Article based on the book & video series by Rick Howard & Jamie Lash


In 1987 a friend told me about a video that he said contained "the most motivating teaching" he had ever heard in his life. It was entitled "The Judgment Seat of Christ" by Rick Howardówhom I had never heard of. 
(I have since learned that Rick Howard has shared this message in over eighty countries around the world.) I asked if I could borrow the video. I was so stunned, I watched that tape sixteen times! Never has a single message impacted my life so greatly.

Even though I had already been a Christian for many years, I had never been taught about the Judgment Seat of Christ. Now I feel like Iím getting ready for the Olympicsóonly itís a million times bigger than that.

Much of the church has been lacking incredible motivation God intended us to have because weíve neglected an incredible truth God intended us to have. Martin Luther said, "There are only two days on my calendar: Today and that Day."

Only believers will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (See Revelation 20:11-15). The issue at the judgment of believers is not punishment. Christ has already borne the punishment for our sins. God will be evaluating our livesólooking for things to reward!

God sent His Son to make both salvation and fruitfulness possible. Salvation gets us to heaven; our fruitfulness will be evaluated once we get there. How we serve God in heaven forever is being determined by how we live this life! The importance of how we live this life cannot be overstated.

On that Day, some Christians will rejoice "with great joy" (Jude 24) while others will "shrink back from Him in shame" (1 John 2:28). All who put their faith in Christ will be in heaven, but some will hear "Well done, good and faithful servant," and some will not. Some will wear crowns indicative of the Father's pleasure upon them, and some will not. Some will be invited to "enter into the joy of their Master," and some will not. This is very serious indeed!

We are called to live lives of love, purity, and fruitfulness. Do you want your life to count? Do you yearn to hear Christ say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"? Is this the cry of your heart? If so, the secret is to live with eternity in mind. We need to live this day for that Day.

At the Judgment Seat our works will be tested by fire. This momentous Day is described in 1 Corinthians 3:9b-15:

"You are Godís field, Godís buildingÖ Let each man take care how he builds uponÖthe foundationÖwhich is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble--each manís work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."

If a Christian builds entirely with "wood, hay, and stubble," then nothing will survive the fire. Such a person will be like a man who barely escapes from his burning house. His clothes are singed and the smell of smoke is on his body. He's very grateful to be alive, but then he turns around and watches everything he's ever worked for turn into ashes.

This person is saved on the same basis any of us are saved--by having faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a free gift, but his life has brought no honor to Jesus Christ and he will spend eternity with no reward.

Letís live every day like we believe God is telling the truth--thereís a fire coming! To make wise decisions during our short time on earth, we must constantly remind ourselves, "Donít forget about the fire! Donít spend your life being driven by worldly goals, pursuing pleasure, possessions and the praise of man. Donít fall in love with wood, hay, and stubble!"

How tragic that many Christians have read this passage but donít take it seriously. How tragic that many have never even heard about the upcoming fire. God is urging us to invest our lives in things that are eternal.

Bearing Much Fruit

The Lord doesnít call any of us to a life of insignificance or even to a life of small significance. He wants to do great things in us and through us. Jesus says, "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit" (John 15:8 italics added).

Is it important to a farmer that his field bears fruit? The Bible says, "You are Godís field" (1 Corinthians 3:9). In James 5:7 the Bible portrays God as a farmer: "Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth..."

Like all farmers, God works His field. If He is at work in your life, rejoice! Nothing that He does is of little value. If you bear fruit, He will prune you that you might bear more fruit. He wants to bring you to the place where you can bear much fruit. He wants to use your life in wonderful ways.

Ironically, the first step in our bearing much fruit is admitting that, apart from Christ, we can bear no fruit at all. "I am the vine, you are the branches," Jesus says, "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).

Apart from Christ we cannot do anything that really matters. We can earn fame and fortune perhaps, but we cannot produce the kind of fruit that Jesus is talking about--"fruit that will last" (John 15:16 NIV). We cannot make a positive eternal difference in the lives of others. We cannot please God. We cannot do anything God can reward. If our works do not flow from the life of Christ, they are worthless.

To God Be the Glory!

Christ supernaturally empowers our lives and enables us to do good works. Then He rewards us for the works that He Himself empowered in the first place! What a wonderful God we serve!

