It is important that Christians are not only spiritually motivated to go to heaven one day but that right now, here on earth, they should lead fruitful lives by doing works that befit repentance (Matt. 3:8). The Lord will judge and reward these works after the rapture, and then it will be clear what the spiritual value of every Christian’s life was. We will have to give account of what we have done with our talents and opportunities in the service of the Lord.
Peter says, “the time has come for judgement to begin at the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:17). When He comes, Christ will reward our works (Rev. 11:18; 22:12). To the martyrs in the church of Smyrna Jesus promises a crown (Rev. 2:10). To His faithful witnesses in apostate Thyatira, He says that they will rule with Him (Rev. 2:25-26). To His beloved servants in Philadelphia who kept on serving Him despite their great poverty, He says that they should hold fast what they have, that no one take their crown (Rev. 3:11). By their perseverance to the end, they must remain worthy to receive crowns (Gal. 6:9; 1 John 2:28; 2 John 1:8). Believers have a solemn responsibility to be ready for their appearance before Christ at His judgement seat!
All Christians have a definite appointment to appear before the judgement seat of Christ – whether they were faithful servants or not. Some of them will receive rewards, while others will stand there empty-handed. The fact is that the servants of the Lord will have to give account of themselves (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10,12). On that day, many of the works of believers will prove to have been worthless with no value for eternity. The Lord Jesus says to every church in Revelation: “I know your works…” (Rev. 2:2,9,13,19; 3:1,8,15). He will reward every member according to his works.
To the Corinthians, Paul explains in much more detail how God will test the works of believers by the fire of His judgement. From the context it is clear that the works of faith that were done after salvation are to be tested, but that the works of some believers will nevertheless be found to be carnal and will therefore be rejected. Paul also clearly indicates that, as co-workers of God, we have a definite task to perform in the kingdom of God. But we must beware how we do it – not in the wisdom of the flesh but in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:8-16). A few important points are quite evident from this passage:
· The foundation of repentance, which is the beginning of the new life in Christ, must first be laid in our lives before we can work for the Lord.
· After repentance we are commanded to work for the Lord by being His witnesses and thereby make our lights shine in the world. We must be fellow workers with Him in the extension of His kingdom.
· We cannot assume that all we do for the Lord is done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and therefore acceptable to Him, since we may also do worthless works that emanate from the carnal human nature (1 Cor. 3:1-3). These works are the wood, hay and straw that have no value for eternity and will be burned up.
· To those who do unacceptable works in the power of the flesh, the question is asked: “Do you not know that… the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16). They should dedicate their lives to the control of the Holy Spirit and start serving the Lord in His power. That is the normal Christian life.
In a parable in Luke 19:11-27, the Lord Jesus also referred to the day when His servants will have to give account of their lives. He says that to each of them money was given, which refers to a God-given gift to work in His kingdom, i.e. the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. The command to the servants: "Do business till I come" (Luke 19:13) means: "Manage the affairs of My kingdom till I come." When He returns as King He will first summon His servants to see what they have earned through labour. To the one who made ten-fold profit He will say: “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17). Another one gets authority over five cities, while the one who kept the money given to him unused will appear before the Lord empty-handed and be strongly reprimanded because of his uncommitted life.
The Lord has an appointment at His judgement seat with all those who belong to Him. It is obvious that they will not be judged on the basis of the presence or absence of faith in their lives. They are all saved through grace by faith, and that is a gift of God. Because they are all believers the basis of judgement is something else, and that is the works of faith. These are the works that must emanate from a living faith (Jas. 2:26).
Paul states very clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by faith, without works. No one can earn his salvation by working for it. Salvation is a gracious gift of God. But when a person has been saved and became a believer, it is expected of him to lead a life of devotion and good works (Eph. 2:10). The Lord will not reward us for what we are doing for Him but only for what He is doing through us. We should be used by Him. What we do, must be in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must not rely on our own ideas but acknowledge and consult God in all our ways (Prov. 3:5-6). The following five crowns are promised to overcomers:
The imperishable crown for a holy life. The race of life in which we are involved is likened to the race of an athlete (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Athletes see to it that they remain healthy – they eat the right food and do not smoke or drink. In the race of life we must also be spiritually nourished and refrain from harmful (sinful) habits that can impede our progress (Heb. 12:1). A commitment of this nature leads to spiritual cleansing (2 Cor. 7:1) and being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Sanctification and a commitment to serve the Lord call for self-discipline and the exercising of oneself to godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). Paul says: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27). For a sanctified, dedicated life, I will receive an imperishable crown – not like the athletes, who competed for a perishable laurel-wreath and only a short moment of glory.
