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Judgment Seat of Christ

• Greg Boyd

In previous weeks we discussed the evidence that our consciousness persists in the interim stage between death and resurrection. But what exactly goes on there, before resurrection? Are we made perfect and pure enough to enter the kingdom instantly, or do we have to continue our growth in Christ?

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In previous weeks we discussed the evidence that our consciousness persists in the interim stage between death and resurrection. But what exactly goes on there, before resurrection? Are we made perfect and pure enough to enter the kingdom instantly, or do we have to continue our growth and development?

Before we answer this, just know that this view that Greg presents in this sermon  is not an official doctrine or anything like that, it’s just his educated opinion. But think about it and give it consideration! 

Christians have always made a distinction between justification vs sanctification. Justification happens instantly, in the moment that you surrender your life to Jesus. We are incorporated into Christ. His love becomes our love, his joy becomes our joy, his standing with God becomes our standing with God. Justification is not under our control, it happens entirely through grace. God grafts his DNA into us the moment we surrender our life to Christ.

But even though this change is real and instant, our hearts, minds and habits are not always brought into alignment with this new truth of who we are in Christ. We have a whole lifetime of habits and feelings and thought processes that need to catch up with our new reality. So our attitudes and behaviors need to become aligned somehow. Sanctification is the process by which this adjustment happens.

During our lifetime, we are told over and over again YOU need to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and put away sin. The spirit is involved in this process, but the spirit does not actually do it for us, we play a significant part in it. The process of sanctification during our lifetime IS under our control. But what happens if you die before process of sanctification is complete? Even the apostle Paul said he was a work in progress.

The first thing to understand is that this process must be completed before we can enter heaven. This is made very clear in many places, such as Revelations 21:27 Gates of the heavenly city are always open but nothing unclean can enter.

We also see it in Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort (the Greek word means to very earnestly strive for) to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

And in 1 John 3:1-3  

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

We will know what Christ is like once we are like him. Like is known by like. So this points to the process of sanctification. We need this in order to be compatible with haven and God’s true love.

As for how exactly this gets completed, there are two possible options:

1) When you die God makes you perfect instantly. Or,

2) The process of Sanctification continues

1: Greg refers to the first option as the “Zap” Doctrine. It is the standard protestant doctrine, it originates from Calvin and Luther. They did not like the traditional Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. The traditional teaching is that you go to Purgatory to “work off” your sins and atone for them. Luther and Calvin thought this teaching contradicted the New Testament teaching that Jesus atones for our sins. The concept of Purgatory in past centuries was also wrapped up in practices of Indulgences, the exchange of money for reducing one’s time in Purgatory. The early church abused this practice and basically extorted huge sums of money from believers. The reformers Luther and Calvin rightly got rid of that, and instead came up with a new view, the Zap doctrine. They said we do not need Purgatory (or indulgences), rather we are made perfect and compatible with the kingdom of God the instant we die. God does this for us.

Greg points out several problems with this view:

– The zap view is predicated on a flawed and inadequate teaching/understanding of Purgatory. The reformers were right to get rid of the abused doctrine of Purgatory and indulgences but many protestant scholars including CS Lewis think they may have thrown the baby out with bathwater. The doctrine of Purgatory was a somewhat late addition, 4th century. And despite the fact that it was embraced by the church, it was not the only teaching, the other view was to see Purgatory as a continuation of the process of sanctification.

– If God “zaps” moral perfection into us, does it really count as moral perfection? You had nothing to do with getting it. We have always believed here at WH that love has to be chosen or it is, by definition, not love. For example if you program your spouse to say and do all the right things, it’s not coming from them at all so it’s not meaningful, it’s not love. Moral virtue is grounded in love. If love can’t be zapped into you then moral virtue can’t be zapped into you either.

– If God can zap perfection into us then why wait until we die? And why all the verses over and over again saying that YOU need to put away the old self, YOU be transformed by the renewing of your mind, you take your thoughts captive to Christ, you pursue holiness — it is a choice and we have responsibility. If he can simply zap perfection into us why make us free in the first place? God wants love from real people not robots, so he gave us free will, which means WE need to work with God to bring our thoughts into alignment with who we are in Christ.

– There are an abundance of passages that also do not agree with the Zap doctrine. Romans 14:10 we will all stand before judgment seat of God. If we are all zapped into perfection what is there to be judged for? Same goes for 2 Corinthians 5:8-10– ‘we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.’  Grace does not remove all sinful past behavior. Our character must be refined before we can enter the kingdom, and we each must receive recompense for what has been done while in the body. There are consequences for our actions. And if God zaps us into perfection, then there is nothing to be judged for.

