Many do not believe in a God of wrath and judgment. It seems to be out of character for a loving God. But the Bible clearly portrays this aspect of God’s nature, so rather than deny it or ignore it, let us think about the possibility of one day having to face God’s judgment. The Bible is full of statements telling us that God is our ultimate judge. For example, “There is no creature hidden from God’s sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:13) “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) “God is coming to judge the peoples of the earth in righteousness and faithfulness.” (Psalm 96:13) There are realities about God found in the Bible that can make us afraid to meet Him. “The Lord will judge His people; it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31) “If judgment begins with God’s people, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:12-19) Perhaps the most fearful statements in the entire Bible tell us that “He who overcomes…I will not erase his name from the book of life.” “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he is thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 3:5; 20:15) The Bible is clear, “It is appointed unto everyone to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
God does not reveal His judgments to scare us into yielding to Him. He knows a forced yielding is no yielding at all. God desires us to voluntarily relate to Him from a heart of love. So, how does judgment help us want to love God? If thoughts of impending judgment produce genuine humility, a humility which admits that God is right about us, such humility leads to repentance and receiving His offer of new life. In that new life, love is born.
I don’t know about you, but keen awareness of my failures has at times made me feel confused, condemned, or uncertain in terms of where I stand with God. At such times I am not sure whether these thoughts are coming from my own right or wrongly developed conscience, from God’s convicting Holy Spirit, or from Satan’s attempts to destroy me. Even though there is a lot of good in my life, when I am honest I know that I fall short in many areas. I feel I should be doing things that I am not doing, or that I can always do more, or that I am lazy for not doing what I think I should. Obviously, there are things I want to do more than other things, and so I justify what I want to do instead of taking responsibility for what I feel I should be doing. And if I do things simply to relieve my guilt, I realize I am doing them only so that I feel better, not because I am genuinely caring. I think that if I genuinely cared I would automatically do everything that I feel bad about not doing. So, I ask God to give me genuine love and compassion. Sometimes I am tempted to think that I must not be a true Christian at all because of my lack of correct motivation. I am quite sure most of this is from the devil, but still, I wonder, “What does God think of me, and how will I face Him in judgment?” When I realize my deep sinfulness and ungodliness which is totally unacceptable in a holy God, I can understand the terror that Martin Luther felt as he contemplated God’s anger at sin, and was horrified at the thought of God’s judgment of his own sin-filled life. It was driving him crazy. That must be why many people choose not to think about the subject, or they justify themselves, or they choose not to believe in that kind of a God. But if God’s judgment is certainly looming, what you or I think or choose to believe will never make such a reality go away. Therefore, where do I go for help?
I search the Scriptures to know if God has any word of assurance and comfort for me. The ultimate answer for being at peace in the face of God’s judgment must be found in personally experiencing God’s grace. God’s grace is extended to us because of what Jesus did on the cross. As a result of His work on the cross, we need to see and believe that Jesus is now a qualified high priest who successfully intercedes with God on our behalf. (Isaiah 53:12; Hebrews 7:24-27) We must know this by faith, and not shrink back in unbelief by thinking that we are unforgiven and in danger of God’s condemnation. If we grasp the truth of Christ’s payment for sin on the cross, and of His continual intercession for us, then God’s grace sinks into our heart and soul and replaces fear with a confidence that we shall live and not die, be accepted and not banned. (Hebrews 4:14-16) Faith must believe that God remembers our sin no more (Hebrews 8:12) and that God takes pleasure in those who do not shrink back from believing His forgiveness, and trusting Jesus’ continual intercession. (Hebrews 10:38-39) Confidence in the face of judgment can never be in us or in our good performances. No; we must rely totally and without reservation on Jesus’ blood and righteousness. (Hebrews 10:19-23) Such faith leads to tender and loving thoughts toward Jesus; and knowing His loving role on our behalf replaces our fear. When I see this Biblical answer to my dilemma, I humbly say, “Thank you heavenly Father for sending Jesus and for your unfathomable grace; in spite of my failure, I am not condemned to shame and banishment from your presence.”
Four additional Biblical teachings have also helped me concerning thoughts of judgment.
(1) The Bible tells us that no one is qualified to sit in condemning judgment of another person’s work or life, and that I am not even to pronounce such judgment upon myself. (1 Corinthians 4:1-5) The apostle Paul said these things to believers who were making judgments about him and his work. God is our ultimate judge, and although there are times when it is necessary to make certain kinds of judgments, (1 Corinthians 5:12; John 7:24; Acts 15:19) two factors are necessary in order to judge accurately. We must have all the facts in the case, and we must know the motives involved. Without these at hand, it is arrogant on our part to judge, even our selves. There is definitely some benefit in hearing and heeding what others have to say in terms of criticism, (Proverbs 15:31-32) but actually, only God in Christ can perfectly judge. What this tells me is to disregard my feelings of self-judgment and to welcome Jesus as my grace-filled judge when He comes.