The crown of rejoicing for soul-winners. The Great Commission that Christ gave to His disciples is that of world evangelism. We have all been sent out to proclaim the gospel (John 20:21; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). For those who lead other people to Christ, the crown of rejoicing is promised (1 Thess. 2:19). This is a highly esteemed calling in the kingdom of heaven, which is why soul-winners are compared to shining stars (Dan. 12:3). They are also, from God’s perspective, described as wise people (Prov. 11:30).
The crown of glory for faithful pastors. The spiritual care and building-up of the congregation is a very important aspect of Christian service that was commanded by Christ Himself. If the pastor discharges all his duties in an honest, dedicated and exemplary way, he will receive the crown of glory form the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:2-4). One of the reasons for the great falling-away of the last days is that faithful and able pastors who rightly divide the word of truth, are very scarce. The majority will, for the sake of popularity and also under the influence of colleagues who are false prophets, follow the way of compromise by proclaiming an easy but false gospel message (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The crown of life for Christian martyrs. To everyone who lays down his life for the sake of his faith, the crown of life is promised (Rev. 2:10). Through the ages there were always faithful servants of the Lord who were prepared, at the cost of their own safety, their work, their families and even their own lives, to hold the flame of faith aloft in a hostile world (Luke 10:3; John 16:33). During the past almost 2000 years, Christians were indeed, in many countries, persecuted, driven away, scoffed at, intimidated, incarcerated in convict settlements and torture camps, while millions were killed for their faith. The Lord will reward them with the crown of life for the price they paid to be His witnesses among cruel and revengeful people. The Lord will reward them. Included in the category of martyrs are those who suffered trials, testing, afflictions and temptation other than being persecuted by fellow men (Jas. 1:12). Trials of this nature are varied and may be related to poverty and bereavement, physical disabilities, the caring for disabled, sick or poor ones, etc. Such people will be rewarded by the Lord with the crown of life if they remain faithful. Some receive deliverance from their afflictions in this life, and some not. The most imporant thing is that they must remain faithful to the end (2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 11:3-5).
The crown of righteousness for those who love His appearing. To love the coming of the Lord, calls for the pursuing of things with eternal value. You must lay up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. If you say that you love the appearing of the Lord Jesus, you clearly imply that He is your King, that you are involved with the establishing and extension of His kingdom on earth, and that you are looking forward to the day when He will be revealed as King. In the meantime you are a stranger on earth, as your eternal home is not here. Paul fought the good fight of faith in proclaiming God’s kingdom in a heathen world. Shortly before he was executed for his faith, he again expressed his strong expectation of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the crown that will be given to him “on that Day” (2 Tim. 4:7-8), referring to the coming Day of the Lord during the tribulation period. By then, the true church that escaped the judgements of God, wil be in heaven where they will first appear before the judgement seat of Christ.
The great purpose of my life is to remain true to the Lord who has sent me out as His witness. I am intent on fulfilling His commands by doing works that befit repentance. To the honour and glory of His Name, I wish to receive rewards for faithful service at His judgement seat. I realise that works of this nature can only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, and with that end in view I pray for a fresh anointing by the Spirit of God. It is only when He empowers me that I can do works that have value for eternity. Service to the Lord is often conducted under very difficult and strenuous circumstances
. But in the light of our heavenly reward we do not become discouraged while suffering for Christ (Heb. 11:24-26). Since only the Lamb is worthy to receive the glory for everything that was achieved in His Name, these crowns will be laid down at His feet (Rev. 4:10-11). May the Lord keep me from appearing before Him on that day empty-handed, as that will be the shameful proof of an unfruitful life.
1. Will unsaved people also appear before the judgement seat of Christ? Give reasons.
2. What will be judged before the judgement seat?
3. Why are works important in a Christian’s life?
4. For which crowns do you aspire and exert yourself?
5. What does the Lord expect from pastors of congregations?