– Finally Zap theology has the unintended effect of rendering sanctification optional. Think of it, you could live the perfect life and die to yourself daily and sacrifice yourself for others and be perfect and be compatible with the lord, OR you could sit on your butt and eat potato chips and just wait for God to do it for you when you die! Given the choice, there is no way anyone are going to earnestly choose the former, or put much work into it. It explains the [very sad] body of research showing that for the vast majority of professing Christians, their faith has very little real ramifications on how they live their life, their values, or even their actions.

The passages we read earlier make it clear that Sanctification is NOT optional. It assumes it’s going to happen one way or another. Because of all of these issues with Zap theology, let’s look at the second option, as this is arguably the more theologically sound option. For most people, the word “Purgatory” is a kind of a red flag, since people associate with atoning for or being punished for your sins. So let’s not use that word. Instead think of this option as “Pre-heaven Cleansing” or “Post-Mortem Sanctification.”

Paul says we all will go through this process. 1 Cor 3:11-15 — “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” Our foundation is what’s true about us in Christ, but what we build on top of that foundation will be tested by fire. What kind of life are we building? What kind of character are we creating? When we come into the pure presence of God’s love, that love is a burning fire that will burn up everything that is not consistent with his nature. But that which is consistent, will not only survive but will be refined.

If you have been working on becoming more christ-like then you have already started this process. Paul is just saying it will continue. How long will it take? Who knows. We work on it all our lives, and whatever is not complete now will be made complete eventually.

We should not wait until this time of “post-mortem sanctification” to get our houses in order, though. Matt 5:25-26  “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” It’s always better to settle out of court! If you are handed to the judge you will go to prison. You will get out, but waiting and taking that route is harder. It’s much easier to make right with your accuser and start paying what you owe now. Practically speaking, what this means is if you don’t change your life and put your house in order now, bad habits and negative feelings/behaviors take root and become part of who you are. The longer you wait, the harder it is to change. So, NOW is the time to declare war on greed, lust, gossip, lack of self-discipline, all these things before they become habits.

Sanctification, whether it happens now or later, involves some suffering, this should not surprise us. You have to say no to things your “lower nature” wants to say yes to, and vice versa. But it has to be done, because it’s the sin and bad habits that prevent us from seeing Christ as he truly is, ourselves as we truly are, and experiencing the joy of God in the fullest. It The eternal joy is worth the temporary pain a thousand times over.

In Hebrews 12:13 the author uses a race analogy. Jesus suffered unimaginable suffering but did it for the immense Joy that was set before him. The same should be true for us. But we can only do the long road of sanctification if we have the knowledge of joy to keep us motivated. Paul at least 6 times said “I rejoice in my suffering.” This is what he meant. After the civil war, the slaves escaping north via the Underground Railroad suffered pure misery, but they did it for the joy that they knew awaited them ahead. So keep that joy in mind. Whatever suffering you are going through now, know that you are on your way to freedom. The pain you feel now is setting you free to experience God’s joy and peace, so keep your mind focused on that. This is your ticket to be all you can be in the kingdom of God. Envision of what you will look like when you are free from this sin, and let the joy of that pull you forward. 

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Topics: Discipleship, Heaven, Hell, Transformation

Sermon Series: Non-Perishable

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6 thoughts on “Judgment Seat of Christ

  1. Marge says:

    what does it mean when Greg says “Take every thought captive to Christ”?

    1. Melissa says:

      Don’t let your mind wander aimlessly. Be conscious of your thoughts, for they are ultimately what you become. If your thoughts take you away from Christ’s truth, capture them and consciously conform them (line them up) to his words.

