That was the message given by brother Ben Askins at the Evangelical Church of Fairport one Wednesday night in June 2009. His text was Romans 2:6… “he will render to each one according to his works.” How Puritan of Mr. Askins. Short. Stark. Powerful.
We as Protestants fight tooth and nail against any suggestion that our standing with God could be based on our works and deeds – but to the detriment of biblical theology do we ignore the many passages that warn us… we will be judged according to our works.
With Ben’s permission, I am re-posting his moving sermon here at ItC blog, in 4 parts. Of the thousands of sermons I have heard since 2009, few have stuck with me like this one. Literally. Every. Thought. Will. Be. Made. Known. Wow…
Please check out Ben’s blog B.C. Askins: The Man with the Golden Gun
Romans 2:6, “He will render to each one according to his works…”
Everything you do is permanent. This is a fact as basic as our own existence. The fact that you were here at church at 7PM on June 24, 2009 is now irreversible. That is what you were doing and it will forever be the case that that is what you were doing. Yes, I’m aware of the invention of the eraser. But erasing something which you wrote an hour ago does not change the fact that you were writing it an hour ago. Cover-ups, apologies, confessions, self-delusion, erasures, reparations, none of these things removes the permanency of our every action at every moment in our lives. Everything you do is permanent and you are responsible for everything you do.
And that is the teaching of our text: “He will render to each one according to his works.” Everything that you do is permanent and everything that you do is done before the face of God, who will render to each one according to his works. Yes, you, Christian, you will be judged according to your works. Christian, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, man, woman, child, we will all be judged according to our works, to what we have thought, said and done in this life. “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.”
According to the gospel, on that day of final judgment God will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. The judgment will be according to works and it will be public and it will be exhaustive.
No secret thought or motivation left unpunished or unrewarded. I will see your sins… and you will see mine. I will see how you really thought about me and why you have done the things you have done.
I will see how you’ve thought about my wife. And you will be called upon to give an answer for every careless word spoken, every lustful glance, every self-centered motive, every rebellious action. If the idea of the rest of us seeing publicly all of the shameful things you have thought, said and done terrifies you, then that is a legitimate response. It is legitimate, but not at all adequate. How lowly we must think of the God who sees and knows all, how little we must think of the judge with whom we have to deal, to be terrified at the idea of other mere men and women observing our wickedness and self-righteousness, but not terrified enough to stop ourselves from sinning before the face of God! “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28) “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me…” (Ps. 139:23) He will. Oh yes, he will.
Objections to this clear doctrine of Scripture abound, from both professing Christians and unbelievers. The unbeliever objects to the entire idea of judgment, of punishment, of hell on many different levels. Atheist journalist Christopher Hitchens decries the concept of “thought-crimes” held against us by what he calls a “voyeuristic deity.” Another objection is that even if certain people do deserve punishment in certain cases, such as Hitler or Pol Pot, there is still no reason for that punishment to be everlasting, unceasing.
Professing Christian will object that the Bible says that the sins of believers are covered (Ps. 32:1), washed away (Ps. 51:2), cast into the depth of the sea (Mic. 7:19), never to be remembered by God (Isa. 43:25). That we are justified by faith alone.
Believers, allow me to make clear to you at the outset that the degree to which you are resistant to this biblical doctrine of universal judgment according to works is the degree to which you have misunderstood the doctrine of justification. It is the degree to which antinomianism (or lawlessness) has eclipsed the gospel of Christ in your understanding. And the degree to which you feel natural comfort in the face of this troubling doctrine is the degree to which legalism has surpassed Christ in your heart. It is my hope that before we are through this evening that the gospel of grace will be set forth clearly on this question of the final judgment, so that you can be freed from lawlessness and legalism, the two “thieves” between which the gospel of Christ is perennially “crucified.”
Tonight, I will respond briefly to the objections of believer and unbeliever by attempting to bring the full weight of the Scripture to bear upon the concepts of judgment and justification. Then we will look at three different, but common, formulations of justification: two of them are false and one is true. Which of them you believe is something for which you are permanently responsible.
So Christopher Hitchens accuses God of being a cosmic voyeur and that the idea that God will judge us for our thoughts is, to him, repulsive. Like many of the assertions of the so-called “New Atheists,” this barely deserves a response. It’s not an argument, so it can’t really be refuted. If he and I were to have a discussion or debate on the matter, and he were to raise this objection I might simply reply, “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, dude.” Hitchens, like many atheists, gets thing precisely backwards, assuming that he is the judge and God is the one on trial. Nothing could be further out of touch with reality. However, his assertion does raise the question, why does God judge even the secrets of men? After all, no court on earth does such a thing.
