The Great Day of Justice
Passage: Romans 14:10–14:12
The Great Day of Justice
October 19th, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. Infinite Justice?
In the days that followed September 11th, 2001, the United States was planning its response to the Al-Qaeda led attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
The strategic response to these attacks and global terrorism was dubbed by the American government, "Operation Enduring Freedom". And of course, we are now in the 7th year of Operation Enduring Freedom.
But you may remember that this was not the original name given to this initiative. It was originally labeled, "Operation Infinite Justice".
But the Defense Department did a quick turnaround on that name and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained why. To quote a news story from that year:
He [Secretary Rumsfeld] said the administration had quickly reconsidered the original name because, in the Islamic faith, such finality is considered something provided only by God.
Infinite Justice. I think we would agree with Islam on that point, wouldn't we? God is the only one who can provide "infinite justice". He is the only one who can judge justly in infinite measure. But the very fact that human beings recognize a need for such justice tells us that such justice, infinite justice, is something that God has not yet brought to bear on our world.
Maybe, like the Defense Department, God has decided against "Operation Infinite Justice". Maybe the plan of action has been changed.
This morning, we need to consider these ideas in light of what God himself has revealed to us in Scripture as we continue our study about "Justice for All".
Turn with me, once again to Paul's letter to the Romans; chapter 14.
II. The Passage: "Why Do You Pass Judgment" (14:10-12)
Let's look at verses 10-12 of chapter 14. Romans 14:10-12. Listen to what Paul writes:
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confessï»¿ to God." 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Now, once again, we are looking at verses right in the middle of a bigger conversation that Paul is having with these followers of Jesus in the capital city of Rome.
Notice the "justice words" we find in these verses. "Judgment" appears twice in verse 10, and "account" or "give an account" is found once in verse 12.
Now the first use of the term judgment in verse 10 is referring, not to the divine judge, but to human judges, or to be more specific, to people acting like judges.
Paul asks these Christians, why are you passing judgment on each other? The first nine verses of the chapter provide the background we need to understand what was inspiring the judgmentalism that Paul is condemning.
In this chapter Paul tackles the issue of differing convictions among believers on non-essential matters. In this church there were some who believed that God still wanted them to have certain dietary restrictions. Others believed that certain days were to be observed as more holy than the rest.
And even though Paul could address such people, those who were, as he put it, "weak in faith", he instead writes here to the rest, to those who rightly accepted the ritual freedom they had in Christ. He writes to the "strong" here because they were not accepting those who were weak in faith with a sense of equality. They were instead judging them with a sense of superiority.
And so when we arrive at verse 10-12, we find that Paul continues to tackle this problem in two ways. First, he reminds those judging that those who are falling under their condemnation are in fact, their brothers and sisters: Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?
But, second, the final argument he brings in order to confront this attitude is an argument based on "infinite justice". He asks them, "Why are you passing judgment, when there will be a day for all of us before the judgment seat of God?"
To support this contention, Paul quotes from Isaiah 45 in verse 11: "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confessï»¿ to God." What does Paul see in those words from the Old Testament? He sees there a confirmation of the fact that he goes on to state in verse 12: So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
So how is this confronting the judgmentalism of these Roman Christians? Well, primarily, Paul is reminding them that if these "weak" Christians are really doing something wrong, then leave that between them and God. As Paul expressed this earlier in 14:4, Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Paul is saying, on matters like this, let God deal with that man or woman in the day when all will have to give an account.
Now it may be that Paul is also challenging them in light of the fact that those who are judging will also have to give an account of their actions and attitudes to God himself.
But what I want all us to really see here is the fact that God, unlike the U.S. government, has not decided against "Operation Infinite Justice". Paul is reminding his readers and us that one day there will be a great day of justice, a day when infinite justice is poured out over every square inch of creation.
The New Testament, in fact, tells us quite a bit about that Day referred to as simply as "the Day", or "the Day of the Lord", "the Day of God", or "the day of judgment", or "the day of our Lord Jesus"; and their several more variations of these titles.