  2. Peter says:

    In Hebrews 2:14-15 we read,
    “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”
    The fear of death and judgement underlies most human behavior whether consciously or unconsciously. However, as believers, we know through the above and other scriptures that on the Cross, Jesus defeated death (which is proven by His resurrection), so believers should have no fear of death.
    We further understand that as believers, we are “sons of God”…members of God’s family and He is our True Father. [As a sidebar here, we all have earthly parents some of whom are believers and some who are non-believers. When we die as believers, our non-believing parents, relatives and friends are not going to be in Heaven and while there may be an association with our believing relatives and friends, we return to our True Father and His family of which we are a part…John 1:12-13, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”] While we were created in His image, our relationship with our True Father was lost in the Fall and so also our relationship with the Father’s “extended family” (consider Cain and Abel) but now, being born again, we are being restored/conformed to His image through the Spirit so that we can, not only relate to God, but our fellow believers as well.
    So when we come to the point of death, I am reminded of the parable of the prodigal son where he returns to his father after living a life of disobedience and, essentially, death; at least to his father. We know from this story that in his preparation and repentance from his former life, that he was in fear of judgement from his father. However, we know how joyous his father was on his return and restoring him to his family and celebrating the event.
    While the principle of the forgoing parable applies to us now, I believe it more so applies at death when believers are released from this world and return to our True Father’s family. And, rather than fear death, we are overcome by the total love of the Father as our image is made complete. As 1 John 4:13-18 says,
    “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.”
    This scripture, for a believer, underlines that rather than fear the process of death, it will be the complete opposite as “perfect love [God’s love] casts out fear”. In fact, as Paul mentions (Rom 8:38-39) “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” we will, once tasting the total power of God’s love (at death), not wish (or being able) to return to the world system but abide with Him forever/eternity.
    This I believe adds to what Mike said in an earlier post about NDEs that these people are not really dead. For if they were, they would have experienced God’s total love (assuming they were believers) and would have no desire to return to the cesspit of the world system.
    [As a further sidebar, one thinks that for a believer it is not a Near Death Experience but a Near Life Experience! We must also understand that we do not see our own death as friends and relatives do but we proceed to life eternal.]
    I could perceive that in the instant of death where the above becomes the reality of a believer’s life and how glorious this is, there would be regrets as to knowing His love in full measure, how much more we could have made of our lives, doing God’s will in the world…so that we are, “good and faithful servants”.

    There are just so many directions that thoughts in this series that can take a believer.

    One area that strikes me is time. We think and talk in ‘linear time’ viz night follows day. Whereas in Heaven it is always ‘day’/present and anyway when by God’s grace believers have been granted eternal life…what meaning does time really have?
    While the Bible tends to speak of all gathering for the final judgement as if at a point of time in the future. I seem to think all this takes place at the point of death (where believers transition to eternal life), like the thief on the cross…Lk 23:43, “And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me [Jesus] in Paradise.” From Mike’s earlier post we know Jesus was also elsewhere after His death. Additionally, a lot of people experiencing NDE’s did a number of things, following their ‘death’ but may have only been ‘dead’ for a matter of minutes…and likewise others may have been ‘dead’ a much longer time before recovery. All this points to ‘time’ being of a different nature post death.
    It is conveyed in scripture that people who die are ‘sleeping’ and, from our perspective this may appear so…but where are their spirits in Paradise or, awaiting judgement?

    While Greg made it clear at the beginning of his most recent message that what he has to say is where he believes scripture is taking his thoughts…and there is nothing wrong with this…I personally agree in one sense there is no ‘zap’ situation nor do I believe there is a form of ‘purgatory’. But for believer, I am of the view that when we shall see Him we will be (completed/conformed) and made like Him. And while this may appear like the ‘zap’ situation, it is the believer fully coming to the understanding of what it means to be conformed to a True Man (male or female…in fact, there is so little we know or are taught about sexuality and God’s glory – this is another of those paths that does open a whole new area of understanding of Creation and the new Creation).
    The other path that opens up here is the judgement for the believer of rewards and losses. We know that our works will be tested by fire…the fire being the purity of God’s love. Such that all our works of the flesh will be worth nothing but ash, but those works done in obedience to God’s will be as refined gold.
    It will also appear that rewards are not a new condominium in Heaven but possibly hierarchical positions…although it is interesting that in Matt 18:1-4,
    “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
    This seems to echo Jn 3:3, “ Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew [become as a child?], he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    The thrust of these scriptures is that in Heaven we are becoming a new pre Fall Adam or Eve ie Christlike, delivered from our current body of death to life, however, one further aspect not touched on is glorification…yet another path that needs to be taken and understood.

    As I indicated earlier there is so much to understand from the current theme/series under the guidance of the Spirit…but the forgoing and what other bloggers have added more than whets the appetite for this study.

  3. John says:

    What is the criteria for judgment of God’s children in Romans 14:10 given Romans 8:1-4? “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

  4. Matthew says:

    What Greg seems to be talking about in this sermon seems very Roman Catholic to me. I am not in any way anti-Roman Catholic, but it wasn´t until I truly understood God´s grace from a Protestant perspective that I began really tasting the very good news. I do believe that sanctification in this life is important, and that we as believers should not exist in a world of cheap grace, but the idea that I have to really work hard this side of eternity in order to avoid something worse after I die in order to make me pure is simply not good news at all. I left this paradigm years ago and I don´t ever want to go back. I really like much of what you often teach about, Greg, but on this one I think we´ll have to agree to disagree.

  5. kathy says:

    I don’t agree that our consciousness continues after death. I think Greg was right before he started to question this because of what some have experienced. I don’t know what that is about per-se; however, the bible is clear that “the dead know nothing.” I doubt these folks were really dead, and who’s to say why they experienced the things they have. This is a good video; in fact the entire UNLEARN series insofar that I’ve seen them have been spot on. There is one on near death experiences, too.


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