Grace and redemption abound within the words of the gospel. There are also strong messages of warning. For those who think they are good enough on their own will not enter heaven. No eternal reward awaits those who believe they have earned it. The kingdom of heaven is humanly impossible to attain — and Jesus makes this point painfully clear.
A time of grace will come to an end. On the horizon, a great separation will occur. A time of profound joy and wonder. A time of staggering pain and sadness. With so much at stake, I can understand why many people choose to sugarcoat the most important day in their life.
I wonder what that Day of Judgement will be like?
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second earth. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
A popular image portrays a Heavenly Father with long, flowing white hair and a beard. His hand of mercy extends fair judgment and mercy since a loving God would never cast any person into hell unless they really deserved it. Beneath his bench, an anguished human soul awaits pronouncement on their eternal destiny. A prosecuting attorney completes a damning case exposing all their mistakes, errors, and secret sins. The defense responds with a poignant statement that outlines all the good deeds, wonderful intentions, and morsels of kindness display throughout this person’s life. Witnesses testify with tearful accounts of their mercy and gentleness.
And like any good story, there is a happy ending. They are embraced and reunited with loved ones for an eternal bliss.
How could it be anything else? How could a loving God ever condemn a good person to the dreadful sentence of eternal damnation?
This popular understanding of a loving God does not exist in the Bible. Its words paint a far different portrait that is very difficult to share with others.
To Witness Well in this world means to share the whole story of God’s message – even when there are unhappy endings.
On the great Day of Judgement, people will be judged and verdicts will be rendered. But in reading the words throughout the New Testament, I get the stark impression that verdicts have already been rendered.
The time of judgement is not a courtroom to determine guilt or innocence, but more of a sentencing. The prosecution has rested. The defense attorney is nowhere to be seen. Souls entering the courtroom will be shocked to learn that their evidence of good works have already been thrown out of court. The judge has already made His decision.
It will not matter how gentle, kind, or generous the person may have been in this life. When a law has been broken it is broken. One sin renders a person to be guilty. To render any other verdict would not be a fair judgment. When the standard is perfection a perfect Judge who is perfectly objective and strictly upholds the standard of the law cannot render any other verdict but guilty.
For this reason, Jesus is telling us that following the laws of God is not a worthwhile pursuit if the intent is to gain God’s approval. Only one error renders any future attempt to be useless. A person is no longer perfect, nor can they ever attain it.
And Jesus knows this.
The point of life on earth is not to try and enter God’s courtroom with a strong case, but to avoid a trial at all costs.
The point of life is to make sure that their name is written in the book of life.
How is that possible?
To be acceptable before God, a person needs to be a new creation. To be worthy before God, a person must be transformed, be given a new status, to receive a new birth. This is where Christ comes in. He is the solution – the answer – the only way to be in the book of life. Christ’s completed work on the cross fulfilled the law for us. He paid the penalty for us. A person can be guiltless, forgiven and declared innocent – not because of what we have done, but because of what already has been done for us in our place.
Faith is the only instrument that receives the full benefits of the cross. Through Christ, we become his life – a new creation, a new birth. In Christ, we are rendered perfect. Our case has already been settled out of court. By trusting in Christ, we do not need to appear in court on the Day of Judgement… because our verdict has already been determined. Jesus tells us to go in peace, our sins are forgiven. We have been declared not guilty.
That’s the message of the gospel — the good news of Jesus Christ — that in Christ alone, we are perfect, forgiven, guilt-less, and free to go. That is our status. Right now. Faith in Christ means to believe that are names are already written in the Book of Life.
This is the message that we bring to the world.