Paul continues his theme of eternity in today’s reading. We live now in earthly tents – our bodies are like tents that can be blown around and suffer, that groan, longing for eternity and heaven.
In verse 5 we have the guarantee of the Spirit, that we will be with God in eternity. You cannot lose your salvation – simple faith brings assurance of heaven, and persistent faith brings inheritance.
Some commentators call this a judgement passage – I prefer the term reward! The judgement seat usually has the negative connotations of criminal courts, whereas we are to “receive what is due” – so it’s more like a judge in a compensation hearing!
Let’s be clear. Christians will not be judged for sin.
- Our sin was taken to the cross by Jesus, (2 Cor 5:21)
- Christ was cursed on our behalf, (Gal 3:13)
- As our substitute, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness”, (1 Peter 2:24)
- “He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God”, (Heb 10:12)
- “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.… Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us”, (Romans 8:1,34).
The judgement seat, bema, is a place that is reached by climbing some steps – the word would be used for the platform athletes climb to get their crown and medals for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. Perhaps a better translation is podium!
Christians will appear one by one before Christ to receive what is due (salvation, as has been shown in the bulleted list above is a given, freely received by conversion faith. This is about reward and inheritance for persistent faith).
I’d struggled for years to reconcile the use of ‘bad’ in this verse as it seems to say we will be judged for our sin, which goes against the rest of the New Testament revelation of grace that has taken away our sin as far as the east is from the west. So does God remember our sin and judge us on it?
Short answer = No!
There are several words for bad in Greek – kaos and poneros are words for moral evil or sin. Phaulos, used here, is the word for bad that means worthless. Richard C. Trench writes that phaulos “contemplates evil under another aspect, not so much that either of active or passive malignity, but that rather of its good-for-nothingness, the impossibility of any true gain coming forth from it”.
I’m going to quote John MacArthur here (He’s a well known Bible teacher, but usually too rabidly anti-charismatic for my liking!) “Phaulos describes those mundane things that inherently are neither of eternal value nor sinful, such as taking a walk, going shopping, taking a drive in the country, pursuing an advanced degree, moving up the corporate ladder, painting pictures, or writing poetry. Those morally neutral things will be judged when believers stand before the judgment seat of Christ. If they were done with a motive to glorify God, they will be considered good. If they were pursued for selfish interests, they will be considered bad” (John MacArthur).
So we will receive reward for things that were done in faith and for the glory of God (including painting, cooking for friends, preaching, witnessing…) and suffer loss for those done for worthless reasons. The clearest parallel passage on this is 1 Cor 3:11-15 –
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
If you haven’t done so yet, receive salvation and eternal life freely as a gift from God. You can’t earn it by being good – Isaiah 64:6 tells us our self righteous acts to impress God are like used menstrual cloths. Eternal life is a free gift – ask Jesus for it! Believe that all your sin was paid for on the cross and receive His forgiveness and be reconciled to God the Father.
Then let us live Spirit filled lives, pleasing God (2 Cor 5:9) and long for that day when we see Jesus face to face and He says “Well done good and faithful servant” and we receive our reward.
Avoid doing worthless things, or good things for worthless reasons like the praise of men.