III. We Will All Stand
Now, because there is often confusion on this subject, let me give you five truths that I believe Scripture gives us about this "Great Day of Justice".
What does the NT teach us about this Day of Justice?
Well, first, we discover that there will in fact be one day, or one period of judgment, for all people.
Even though there are many who teach that there will different kinds and different periods of judgment, the New Testament always seems to point to "a Day" in which God will judge everyone who is living and who has lived, without exception.
It may be that there were some in this church who believed that as Christians they would not have to stand before God. That's why Paul is clear with them in Romans 14:10. He says, "we will all stand". He can say this because of God's word through the prophet: "every knee", "every tongue".
There is no evidence that Christians and non-Christians will be judged in different judgments. Listen to how the Apostle John describes that Day in light of the vision he received:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
Not only does John's vision confirm the extent of this judgment, but he tells us that books will be opened, and that one of those books is the "book of life". This confirms that those who believe and those who do not believe will be stand on that same day. "...We will all stand before the judgment seat of God."
Second, what often leads to confusion about this is that we often forget that even though the Old Testament often speaks of God coming to judge the world, the NT reveals that Jesus will judge the world as God's appointee.
Paul confirmed this to the Athenians when he declared, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:30, 31)
Jesus himself revealed that on that day "all the nations" will be gathered before Him "and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." (Matthew 25:32)
So the judgment seat of God is the same as the judgment seat of Christ, because Jesus is God's appointed judge. God will judge the world through Jesus.
The third truth we learn from the New Testament about this Day of Justice is that everyone will be judged on the basis of two things: what they did and what they knew.
As Paul expressed it earlier in this letter, quoting the Old Testament, God "will give to each person according to what he has done." Revelation talks about Jesus "rendering to every person according to their deeds"; we already saw that that the judgment of humanity in Revelation 20 is "according to what they have done" (20:12)
Jesus also said this in connection with what we do: "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows." (Luke 12:47, 48)
Paul says in I Timothy 1 that he "was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."
The more exposure a person has had to the truth, the greater will be their accountability to such knowledge. What we do and what we know. Even when Scripture talks about the heart and mind and our motives, it does so in the context of how those things affect what we do.
No one will be punished simply because they are a child of Adam. Paul argues in Romans 5, Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned... Because we are children of Adam, we are sinners. That's why we die.
The heart is central in all of this, but Scripture tells us that judgment is based on the overflow of the heart, which of course, proves how desperately sick the heart actually is.
What we do and what we know.
Of course on this basis, our fourth truth reminds us that, without the righteousness of Christ, every person will be found guilty and receive a just punishment.
We learned last week from the opening chapters of this letter that Paul makes it clear that all people, no matter their race, religion, or region of birth, all people are guilty in light of God's perfect standard of what is right. As the prophet Isaiah expressed it, We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)
Therefore, because God is perfectly just, he must address such wrongs. Now, as we concluded a couple of weeks ago, "if we're honest with ourselves, we hope for God's justice as those who suffer, but we hope to never see God's justice as those who sin."
But as we saw last week, God has made a way of grace for us, hasn't He? Through the cross of Jesus, God both demonstrated His justice as Christ took the punishment for our sins, AND God demonstrated His love by declaring "innocent" any who place their full confidence in who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.
And if we are declared "innocent" or "righteous" because we have Christ's righteousness, we do not have to tremble in fear because of our guilt on the Great Day of Justice. The Apostle John put it this way:
15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. (John 4:15-17)
The final and fifth truth we discover in the New Testament is that disciples of Jesus Christ will be judged on the basis of what they have done as Christians, not in regard to God's punishment, but in regard to God's pleasure.
We've already seen that those who have, through faith, received the righteousness of Christ will not be judged for their sins because Jesus already accepted their penalty on the cross.
But here in Romans 14, Paul reminds these Christians that they too will stand before God's judgment seat; that each of us will give an account of himself to God.
