I often meet people who are confident that if there is an after-life, they’ll be able to face whatever happens there just as they’ve faced, and survived, the many unpredictable challenges of this life. They aren’t sure there will be any evaluation of their lives as Christians say, but if there is, they reason that the judge or judges will certainly be understanding.
After all, we all feel somewhat victimized by life. We have great intentions, but often find circumstances far outside our control appear to force us down paths of thoughts and behaviors we never intended and sometimes don’t even understand. It’s easy to hope that since life is hard and certainly isn’t always fair, we will get some kind of a break in the next.
I find that people who think like this often presume that if there is a judgment, the process will be something like a courtroom where each person’s good and bad deeds (and intentions) will be weighed against each other and if the good outweigh the bad, even just a little bit, then everything will work out in their favor.
Have you ever thought that way? If so, you may be in for a surprise.
It’s true that Bible says we will all be judged:
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” Hebrews 9:27 (ESV)
“For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. …. we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Romans 14:9-12 (ESV)
“And he [God] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he [Jesus] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” Acts 10:42 (ESV)
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” Revelation 20:12 (ESV)
Heaven’s Courtroom Scene
Just for the sake of illustration, let’s imagine that the process does look something like a court trial and you are the defendant. You arrive and are allowed to give whatever evidence you choose. You strategize that since the prosecutor will list all your bad deeds and thoughts, perhaps even putting an evil slant on actions you think should receive leniency because your motives weren’t that evil, your tactic will be to present all your good deeds and put a favorable spin on any possibly questionable intentions. To be fair, God has a very objective transcript of all your actions and thoughts made available – after all it would be tragic if you forgot just one good deed that would have tipped the scales in your favor.
I also imagine that to be fair, you would be given all the time you want. Finally, after you’ve rehearsed all your good deeds and thoughts, you take your seat, certain that these are more impressive than the litany of unfavorable ones the court is about to hear.
Like many of us, the famous Apostle Paul had once planned such a defense based on his upbringing and accomplishments. Listen to his words:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:4b-7a (ESV)
A Devastating Blow
What a shock it will be when the prosecutor stands and immediately rests his case with a short summary, perhaps something like this: “Your honor, all that the defendant has just presented is precisely the case against them. Their own testimony proves that they would rather stand on their own merit than live humbly in union with you. They have defined “good” and even you, in their own terms and sought fulfillment in their own power, rejecting your instruction and your Spirit’s work in and through their lives. They have never accepted your loving, merciful sacrifice for them so they could come to know you and find complete rest and fulfillment in you. When they lived in the flesh and couldn’t directly see you, they did not honor you nor honestly give thanks to you nor trust you nor accept reconciliation with you. Their own testimony shows that they cannot share an intimate union with you, a perfectly unselfish, loving, just and righteous being. Therefore they cannot partake of eternal life, for you are eternal life.”
It must have been a devastating blow to Paul when the resurrected Jesus appeared to him one day on the road to Damascus to inform him that all he had done, and was doing to earn God’s acceptance was a waste of time. He was so mortified that he never forgot it. Here’s what he wrote decades later in the eve of his life:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—” Philippians 3:7-9 (ESV)
Rubbish? That translation is a euphemism. The word in the original language is closer to dung (and that’s still a polite translation!). Paul jettisoned every single bit of hope that any accomplishment could earn God’s acceptance. But more importantly, he found that eternal life came only through a living relationship with Jesus Christ based on trust. In another letter he put it this way:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Galatians 2:20-21 (ESV)
God Keeps Two Sets of Records
There are two kinds of books God keeps, one of deeds and one of names. If, in the final accounting you want God to look in the books of deeds for your name, fine. But your deeds will put you in a place where you will have no hope – ever again.1 Jesus repeatedly described it as a place of darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Thankfully there is another kind of book. It’s much smaller because it only has names, no deeds. The folks listed in that book have told God to ignore their entry in the other books, and decided to rely only upon Christ’s work instead, because it is through His death on the cross that God grants anyone the forgiveness they need to be reconciled with God and share in eternal life.
Perhaps you still find life an uncertain struggle. Perhaps you’re living as if something you can do will help earn eternal life and lasting peace. If so, you are acting on a lie. God is eternal life, so you have to have a relationship with Him to have His life and peace. You can only come into that relationship through His loving sacrifice for the eternal death we all deserve for our rebellion. Jesus is one of the triune God. He was sent by the Father to die as a human on Earth in the place of all humans so reconciliation with the Father is available to anyone.2 As a result there is nothing stopping your name from being kept in the book of life except your pride.
Which Book Do You Want Jesus To Judge You From?
Which book do you want God to get your name from in the end, the book of deeds or the Lamb’s Book of Life? Your choice. But you have to make it before your current body dies. That’s it. No second chances. That’s God’s statement, not mine.
“He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelation 3:5-6 (NASB)