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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2004-12-12

Text: Romans 14:8-13

We are almost at the end of our series of messages on the theme, 'Looking to the Coming of Christ.' And in the last few messages, our focus has been on how the soon return of Christ should affect our stewardship. This morning we want to focus our thoughts on the fact that there will be a final accounting of our stewardship. And this final accounting will be carried out by the Lord Jesus Himself. 

I. Every Believer is Accountable to God for Himself

In v.12 we are told 'So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.' Now this truth is given within the context of a specific problem in the church - the problem of having a judgmental spirit. You can see this in V.10 'Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?' You can also find it in v.13 'Let us not therefore judge one another any more'

A judgmental spirit is not desirable at all, because it often leads to misunderstandings, and unnecessary strife. Christians are sometimes too quick to criticise or find fault with others for something they did or said. Now, of course if you see a brother in Christ clearly breaking any of the commandments of God you have a duty to give him some loving admonishment for his own good. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as it is done with a humble spirit. But if the issue has to do with the motives and intentions for doing or saying something, we must be careful not to become judgmental, for if we do, we would be usurping God's authority. 

Now, among the Christians in Rome, there were some who were judging others according to doing things like eating only vegetables, and celebrating certain days of the year. 14:2,3,5 'For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.'

Today, this might be like someone who says to you: 'Do you celebrate Christmas? I don't. I think that all Christians who celebrate Christmas are very unspiritual. Perhaps they are not even born again.' Or likewise it may be the one who celebrates Christmas who judges the Christian who does not celebrate Christmas to be spiritually unsound. There may also be some Christians who are persuaded that it is wrong for them to eat out on Sundays, and who end up judging Christians who do. And conversely Christians who eat out on Sundays may end up being unjustly critical of those who don't. Although God has commanded us to exercise good spiritual discernment in the last days, because of all the false teachings that will arise and abound in the last days, some have overdone their discernment and become unreasonably critical of everyone who is even slightly different from them. This is no longer sound discernment, but judgementalism. It is not good. 

According to our text, God is the only one who is qualified to make judgments of that nature. He alone can see the true motives and intents of the heart. If we take it upon ourselves to make such judgments, then we would be putting ourselves in the place of God. We would be making ourselves the Judge to whom everyone must give an account. And if they owe us an account or explanation for everything that they do, the end result is that they will be living to please us all the time, instead of living to please the Lord and to glorify Him alone. How can we put ourselves in the place of God like that?

Instead of being judgmental, we must realise that every one of us is accountable to God Himself. Let us really understand this truth well for when we do so, we will no longer have a judgmental attitude toward others. Instead of watching constantly for faults and failures in others, we will watch out for our own faults and failures. We will be more ready to examine our own motives and intentions, to see if we can account well for all that we have done with our lives. How will we give an account to God for them? Have we done all that the Lord has required of us? And have we done anything with the wrong motives?

II. Believers Will Give Account at the Judgment Seat of Christ

Now, there are some who mistakenly believe that there will never be a need for them to stand before God and give an account to Him. They would reason in their hearts, 'Since we are already saved and we have a place in heaven, what relevance would there be to bring up what we have done in the past? Only those who are not saved need to worry about having to stand before God and be judged for their sins.'

This is where we need to be informed from the scriptures that all who are saved will also go through a judgment, but one that is different from God's judgment of the unsaved. According to Revelation 20:11-13, all the unsaved will be judged at the Great White Throne of God. And all their sins will be brought up against them. There is therefore only one possible end result of facing the Great White Throne judgment, and that is eternal death. 

But those who have believed in Jesus Christ, whose names are written in the Book of Life will not have to go through this awful great white throne judgment. Instead they will go through one that is called 'the judgment seat of Christ'. Shortly after the second coming of Christ, when the saints will be resurrected from the dead this special judgment of all who are saved will take place. Verse 10 of our text says that, 'for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.' The word 'judgment seat' in this verse refers to the 'bema' or the raised platform where the judges of athletic events would sit. After the end of the sports events, the victors would ascend up the steps of the bema to receive their prizes from these judges.

Unlike the Olympic games of modern times, participants in those athletic events did not receive gold, silver or bronze medals. What they received were special circular wreaths woven from leaves, and they wore these on top of their heads. The Bible refers to these wreaths as 'crowns', like what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:8 'Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.' The day that Paul mentioned here refers to the judgment seat of Christ!

A. Not to Account for Sins

The wonderful thing about this judgment seat of Christ is that our sins will not be held against us there, since it is not a trial to decide whether we will go to heaven or hell. There are some who believe that there may still be some sins brought up by Christ against us at the bema judgment - especially those sins that were never confessed during a believer's lifetime. But Hebrews 10:17 'And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.' This is a quotation from the prophecy Jeremiah made of the New Covenant '�And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.' (Jeremiah 31:34) The New Covenant is an unconditional covenant - Hence the forgiveness of sins by God is not conditioned upon the confession of the sins and iniquities. 

But some still think that there will be an accounting made for sins for believers because of what Jesus said in passages like Matthew 12:36-37 'But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.' I believe that the judgment here refers not to the judgment seat of Christ, but to the great white throne judgment which is meant only for unbelievers.

There is however, an accounting we must give, as mentioned in our text in Romans 14. The context of this passage is not of sin, but rather the true motives for the things that we have done (see vv.2-5 - we have no right to judge each other's motives). Whatever good works we have done will be thoroughly assessed by Christ who can see our motives for doing them. Wrong motives would only reduce their value.

