The Bible speaks about the judgment of non-believers AND believers (Christians) (Hebrews 9:27). Many times, there is confusion or a lack of understanding on how Christians will be judged and even confuse the scriptures speaking about the judgment of the unsaved.
It would be helpful to define who a Christian is for it is Christians that we are discussing. A Christian is a person who has placed his faith in the work and person of Jesus, His death as payment for our sins, and Jesus’ resurrection. John 1:12-13 states “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Christians are those that are redeemed (Titus 2:14), that is those that have been released from the penalty of their sins by payment of a ransom which is Jesus’ death on the cross.
When Jesus paid the penalty that was ours to pay, all of our sins were forgiven, past, present and future. All our sins were future sins for we had not yet been born when He paid the penalty on our behalf. Those Christians who sincerely repent and are trying but sometimes fall into sin are forgiven. This occurred when the person confessed that Jesus is Lord and believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). We, as Christians, still live in this body of flesh that still bears a relationship to Adam by way of our birth (Romans 5:12). All Christians bear a relationship to God because of our new birth (1 Corinthians 15:22). Our new nature does not remove the Adamic nature that we inherit at birth. In fact, Paul states in Romans 7:21 that while we desire to do good, evil is present with us. Positionally, our relationship to Adam has been revoked as we were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) but we must acknowledge that sin continues to dwell in us (Romans 7:17). To state otherwise is to deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8).
This is the paradox that Paul struggled with in Romans chapter 7. Paul declares that he does not do the good he wants but instead, he keeps doing the evil that he does not want to (Romans 7:19). In fact, chapter 7 is devoted to the struggle that Christians have between our heart that wants to serve God and our struggle with our flesh. This struggle that we endure is a battle that even Paul wrestled with.
Throughout God’s Word, Scripture teaches that while salvation is not based on works, God’s judgment is always the basis of a person’s deeds (Romans 14:12, Galatians 6:7-9, 2 Corinthians 5:10). In Romans Chapter 2, Paul is discussing two distinct groups of people, the redeemed and the unredeemed.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Rom 2:6-8)
Christians will stand before God so that we give an account to God.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
This judgment does not involve a determination of our salvation for that was already determined when we placed our faith in Jesus. Nor does it involve punishment. There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1). Believers will be rewarded based on their deeds. Each believer’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. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1Co 3:12-15)
A believer’s judgment is not based on punishment but based on rewards. If the believer’s work is built on a foundation that survives, he will receive a reward. If the believer’s work is burned up, he will suffer a loss though he will still be saved.
Jesus will be the judge of all people, saved and unsaved. All unbelievers will be judged and punished according to their works. The unsaved are storing up wrath against themselves (Romans 2:5). The redeemed will give an accounting and will receive rewards based on their deeds if there is a foundation that will stand the test of fire. If not, the believer will lose rewards but will be saved. There is no punishment for the Christian as Christ bore the punishment for us.
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This post is adapted from an answer written for GotQuestions.org