Works versus Grace
First, everyone must be judged regarding their sins and God’s grace. Good works will NOT save us. God will look at our lives and if our sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, then we will be given eternal life with Christ. However, those who have refused the free pardon of their sins will be doomed to eternal torment (see Judgment at Death). Our redemption (salvation) comes only by God’s grace — “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ep 2:8,9). However, the determination of one’s rewards is based entirely on their works (1Co 3:11-15).
Timing of the judgment
The Judgment of Godly Works occurs after the translation (rapture) of the church. Prior to the tribulation on earth, Jesus will receive His children in the air (1Thes 4:16-18). Both the dead in Christ (who are resurrected) and those still living (who are “changed”) will receive their glorified bodies. They also receive the assurance of being with the Lord forever (1Co 15:51-54) (See note 1).
Basis of the judgment
After we receive our glorified body (at resurrection or rapture), each of us must also be judged according to our works. Make no mistake — nothing in this judgment (or any other other event) will ever revoke the fact that these individuals have begun an eternity with God! Regardless of the quality of their works, THEY will be saved (1Co 3:14,15).
For BELIEVERS only
You may be wondering if the eternally lost will be at this judgment? The answer is NO. The judgment of GOOD works is uniquely for those who have already been granted eternal life. The previous judgments, at death and rapture, have made that selection. This event takes place in heaven while those who died in unbelief are in hell (Luke 16:22-24) and the living – who were not raptured – are now facing the great tribulation on earth (see note 2).
Jesus declared (to the church), “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.” (Rev 22:12) The value of an individual’s deeds will depend on both their motives and their actions. Jesus said that when one does things for the praise of others, that is all the reward they can expect (Matt 6:1-6). That does not mean that their actions were sinful or wicked — the actions may have been very good — but their motives were wrong (see note 3).
There are many actions that will not condemn a believer to hell, but may not be beneficial to that person’s Christian testimony. In Romans 14, Paul taught the church to be mindful of others and the differences that may exist between believers.
Attitude toward others
Some people, with weak faith, may be uncertain about whether they can (as Christians) eat meat, or drink wine, etc. Paul said, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean” (v.14).
Our beliefs about such small things are not worth jeopardizing the weaker Christian’s standing and causing them to stumble. Rather, we should keep such beliefs between ourselves and God (v. 22) and do everything we can to maintain peace with other believers (v.19).
Even if one’s motives are based in pride, or envy, or rivalry, that (alone) will not disqualify the person from eternal life. Paul taught the Philippians (Phil 1:15-18) not to judge their brothers even though some were “preach[ing] Christ out of selfish ambition“, (Verse 17). “…what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached” (Verse 18).
Quality of deeds
The quality of one’s work is also judged. Paul told the Corinthians (1Co 3:11-15) that some deeds are worthy of a heavenly reward while others may not. Verse 13, “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.“
The “Day” (which will bring our works to light) refers to the “Day of the Lord” or the day of wrath prophesied in the O.T. It is the period of time when God deals with mankind in wrath – as opposed to the “day of grace” in which we now live (see Note 4).
Deeds follow us
The church will be raptured prior to the Day of the Lord. However, our works will remain after we are gone. “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them‘” (Rev 14:13). This group (who would soon die) are from the tribulation period, but the principle of our deeds remaining after our death is in effect already.
Fire reveals true gold
This seems to explain Paul’s statement above (1Co 3:11-15) that the “fire” will reveal the quality of our works. Consider that innumerable people will turn to Christ during the FIRE of tribulation (Rev 7:9). But how do they know about God’s grace? Romans 10:14 asks, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” I suspect that they will remember the words and actions/deeds of acquaintances who were taken during the rapture.
The memory of a saint’s quiet mention of Jesus’ love will thunder in the ears of people during the tribulation! Such deeds remain after the saints are in heaven. The value of everyone’s deeds will be exposed by the fire of tribulation. The deeds that are revealed as having been built with true gold on the foundation of Jesus Christ (1Co 3:11-15) are those which lead sinners to Christ during the tribulation and that builder will receive a reward (v.14).
Did someone mention crowns?
Every person in heaven will be given unimaginable gifts: a glorified body, a white robe of righteousness, and eternal life. Depending upon the quality of their deeds and their motives, some individuals will receive additional rewards (see Note 5).
I have identified some specific crowns that the Bible says will be given to the saints. These are doubtless some of the rewards that will be granted:
- The crown given to those who are temperate in all things is INCORRUPTIBLE and will last forever (1Co 9:25).
- A crown of REJOICING is promised to those who win souls in this life (1Thes 2:19, Phil 4:1).
- For those who love the Lord and endure temptations, a crown of LIFE awaits (Ja 1:12, Rev 2:10, 3:11).
- A crown of RIGHTEOUSNESS is given to all who long for Christ’s appearing (2Tim 4:8).
- And Peter said that a crown of GLORY will be given to the elders who serve well (1Pet 5:4).
Eternal life with Christ is the greatest reward of all! Every individual at this judgment will sit with Christ at the Marriage Supper. The promises of God are TRUE!
- The Judgment of Godly Works is sometimes called “the Judgment Seat of Christ” (2Co 5:10). It is related to the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7-9). Both events occur in heaven but the judgment occurs first.
- At the time that Jesus told the story of Lazarus and the rich man, the place called “Abraham’s bosom” was still occupied. It was emptied after Jesus’ resurrection (Matt 27:51-53). The O.T. saints were resurrected and taken to heaven where they remain until Jesus brings them back with Him at His appearance in the clouds (1Thes 4:13-18).
- After major hurricanes or other tragedies, many people donate their time and money to help the victims. A very worthwhile action. But one cannot “buy” their way into heaven by such acts. Neither can believers, who do so for publicity and the praise of men, expect to receive future rewards in heaven. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matt 6:2).
- The “Day of the Lord” defines a period of time of more than 7 years (see When does the “Day of the Lord” happen?). This “day” begins either at the time of, or shortly after, the appearing of Jesus in the air and the translation of the church to Him. It continues through the 7 years of tribulation on the earth and possibly much longer.
- Envy and rivalism are totally absent in heaven. If one saint is given a crown for his or her prior deeds, we will all rejoice. As members of the same body, this is how we should operate now (1Co 12:12-27).