How often have we heard this phrase? How often have we thought about standing in front of God after we die…in a courtroom type of setting…and often with a great degree of anxiety? We are fearful of what kind of punishment may await us…worrisome over the sins for which we may have forgotten to seek forgiveness. Many believers and non-believers alike harbor this same fear. The fear of actually receiving the just recompense for our actions…penalties for our rebellions…retribution for our ways. This fear lurks in the hearts of many…and it may drive some to seek mental or emotional escape…only worsening the problem. Where does this come from? Why do we live in such fear?
This is the final chapter in this series. It’s fitting that it comes at the end, considering the subject matter is the “final judgment.”
Lie #6: “We will all be judged for the lives that we lived and the choices that we made.”
I’m not sure at what point in history this particular “lie” came about. Perhaps it isn’t as much of a lie as it is an area of doctrinal tension. Be that as it may, I’m going to treat it as a lie because I personally believe it is birthed out of a poor study of Scripture…particularly the crucifixion of Jesus. It may find its origin within the teachings of a clergy that was bent on controlling people or it may have arisen the way many things of this nature often do: by not looking at all of what Scripture has to say regarding the subject.
What is the driving force behind this mentality? All of us have an innate sense of justice. We all have a basic idea of right and wrong. There are areas where we would differ as to what things are classified as moral, immoral, or amoral, but we would virtually all agree on certain particulars. For example, throughout time, it has been widely agreed upon that murder is wrong. The same goes for theft or treason. I’m sure we could find others but you get the idea. We, as humans, have an inherent understanding that certain things are just wrong and those that are guilty of them must be punished. However, we often seem to believe that human punishment is insufficient for certain crimes. We tend to believe that the likes of Adolph Hitler, or Ted Bundy, should receive more than just capital punishment. We want God to mete out a serious eternal punishment for them as well, fitting for the respective atrocities that they committed. We all tend to understand that even though we can execute a sentence upon someone, we can’t punish them deeply enough…we can’t damn their souls…we can’t deliver ultimate justice the way we believe it should be delivered.
In the Old Testament (which is to say the “Old Contract”) with Israel and God, they understood the fact that mankind is sinful. They understood that humanity is broken. They comprehended that God was not pleased with our broken (or fallen, or sinful) state. They were made aware that they were separated from Him due to this stain upon humanity. He made it clear to them that what humanity deserved was death because of rebellion against Him, and the way He made us. God made known to Israel that humanity was made in His image…to be connected to Him in relationship. The way He would allow temporary reconciliation between them and Himself was if they slaughtered animals and presented the blood before Him. This may sound barbaric, and in truth it is. But it was done to illustrate in a very real and tangible way that sin has brought death. And since we understand that blood=life…well…we had to be taught that there was no forgiveness or remitting of the guilt of sin without life being given…or blood being shed. They had a schedule of sacrifices they had to keep. The amount of blood that flowed out of the temple is unimaginable to us…forming a river down into the Kidron Valley and ultimately washing down to the Dead Sea.
The purpose of these laws in the Old Testament was to show us our guilt and need for grace. The Law had one specific end: death. The Law would not be truly satisfied until the right blood…the blood of the guilty party was shed…and the same life given. Put simply, the requirements of God’s Law would not be relaxed until humanity had paid the full debt.
The law was about judgment. It was about guilt. It was about bloodshed and death for us all.
Now, let’s talk about a something called “Substitutionary Atonement.” This is a concise way of saying that we could be made one with God again (At-one-ment) if someone from our family of humanity could be used as a substitute for the rest of us. This person would have to be innocent of sin because that’s the only way they could die for others’ sins. This is problematic for us all. If I die, I am not dying for yours or anyone else’s guilt because I am guilty as well and therefore disqualified from being a fitting representative sacrifice. Therefore, Someone had to come along that was not guilty of the same rebellion as the rest of us. And He did. His name was/is Jesus and He grew up in Nazareth.
Jesus made an interesting statement about the Law. He said that none of it would relax until it was fulfilled. He said that the Law was more firm than the foundations of the earth and was immovable until its demands were met (Matt. 5:17-18). Now…follow me here…the Law was about penalty and bloodshed…it was about death. Sure, there were lots of other things in it, but considering that its calendar revolved around sacrifices, we can easily see that this is the central theme throughout. Jesus said that it would stay that way until it was fulfilled. Then, a few years later, He walked the painful pathway through town…to the outside of the city gate…carrying His cross as far as His battered and broken body could carry it. He was nailed to the rough wood and suspended in agony. He hung there between earth and sky…between God and man…between Heaven and Hell. His life had been innocent and perfect. He deserved none of this. But He had planned this all along. He had planned before we were even around to become one of us…to walk in our shoes…to live among us…and to ultimately die as a representative for us all. In those moments, He traded His innocence for our guilt. He took our blame and we took His perfection.
The Bible speaks of a judgment seat of Christ. I’m not sure what that refers to and there is much speculation about it. But I wonder if it is nothing more than Him as Judge saying, “I took care of it. You will not receive any penalty because I paid that price already.” Due to my trust in Him, I WILL NOT BE JUDGED. He has been judged for me already and taken my punishment. The Old Covenant necessitated our judgment… BUT…the New Covenant says that He took it.
This is the scandal of grace. We don’t get this. We don’t understand it. And that’s why we keep believing a lie. If you and I have to face any further penalty due to our actions, past, present, or future, then His sacrifice was only partially effective. I can’t even imagine that being true. His death is sufficient.
Instead of allowing others to focus on the fear of judgment, we should be telling them that for the family of Christ, judgment has already been delivered.
The verdict is “not guilty.”
*Image taken from: https://amillennialism.wordpress.com/articles/the-judgment/