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059  Let's Talk About Judgment

Let's talk about judgment.

Most Christians that I know cringe a little when somebody says that. I'm no different. We've all been conditioned to think of judgment as something frightening and final. 

Underlying that fear is the fact that we've been taught that we're all pretty horribly wicked. Romans 3:10 says "There is none righteous, no, not one," and the passage goes on to say more bad things about bad people. Especially Protestants, but really all Christians, have been assured that that means us, and that if God were truly just we would all end up in hell.

That's scary. I get it.

The problem is, that's not exactly what Paul was getting at. All those things he said in Roman 3 were quotes from the Psalms (well, one was from Isaiah), and the point he was making was not that "Everybody everywhere is BAD BAD BAD," but rather that just because somebody was Jewish did not mean that they didn't need God's help. He was making the point that Jews, just like Gentiles, need redemption. His reason for citing all those things from the Psalms was that they were all said about God's people, the Jews, proving that being Jewish wasn't a guarantee of God's favor.

If you roll the pages back a little and read Romans 2, you'll discover that Paul didn't think that God's judgment meant that everybody would end up in hell. Quite the contrary, in fact: he insisted that God was going to reward some for their good conduct, even some Gentiles who didn't know a thing about God's law. (I've never quite figured out why so many Christians simply ignore that passage.)

My reason for writing today is not to re-evaluate Paul. If you want that, get your hands on NT Wright's book, "What St. Paul Really Said," and wrestle with it. And please be reassured, I believe just like you that every one of us needs to embrace God through Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. That's about more than just judgment, but to go into God's Final Exam without the incredibly gracious assistance He has offered us in the Christ would be pompous and foolish.

My goal today is to remind us all that God's judgment is a good thing. A VERY good thing. Not something to be feared. It's something that we should ask for.

The Old Testament writers viewed the final judgment as the time when God would set all things right. The oppressed would be delivered from their oppressors. The widow and the orphan would be provided for. The prisoners would go free. Every tear would be dried, and every wrong thing compensated. The wicked would be removed from over the righteous. 

This is really what every one of us desires for the world, isn't it? So why fear it? No one needs to be afraid of the judgment--unless they're wicked or oppressing the poor.

Make no mistake, though: what God will be judging is what we have done. Yes, God calls us to believe Him and follow the Christ. Those are His instructions, and far be it from me to recommend otherwise. But it remains a fact: 

"I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds." 

Jeremiah 17:10

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."

II Corinthians 5:10

That's the final judgment. But we should all be asking God to judge us now, so that He won't have to judge us later. We should not be afraid of that, either, because God's judgment is a good thing. We all need it. When He points out how we've been doing wrong, when He shows us how we've expected of others what we do not deliver ourselves, He is doing us a favor. He is showing us His love. 

"The judgments of the LORD are true; 
they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; 
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; 
In keeping them there is great reward."

Psalm 19:9b-11, NASB

"Judgments." Hebrew, "mishpot." From the root "shaphat," to judge or pass sentence (either for or against). 

When God judges us and we respond, our lives get better, and so do the lives of everybody we touch. It follows: if we want to know how to make the world a better place, we should ask Him to judge us. 

After all, what's wrong with the world isn't what all those other, wicked people are doing. It begins with what we, ourselves, are doing:

"Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me; 
Then I will be blameless, 
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart 
Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer."

Psalm 19:12-14 NASB

If we want to stand in the judgment later and receive reward, we need to approach God now and welcome His righteous, correct, and kind evaluation of what we need to change. That's how it can come about that when God judges the world, He can judge our works acceptable.

No, I'm not revising Christianity. I'm giving you the details of what God has made available to us through Christianity. We are saved by grace. What I'm describing is not INSTEAD OF grace. What I'm describing is what grace actually looks like.

Note: Paul does say that those believers whose works get burned up in the judgment will still " saved, but only as through fire" (I Corin 3:15). But none of us should be content to slip into olam ha-bah ("the world to come"--I wrote about that before, remember?) on those terms. He gave us the Holy Spirit in order that we would do better than that. 

So we should stop seeing ourselves as little worms slinking into the scruffy edges of heaven, and seek out what God has provided to make us far better men and women than that. We've got greater works to do. We've got olam ha-zeh (this world) to fix.

Invite God's kind judgments, and I'll be back in a few weeks with more.


Phil Weingart


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