Judgment. It doesn’t sound good, it never sounds good. When Christians think of judgment Hell is usually what comes to mind. We usually connect it to the lost who have rejected Christ (or at least never put their faith in Him). They have not possessed that special grace our Lord extended to us when He died on the cross for our sins, grace that moves us out from being under the condemnation of the law.
But Judgment is a large topic and is the special focus of this series of blogs. So we are going to begin to look at it in more detail. We have already seen some foundational things that are necessary to begin understanding God’s judgment – the 3 stages of salvation and a look at the righteousness (holiness) of God. Its now time to begin looking at Judgment.
Judgment Begins With God’s People
To begin, where does Scripture say Judgment begins? It might surprise you! Peter says that judgment must begin with the house of the Lord! As we noticed in the blog on God’s Righteousness, this is b/c a breach of love demands judgment in order to be restored to the purity of union it had before the breach. And though God loves the whole world His elect enjoy a far more special and intimate love with God than the rest. Thus our rebellious ways and our failures demand judgment. That is why God says,
“Those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:5,6; Proverbs 3:12)
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
We ought not to think that b/c we are saved and have communion with God that we are excluded from judgment. On the contrary, b/c of our close proximity to God we are judged all the more for our disobedience.
“You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)
This judgment of God’s chosen people can further be seen all through Scripture in every instance that God’s people forsook Him and followed after the idols of their hearts (we also have idols; success, possessions, relationships, self, etc…). Each time they failed God would judge them with disasters, plagues or captivity, until they repented and returned to Him with their whole heart.
God’s people have a high calling – to demonstrate to the lost the nature and character of God. Thus the shortcomings of any saint demands discipline in order to prevent them from being an evil witness of God. And God accomplishes this through making us take up our cross daily in order to truly follow Him (Luke 9:23). Suffering/discipline is part of God’s process of growing us up, maturing us into His image.
“…[do not] be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3)
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” (Philippians 1:29)
And so Paul says,
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:26-32)
Lets take a minute to ponder that section of verses. While it is not my intention to expound on the great mystery that communion is (in a word it is the fellowship of His sufferings), I would like to take note of some aspects of communion that apply to the topic at hand.
Firstly, communion “proclaims the Lord’s death, until He comes.” This is to say that when Christ returns and raises His elect from the dead they will no longer need to proclaim His death, b/c they will now be proclaiming His life. So how do we proclaim His death? By following His example of crucifying the flesh (see Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:1-51 and Peter 2:21). We must die to our self and in so doing we are seen to be imitators of Christ. Communion symbolizes this b/c it is a partaking of His body – which was broken for us – and His blood – which was poured out for us (1 Corinthians 10:16,17; Luke 22:19). We are now that body which must be broken (Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:12-20; Ephesians 2:16, 4:4; Colossians 3:15, etc…) and it is our blood (life) that now must be poured out (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6). This is the fellowship of His sufferings that Paul spoke about (Philippians 3:7-11).
Secondly, we must “examine” ourselves. That is why we must not fear the exposure of those areas of our lives that are selfish and carnal. Paul said elsewhere that we must test (or examine) ourselves to see whether we are truly in the faith – 2 Corinthians 13:5. He employs the same Greek word in both cases. This examination, this testing is to prove what areas are of Christ’s character and what are not. And in so doing we are to then “judge the body,” that is judge our fleshly nature. In doing so we will avoid being judged by God against our will. For Paul says, “if we judged ourselves we would not be judged by God.”
And lastly, if we judge ourselves “we will not be condemned along with the world.” That Greek word translated “along with” means “together with” or “to accompany.” In other words it does not mean that we will avoid condemnation if we judge ourselves now, it means that we will avoid receiving our judgment at the same time that the unbelieving world receives their judgment (see also Luke 12:46 for the same principle). This will be more clearly seen when we look at the Lake of Fire and the 2 resurrections. To say it another way, we wont receive the humiliation of our corrective judgment at the same time that the unbelieving rebellious world receives their corrective judgment – IF we endure it now. We have the chance to grow up first through discipline. To abort such discipline now will be to prove ourselves no more mature than the unbelieving, rebellious world.
There must be judgment, whether we are of God’s household or not. Those who put themselves in the position of being judged, of having their sinful nature exposed and crucified, will endure it humbly and with grace. Those who refuse to accept that they must be judged will have to endure their judgment with angst and hostility. The latter will be suffering against their will, they will therefore have the added horror of that pain being an inescapable and unrelenting violation of their will and desire. Their will being overridden like this will produce the added discomfort of confusion, such people will be unable to understand why they are suffering such a hard (and seemingly harsh) judgment.
Those who understand the cross and that judgment IS necessary will be able to accept and receive its violence and fire with much more tolerance and grace. They will know that it is for their good. There will be love seen in it. Those who do not – will feel it is something hostile towards them (and indeed it is, hostile towards our selfish nature/flesh that is). They will have a much more difficult time enduring it than those who understand the purpose and necessity of the cross.
This makes Peter’s statement make much more sense when he says,
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)
Thus, the first thing we ought to understand is that Judgment begins with God’s people.
