In Romans 14:11-12, Paul records, “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” One day everyone on Earth will face the Lord in judgment and will give an account of their lives to our eternal Master, the Lord Jesus. Several scriptural passages refer to the surety and unavoidable reality of the judgment to come in the future. In Hebrews 9:27, the author says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” We are also convinced that the Lord, the only one who is truly holy and just, will be the Judge, not any mere mortal man. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul tells us, “Let a man examine himself…many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” Believers will be judged by their Lord in respect to their stewardship of the spiritual gifts given to them. The kind, sort or quality of the gift will predetermine the reward in eternity for the believer, rather than the amount, or quantity of the gift they are given and employ.
In light of this impending judgment and our desire to live for Christ, we need to be watchful, vigilant, and proactive to guard ourselves against the evil one who tries to pull us away from our Savior and away from our promises of eternal life. In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter commends us to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Paul also tells us of the need for defending ourselves against deception by false teachers and Satan, reminding us that we are all accountable for our works. He says in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, “For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”
In 1 Corinthians 3:9-15, Paul uses an image of workers and building to illustrate the judgment we should expect for the kinds of lives we live and the way we “build” them. He says:
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
This passage expresses the difference between the Lord’s servants and what kind of ministries they engage in on Earth; for while there are no differences between all the Lord’s sheep who are saved in and through Jesus alone, there are indeed differences among the Lord’s servants in how they live their lives out for the glory of the Lord! All of these things will be accounted for and examined by the Lord on the final day.
When Paul uses the phrase, “saved so as through fire,” the idea is of someone rushing through the fire to safety as the building crumbles around him, or snatched as a burning stick is saved from a fire to escape. The gold, silver and costly stones for building materials refer to the enduring quality of a builders’ work, while the wood, hay, and stubble suggest what is temporary or valueless. The three expensive materials suggest the builder’s worthy motives and sound doctrine that the builder “builds” into people’s lives as a solid foundation. The valueless materials are false or negative things, his invaluable motives that are temporary or worthless in eternity.
The words of Galatians 6:7-8 remind us that what we use to build and sow in our lives will be that which we reap: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” What a great reminder to us as we think about judgment and know that we have no need to fear if we are sowing the Spirit in our lives. We will reap the reward of the Spirit in our lives, in eternity with our Lord.