Scripture gives us a reason not to judge one another: “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. . . . So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10b–12, ESV). None of us are qualified to be the Judge. Only the Lord Jesus is qualified, and all judgment has been entrusted to Him (John 5:22). We will all stand some day before the judgment seat of Christ.
The judgment seat of Christ involves a time in the future when believers will give an account of themselves to Christ. This is the plain teaching of Scripture: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The warning is to Christians, not unbelievers. As Jesus taught in His parable, the king is going to return, at which time he will require an account from his servants (Luke 19:11–26).
The judgment seat of Christ is different from the Great White Throne Judgment. That will be the final judgment of the wicked prior to their being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11–15). Appearing before the Great White Throne will be unbelievers. Believers will appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
The judgment seat of Christ does not determine our salvation; that matter was settled by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf (1 John 2:2) and our faith in Him (John 3:16). All our sins are forgiven, and there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24, emphasis added).
So, believers are secure in Christ, but they still must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. It will be a time of examination and a time of reward. Jesus will inspect our works. What did we do with the resources God gave us? How faithful were we? Were we yielded to the Spirit, seeking to honor Christ and further His work in the world? If so, we will have reward (see Matthew 10:41–42). Did we neglect our opportunities to serve the Lord? If so, we will suffer loss of reward. Paul likens our Christian service to erecting a building:
Each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:10b–15).Note, in the above passage, that our works subsequent to Christ’s salvation are of two different types—good and bad. The “fire” of God’s scrutiny will reveal the quality of our works. As Arthur Pink points out, “‘Gold, silver, precious stones’ are of intrinsic value, whereas ‘wood, hay, stubble’ are a natural growth” (The Redeemer’s Return, ch. 8, pt. 5). Rewards are distributed to those whose works withstand the test. Those whose works have a natural source will “suffer loss.” Their works will be burned up, but they themselves “will be saved.” The judgment seat of Christ, then, does not confer or rescind salvation.
The judgment seat of Christ is also not a time to punish sin. Jesus took our punishment once and for all. The judgment seat of Christ is a time when we will be called on to report, to render an accounting of what we did for Jesus. It will be a serious and necessary time of reckoning, but, as God’s redeemed, we will never be condemned with the wicked. As one theologian put it, “It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the judgment is unrelated to the problem of sin, that it is more for the bestowing of rewards than the rejection of failure” (Chafer, L. S., Systematic Theology, Vol. IV: Ecclesiology-Eschatology, Dallas Seminary Press, 1948, p. 406).
In the Greek, a single word is used for “judgment seat” in Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10—the word is bema. A bema was a raised platform on which judges sat to view athletic games. Their job was to make sure contestants followed the rules and to present awards to the victors (see 1 Corinthians 9:24–27). The bema was never a place to reprimand the athletes or to punish them in any way. It was a place of testing and reward. In the same way, the bema of Christ will not be a place of condemnation or censure.
In anticipation of the judgment seat of Christ, we are careful in what we say and do in this life. James gives this advice: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (James 2:12; cf. Matthew 12:36). We want to give our account with joy on that day, and that is why we strive to serve the Lord faithfully today.
The Bible speaks of believers receiving crowns for different things. The various crowns are described in 2 Timothy 2:5, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4, and Revelation 2:10. We believe the judgment seat of Christ is when the crowns will be awarded, and this will take place in heaven soon after the rapture of the church (as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).
At the very end of the Bible, Jesus said, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12). In preparation for the judgment seat of Christ, what are you choosing to “build” with? Gold, silver, and precious stones—things that will last? Or wood, hay, and straw—things that will not stand the day of testing?