Don't Try to Take Jesus' Seat

“So, are you saying that _______________ am/is/are/would be lost?” Have you ever heard a question phrased like this relating to a person’s salvation or eternal destiny? I have – plenty of times in fact. It’s an example of what people sometimes refer to as a “loaded question,” a question designed to trap you in some way. No matter what issue prompted the question: 1) if you say yes, you’ll likely appear to be Pharisaical, holier-than-thou, unreasonable, etc., and 2) if you say no, you’ve revealed that the issue that prompted the question is not one of any real importance. Either way, the person asking has gotten you to take a seat that doesn’t belong to you.

When Paul stood on Mars Hill revealing the unknown God to the Athenians, he said among other things that “God… has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:30-31). As he later told the church at Corinth, that Man is none other than Jesus Christ: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:22-23; Acts 10:42; Romans 2:16; 14:10; 2 Timothy 4:1). Even though Christians will one day be called to join Jesus in agreement with His judgment (1 Corinthians 6:2), the judgment seat belongs to Him and not us. Realizing this can help us when we are asked to weigh in on someone’s salvation or eternal destiny; really, it’s not our decision to make.

The fact that Jesus is judge shouldn’t end a hypothetical discussion about a person’s salvation though. We know a lot about how Jesus is going to render His judgement. Before describing Jesus as “the judge of the living and the dead,” Peter affirmed, “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34, 42). Jesus won’t hold people to different standards when He judges. Paul echoed this truth to the Romans (Romans 2:11) before adding an important detail: “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:16). The impartial standard by which people today will be judged is the gospel, the truths contained in Jesus’ New Testament. Jesus’ judgment will be so impartial that even though He claimed to be the appointed judge of mankind (John 5:21-22), He was able to say: “And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:47-48).

So, whenever we’re asked about a person’s salvation, a reasonable response would be, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what I or any person says or thinks. The real question is, what does the Bible say?” Reflecting upon what the Bible says honors the fact that Jesus is judge, honors how He intends to judge us, and honors His desires for us as relates to the very idea of judgement. It was Jesus’ hope that Christians would be convicted “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement,” and not that they would allow these things to appear mysterious or unknowable (John 16:8-13). Jesus desires and even commands His followers to be able to “judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

Having said that, let me walk you through a couple of common scenarios to help you to prepare to honor Jesus’ desires for your conviction while honoring His position as our judge. The first scenario is when a person asks you about the fate of a person who has died. Here are a couple of things to think about. First, even if you know the person under consideration, it’s highly unlikely that you know everything about them. Jesus did say, “By their fruits you shall know them,” about people, but He intended for that to be a measure of the living, not the dead (Matthew 7:20). Second, the reason a specific person has been brought up is likely because there’s a lot of emotion attached to that person. Satan will attempt to use your answer and the power of that emotion to drive the person asking you the question away from both you and the truth. Knowing these two things, I typically make it my policy to say, “Whatever that person did or did not do, they are in the hands of God.” I’ll then bring up the powerful question Abraham asked, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) before bringing the discussion back to the person who asked the question.

The second scenario I’d like to discuss involves a hypothetical question. I often get asked, “If a Christian blasphemes or says a curse word immediately before he or she dies, will he or she be lost?” While this question sometimes is asked genuinely, it’s sometimes asked in an attempt to prove that God’s grace covers “little” sins. Regardless of why the question is asked, it’s good once again to reflect on the truth of Genesis 18:25; God will do right when He judges. However, since the question is hypothetical, why not simply reflect on what God says about cursing and swearing? Jesus said, “I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment,” and later added “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed… blasphemies” (Matthew 12:36; 15:18-19). Paul added, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29). In light of these and other passages, it seems like our time would be better spent trying to train ourselves and others to say the right things instead of worrying about what will happen if we or anyone else says a wrong thing and dies.

Faith commits any and all final judgment to Jesus and fully trusts Him to do the right thing when He judges. While we can and should be convicted in our faith (Hebrews 11:1) and through that faith righteously judge the words and deeds of the living (John 7:24), we should never try to judge the things that God alone sees (thoughts, motives, intentions, etc.) or a soul who has gone to meet God in judgment. James warns, “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:12). The judgment seat belongs to Jesus; let’s purpose never to try to sit in it ourselves.
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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