When the twenty-four elders cast their crowns at Jesus' feet in Revelation 4:9-10, they are simply giving credit where credit is due. They are acknowledging, "Everything good in me comes from You. Everything good I've ever done has come from You." Constantly they acknowledge, "This reward should really go to You."

If you receive great reward, your reward will bring continual honor to Jesus Christ. On the other hand, if you go into heaven with no reward, your life has brought no honor to Him at all.

Is It Selfish to Seek Reward?

At one point in my life I told the Lord, "I donít want reward; I just want to serve You." Like many Christians I was not motivated at all by the verses about reward. I was not allowing those scriptures to have their proper impact on my mind and heart. I realize now that I suffered from a common misconception. I thought it would be selfish to seek reward because I didnít understand what the reward is.

Those who are rich in heavenly treasure will not be sifting gold coins through their fingers as they giggle uncontrollably. They will be rich in God's pleasure. They will be able to enter into the joy of their Master. They will enjoy wonderful intimacy with God. They will be useful to Him forever. They will be able to "take hold of the life which is life indeed" (I Timothy 6:19).

Is it wrong to seek these things? Obviously not. On the contrary, Jesus commands it! He tells us to lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven (Matthew 6:20). He urges us to become "rich toward God" (Luke 12:21). Itís a healthy ambition, a holy ambition. In fact itís an ambition that frees us from selfishness because it trains us to seek the pleasure and glory of God.

If we never think about reward or if we hold the false notion that all will get the same reward in heaven, we will lack motivation God intended us to have.

How many Christians do you know who seek to please God with as much diligence and intensity as an Olympic athlete seeking a gold medal? What would happen to Christianity if Christians came to believe that the rewards God wants to give us have value exceeding that of an Olympic gold medal by a million fold? That's not an over-exaggeration; that's an under-exaggeration.

The one thing that will provide us with the motivation we need is the truth. If we simply believed the truth about what is at stake, we would be more motivated than the most motivated Olympic champion.

Paul expresses his yearning that we would understand this truth in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25:

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way that you will get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; we do it to get a crown that will last forever."

Paul likely had the Isthmian games in mind when he wrote the passage above. The Isthmian games of the Greek peninsula were a forerunner of our modern Olympic games. The umpire of the games presided from a raised platform called the "judgment seat." From there he watched the events, and from there he ultimately rewarded the winners.

Shining Like a Star Forever

After a seminar on the Judgment Seat, a woman asked, "But won't all Christians be perfect in heaven?" She thought everyone's experience of heaven would be equal because we will all be equally perfect in heaven. The Bible teaches that our experience of heaven will depend upon how we lived our lives on earth (See 2 Corinthians 5:10). While all Christians will be perfect in heaven, we will not all walk in the same amount of God's power and glory and joy. Light bulbs may be perfect, but not all shine with the same power. Some are 1/4 watt night-lights, some are 30 watts, some are 60 watts, and some are 100 watts.

Daniel 12:3, an astounding passage, speaks to this very issue:

"And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever."

Youíve probably known people whose faces shine because of the joy of the Lord in their hearts. How much joy would have to be inside a person for that person to shine like a star forever? How much of God's glory would have to rest on that person? I want to find out, donít you? (I donít want to be a nightlight.)

How Do We Define Success?

Many people waste their lives because they adopt a false definition of success. In Luke 12 Jesus tells the story of a man who becomes exceedingly wealthy. His labor and investments paid off to the point where it was no longer necessary for him to work. He planned instead for a life of ease and pleasure. What he didn't plan on was dying that night.

"God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:20-21).

When I stand before God face to face, I donít want to hear that particular greeting, do you?

What is real success? In light of the Judgment Seat of Christ, three things are vital:

    1. pleasing God

    2. fulfilling our calling

    3. loving and serving other people

Pleasing God

What good is it for us to be successful in any other endeavor if we fail to please the One for Whom we exist? When our intention is not to please God, we are wasting our time and rebelling against God--whether we are conscious of it or not. We have gone off course, and we need to repent.

Paul writes, "Öwe make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

The intention or purpose of our hearts determines the direction of our whole lives--much like a rudder determines the direction of a ship. For this reason the intention of our hearts is central to God's evaluation of our lives. (See 1 Corinthians 4:3-5).

The ship may be running well, making wonderful time, but if itís headed in the wrong direction, what good is that? To correct our course, we must purpose in our hearts to please God.