(2) The apostle Paul points out that God sometimes sends His disciplinary judgments on believers to correct their wrongs and to protect them from being condemned along with the world. We can, however, avoid such judgments by examining and judging ourselves in such a way that we bring ourselves to be in line with God’s character and teachings. (1 Corinthians 11:27-34)
(3) Fear of punishment or judgment can be cast out by our involvement in God’s love. (1 John 4:15-19) When I realize that God loves and forgives me because of Christ’s death on the cross for me, I know that I do not have to fear any of His judgments. For my part, I seek to remain in His love through faith, meditation, prayer, fellowship, and by learning to love as He loves. As I grow in these things, it will give me confidence for the Day of Judgment, and I will not have to shrink in shame at His coming. (1 John 2:28)
(4) One other thought that is helpful to me in working through self-judgment comes from 1 Corinthians 12:14-25. This speaks about the parts of Christ’s body, the church. Although we must sometimes compensate for failed or missing parts, we are responsible to fulfill our own part. Does the eye condemn itself because it does not do what the foot should be doing? No, it does its own part in the body. If each does its own part, the whole body functions well. I need to focus on my part and work at doing it the best I can. These are some of the Scriptures that have given me help in dealing with my personal failures and with any anxieties I’ve had about facing God’s judgment. And remember, God also judges the good we do and rewards and commendations are forthcoming. It is very encouraging to think of that.
Some see God as evil, mean and controlling because of His judgments. This happens when we cannot see His good purposes in the proper context of facts. Since facts are hidden from people, God is falsely accused of evil.
Why must God Judge? God would not be a God worth worshiping and serving if He did not exercise righteous judgment. In a moral universe such as ours, judgment is essential. If God is holy and righteous, His judgments are necessary, lest He be guilty of injustice by allowing wrongdoing and crimes against the innocent to go unpunished. The fact that people criticize God for doing nothing about evil shows they believe in the necessity of judgment. Souls who have been martyred for their faith cry out to God, “How long will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” (Revelation 6:10) We have a moral sense about us that life is very unfair if wrong is not made right. We especially think this when the wrongs are done to us. God’s judgment is an act of love and mercy when it serves to protect society from evil by judging the wrongdoers and not allowing them to continue to hurt others. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7) Furthermore, God must also judge if He is to recreate a perfect world. Evils and imperfections must be eliminated so that they do not ruin another world as they did this one. (2 Peter 3:7, 13) As the Bible says, “God must remove things that can be shaken so that things that cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:26-29; Psalm 102:25-28)
Here are five kinds of God’s judgments. (1) There is judgment that separates the ungodly from the righteous; the good from the evil; the believer from the unbeliever. The result of this judgment determines our final destination in eternity, (John 5:24, 28-29; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 20:11-15) and enables the creation of a new and evil free world. (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-5 (2) There is judgment of every person’s deeds; all the good or bad, right or wrong that each one of us has said or done. The result of this judgment leads to reward or suffering loss. (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17; Matthew 12:36-37; 16:27; Proverbs 24:12; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:5-6; 14:10, 12; Revelation 2:23; 22:12) (3) There are judgments from God’s word upon our daily lives; correcting our twisted or harmful thinking, and our sinful behaviors. (Hebrews 4:12-13; Psalm 119:75-77) (4) There are punishing judgments in our present world that serve to remove the wicked and thus protect society from their evil and destructive ways. These kinds of judgments also serve as warnings to people so that they might turn from their sinful and self-securing ways to God’s salvation and security. (Luke 13:1-5) For believers, some judgments may serve as God’s loving discipline so that we may share His holiness. (Hebrews 12:5-29) Of course, these are not to condemn us, but to help us grow into the likeness of our Lord. We receive them with thanksgiving and allow ourselves to be trained by them, even though they are painful at the time. (5) God judges sin at the cross of Jesus by pouring out wrath upon His Son as payment for sin. (Isaiah 53:4-8; Romans 8:3) Such judgment destroys the devil and his works. (John 12:31; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8)
