We left our first part of reviewing chapter 14 with some questions about judgment. Here are the scriptures:
Romans 14:10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 14:11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 14:12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
We had seen where Paul was telling us that even though we have liberty in Christ, we are responsible to receive those who might be weak in the faith because whether we are weak or strong, we all live and die unto the Lord. The strong do not own the weak, in other words. Paul says then that there is no point in judging our brother because we are all going to stand before God – the only Judge that matters and the only Judge who always judges according to truth and righteousness. Recall that Paul drew on this back in Romans 2:
Romans 2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. 2:2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. 2:3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? 2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
This was directed at those who judged themselves subjectively better than those of time past who had turned the truth of God into a lie and served the creature over the Creator. The judgment of God is always according to truth. So, for the believer, what judgment do we have to look forward to? (If we even want to put it that way)
Is this speaking of a specific judgment for Christians? Possibly–I’ll discuss that later in the post. However, it seems that the point Paul is making is that if we all live unto God (as we do not live unto ourselves), then God is the ultimate judge. God has not written that some knees would bow to certain believers, but that all knees would bow to Him and Him alone. Certain believers won’t give account to other believers, but all will give account to God. The question invariably turns into – what are we giving account about? Is it of sins? Is it of works?
Paul speaks of a judgment for believers in other letters. Perhaps, (if this judgment in Romans 14 is speaking of the same thing), we can learn a bit more about what to expect.
2Corinthians 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 5:2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: 5:3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. 5:4 For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. 5:5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. 5:6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 5:7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 5:9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Paul says that we know if our “earthly house of this tabernacle” were dissolved, there is a house eternal in the heavens we will be clothed with. In other words, if our physical bodies are destroyed, we have a body waiting us in the heavens that is not subject to the destructive forces on earth. Paul says that we are awaiting for our mortality to be swallowed up in life – eternal life. (This is similar to Paul’s words in Romans 8). Paul is confident therefore that since we have an eternal body we’ll adorn when we shed our earthly one, that to be absent from the earthly body means we’ll be present with the Lord. Paul seems to suggest the immediate transfer from earthly body to heavenly body. Even though there isn’t a verse that actually says a believer goes to heaven when they die, this verse, in its context, seems to suggest this is the case. But, based on what we are waiting for (our eternal body), Paul says that we walk in that expectation by faith and not by sight. In other words, the finish line isn’t lined with the physical distractions of this present world, but is a faithful understanding of what we have, not only currently in Christ, but what is to come. Therefore, Paul says, we labor in this life in order to be accepted of him.
This may seem a odd phrase because it makes it seem that our acceptance of God is determined by our works, yet, doesn’t Paul tell the Ephesians that God made us acceptable by virtue of us being in Christ? (Ephesians 1:6) So, what gives? Is our acceptance with Him established and secure, or, is it left in our hands to manage? Honestly, I think we have identified what I would call a “false” contradiction – meaning, comparing these verses are apples and oranges.
Ephesians is describing what God has established us to be in the person of His Son, having accepted Him by faith. There is no amount of work that we could accomplish that would warrant God tipping His cap in our direction. It absolutely took His grace and our faith – our works need not apply. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Yet, as a believer, there is an acceptable quality of work that we have the opportunity to engage with. Throughout Paul’s letters, you’ll find references to laboring in light of what we ALREADY ARE. In other words, because God made us (eternally) accepted in Christ, we therefore carry ourselves in this life in light of that reality. Here is a prime example from the book of Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 4:18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: 4:19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 4:20 But ye have not so learned Christ; 4:21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: 4:22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 4:24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Ephesians 5:8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: 5:9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) 5:10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
Especially looking at Ephesians 5:8, the reason we walk as children of light is because we are now light in the Lord. This is very important to not miss – we do not walk in light in order to become children of light – we walk in light because we ALREADY ARE children of light. What is acceptable to God is a walk that is in accordance with who we are, in Christ. If, as a child of light, I walk after darkness, then I’m not walking after that which is acceptable to God. This doesn’t negate who I am in Christ, but it does impact how His life flourishes within and through me. Therefore, back in 2Corinthians 5, Paul says that we labor, not by sight, but by faith, so that we may be accepted of Him. Ultimately, there will be a day when the record of our labor will be examined. There is always a deadline for when the project is due before presenting the project’s results to the boss. The unique truth about the believer is that the believer is a project of God’s (Ephesians 2:10), but the believer is to allow God’s work on him to influence his work in life. One day, we’ll come to understand the full nature of God’s project on us, but likewise the full nature of the works we did.
Note that 2Corinthians 5:10 states that we will receive the things done in our bodies, whether good or bad. We have an immediate reaction to the words good and bad as being words that identify a moral spectrum, and, while that isn’t necessarily wrong, we should be careful enough to recognize that good and bad are not limited to moral judgments. And, as fate would have it, the words that these come from seem to bear, not a moral connotation, but a connotation of functionality. That which is good is useful, excellent, and upright. That which is bad is the exact opposite – things not useful, not excellent and not upright. Think about the context we’ve worked through – things that are good, done in the body, would be the labor/walk in accordance with who we are as children of light. All of the results that come from that would be good – useful to God (as God is giving the result anyway). However, those who walk otherwise would be presenting a labor that is not useful – is bad. Bad works, done out of darkness, are not necessarily limited to pagan practices, etc. – bad works are as equally defined by the self-righteous pride we adorn when ‘working for the Lord.’ God has no use for our righteousness – hence why He gave us His.
This judgment of Christ is for every believer. That which is useful (good) will be burnished by the fire of His judgment (and proven to be the precious stones they are), whereas that which is not useful will be consumed by the fire of His judgment (and proven to be the wood, hay and stubble they are).
1Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 3:11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 3:13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 3:14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 3:15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
In light of the fact we will all answer to Christ for our walk (and not one another), Paul is very to the point as Romans 14 continues that there is one thing that we should judge and that is that we are careful to not create occasions for our brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. If you do any walking, generally a flat, paved path is more desirable to one that is rocky and full of tree roots. As other believers are walking as children of light, our purpose isn’t to create a rocky and root-riddled path in their way to cause them to roll an ankle. We will see what Paul has to say about this as we finish Romans 14 in our next post.
Our story continues…