If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve probably heard the saying, “if you are born once, you’ll die twice, but if you are born twice you’ll only die once.” Christians and non-Christians will have vastly different experiences after they die physically. The variable is spiritual life or death. Everyone dies physically, but only non-Christians face spiritual death.
Just like there are two states of spiritual health, there will be two different experiences of judgment at the end of our physical lives. God will judge believers and unbelievers differently.
Judgment for Unbelievers
When unsaved people die, they face God’s judgment for their sin. Without Jesus to intervene, God will judge them guilty. He will hold their sin against them. The judgment will be straightforward. Those whose names aren’t found written in the Book of Life will be sentenced to the second death (Revelation 20:11-15). There won’t be an appeal process, but only a “go directly to jail and do not collect $200.”
Judgment for Believers
In 2 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul talks about the judgment of believers.
For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT
Is this verse talking about both saved and unsaved people? Is it meant to instill fear in believers that Jesus will judge their sin and find their name isn’t written in the Book of Life? No, the context of verse 10 is not discussing the state of a person’s salvation (read verses 1-9).
Some people use this verse to argue that no one can know until the moment of judgment if they are entering heaven. They argue that this is necessary to prevent people from being lazy after they become saved. If a person knows for sure they will be saved, why would they try to be a better person? What incentive do they have to stop sinning? But this goes against many scriptures (Titus 1:1-2, 3:7, Romans 8:1, John 10:27-28, and John 5:24, to name a few).
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.John 5:24 ESV
Saved people will bypass the unbeliever’s judgment because Jesus knows their names are written in the Book of Life. They will be judged righteous based on Jesus’s record. Saved people will be judged, but not as to whether they will end up in heaven or hell. Everyone who is saved goes to heaven. The believer’s judgment will be more like an awards ceremony.
Instead of God using fear to motivate good behavior, He uses love. God empowers the believer to succeed. If a person refuses to try, obey, and love, this is evidence that they aren’t saved. Those who are genuine believers can obey and love by the power of the Holy Spirit (read 1 John 2).
You have a forever priest, Jesus, who is able to empower you to succeed.
But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.Hebrews 7:24-25 NLT
Now, what about the awards ceremony? God is going to judge us believers for what we do with the talents God gives us (Matthew 25:14–30). This will be positive overall, however, this is also where we get to see if our work holds up to the test.
Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NLT (my emphasis added)
So, believers will be saved, but they will be judged for the quality of their work. If you don’t build well, you may lose your reward, but not your life.
I like this because I can experience both the security of knowing God’s love and provision for me and also the challenge of expressing my will to be all that God made me to be. I want to cooperate with God during the sanctification process. I want to stay connected with Jesus so I can bear fruit.
Even so, the purpose of knowing about the reward is not to make it into a free-for-all competition. It’s not like there’s only one first place and we need to fight each other for it. Instead, based on the Parable of the Talents, we are each to give our all according to the gifts and abilities God has given us.
You are running a race in which the only competition is yourself.
You should feel positively motivated to serve God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you’re not, what are you missing?