Does God judge in present everyday life? The flood in Noah’s day was a judgment on the wicked for their violence. (Genesis 6:13) God brought a judgment of plagues on the Egyptians for afflicting the Israelites and so He could deliver them from their captors. (Genesis 15:13-14) God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by fire for their sinfulness. (Genesis 19:13, 24-25) God judged Israel for their disobedience. (2 Kings 17:14-15, 18-20) God sent famine for the sin of Saul. (2 Samuel 21:1) God threatened destruction to Nineveh for its evils. (Johan 1:1-2, 3:10) God put Ananias and Sapphira to death for lying to Him. (Acts 5:1-11) Based on God’s revealed acts in past history, it is reasonable to believe that some events in our present day are judgments of God meant to accomplish like purposes. (Revelation 18:8-9) It is not politically correct or popular to say so, but Jesus intimated such possibilities. (Luke 13:1-5) But know that none of His judgments are done out of spur-of-the-moment anger. He is not quick to judge. He is patient and gives time for people to repent and change. (Exodus 34:6-7) For example, He waited over four hundred years for the Amorites to come to a place of deserved judgment. (Genesis 15:12-16; Leviticus 18:24-25; Joshua 24:11; Amos 2:9-10) We cannot say that every natural disaster or bad thing that happens is a judgment of God for a particular evil, but certainly we can take disasters as warnings that we live in a sin-cursed world (Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:20-21) and there is need for repentance, lest we become subject to similar calamities. God promises relief if repentance and faith are exercised. (2 Peter 3:9)
The Biblical phrase “The Day of the Lord” is used in connection with God’s judgment. Jesus said that He came first to save the world, not to judge it. (John 12:47) But Christ’s Day of Judgment will come. (John 12:48) It is the day that the Lord will fulfill His promises and threats. (Isaiah 13:6-13) It is a day of reckoning against all the proud. (Isaiah 2:12, 17-22) It will be a day of destruction, darkness and gloom. (Joel 1:15; 2:1-2; Amos 5:18-20) There is hope for escape if repentance occurs. (Joel 2:13, 31-32) But beware; God knows the difference between those who repent only to save their lives and those whose repentance is genuine. (2 Corinthians 7:10) Toward the end of the world as we know it, people will be thinking peace and safety, but the Day of Judgment will suddenly come. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-10) In the very last days, God’s judgments will bring cursing from men rather than repentance. (Revelation 16:1-11) It is refusal to repent and place ourselves under the message of Jesus that seals our doom and separation from God. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19; John 3:36; 12:48; Romans 2:5)
Does God want to put people to death? It is plain that He does not desire the death of anyone, but that all come to repentance and be saved from the wrath of God. (Ezekiel 18:30-32; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9)
What future judgments of God are mentioned in the Bible?
(1) The great white throne judgment. (Revelation 20:11-15) This judgment determines our ultimate destiny.
(2) The judgment seat of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:10) This judgment will determine our rewards or losses. The idea of this is suggested by a parable Jesus told about a master coming back to judge how his servants did with what he gave them. (Luke 19:11-27) There is also a clear warning in the parable which shows the master banning from His presence those who did not want Him to reign over them. Another Scripture presents the judging of our works. This passage apparently refers to Christians who suffer reward or loss for their contributions, or lack thereof, in building Christ’s church. (1 Corinthians 3:8-15) We can expect rewards for faithful service to Him, although this is not in our forethought since we serve out of love and not for rewards.
(3) The judgment of angels. (1 Corinthians 6:2-3) Amazingly, Christians are said to be a judge of angels. It is also said herein that we will judge the world.
(4) The judgment of nations. (Matthew 25:31-46) There are a number of interpretations that have been given for what this might mean. Some suggest that this is a judgment of unbelieving people at the end of a millennial age. The separation of the sheep from the goats is judging between two classes of unbelievers in terms of how they responded to Christ’s rule during His 1000 year reign on earth. Another suggests that this is a final judgment of believers at the end of the millennium, separating true believers from false. Others have said this is a final judgment of both believers and unbelievers at the end of a millennial age. All of these suggestions indicate that the judgment is not of nations per se, but of individuals within the nations. There are those, however, who believe that this is a judgment of the nations of the world at the beginning of a millennial reign, based on how they treated Israel during a great tribulation instigated by antichrist. These comments do not mean much to persons unfamiliar with these theological terms, and for our purposes, it is not be all that important. An important thing to know in this passage of Scripture is that Jesus cares about how we treat others. (Matthew 25:37-40)
How are we to live in light of coming judgments? Three things: (1) Certainly, God expects that we will prepare to meet Him in His Kingdom by doing what is right to please Him. (2 Peter 3:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3) (2) I once was very angry toward persons who vandalized my property. I could not sleep, planning ways to get even. One day God helped me realize how wrong I was and I was able to trust that God would deal with them in His time. (Romans 12:19). Knowing that God would judge freed me to let go of my anger, forgive, and grow in love. (3) Do not pass judgment on those trying to honor the Lord, but who differ with you. Rather than despise those who differ from the way we believe or do things, work at building one another up. (Romans 14:10-12, 19)