Of the great doctrines of the Bible, it is perhaps the doctrine of God as Judge that has caused most difficulties for Christians and proved a stumbling-block to those inquiring into the Christian faith. It cannot be sidestepped or ignored - the New Testament alone has over 300 references to judgement. But how are we to reconcile such an emphasis with the picture we have of a God who is loving, merciful and gracious, and with the commands to forgive one another, to judge not, that we be not judged?

The reason for judgement

Judgement stems from Godís character of perfection. An inspector in a factory should, if heís doing his job, reject any item that is blemished or imperfect. So with God - He is absolutely good and pure; when He made this earth He "saw that it was very good" (Genesis 1; 31). He is "of purer eyes than to behold evil" - that is, He would compromise Himself and would be going against His very character, were He to condone imperfection. It is easy for us to jump to the conclusion that this is hard or unfair, but we must be careful not to apply human criteria in trying to assess Godís character. We never meet people who have the absolute qualities of God (goodness, fairness, purity) and so must remember that His character is on a different level altogether. He is unaffected by bias and other human characteristics which tend to colour our views on judgement. The effects of judgement which follow from Godís character of perfectionism are inevitably bleak. But how bleak? Would God really destroy His creatures simply because they fail to meet His standards of perfection? The Bible gives an emphatic (but sad) Yes. God judges and destroys with a flood; He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. And the Lord Jesus Christ, far from overruling the Old Testament revelation of God, actually tightens up the standard, insisting that we will be judged on inner thoughts and motives as well as on the outward act. He repeatedly spoke of the possibility of Hell and separation from God (eg Matthew 7; 23or 25; 46). The inevitable effect of judgement, then, is to be dismissed from Godís presence and to suffer an eternal spiritual death.

Judgement transferred to Jesus

But, and this is the great Ďbutí of the Gospel, our judgement was transferred to Jesus: "upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole" (Isaiah 53; 5); "Christ became a curse for us" (Galatians 3; ij), so that on the Cross He experienced that judgement and consequent separation from the Father - "My God, my God, why hast thou forsken me?" (Matthew 27; 46). The Cross illustrates perfectly both Godís love and His justice: being a perfectionist and fully righteous, He cannot condone sin; yet He loves us and longs for us. The Cross is therefore the perfect meeting place of Godís love and justice: He can forgive without compromising Himself, because in His Son the full penalty has been paid. The meaning of the Cross is never clear until the awful reality of judgement is understood: then, and only then, does the wonderful good news of the Cross go home to our hearts.

Judgement Day

The question on judgement day, then, in the light of Calvary, is not so much "Have you reached my standards of righteousness?" - the answer to that is sadly too obvious; rather, the Question will be "Given that youíve failed to reach my standards, what has your attitude been to the gift of forgiveness in my Son Jesus? Have you accepted Him in your life on earth as the only means of entrance to my kingdom?" The great division on judgement day will not be between good and bad, religious and non-religious, but simply between those to whom Jesus says "I knew " and "I never knew you" (Matthew 7; 23). The faith of those who know Him is evidenced by the Quality of a changed life (Matthew 25; 34ff). It is true that one could accept Christ as a sort of insurance policy against judgement; but as C.S. Lewis put it, we donít do God much of a service if we come to Him out of fear rather than out of love - but even on those terms, He will in His love accept us.

The judgement of unbelievers, then, is really a matter of self-inflicted judgement. "This is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3; 19). That is, in view of the fact that God has provided in Christ the way for everyone to be free from judgement and Hell, the fault must lie with man if he is to go to condemnation. God certainly doesnít want that to happen, "not wishing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3; 9), but His love risks being rejected, and if man so chooses, then he is bringing condemnation on himself. If a man is sitting in a room with the curtains drawn shut and the sun rises and the rays of the sun peep through, wanting to get into the room to bring light and warmth, and that man deliberately keeps the curtains shut, then he remains in a self-imposed darkness - itís certainly not the sunís fault. Thatís the picture of John 3; 19.

But what about those who have never heard. of Christ?

The Bible doesnít speculate much on this question, partly no doubt because all those who have the Bible have heart But we do know that God is absolutely fair - "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18; 25), and so we can trust that a man wonít be condemned simply because he happens to live in a part of the world where the Gospel has not yet arrived. Indeed a man in such a position is a law unto himself and will be judged according to the light he has seen (Romans 2; 12 - 16). But we ourselves can provide the best practical answer to this Question, by going and taking the Gospel to those who have never heard.

No Judgement for the Christian

For us who have heard and responded, judgement is a thing of the past. There is no judgement for the Christian; "he does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life" (John 5; 24). A Christian can look back at the Cross and know that his judgement and penalty were paid for there, so that now "there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8; i). We can therefore look forward boldly to the life of the world to come, knowing that all our future sins (which we are boand to commit) are already paid for and covered by the blood of Christ. This confidence and assurance cannot lead to a life of indolence and complacency, since we know that although we will not face judgement, we will face assessment as Christians: that is, we will be called to account for ourselves, not as sinners for our sins, but as stewards of the gifts and opportunities given to us. This concept of assessment is seen most clearly in 1 Corinthians 3; 10 - 15, where Paul takes the metaphor of a building: the man who builds with good material will stand the test of time and receive a reward, whereas the man who builds with flimsy material will be seen to be a shoddy workman, will receive no reward, but will himself, of course, be saved. So the Christian, far from being complacent about being exempt from judgement, is concerned to build a good foundation, to forge a steadily closer relationship with Christ (which is a reward in itself), graciously to warn others of judgement and to point to the way of forgiveness through the Cross of Christ.

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