Christ Is Our Judge As Well As Our Saviour
By George D. Watson
"Every man's work…shall be revealed by fire" (1 Cor. 3:1-23).
As we follow in Scripture the successive steps in the destiny of the saints, we find that after the righteous dead are resurrected, and the living saints are translated to meet Christ in the air, the next thing is that they stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
And each one gives an account of himself according to the deeds done in the body, and they are judged for their rewards, and receive their crowns, and their positions and rank in the kingdom of God.
All the Scriptures on the judgment day reveal the fact that the saints are judged first, then the apostate church is judged next; and then the wicked world, or the nations living in the flesh, are judged next and then Satan and the wicked dead are judged last.
Peter tells us that judgment must begin at the house of God. In all the parables on the judgment, Jesus teaches us that the best saints will be judged first. For instance, the man who had ten pounds was judged first, and then the man with five pounds, and then the man with one, and the wicked nations that would not accept of Him were judged last.
Judgment by Fire
We want to study especially the judgment of the saints, and the apostle tells us that the saints are not to be judged with the world. Hence it forms a distinct chapter in the winding up of human history. The Scripture that especially presents the subject to us is found in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:
"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
"If any man's work abide [or pass through the fire test] which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
The foundation of all Christian faith and practice is that of Jesus Christ. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
This foundation is the basis of all saving faith, and also the basis of all good works that are wrought in Christ by the Holy Spirit, and the meaning of the word is:
There is no other person or religion in the whole world or throughout all ages, by which anyone can be saved or by which good works can be wrought that are acceptable to God, except through Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
"We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:10-12).
"We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:10-11).
"And behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12).
We must here distinguish between saving faith and rewards. We are saved by faith in Christ alone, without any merit of our works (Eph. 2:8-9). But we are rewarded according to our works, the deeds we do in the body before death.
Saving faith is instantaneous, but good works are gradual and accumulative. Saving faith is depending on Christ alone to forgive us and cleanse us; but good works are to be wrought out from our saving faith according to our ability and knowledge and zeal.
Saving faith admits us into the heavenly kingdom, but rewards for good works will decide our station and rank in the kingdom, and our degree of glory and usefulness in the ages to come.
Saving faith is for this present life, but rewards are given to us only at the second coming of Christ, and at the judgment seat of Christ. We are justified by faith, and walk by faith and overcome the world by faith; but according to Scripture, no one gets his final reward until at the resurrection of the righteous, or the translation of the saints.
We are all saved alike, but we are all rewarded in different degrees according to our works.
Let us notice the different materials that Christian people build upon the foundation. All who trust in Christ alone to save them are standing on the true foundation. But there is a difference in the lives of Christian people, and in the kinds of material that they build with, and in the character of their works and of their rewards.
The apostle mentions six things which represent the different building materials, namely gold, silver, precious stones – which are noncombustible; and then wood, hay and stubble, which are combustible.
There are several passages in the New Testament which refer to the two classes of believers who are designated as carnal and spiritual. The Apostle Paul speaks of the class of Christians that he calls babes in Christ, who are yet carnal, and governed largely by their natural feelings and opinions.
He speaks of others as "being spiritual," as "being perfect," as being "able to discern all things," and these are those who are governed by the Holy Spirit, who have pure motives and pure intentions, and who live according to the power of Christ ruling in them.
There are two words whereby the apostle refers to these two classes: one is the word "natural," and the other is the word "spiritual." Multitudes of Christians are religious in their souls or natural feelings and sentiments, but they are not spiritual, and do not see or act according to the Holy Ghost.
There are other Christians who have been purified from the carnal mind, and received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and who work in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
It is very evident that every Christian will build his religious life according to the degree of the saving grace he has, and according to the power of his motives and intentions, whether they are carnal or spiritual, or whether they be mixed.
You will notice in this passage which I am expounding that although Christian believers are building on Christ, the true Foundation, yet the materials of their building are of a mixed character, partly carnal and partly spiritual in many cases, and this mixedness enters into every part of Christian life and service, and it will never be known until in the Judgment which things are of gold and silver and precious stones, and which things are of wood, hay and stubble.
For instance, Christian ministers who are not thoroughly purified and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, will put into their sermons truth and error, Christ and self, the things of the Spirit and the things of the flesh, seeking in some measure to glorify Christ, and at the same time in many ways seeking to glorify self, and to advance their own material honor and reputation and self-interest. The mixedness of their religious experience will of necessity by imparted to their preaching.
Also, in the prayers which Christians present to God, there is in most cases much of selfishness in multiplied forms, mixed in with what is true Scriptural praying, and many prayers are loaded down with so much of self that they cannot rise to Heaven.
Also in religious teaching, in books and Bible lectures, there is so much mixedness of truth and error, of the perverting of the Word of God, of allowing one's religious creed or denominational theology to override the true interpretation of God's Word.
Also in our religious motives, there may be much which is intended to please God, yet multitudes of Christians have motives of self-seeking in their religion, in the building of churches and religious institutions, in the carrying on of missionary enterprises, in the training of children.
In everything that pertains to the Christian life, there is so much carnality mingled in with true Christian faith.
It Is a Fearful Thing to Fall into the Hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31)
God is the only One who is able to look through this great mass of religious life and the building of Christian character and work, and discern how much is of the Spirit and how much is of the flesh.
