By Ben Swift
If anyone hears what I am saying and does not observe it, I don’t judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. Those who reject me and don’t accept what I say have a judge – the word which I have spoken will judge them on the Last Day. (John 12: 47-48)
When it comes to controversial issues that exist in the current political and social limelight, judgement can come across as a dirty word. Debates over the acceptability of proposals such as the legalisation of same sex marriage, euthanasia or the legalisation of cannabis can polarize societies and alienate individuals bold enough to express their religious convictions. Mostly we hear phrases such as, “Each to their own”, “Who are we to judge?” or “Aren’t we all sinners?” After all, such phrases provide us with an easy exit from the potential to be seen as aligning with unpopular opinion.
Jesus offers much in the way of advice when it comes to judgement. In Matthew 7:1-3 he speaks the following truth: “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. For the way you judge others is how you will be judged – the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure you. Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye?
While it’s true that we are not to take on the role of judge, we would do well to learn and consider the truth about judgement from the one who is the ultimate and rightful judge of all things. It’s here that questions are naturally raised concerning the justice associated with God’s judgement. How will justice ultimately play out when it is clear that justice does not seem to prevail in this life? It doesn’t take a genius to comprehend the inequity and lack of justice played out in our courtrooms. Who hasn’t watched the news and been sickened by the terrible injustices that happen on a daily basis?
It is not possible to find satisfaction in knowing that justice will be made right in all situations, until you enter into what was achieved on the cross and begin to investigate what the Bible teaches about God’s final judgement. John Stott in his book, ‘The Cross of Christ’, suggests that the certainty of ultimate judgement, when the imbalances of justice will be redressed, are taught repeatedly in the New Testament. He writes, ‘Paul tells the Athenian philosophers that God has overlooked idolatry in the past only because he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed [Christ]’.
When God’s justice is spoken about in Scripture, there is no hint of doubt concerning His just nature. Take for example Deuteronomy 32:4, “Just and right is He,” and Psalm 89:14, “Justice and judgement are the habitations of thy throne.”
There are times when considering the words of Christ on judgement in which the words cut deep, demanding one’s attention. Take for example the following passage:
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my Father in Heaven wants. On that Day, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord! Didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we expel demons in your name? Didn’t we perform miracles in your name?” Then I will tell them to their faces, “I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23)
At another time Jesus warns us not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather to fear the one who has the authority to destroy the spirit. Scripture makes it clear that we are freely forgiven because of the victory over death achieved on the cross. It is important though, to consider the words of Jesus to a woman caught in adultery when considering forgiveness, in light of God’s just judgement. It is here that we are taught that although we are freely offered undeserved forgiveness, we are also commanded to turn from sin as we seek to be transformed to the likeness of Christ.
Jesus said to her [the woman caught in adultery], “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and don’t sin anymore.” (John 8:10-11)
A reasonable question to ask here, in relation to God’s final judgement, would be, “If God is just, how could He judge those who have not heard of Him or been exposed to Scripture?” While there is much that could be written in response to this question, David Gillett in, ‘The Lion Handbook of Christian Belief’, suggests the following explanation:
‘Because the judge is God himself, we can be confident that, at that last judgement, everything will be absolutely just. Everyone will be judged according to what he has known of God and His laws. Those who have never heard of God’s written law will be judged by what they can see of God and His standards from the evidence of the world around them. Their conscience also will have indicated to them what is right and wrong.’
Judgement will be more severe for those who have known God’s truth and then turned their backs on it to return to their old ways. Lot’s wife in Genesis paints a good picture of this as she turns into a column of salt after disobeying God by turning back towards the life she was to leave behind.
‘Indeed, if they have once escaped the pollutions of the world through knowing our Lord and Deliverer, Jesus the Messiah, and then have again become entangled and defeated by them, their latter condition has become worse than their former. It would have been better for them not to have known the Way of righteousness than, fully knowing, to turn away from the holy command delivered to them. What has happened to them accords with the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit.” Yes, “The pig washed itself, only to wallow in the mud!” (2 Peter 2:20-22)
Let us then be confident in the forgiveness we receive through God’s grace and confident that in God, justice has been taken care of through the cross and in the final judgement to come. Let us continue to be transformed to the mind of Christ, seeking to leave sin and its wages of death in the rearview mirror once and for all.