John completes chapter 2 with two small verses, verses packed with significance. Imagine purchasing a beautiful painting and desiring a frame that would beautifully display it. These two verses display a beautiful truth that we generally miss in reading them. While it is not explicit, and this scriptural truth is generally neglected, verses 28-29 are about the judgment seat of Christ. John did not have to be explicit because this was a foundational truth taught by the early church. In our day we need to be clear because this is rarely addressed. An egalitarian spirit has arisen in the church that says all Christians get in and enjoy everything equally. To teach this is to ignore what Jesus taught in the gospels about different rewards and punishments. It also ignores what Paul plainly taught. Jesus is fair and just, it would be unfair of Him to treat everyone the same because His judgment is based on how we respond to His drawing after conversion. So on to our verses.
28 And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 John 2:28-29 (NKJV)
How does this relate to the judgment seat? John warns of the danger of Christians being ashamed when they see Jesus. Why would any of us be ashamed? Look at the scriptures below and then I will come back to these two verses.
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Romans 14:10-12 (NKJV)
This first passage affirms the reality of the judgment seat of Christ and the need to give an account of our lives. The passage below speaks to what John is addressing but in more detail.
1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. 2 Corinthians 5:1-11 (NKJV)
Paul above addresses his desire to step from time into eternity and be clothed with his spiritual body. However he does not want to be naked. What does this mean? In Revelation John said our clothing is our righteous acts.
8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:8 (NKJV)
To appear naked and ashamed before Jesus is to bring nothing that we have done after salvation. This judgment is not about salvation, it is about Jesus assessing how we have used the gifts (think of the parable of the talents) He has given us. We are each judged on the basis of what we could have done with what we have, how well we fulfilled our calling and purpose. None of us will get it completely right, we will all fall short to some degree, yet we need to press on pursuing His purpose for our lives. We do not want to be those Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 3 who are barely saved. This is so significant that Paul concluded this teaching in 2 Corinthians by speaking of the ‘terror of the Lord’ as a motivator.
So how do we stand unashamed and clothed before Jesus when He appears? John said we practice righteousness. We simply commit to following Jesus and being obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit. If we are sincere in our faith and our commitment to Jesus we have nothing to fear at the judgment seat. Again, we come back to the Gnostic heresy John was refuting, the idea that what we did with our body did not matter. We are called to walk the path of life and the two ditches on either side of this path are legalism and license. The first is an unhealthy focus on laws, rules and regulations that bring us into bondage. The other is a false belief in ‘grace’ and believing that now that we are saved we can do anything with impunity.
Time as we experience it is linear and today’s opportunities will not be available tomorrow. So each day we should set our heart to follow Him and press on. The judgment seat really is a manifestation of His grace. He is worthy of it all!