One of the most common ways to go off course is to live for people's approval rather than God's approval. Proverbs 29:25 warns us, "The fear of man brings a snare." We are ensnared not only when we are afraid that others will hurt, humiliate, or reject us, but also when we seek to impress people.

It is an easy trap to fall into. We become ensnared simply by entertaining this thought: "What do people think of me?" It doesn't matter whether we conclude that people have bad thoughts about us or good thoughts. The bondage comes not from answering the question the wrong way, but from entertaining the question at all. The question itself is an invitation into the realm of the fear of man.

At a Christian university where I use to teach, some of the students had adopted an unusual ritual. At around 10:30 on Sunday morning these students would get out of bed and hit the showers. The men would shave; the women would put on their make-up and fix their hair. They would then put on their Sunday best and proceed to the dining hall for lunch. Although they didn't go to church, it was very important to them to give that impression.

Here is a picture of people enslaved to the fear of man. It is also a picture of people ignorant of the Judgment Seat of Christ. Understanding the Judgment Seat destroys the motivation to pretend we're something we're not. In Luke 12:1 Jesus warns us to "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." In the next two verses Jesus then provides the cure for hypocrisy by revealing a very sobering truth about our future:

"Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be made known. Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops."

Fulfilling Our Calling

The calling God has on your life is a thousand times more important than you have ever dreamed, because God wants to impact His Kingdom forever through you.

It is an amazing fact that God has called your name in heaven--to do certain tasks. What does the God of the universe want to accomplish through your life? You were designed for "good works that God prepared beforehand for you to walk in" (Ephesians 2:10). Nobody else can fulfill your calling. Nobody else has your unique set of contacts, gifts, and talents. Nobody else will be in the right places at the right times. God has a great purpose for your life.

God wants us to bloom where we are planted. Focus on the present. Everyday we are being presented with opportunities to love people, to serve people, to be fruitful. God wants to use our current situation to teach us things, to prepare us for what He has in store for us. Many people feel restless and discontented because they yearn to bloom where they are not planted.

What tasks has God already given you to do? Do them well. Do them as unto the Lord. Do them with all of your heart. Do them as an act of love toward others. By so doing, you will be developing into a vessel fit for what God has in store. Remember you must be faithful over little before you will be ready for God to call you to bigger things. Make the most of your preparations for you shall have need of them.

Loving and Serving Others

Jesus says that if you want to be great in Godís Kingdom, you must become a servant. If you humble yourself, God will exalt you.

Pride is preoccupation with self. Some people think about how incredible they are; others think about how pathetic they are. In both cases, their minds are riveted on self. Real humility involves lifting our focus off of ourselves altogether. Philippians 2:3-4 tells us how to develop a servantís heart:

"With humility of mind count others as more important than yourself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."

Here God says we're proud whenever we go through our day without considering the interests of other people! When we only serve ourselves, we are subconsciously considering ourselves more important than everyone else. We donít have to feel proud to be proud. We donít have to think weíre superior to be proud. We exalt ourselves by preoccupation with ourselves and our own interests. God therefore commands us to humble ourselves.

As we consider this passage, letís not ask, "Am I familiar with these verses?" or "Have I heard this before?" but rather, "Am I doing this? Am I obeying these verses? Do I regard others as more important than myself? Do I look out for their interests?" If we meditate on these verses and apply them daily, we will become rich in good deeds and rich toward God.

Joy and fruitfulness come from loving others--from getting our focus off of ourselves and saying, "How can I be a blessing? How can I help somebody? How can I give my life away?"

How astounding it will be when Jesus reviews our lives with us at the Judgment Seat, unveiling the full repercussions of each act of kindness, of each word of encouragement, of each dollar given to His Kingdomís work. For example, we may discover that helping one friend to find salvation has--through the generations--resulted in the salvation of a thousand others.  
If only we could realize how much this life matters.

God tells us in advance about the Judgment Seat, not because He doesn't like us, but because He loves us. He wants us to do well there. Letís delight His heart by fulfilling our calling and by showing many people His kindness. Letís live this day for that Day.

 
ó by Jamie Lash, Director of Student Development at Dallas Baptist University and
co-author of the best-selling book, This Was Your Life!

 


 




This Was Your Life
by Rick Howard & Jamie Lash
is published by Chosen books, a division of Baker Books.






 

 



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