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Ecclesiastes knows how to pile on. It begins and ends the same way: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2; 12:8). If this isn’t depressing enough, listen to its last verse: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14). Are you serious? My meaningless life ends in miserable death, and then I’m judged for it, too? This could not be worse.

Unless—what if God’s judgment is the very thing that gives meaning to our lives? Have you had a teacher who returned your paper with no markings? Or worse, never returned it at all? Even if you received an A+, you didn’t care because you realized he didn’t care about you. Have you done a poor job at work, only to have your boss notice and say nothing? You were initially relieved, but when you thought about it, you realized your work—and you—must not matter. Worse than being reprimanded is to be considered so small that we’re unworthy of rebuke.

We may dread the last judgment, but its accountability means we count. Who cares how I wash dishes, surf the Internet, or speak to those closest to me? God does, and He promises to hold me responsible for “every careless word” (Matt. 12:36). My life, and its thousands of daily choices, could not matter more.

Judgment

Nevertheless, the great white throne is terrifying. Every person will kneel before the One from whom “earth and sky fled away” (Rev. 20:11). We will be fully exposed before the most powerful Being, who has the highest possible standards (Luke 12:2–3; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 4:5). And the stakes could not be higher: everlasting life or unquenchable fire (Luke 16:26; Heb. 9:27). Of all the moments we will ever live, this one will be the most momentous. What happens then will determine how and where we live forever. There is only one way to survive that moment: we must have turned from our sin and put all our faith in Jesus. Hide in the only One who can cover us before the penetrating gaze of our glorious God. Our sin must be judged, but if we are in Christ, it has been judged in Christ.

When we see our Savior who died for us, will we cringe for the many times we abused His grace and added to His pain? Will we weep for joy and also sorrow for not trusting Him sooner? Will we feel deep remorse—this word is much too weak—for those whom our sin has pushed away from Jesus? There are permanent, shattering consequences of sin.

What should we expect when we die? Those who use grace as a blank check to sin however they want should have “a fearful expectation of judgment” (Heb. 10:27). Conversely, those who diligently grow strong in that grace, perhaps suffering in this life as a result, eagerly anticipate their vindication. Martyred saints right now are pleading in heaven, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). It’s as if they are saying: “We left this world as losers, destroyed by our enemies. Won’t You return and exonerate us? Announce to the world that we were on the right side of history. Bring us back to reign with You.”

Live today as one who expects to be judged by God.
Reward

For the faithful, God’s final judgment will bestow great reward. Jesus promised that those who endure persecution, love their enemies, and obediently serve their Master will be richly rewarded (Matt. 5:11–12; 25:23; Luke 6:35). He doesn’t say exactly what these rewards are, but we may assume they will cheer and affirm those who receive them (Matt. 6:19–21; Luke 19:17; 1 Cor. 3:14).

Some may wonder whether talk of rewards is selfish. I agree that it would be selfish to serve Jesus only for the reward. It would also be self-defeating because such behavior would not be rewarded. However, if we serve Jesus for His sake, seeking His kingdom above all else, then it is most fitting to receive a reward. We cringe when a self-seeking brat grows up to inherit the family business. But a child who dutifully serves his parents, putting their needs above his own, rightfully receives a share of the family’s wealth.

Some may wonder whether rewards matter. Aren’t we going to give them back anyway (Rev. 4:10–11)? That may be precisely why they matter. If we are invited to our benefactor’s home for dinner, we wouldn’t think of showing up without a gift. In the same way, we’ll need to bring something to express our gratitude when we attend the marriage supper of the Lamb. But what? God already owns everything, and everything we have is from Him. What can we bring?

When my children were small, my wife and I would buy small presents for each other that they could give to us. It was our money, yet it delighted our children to hand us a gift and say, “For you, Mommy,” or, “For you, Daddy.” I thought the charade was a bit silly until I considered what it meant to them and what it meant to me that they wanted to give back. We don’t yet appreciate how we will yearn to bring something to our heavenly Father. But He knows, and He’s already taken care of it. Live today as one who expects to be judged by God, and when that day comes, you will be given a reward that you can gratefully give back to Him.

The Reality of Forgiveness

Faithful Preaching amid Persecution

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From the July 2018 Issue
Jul 2018 Issue