Ask Pastor Adrienne column: Are we forgiven or judged?
Q: Dear Pastor,
If you are forgiven, and then die, do you still answer for your sins on Judgment Day?
A: Great question! It is a complex one which seems like a contradiction: the idea that we are completely forgiven in Christ at the moment of salvation, but we will still be judged. How does that work? Are we forgiven or not? The Apostle John said yes, we are forgiven: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NASB). All unrighteousness means everything. No sin remains - that is, if we humbly repent and admit that we’re sinners. Jesus, who is referenced in the beginning of that section of scripture, is the faithful Savior who does the cleansing. However, there are other verses which lean into the idea that we will still face a final judgment:
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:12, 13).
We see that many years later that same apostle had a revelation about the end of the world. In it, John notes that everyone who has ever lived and died must face a moment when the Book of Life ... which contains the details of every person’s life ... is opened and evaluated in heaven. A judgment is then rendered. The Apostle Paul echoes this same idea: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Yet Paul, our gracious gentile leader, gives us a comforting statement at the end of that verse: “whether good or bad.” In other words, the purpose of the judgment is not only to cast a critical eye on the lives of humanity, but also to observe the accomplishments deserving of reward. Timothy reported that some of us will be given crowns on that day; trophies of having lived our lives as good and faithful servants of God (2 Timothy 4:8).
We all know people who walked an aisle and got saved at the altar; or who quietly confessed Christ, repented of sin and arrived into the Kingdom of God ... only to use it as a license to live recklessly. “I’m saved, so I can’t be condemned,” they muse. “I’ll have fun now and repent later.” In Church circles, we call this cheap-grace: the manipulation of a holy thing into something self-serving. It is detestable and it is also the reason why we have salvation in Christ and a judgment day. God wisely built into the grace of Christ a type of accountability. Once we are saved, cleansed and forgiven, we are then charged to live like it. Everything we do is being recorded and we will be asked about it later on. You see, we control what is written down in the book.
So when we fill our lives up with Jesus and the evidence of Christ’s influence like the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, hope, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control); we enable the angelic scribes in heaven to write down our details with rewards in mind. Judgment Day then becomes a glorious moment of anticipation and excitement when our faithful, Christian lives are handsomely rewarded, and every agonizing sacrifice is lauded as a gift to the King of Kings. Crowns are then doled out. And we’ll have something to cast at the feet of the one who loved us and saved our souls.
Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Send your inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030. For more information on Pastor Adrienne, or to purchase her book, “Ask Pastor Adrienne: 100 Best-loved Columns,” please visit www.adriennewgreene.com.