1. Both Christians and non-Christians will appear before God at the judgment.
Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). This reality should stir up a godly fear within the faithful (See 2 Cor. 5:11).
The coming judgment should also make us slow to judge fellow Christians in matters not pertaining to sin. The apostle Paul wrote,
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom. 14:10-12)
2. Jesus Christ is the Divine Judge.
When Paul was preaching the gospel in Athens, he boldly proclaimed,
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31; cf. Acts 10:42)
Jesus Christ has been appointed by the Father as judge of all humanity (John 5:22-23). Christ’s status as righteous judge confirms his deity (Ps. 9:7-8; 96:13; 98:9). As judge, Jesus doesn’t just bring recompense upon the wicked (2 Thess. 1:5-10), but reward to the righteous (2. Tim 4:8).
3. The final judgment will involve a detailed accounting.
When the books are opened, no stone will be left unturned. The New Testament teaches that our works, words, and motivations will all be inspected by the one who has “eyes like a flame of fire” (Rev. 1:14).
Regarding our works, Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Paul said that on the day of judgment, “God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16). There are no secrets on the day of judgment, and the things we’ve hidden before others will be brought to light (Luke 8:17).
Regarding our words, Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Rom. 12:36-37).
Regarding our motives, Paul told the Corinthians, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor. 4:5). Therefore, it isn’t simply that our words and works will be judged, but that the heart behind why we did what we did, and said what we said will also be examined (see 1 Cor. 13:1-3)!
4. Believers in Christ can have confidence because they’ve already been justified.
In light of the above, you may feel a little uneasy. To think that we’ll be “naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” is a sobering reality (Heb. 4:13). Nevertheless, the Bible says that those who are in Christ can be confident on the day of judgment. This confidence isn’t rooted in our love toward God, but his love toward us. John said,
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:16-18)
Note that according to John, the believer’s confidence comes from an apprehension of God’s love in Christ. We’re painfully aware of the ways we daily sin against God in thought, word, and deed. Nevertheless, through Jesus Christ, the believer is already righteous before God through justification. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Here, not coming into judgment doesn’t mean the believer won’t stand before Jesus (see above), it means they won’t experience condemnation at the judgment. Paul said, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
5. Believers will not receive condemnation, but commendation.
Regarding the ministry of the word, Paul said that those whose work before God isn’t up to standard won’t necessarily be condemned, but their works will be “burned up” (1 Cor. 3:12-15). He goes on to explain that while they won’t receive a reward for their works of “wood, hay, and straw” (1 Cor. 12), they themselves will still be saved (1 Cor. 15). Through the process of divine scrutiny “[E]ach one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5b). The believer, then, shouldn’t be afraid of being condemned by Christ. Our justification was secured by his resurrection, and we can’t be condemned any more than Jesus can go back into the grave (Rom. 4:25). Confident of this, we make it our aim to please God (2 Cor. 5:9), eagerly looking forward to the words of our Savior:
Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master! (Matt. 25:23)