Therefore we, my dearest friends, who read and hear these words, must fear and tremble greatly, when we learn from God’s declaration that it must be rendered to each according to his deeds. What harder word could have been said? What human hope has it left? For who can be justified by fire and not need the mercy of his Judge, when he dwells in the body of sin?
- Columbanus, Sermon IX, Irish, 7th century
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
- 2 Corinthians 5.10
Judgment. Who wants to talk about that?
Can’t we just focus on love, and hope that people will be moved by Christ’s love for them, so that they love Him back? Do we have to bring up judgment and the fire and all that negative stuff?
Well, did Paul? Is the judgment Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 3 actually going to occur? James seemed to think it would, and that the holy and righteous and good Law of God would be the standard (Jms. 2.12).
Since this is so, might it not be a good idea to be aware of this and, I don’t know, maybe even prepare for it? And it might even be a really loving thing, to advise others that judgment is on the way.
We cannot proclaim the Gospel at all if we do not proclaim the whole Gospel. And the Good News of the Gospel is only good against the backdrop of what awaits all those who repudiate, reject, ignore, neglect, or make light of that Good News.
To put it bluntly, it’s not going to be pretty.
And if even we must stand before the Lord to have our sins judged and purged, through a judgment that will be painful albeit temporary (1 Cor. 3.12-15), how much more should we care about those who are facing a judgment that will never end?
We praise God that Jesus has fulfilled all the requirements of God’s Law on our behalf, achieving the righteousness we require for salvation, and bearing the judgment against our sins. God made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5.21). We do not fear the eternal and condemning judgment of God, because we have committed ourselves in faith to Jesus.
But we must continually prepare for the day when we will see Jesus face to face, and in part that involves confessing and repenting of all known sin and following in the path Jesus walked, according to the commandments of God (1 Jn. 1.8-10; 2.1-6).
I have no sympathy for those preachers who want to minimize the role of judgment in the Gospel or of the fear of God in the life of faith. If we cut these out because they are uncomfortable to us, then we’ll think we can cut out anything else about the Gospel that we find inconvenient or impractical, and just keep cutting and trimming until we’ve got the Gospel down to where we’re willing to follow it.
But then that would be another gospel, and not the one Jesus, Paul, and Columbanus proclaimed.
The Gospel is Good News because it overcomes the bad news of God’s wrath that awaits everyone who has not put on the Lord Jesus Christ and put away the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 13.14). The Gospel is Good News for us who believe because it is the power of God unto salvation, unto a life of increasing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1.16; 14.17, 18). We have come to the true Gospel of Jesus if we are overcoming the remaining vestiges of sin with good works of faith, obedience, and love (Rom. 12.21).
The true Gospel understands the place of judgment, and it calls everyone to prepare for it accordingly (Acts 17.30, 31). Let’s make sure this is the Gospel we have believed, and in which we seek to increase day by day.
1. According to 1 Corinthians 3.12-15, what judgment will Christians have to endure? How should we prepare for this, to minimize its intensity?
2. Why must the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom include the bad news of God’s wrath?
Psalm 12.6, 7 (Hamburg: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)
Your words are pure and proven true, like silver seven times refined.
You will preserve Your words ever new, and keep the heart to You inclined.
Give me holy fear, O Lord, coupled with passionate love for You, and let me live in such a way as to…
Two Good News booklets
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T. M. Moore
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Walker, p. 99.