s love with them!
There you have it: for two months, some very brief teaching about God’s judgment and justice . . . and about humans judging one another. It’s up to you now to check me out and see if I have mishandled or twisted some words of the Bible. I know how human I am and make many mistakes in my teaching, but I attempt to teach according to the light I have from God’s Spirit who lives within my spirit. Since God’s judgments and justice are such important subjects in the Bible, I honestly encourage you to check me out; I don’t want to lead any of my readers astray.
“What we know is that when Jesus returns, we’ll see Him—and in seeing Him, become like Him. All of us who look forward to his coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.” –1 John 3: 2 and 3
“Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy [wholesome] life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival.” -2 Peter 3: 11
To Think About This Month
“Heaven’s peace and perfect justice kiss a guilty world with love . . . .” –from song, “Here is Love”
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Revised and Updated December 2020