So, if this is not a judgment in regard to sin, what kind of judgment is it? Well, as is implied here, this is a judgment in regard to faith. Paul puts it this way in I Corinthians 4:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (I Corinthians 4:1-5)
Paul knew that as a servant of Christ, as a steward who was entrusted with the grace and truth of God, he knew that his faithfulness mattered. One day he would have to give an account to God for why he did what he did with what he had been given.
One writer put it this way: "The Christian will not only be asked whether he was a Christian, but he must also answer how he was a Christian"
A chapter earlier in I Corinthians, Paul told his readers about this judgment as he discussed the work of ministry, the work of building up the church. He wrote:
10 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. (I Corinthians 3:10-15)
You see, the result of this judgment is not punishment for sins, it is either commendation from Christ, as Paul mentioned in I Corinthians 4, or the loss of such praise from Jesus.
Remember how Paul talked about those who were affected for Christ because of his ministry: For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. (I Thessalonians 2:19, 20) He told the Corinthians that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. (II Corinthians 1:14)
We will either stand before the Son of God rejoicing in what He accomplished through us, or we will stand before Him acknowledging the ways we failed to trust Him. Either way, if you are a follower of Christ, you will stand with Jesus Christ; beyond the praise and the feelings of loss, you will stand forever in His glory.
IV. Living in Light of that Day
I don't know if you saw the presidential debates that took place over the past few weeks. Well, if you did, then you probably realized that both candidates were keenly aware of the fact that they would be judged in regard to what they said and how they said it. Their behavior was affected by the knowledge that they would have to answer in the court of public opinion.
When the presidential candidates know that the eyes of the nation are on them, they attempt to act accordingly. But how are we affected knowing that they eyes of heaven are always on us, no matter where we are, no matter what we're doing?
One day, you and I will have to give an account. All of us will stand before Jesus Christ. The question is not "When will that Day come?". The question for us now is, "How will you live in light of that Day?"
And of course, the most important question for any of us in light of that question is, "Do you have an Advocate with the Father? Do you have the righteousness of another covering your unrighteousness? Have you received God's pardon through faith?"
Please don't leave here today without "confidence for the day of judgment". Don't leave here without the assurance that Christ has satisfied the justice of God for you, and thus, allowed you to know the love of God forever. Talk with me afterward if you have questions about this.
But if you have received that gift and are a follower of Jesus Christ, then how will you live in light of that Day? Paul's argument in Romans 14 is that the reality of that Day must affect you now. The knowledge that you will have to give an account should change the way you live.
We've already seen many conclusions the Scriptures draw in terms of this question. Paul says, because of you will have to give an account, Paul says in Romans 14:13, "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother."
Remember what Paul said in I Corinthians 3 in light of our accountability: all of us are building on a foundation in our ministries as disciples of Jesus, so "Let each one take care how he builds upon it...[because]... each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it..." (I Corinthians 3:10, 13)
If you believe that as a Christian you will one day waltz into the presence of the Son of God and nothing about your life right here and now will be discussed, you are mistaken. A servant is always accountable to his master. This too stems from the reality that God is just. Yes, He punishes those who do not have the innocence of Jesus covering their guilt. But he also rewards those who have faithfully carried out His will.
And what is that reward? It will not only be the joy of seeing around you the lives of those you touched, but even more, it the reward of hearing those words fall off the lips of Jesus, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:21)
You see this is not about being motivated by the possibility of loss. It is not even about being motivated by the possibility of great gain. It is about being motivated by the possibility of pleasing the One you love more than any other. It is about being driven by a devotion to Jesus Christ, a devotion that leads to a carefulness and a commitment to His work. It is about waking up every day and praying, "You died for me, Lord, now I want to live for you."
What should affect us more than the reality of having to one day give an account is the reality that we will one day have to give an account before our Lord Jesus; before our Father who welcomes us home.
So don't live in light of that Day. Live in light of the One you will see on that Day. Live for the "joy of your master".