Final Judgment

The Biblical truth that I want us to understand, believe and live by today is this: a time is coming when every responsible person, on the basis of his or her actions and attitudes, will meet the final judgment of God either as eternal life or as wrath and fury. With that sentence I am trying to answer three questions about final judgment:

1) Who will be judged?
2) On what basis will they be judged?
3) What are the alternatives they may experience?

But some would ask another question first, namely, why talk about judgment? What good does it do? Doesn't it just make life dismal and cast a shadow across the bright field of God's love? My answer is three-fold. 1) I preach about judgment because it is so prominent in Scripture, and I am accountable as a pastor-teacher to unfold the whole counsel of God.

And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Truly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city. (Mt. 10:14,15)
God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)
If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26,27).

I do not see how any pastor could neglect this theme in Scripture with a clear conscience.

The second reason I preach on this theme is that for some people the fear of judgment may be the only motivation to consider trusting Christ as Savior. Now, to be sure, there are better reasons to come to God than to escape hell. But if fear is the only thing that will shake a person loose from his bondage to sin and cause him to consider Christ, then, for love's sake, so be it. There are better reasons for a child to obey his daddy than the fear of a spanking. But if that fear is the only thing that will keep him out of the street, then, for love's sake, so be it. I am not as hesitant as some to let people feel fear, for I have ringing in my ears the words of Jesus:

Do not fear those who can kill the body and afterwards have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into Hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him. (Luke 12:4,5)

The third reason I preach on judgment is that it reveals part of God's character and so helps us love Him for who He is. If hearing about God's judgment makes it harder for us to love God, then probably the God we love is a figment of our imagination and not the real and true God. If we would love the true God we must know the true God. There is something wrong with our faith if we cannot sing praises to God not only as our loving Father but also as the righteous Judge of all the earth. As I was preparing for our worship service today I went through two hymnals looking for a hymn that celebrated the glory of God's righteous judgment and summoned us to fear as we ought, and I couldn't find one. That is a bad sign of deficient theology and a stunted relationship to God. We ought to sing the praises of all that God is instead of implying by our silence that, if He judges, He is not wholly admirable.

For these three reasons, then, I consider it essential to preach from a text whose theme is the judgment of God. The text I have chosen is Romans 1:28-2:11, and the first question we should try to answer from this text concerning final judgment is, Who will be judged? Paul gives the answer in verses 5 and 6, "According to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath and the righteous judgment of God who will render to each person according to his deeds." The simple answer is: everybody will be judged.

Paul bends over backwards to make this point because there was at least one group of people in his day some of whom thought they would not be subject to judgment, namely Jews. Notice how Paul approaches the problem. In Romans 1:20,21 he shows that the typical gentile of his day who did not glorify God was without excuse and subject to judgment. He says,

Since the creation of the world God' s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give thanks.

In other words, where there is sufficient knowledge available that God is worthy of honor and gratitude, yet people don't give it, they are without excuse and destined for wrath.

Then in the latter part of chapter 1 Paul describes the sorts of things that a person who does not acknowledge God falls into. Verses 28-32:

Just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, malice, full of envy, strife, deceit, maliciousness; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Those were the sorts of sins that Paul saw as he looked around on the gentile society and family and business life of his day.

But there was a small enclave of people in that pagan society who looked on the gentile world with disdain and in passing judgment on the gentiles reinforced their own sense of security from judgment. Yet according to the apostle not only are the gentiles without excuse and liable to judgment, so are the Jews. This is the point of chapter 2, verses 1-3:

Therefore you are without excuse, O man, everyone who judges; for by judging another you condemn yourself for you who judge are practicing the very same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. Or do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

That is precisely what some of Israel supposed.

Do you recall how John the Baptist preached at first to the unbelievers of Israel: "You brood of vipers; who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham."' There were many in Israel who had the misguided notion that belonging to the chosen people, being a Jew, was a free pass at the judgment day. So John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul struggled to get the point across that those who reject Jesus and live in sin will be condemned at the judgment day whether Jew or gentile. It was to the Jewish towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida to whom Jesus said, "Woe to you ... For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon (gentile cities) which occurred in you, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless, I say to you it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you" (Matthew 11:21,22). Jesus turns the false notion on its head: worse for the Jews in judgment, not better, because their privilege was greater.

And is this not precisely what Paul says in Romans 2:9-11:

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

To whom much is given will much be required. Therefore, the Jews are first into blessing and first into judgment. No man is saved by his race, his heritage, or his outward religious form. God is no respecter of these things. He looks to the heart and its out-flowing in daily life.

The sum of the matter is given in Romans 3:9 and 22f: "What then? Are we Jews any better than they? Not at all, for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin ... there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And the upshot of this for us is that everyone in this room, who hasn't fled to Christ for mercy and forgiveness is under the wrath of God and heading for hell. And it also means that there are no pockets of our society which are excluded from judgment. From the top of the I.D.S. to the dens of Hennepin Avenue. Corporate heads and cab drivers, congressmen and custodians, housewives and harlots, sailors and secretaries, pimps and pastors - we will all be there before the bar, at the final fork in the road of life. And all the money and possessions and status and power and looks in which our souls have sought refuge will weigh in the scales of God's justice like dust that has to be blown away before judgment can begin, before the real issues of life can be weighed.

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