We’re in the middle of a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers. You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post. Today’s question was submitted via e-mail by Kyle:
When do people account for their life? Are there two different judgment seats, one for you and then one for the world?
I’m probably not the greatest authority on the end times. Although I’ll sheepishly admit that I read the entire Left Behind series back in the day, I’ve never been the guy to sketch out a timeline in crayon on the back of the ammo box (thanks to Mark Driscoll for that illustration). However, one of the most helpful, simple teachings I’ve ever heard on the subject came from Andy Stanley back when he was speaking to teenagers. Here are a few points from his study guide, The Truth About Heaven (and no, it’s not in print anywhere. And no, I won’t make copies. And no, I won’t write a follow up blog post tying all this in to Don Piper’s book 90 Minutes in Heaven. I’m just ornery that way.).
However, before I give the two-minute download on Kyle’s question, I want to answer another question, and that is: “How should knowledge about what happens there affect our life here?” Here’s the big idea: sitting around and discussing judgment day without context of present day does us little earthly good. While we should seek to study scripture and know what the Bible says about the end of earthly days, the fact is that we are called to live in community here on earth, and Christian community is, in a sense, investing for eternity. Revelation is descriptive, to be sure, for it details what will happen when the church age ends. But we can’t miss that it’s also prescriptive, because it informs us how believers are to relate to each other right now. Revelation is the hope that affirms and completes the rest of the New Testament: Jesus is coming back, the kingdom will be established, and the Christian gets to be a part of it. For that reason, I’m not attempting below to unpack centuries of biblical teaching on eschatology. I will, however, point you to the value in living your life right now against the backdrop of heaven. So with that in mind, let’s talk about judgment…
- Heaven and hell won’t be the same for everyone who goes there. There are various levels of rewards in heaven based on our faithfulness on earth (see 2 Corinthians 5:6-11). Likewise, Matthew 11:20-24 and Luke 20:45-47 seem to allude to the fact that punishments in hell are comparable (feel free to argue this point, because I don’t intend to find out first-hand).
- There are two categories of judgment: one for believers and one for non-believers. Revelation 20:11-15 refers to the Book of Life and the Books of Deeds. (there’s rumor that Southern Baptists will also be judged from the Book of LifeWay.) Where you go will be determined by whether or not your name is in the Book of Life. What it will be like when you get there will be based on the Books of Deeds.
- Believers will be judged strictly on the basis of whether their name is in the Book of Life. It’s not an examination of our sin, but of our acceptance of Jesus’ payment for our sin (see Romans 8:1). The rewards for our life are based on our faithfulness on earth: see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.
…and in the words of Forest Gump, that’s all I’ve got to say about that. To end with one final quote from Andy Stanley, every day matters. You’re living in light of eternity every second of your day. Make it matter!
Some helpful resource that I haven’t read but other smart people said they’re good:
- Heaven is a Place on Earth, Michael E. Wittmer (not to be confused with Belinda Carlisle)
- Heaven, Randy Alcorn
- also, Spence Shelton ghost-wrote the paragraph before the bullet points, so you should call him on his cell phone, which is 919…um…I’ll post it in a bit.
- and, Curt Alan came up with the Belinda Carlisle joke. Mad props.
Next week: a question about Christianity, contextualization, and culture.