The answer is a simple one. Our distinction between public and private sins does not exist for God. He is everywhere present and all-knowing. Every instant he is everywhere, seeing and evaluating everything. We live every moment of our lives as though performed on a stage before him. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Heb. 4:13). As I said, everything you do is permanent and you are responsible for everything you do.
God will judge men’s thoughts – ” 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.” (1 Cor. 4:5); He will judge men’s words – ” I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:36-37); and he will judge men’s deeds – “And then will (Christ) declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Mt. 7:23). “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’” (Mt. 25:41-43).
The secret things will be judged because perfect justice demands it. Some of the most heinously wicked acts in all of history have been done in secret. All sins will be laid bare. Secret offenses will be brought into judgment. This includes the hidden motives of every action; for we may do that which is right from a wrong motive, and so the deed may be evil in the sight of God, though it seems right in the sight of others. The secret things are of the very essence of our actions. Whether or not an action is good or bad very much depends on the motives behind it. It may seem good, but the motive may tarnish it; and so, if God did not judge the secret part of the action he would not judge righteously.
Think what it will be to have your motives all brought to light, to have it proven that you were godly for the sake of gain, that you were generous as a mere exhibition, or zealous simply for the love of praise, that you spoke carefully in public to maintain a good reputation, but that all the while everything was done for self, and self only.
Indeed, on that day God will reveal all secrets, even secrets that were secrets to the sinners themselves, for there is sin in us which we have never seen, and iniquity in us which we have never yet discovered. We have managed for our own comfort’s sake to blind our eyes somewhat, and we take care to look away from the things about ourselves which it is inconvenient to see; but we shall be compelled to see everything in that day, when the Lord judges the secrets of men. The deeds of the night. The sins hidden behind closed doors. Even sins hidden from husband or wife. If a professing Christian is living in dishonesty, untruthfulness, fornication, adultery, uncleanness or idolatry it will all be made known on that day. For “the sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later (or trail behind them NIV).” (1 Tim. 5:24). All hypocrisy will come to an end on that day. Hypocrites will have an eternity to ponder their foolishness and shame.
It is also true that some of the most selflessly loving acts are performed in secret. All the sacrifices, good deeds and secret works done on behalf of Christ will receive a reward. The greatest deeds that God delights in are those that are done by his servants when they have shut the door and are alone with him; when they have no other motive but to please him; when they intentionally avoid publicity, choosing the final praise of God over the immediate praise of men; when the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. It would be an injustice if such deeds were left out at the final judgment. This fact should be a great incentive for kingdom work. We strive for righteousness and make our bodies living sacrifices not to receive the praise of men but to hear the words of our precious Savior, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt. 25:34). The wise and diligent Christian lays up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Mt. 6:20). The fervent believer runs the race so that he may obtain a prize (1 Cor. 9:24). The faithful servant will receive an imperishable crown (1 Cor. 9:25). What is done for Christ will last forever. “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 Jn. 8). Be diligent. Run the race. Fight the good fight, for your labors in Christ are never in vain. You will receive a reward that can never perish or be taken away when our king returns.
Now Scripture testifies that the final judgment is a public event. Jesus will return in glory surrounded by the host of heaven. As the judge he will summon all mankind (Mt. 25:32) and the dead will arise at His call (Jn 5:28-29), coming forth from their graves and even the oceans will give up the dead within them (Rev. 20:13). God has ordained the final day to be public for several reasons.
First, its public nature will glorify Christ. Our Lord who was publicly humiliated, condemned as a criminal and crucified will be publicly exalted and vindicated before the whole human race. Every mouth will be stopped and every knee will bow before Him.
Second, God has decreed that the secrets of men whether good or evil will be exposed in a very public manner. Every sinner will hear the story of his wicked life published to his everlasting shame. The public nature of the event is obviously intended to magnify the guilt, shame and dread of the occasion.
Third, the public nature of the event is also a vindication of the saints. Not only will God’s people witness the exposure and condemnation of their enemies and persecutors; the persecutors of faithful Christians, the skeptics and mockers of the truth, will witness the gracious exaltation of believers for the fruits of faith, the good works done in the body. It is a day when the tables are turned, when the humble shall be exalted, the meek shall inherit the earth and the wicked, the proud, and the boastful shall be abased. All who laughed at the truth will be publicly cast into hell.
(To be continued…)