This question came up in a recent Pastor Q & A session at Reed Springs, “Why will believers be judged if Jesus paid for our sins and God has forgotten them?” This is a very good question. The fact is, believers will NOT be judged by God for their sins. If we were judged for just one of our sins, we could not go to heaven. We are justified in Christ. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection of all who repent and believe in Christ (Romans 3:28). Through justification we receive a new standing for God has declared us to be righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of justification, the penalty for sin is done away with for the believer (Romans 6:23).
Believers WILL, however, be judged for our stewardship. There are two different judgments for the believer and the unbeliever. These are separate events that take place at separate times. The unbelievers are judged by their sinful works (Rev. 20:11-15) and punished. Believers are judged by our spiritual productivity and rewarded (1 Cor. 3:10-15). The Bible actually says that we will be involved in judging the world and the fallen angels (1 Cor. 2-3). The judgment of believers will be concerned with the spiritual fruit our life produced and how we handled the gospel on earth.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (ESV) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 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. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
This distinction is very important. Many Christians have a very negative view about the Christian life, as if we are only called to meticulously avoid sin so that we won’t have too many strikes against us when we stand before God. This is absolutely backwards. I fear that many Christians are so afraid of doing something wrong, they never do anything at all! Remember, the disobedient servant was scared of doing something wrong, so he didn’t do anything with what his master had given him (Matthew 25:24-27). Rather than focusing on the “thou shalt nots” the Christian is called to focus on the “thou shalts.” When we become concerned about what God has called us to do, then the other things sort of fall in place. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he didn’t give a “thou shalt not” answer. Instead he said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God…” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…” (Matthew 22:37-40). If I am focused on worshiping God, growing in Christ, helping others, and sharing Christ with them; then I won’t have to continually worry about the things I’m not supposed to do.