- “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
- – 2 Corinthians 5:10
I wanted to ask how is it that we will be judged as believers if we have already been forgiven for our sins? If we are forgiven, why are our sins brought up again at the judgment seat?
Great question. That could almost sound like a contradiction!
There is a very real and important sense that we were all forgiven for all our sins at the Cross. Jesus said, “It is finished,” after all.
Yet I wonder…
- Have we actually faced them? Did we even recognize we had sinned? Have we owned up to our part, including complicity in systemic injustice or sins of omission and ignorance?
- Have we realized who we harmed and how we harmed them? Having wounded others, have we acknowledged that to ourselves and to them? Did we make it right?
- Do we still suffer under the weight of guilt, the stain of shame, and from entanglement to the sins themselves where they are addictive, self-destructive, and dehumanizing?
- Have we not only been forgiven but released, transformed, and become Christlike?
When we face Christ, whatever has been left undone above needs to be resolved and it will be. How? Not by punishment. The judgments of Christ are restorative, the cleansing fire is his love, and the fruit is freedom in ourselves and reconciliation with others. I suspect that seeing our lives in retrospect with no recourse to denial and rationalizations, in the presence of Christ and those we’ve wronged could lead us through a process of deep grief and a flood of tears… and then every eye shall see him and he will wipe every tear from our eyes
It seems, practically speaking, forgiveness has been established at the Cross but God’s heart is that we would also experience it fully for ourselves. Think of the heroin addict whose addiction is a way to self-medicate childhood trauma and now suffers from the devastating effects of the drug in their body and soul. Think of the guilt they feel when doing what is necessary for the next hit and the shame they feel when they think of their family. And now imagine me saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” Even if they believe me, they will still need to reckon with the addiction itself, process the trauma that led to it, make amends to those they’ve harmed (including themselves), and walk through the trials (judgment) of being cleansed of the chemicals, loosed from the cravings, and made whole.
This can be miraculous, but it’s never magical. We will need to willingly participate in our own healing, which may mean nothing more than, having opened the book of our lives, looking into Christ’s eyes and watching our chains fall off and our stains drain away. But what we know for sure is that whatever judgment includes or looks like, it will ensure we don’t take those chains and stains into paradise.
What we know is that the Judge on the Day is not retributive. He is all-merciful and not retributive. He knows sin has punished us enough and that grace is the only cure. He is the Great Physician whose diagnoses are true and whose program of recovery is necessary, but careful and kind. And further, he’s prepared to begin our rehabilitation today.