Tim LaHaye says, “immediately after the Rapture, every Christian will stand before Christ to be judged by Him. This judgment has nothing to do with salvation, for only the saved will be there” (Charting the End Times, p. 53).
Spiros says, our “entrance into heaven is through the acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice for our justification. But our rewards in heaven will depend on what we have done for Christ” (Zodhiates, Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible, p. 1271). The phrase “done for Christ” might be better stated with the addition of “by faith.” The New Testament is clear on the distinction of works of the flesh and works of faith.
Romans 14:12 tells us that “each one of us shall give an account of himself to God.” This is unsettling to say the least. When we think of all we’ve done in our lives since receiving Christ and consider how much of it was done in the flesh, it’s a sobering thought for sure! Although it seems frightening, the purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is to see “what remains” when our works are tested by fire. It’s not so much about our sin as it is about our surrender. This future event has the potential for great rejoicing (to the praise of His glory) but could also cause regret.
1 Corinthians 3 sheds light on this. Paul compares our Christian lives to fields or buildings with the foundation being Christ. He says, “Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:12-15 NASB1995).
What will remain when our works are tested by fire? The only thing that can possibly remain will be the works of faith which Christ produced in and through us. It will not be about us, or what we’ve done “for God.” Instead, it will be about what Christ has done in and through us as we have walked with Him by faith. This involves sacrifice and dying to self. All through the epistles, the writers beg believers to die to self. It’s the only way to live the Christian life without regret!
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (NASB1995). Each day we are presented with opportunities to walk by grace through faith in the works He has prepared for us. These works are not only part of the specific will God has shown us in His Word, but also unique to God’s plan for us personally and cannot be compared to another.
It is humbling to think that our future reward in heaven is directly dependent on our willingness to walk by faith now. Praise God that even if nothing remains, we shall not perish because our foundation is Christ! But we don’t want to get to that day with regret. We don’t want to suffer loss! I believe the loss Paul is referring to is the loss of reward. The reward that will be gained or lost seems to be the opportunity and levels of service in ruling and reigning with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom. We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as Revelation 2:26-27 and 20:6.
After the rapture, believers will be given an incorruptible crown. The Greek word for crown is “stephanos” and means a “crown or wreath of victory.” There are five different crowns mentioned in Scripture, but Spiros suggests they may represent one crown with multiple facets, all descriptive of eternal life. According to Spiros, every believer will receive a crown. The believer’s crown differs from the rewards gained or lost at the judgment seat of Christ. He says, “the popular doctrine that the five crowns mentioned in the New Testament refer to five separate rewards which believers may earn is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture and fraught with theological problems.”
The believer’s crown is possibly seen in Revelation 4 and 5 where the church appears to be characterized by the 24 elders around the throne. They are described as clothed in white garments, each wearing a crown of gold. In Rev. 4:10, the elders cast their crowns before the throne of God. This implies that every believer, regardless of the level of their reward, will be given a multi-faceted crown descriptive of eternal life to cast before the throne.
The elders’ white garments could be a picture of the believer’s garment. Paul makes mention of this garment when he compares the stars of heaven to the resurrection of the dead by saying, “star differs from star in glory” (1 Cor. 15:41a). Spiros explains that “what Paul is saying is that as we look at the sun, the moon, and the stars, and know them, so believers in their resurrection bodies will be recognized for the glory that they have won through their life of sacrifice and compliance with Christ” (Zodhiates, CWSB Dictionary). He goes on to say that not all believers will shine with equal splendor. The extent that we lived a surrendered life will be reflected in the brightness of our garment. The inward work of sanctification will one day be displayed externally for all to see and give glory to God.
This post has been difficult to write, partly from the weight of presenting the truth accurately, but also from the weight of the truth itself. Do we realize how much our every word, thought, and action matters in eternity? Oh, that we would, as Peter said, “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).
Week 8: Homework Reflections
Day One: The Judgment Seat of Christ
- Read 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 (note Paul’s ambition and why) and Romans 14:10-12 and record everything you learn about the Judgment Seat of Christ.
- Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, recording everything you learn.
- Now read 1 Corinthians 3:16. How does knowing your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit help you live with eternity in view?
Day Two: Rewards
- Read 1 Corinthians 4:5. What do you learn about rewards from the last part of this verse? Read Ephesians 6:1-9 and record the motivation Paul gives for living a life of service to God in verse 8.
- Read the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. How was each servant rewarded? Record your insights.
- Read Matthew 5 and 6. Jesus mentions rewards 9 times in these two chapters. Mark each use of “reward” in these chapters and record what you learn. (Take special note of what Jesus said about storing up treasures in heaven in 6:20).
Day Three: Crowns
- Read the following verses and list what specific crowns are mentioned and the descriptions of each: 1 Corinthians 9:25, 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:1-4.
- How do each of these “crowns” remind you of eternal life? Can you see how these could be one crown with many facets? It is also interesting that the elders in Revelation 4 and 5 were not wearing multiple crowns, but each casting their own crown at the throne.
- Read Revelation 3:11. This mention of “crown” doesn’t refer to the specific crown talked about in question 1, but to reward. Eternal life cannot be lost! But Jesus is encouraging them not to “forfeit their eternal reward of ruling with Christ forever in His kingdom” (Grace NT Commentary).
Day Four: Garment
- Read 1 Corinthians 15:41-49 and Daniel 12:3. How do these verses compare to each other and what do you learn?
- How are the elders clothed in Revelation 4:4?
- What admonition does Jesus give the Church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6? What do you learn specifically about their garment? (Remember, verse 5 does not imply that our name could be erased from the Book of Life, but rather the impossibility of that happening).
Day Five: Application
- The shame John speaks of in 1 John 2:28-29 seems to be connected with loss of reward. What does John exhort us to do that will keep us from being ashamed at His coming? What does Paul urge us to do in Romans 12:1-2?
- Read 1 John 4:7-18. How do these verses apply to the judgment seat of Christ? Do we need to live in fear of it if we are being perfected by God’s love? Record any insights you see.
- Read 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13. What is the result of growing in the love of God (hint: verse 13)? I want to close this week with John 15:1-10. Are you abiding in Christ? How has God spoken to your heart this week? Is there anything you need to make right with Him? Are you living your life with eternity in view?