And when the believer stands before the judgment seat of Christ, there will then take place the sifting of the true from the false, and of self from Christ, and a complete separation of those elements which partake of gold, silver and precious stones, and those other elements which partake of wood, hay and stubble.
Let us now examine the third statement in the passage: "every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). It would seem from these words that the life-work of every servant of God will not be clearly and openly manifested until this judgment of the saints comes to pass.
Although countless millions of believers have died, and their spirits are now resting in paradise, yet their life-work has not yet been judged, and the various principles in their character and work have not yet been manifested, either to themselves or to the heavenly world.
It is impossible for anyone of us in this life to understand all the details of our actions, because of the mixed condition of things in our lives, and because of the infirmity of our minds in the present state. No action can ever be seen in the present life in its fullness, for in the nature of things there is always an unseen moral and spiritual quality in every act which can never be made known in this life.
When icebergs are seen floating in the ocean, we are told that seven-tenths of the iceberg is in the water and only three-tenths of it is visible to the eye.
And this may serve to illustrate the nature of all our actions and our conduct and words, for while a certain part of every act can be known and judged in a measure, yet the greater part of our actions and words is submerged, as it were, in a spiritual sea, and we never can fashion or measure all the parts or ascertain the magnitude of any action or any word.
The same act may be performed by a hundred different persons, and yet the act may contain as many different forms and degrees of character, so that the same act would not receive the same degree of reward or of punishment to each person, because of the unknown quality that is put into the act by each person.
Our God Is a Consuming Fire (Hebrews 12:29)
God has some method at present unknown to us by which a Divine fire can be turned onto every man's life-work and reveal just exactly the moral and spiritual qualities of the life-work and make manifest to the intelligence of all the saints and the universe what is the quality of every act and every word and every thought that is expressed by a human being.
When Hannah, the mother of Samuel, visited Shiloh the second time, and presented her little boy to the Lord, she received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and under that baptism, uttered a wonderful prophecy in which she said that Jehovah was a God of knowledge, and that by Him actions were weighed (1 Sam. 2:3).
That is a wonderful expression – that God should weigh our actions and our words and our thoughts and be able to manifest to others the exact specific gravity of all actions and of all conduct.
This judgment of the saints must of necessity take place in order that each one may receive his proper reward and his rank in the kingdom of God, and also it must take place before the marriage of the Lamb with His elect saints.
A Vast Conflagration at Christ's Judgment Seat
Let us look at the subject of loss of rewards that will come to the Lord's people as a result of this final judgment:
"If any man's work abide the fire test, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward; but if any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
This passage proves positively that great multitudes will be saved who will yet suffer loss because their works have not been according to the truth of Scripture, or have not been wrought in the love of God, and will be burned.
We must remember that salvation is one thing – and rewards is quite another. What a vast conflagration will take place at the judgment seat when such a vast amount of erroneous sermons and false books and selfish prayers and selfish giving of money and carnal religious work will be burned up because they partake of the nature of wood, hay and stubble!
Many a fine sermon, many a beautiful song, many an eloquent prayer, and millions of money that have been given for selfish motives and sectarian pride, and so much busy service wrought in the flesh, will be utterly destroyed and get no reward because it will not be able to stand the test of the judgment!
The Apostle John urges believers to so work that they will not be ashamed to meet the Lord, implying that some will meet Him and be ashamed.
The Bible supplies us with examples of everything in the world, and in the cases of Abraham and Lot we have specimens of the two kinds of religious work. Abraham walked before God and was perfect, and his work will stand the fire test.
But on the other hand, Lot, although he is called a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7-8) that is, a justified man – yet pitched his tent toward Sodom, and every bit of his property was burned in the fire and the angel had to pull him out of the fire to save his life.
This agrees exactly with the apostle's words, that their works were burned up, yet they were saved so as by fire. The life-work of Lot was of wood, hay and stubble and was burned. But the life-work of Abraham was of gold, silver and precious stones, which are noncombustible and which endured the final test.
There will be no reward given for the life-work of any believer except for those things that shall escape the fire, for the apostle says, "If any man's work abide [that is, pass the fire test] he shall receive a reward" (1 Cor. 3:14).
The Reward Will Fit Exactly
There is a vast world of truth opened to our study in connection with the rewards which the saved ones will receive for their good works. In the first place, the reward will correspond exactly to the quality of the action and also to the magnitude or the weight of the action, and also to the amount of Divine love or of sacrifice or of faith or of perseverance that has been put into action, so that the reward will fit the act as perfectly as the skin fits the flesh.
These rewards will extend down to the littlest things in our life as well as to the greatest, for the prophet Malachi tells us that God will reward His people for even thinking upon His name (Mal. 3:16).
And Jesus tells us that there will be a reward given to those who give a cup of cold water to another in the name of the Lord Jesus (Mark 9:41), from which we learn that the system of Divine rewards will correspond to the system of nature, which is just as perfect in the formation of the eye or the wing of a housefly as it is in the formation of the vast systems of suns and stars.
The consideration of these things should certainly inspire us to the utmost devotion and the putting into our life-work of as much of Christ and His truth as we possibly can!
"If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:31-32).