The second thing we should know is that Judgment is corrective not punitive – this will become much clearer as we look at the various descriptions of judgment in Scripture in the next few blogs. Judgment corrects; God’s heart is to restore the sinner, not damn them. He restores through corrective discipline which we understand as judgment. Scripture confirms this many times,
“You have appointed them for judgment, You have marked them for correction.” (Habakkuk 1:12)
“When the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” (Isaiah 26:9)
“It was good that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)
“Your judgments are right…in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:75)
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” (Psalm 119:67)
“Happy is the man whom God corrects, therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For He bruises but He binds up, He wounds but His hands make whole.” (Job 5:17-18)
Judgment produces repentance, it makes us painfully aware of our faults and failures. Many times we become confused when we suffer trials and afflictions, we cannot understand why this is happening to us. But when our eyes are opened to see where we were wrong and that God was bringing discipline to correct us and to train us – we repent. When you train up a child to be obedient and good, you must teach them through discipline (spanking). Once they begin to understand the purpose of their discipline they stop their foolishness/disobedience. In effect discipline causes children to repent.
Repentance by the way doesn’t mean to say your sorry, it means to turn around 180 degrees. So that where you were going one way before, now you are going the opposite way. When we repent we are turning away from that which we were doing (or the way we were going) and we turn our backs to it and walk towards what is right.
When a child learns through discipline to stop being naughty, they in effect are displaying true repentance. We too learn correction and repent (turn around) through discipline/judgment. And though it seems harsh and even opposed to grace (or our flawed idea of grace as a free ticket out of punishment), it is actually “God’s kindness (grace) that leads us to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)
True Justice Demands a Finite Judgment
The third thing we ought to discern about judgment is that it has a limit. God demanded a limit on every punishment prescribed for sin in the Law. I believe that the “Spirit of the Law” as Paul referenced reveals that true justice for a crime has a limit. Even in our horrifyingly perverted justice system, if someone were to be given a life sentence, or worse yet a death sentence, for stealing a cell phone – we would consider that unjust. To punish someone severely for such a minor offense is not true justice. So it is with God’s Law.
True Justice Demands Restoration of both the Victim and the Criminal.
The fourth thing we desperately need to learn is that true justice restores the victim and the criminal. This is a topic far too broad for me to detail in full, but suffice it to say that the judgments in the Law for each transgression had a unique process by which the transgressor was reformed. The only example I am going to highlight is the law concerning theft. (There are a multitude of other examples in the Law, I simply do not have the time or space to teach this. But anyone who is willing to brave the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy will be able to discover them easy enough.)
The Law prescribes that a thief had to pay double what he stole. Most likely he stole b/c he couldn’t afford the item himself, so there was no way he could pay back double. And so the Law prescribed that a man who could not pay double was to be sold for his transgression in order to pay it off. But this wasn’t permanent, the Law of the Jubilee demanded that he would only be able to work until the Jubilee set him free from all his debts (we will look at the prophetic significance of that in the next series). What happened was a criminal would be sold into servitude to whoever had the most generous bid. So say someone said, “I will pay off his double debt and he only has to work for me for two years.” This not only restored the victim, but it also taught the thief a trade by which to make an honest living so he could afford the things that before he would have had to steal. The same principle is found in all the rest of the laws and their penalties.
Therefore it is clear to me that the Spirit of the Law is concerned not only for the victim but also the sinner. And I do not think this is overstepping what we know of God’s heart towards the lost and depraved. And if every sin is to be judged by God’s Law, God’s standard, then looking at the other principles of Judgment we have looked at I am convinced that the idea of sending a sinner away to be tormented for eternity is NOT true justice. Rather it is a monstrous perversion of not only God’s heart, but His Law, which is what all true justice and judgment are based upon. The idea of endless hell will provide neither restoration of the victim nor the sinner.
Justice is impartial and unbiased, it attributes equal value to all people. The reason forgiveness is such an important issue with God is b/c according to His Law the criminal will eventually be rehabilitated and the victim will cross paths with him again. In such a case forgiveness is crucial.
When I see people punished for certain mistakes, I have a lot compassion for them especially if they feel remorse for their mistake. I believe that true discipline only works if the one being punished is comforted after said punishment. Otherwise it just breeds resentment. To comfort after discipline establishes that it came from a heart of love and not hatred. And I know that the compassion in my heart is a million times smaller than the compassion in God’s heart. Perhaps this is why God reminds us in the Law that the sinner should still be treated with dignity.
“He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes. (Deuteronomy 25:3)
For those with ears to hear the Spirit of the Law declares that endless punishment is anything but just.
Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
The last thing I want us to walk away with concerning God’s judgment, is that even though,
“Judgment will be merciless to those who show no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13).
God is a God of love and grace, and though He judges, He will not judge forever, and His judgment is to correct us from a heart of love. So that no matter how severe the judgment is, He will eventually have mercy on the suffering soul. And compared to His mercy, His wrath will be but a moment.
“His wrath is but a moment, but His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 30:5)
He cannot deny His nature and He is the all wise Father; He knows what judgments will be most effective in turning His wayward children’s hearts back to Him. Judgment is and always will be His tool for doing so.
I hope that what we have looked at so far gives you a much clearer idea that judgment will not be endless (even in the afterlife), but will be used to restore the sinner back to God. We will look at more principles concerning Judgment (Part 2) at the end of this series, but before we do there are a few items we must look at first. If God’s Word truly is perfect, and I believe it is, then this concept should be confirmed by the imagery and language used to describe judgment in the after life – and that is exactly what we will find. In the next blog we will look at “The Lake of Fire,” the one actual description of what we could call Hell.