B. But To Account For Our Works

The Bema judgment is an assessment of all our works to see whether we are deserving of rewards or not. It will be like the Parable of the Talents where each servant was rewarded by the master according to how well he had managed the master's assets he had been entrusted with (Matthew 25:14-30). Let us read how this parable begins in v.14 and 15 'For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one He gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightaway took his journey.'

We notice that the man did not give his three servants the same amounts. The first servant received 5, the second received 2 and the third received only 1. This does not mean that he was being unfair in his treatment. He was merely recognising that each individual has different natural capacities. Similarly, when God bestows us with gifts, abilities and possessions, He knows us well enough to determine how much we can handle. Some who can handle more receive more, and others who cannot handle so much, are given less. Of course, this also means what God expects from each of them are different. Christ said in Luke 12:48 'For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.' The point therefore, is not how much we have received, but how much we make out of what we have received. 

In the parable the first two servants did well - they both doubled their capital. And so they enjoyed the privilege of entering into joy of their Lord. But the third servant did not work at all. He could have used his talent and done what the other two have done. And all he would really have to do is just make one more talent, to double his capital. His work was relatively easier than the others. But In v.18 we read, 'But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.'

This shows how he regarded what belonged to his master. He could have simply gone to a bank and kept the money safe there. Instead of doing this, he buried it. What are the things that people usually bury? Things that are dead! The servant regarded that one talent with contempt, like a dead object worthy only to be buried in the ground. That reveals that he had no love at all for his Master. Even the reply that he gave in vv.24 and 25 shows that he rebelled against his Master. And the Master therefore had him cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

The question then comes - What is this place of outer darkness and gnashing of teeth? Is it somewhere on the outskirts of heaven? In order to understand what it is, we can look at another parable - the Parable of the Marriage feast in Matthew 22:2-14. Toward the end of the parable there was a man at the feast who did not have a wedding garment 'And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (vv.11-13)

Here we see that this man who did not have the wedding garment is cast into the very same place where the third servant of the Parable of the Talents was cast. Now, in the wedding parable it is clear that the man who did not have the wedding garment represents those who are unsaved but who try to get into God's Kingdom. 

In those days, the host would actually provide the wedding garment to his invited guests. This guest had apparently refused to wear the garment provided by the host. This aptly symbolizes salvation that is given to us by God's grace. If anyone tries to get into God's kingdom without receiving God's offer of salvation, he may be able to fool men, but he cannot fool God. (See also Matthew 13:42,50; 24:46 - hypocrites)

Coming back now to the Parable of the Talents, we can now see that the place of Outer Darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth is definitely not a place anywhere in heaven, or even close to it, but it is rather a description of eternal punishment in Hell. Hence, the Parable of the Talents is not so much a description of what takes place at the Bema Judgment, but of the faithfulness that is required of God's People. And those who are not faithful may turn out to be false disciples who will be shocked to find themselves facing the Great White Throne judgment instead of the Bema judgment!

C. And To Receive Rewards For Works That Are Proved

So the Bible is clear that we who are saved will have to give an account for our works at the judgment seat of Christ. And He will assess the true value of these works according to the motives we had when we did them. And there will probably be some interesting surprises on that day! Some may have a very impressive record of many good works before men, but all were carried out with evil or selfish motives. And they may not receive any reward, though they are still saved. On the other hand, some may not have done as many good works but all were done with the very best selfless motives and intentions. Great is their reward in heaven!

May this instruct all of us that what the Lord really wants to see in our life and service, is not so much quantity, but quality. This is stated quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 3:12-14 'Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 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. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.'

Do you look forward to receiving rewards at the judgment seat of Christ when He returns soon from heaven? I hope you are. And I hope that you are giving as much dedicated quality service to the Lord as you can right now, in the hope of receiving a better reward up there. Please do not be like some people who say, 'I won't really bother about trying to obtain the rewards. Just being in heaven and receiving eternal life is already more than enough, and it is good enough for me. I don't need to strive to do good works for the Lord.' Those who live by such a policy may actually have a false profession of faith, since James says, 'faith without works is dead' (James 2:26)

Let me assure you that the heavenly rewards are definitely worth striving for. Although the Scriptures do not give us specific details about these rewards, 1 Corinthians 2:9 assures us 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.' From this we know that the rewards will be most glorious! Let us therefore make sure that we do not lose our rewards. Live your life now in such a way that you will be able to give a good account of yourself at the judgment seat of Christ. This brings us to the final point of this message:

III. Consecrated Living Enables Believers to Give a Good Account

Verses 8,9 of our text brings out the idea of consecrated living 'For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.' We must live right now for the Lord Jesus Christ, and for Him alone! Our lives ought to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God; not conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds, proving what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God and doing it diligently (cf. Romans 12:1,2). If your life is fully consecrated to the Lord, it will become a powerful tool in His hands. There is no better way to live a life that is worth living than to let Him use it fully. The Lord will take the life you consecrate to Him and bring out its fullest potential to produce the greatest and glorious works of righteousness in this world.

Dearly beloved, as we come to the end of this message I would like you to think deeply about this question: Will you be able to give a good account of yourself at the Judgment seat of Christ. Will you be able to say at the end of your life, like the apostle Paul, saying, 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day' (2 Timothy 4:7,8). 

Will this be the kind of account you will give of yourself when you stand before your Lord Jesus Christ at the Bema judgment? Will you have the joy of hearing the words of approval from the mouth of Jesus saying, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant. thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.' (Matthew 25:21)? May the Lord help each of us to consecrate ourselves to live for Christ now so that we can one day rejoice to hear these blessed words said to us by Him!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25