When I was a young child growing up in a Baptist church during the 1970’s, there was a lot of hell-fire and brimstone talk.  Record-burnings, standing on the street corner passing out tracts to strangers, going door to door trying to scare people into Heaven…I mean, convert the sinners…I mean, tell them about how much Jesus loves them.  Ahem.  I could go on with all the crazy antics I saw.  Anything to bring people to Heaven’s gates.  All manner of outlandish schemes, like the evangelist who stood on a ladder so tall he neared the ceiling of the church to break a stack of enormous ice blocks with one karate chop.  It was the words of an evangelist, telling me that if I didn’t believe in Jesus, I was going to hell, that brought me to the alter.  For that I am grateful.  And there was the truth of God in the messages, to be sure.  But even as a Christian, I grew up being afraid of the God who saved me.  I wonder how many others like me are out there.

My question today is, why was I so afraid?  Because I was taught that every sin I committed would be made known at the Judgement Seat of Christ, and all the world would know every secret thing I had done, said, thought, and was mortified by.  I imagined crowds so large I could not see the end of, standing before Jesus.  While I was before Him, each horrible sin I had done was flashed on a huge screen for all to see.  And Jesus stood before me, asking me to account for each one.  “Why did you do that?”  Gives me a sick feeling just thinking about it.  How was I taught this?  The twisting of the Scriptures.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to read Scripture in context.  You can memorize one verse after another, but if you do not read the verses that surround it, you will not understand the complete meaning of the verse you memorized in the first place.  This happens far too often, and is how I spent most of my life in fear.  I want to clear this up for anyone else who is living in the same place I was.

Let’s start by examining the Scriptures taken out of context, the ones commonly used to teach that everything we do will be revealed for all to see.

Luke 8:17 (NCV) – “Everything that is hidden will become clear, and every secret thing will be made known.”

Oh yah, left alone, that is scary!  Let’s try it in the context of the rest of the passage.  Jesus said (in verses 16-18):  “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed.  Instead, the person puts it on a lampstand so those who come in will see the light.  Everything that is hidden will be made known.  So be careful how you listen.  Those who have understanding will be given more.  But those who do not have understanding, even what they think they have will be taken away from them.”

If you recall, Jesus taught quite a bit using parables.  Many people did not understand the meaning of the parables.  He had just finished telling another of His parables, and was explaining that the light, the truth of the parable, would not remain hidden.  That the truths that He was teaching would not remain hidden, but would be revealed, so his followers needed to listen carefully, and they would be given more understanding.  Nothing there about judgement.

The second verse used to teach a brutal judgement is Luke 12:2 – “Everything that is hidden will be shown, and everything that is secret will be made known.”  This verse is a completely different topic than that in chapter 8 listed above.  But the words are nearly the same, and honestly, I can see why people may understand it to mean that their secret sins will be openly revealed.  But it is not what Jesus was saying.  Look at the context of this verse.

Luke 12:1-3 – So many thousands of people had gathered that they were stepping on each other.  Jesus spoke first to his followers, saying, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, because they are hypocrites.  Everything that is hidden will be shown, and everything that is secret will be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an inner room will be shouted from the housetops.”

What is the hot topic in these verses?  Hypocrisy.  The hypocrisy of the Pharisees, to be exact.  Jesus is warning his followers not to become hypocrites like the Pharisees, because their hypocrisy will be revealed.  Isn’t that true of most hypocrites?  There is only so long that the secret life, lived behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors.  Eventually the truth comes out, and the hypocrisy is revealed.  What happens then?  The person has lost all credibility.  Jesus is warning his followers that, if they are going to teach His message, they need to live His message, so that they, and Jesus, do not lose their credibility.

We have put those “secret” passages into their proper contexts.  Now lets look at what Jesus says about judgement.

John 3:14-19 – “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up.  So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.  God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.  God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.  People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty.  Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son.  They are judged by this fact:  The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light.  They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things.”

Point number 1:  “People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty.”  If we, as Christians, stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ, and are subjected to the revelation of each of our sins before all the world, would not Jesus be expounding our guilt?  Of course.  But if we are not guilty, then there would be nothing to reveal.  Psalm 103:12 says, “He has taken our sins away from us as far as the east is from west.”  Micah 7:19 says, “You will have mercy on us again; you will conquer our sins.  You will throw away all our sins into the deepest part of the sea.”  And Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, I am the One who forgives all your sins, for my sake; I will not remember your sins.”  The judgement is whether or not you have believed in Jesus as your savior, or not.  It is not a litany of your crimes against God.

Point number 2:  Matthew 6:16 (NCV) – “When you give up eating, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites.  They make their faces look sad to show people they are giving up eating.  I tell you the truth, those hypocrites already have their full reward.  So when you give up eating, comb your hair and wash your face.  Then people will not know that you are giving up eating, but your Father, whom you cannot see, will see you.  Your Father sees what is done in secret, and he will reward you.”  Matthew 16:27 – “The Son of Man will come again with his Father’s glory and with his angels.  At that time, he will reward them for what they have done.”  Christ’s judgement of His people will be based on the deeds they have done, how they have served Him.  And His reward will be based on that.

None of this is to say that we have a free reign to sin all we want.  Never is that true.  But we need not live in fear that our sins will be splattered on some enormous heavenly billboard, either.  So while we will not be judged on the the basis of our sins, we will be judged…by our good works.  Not to determine our salvation.  That was determined the minute we accepted Christ as our Savior.  Our good works determine our reward.  This leads, of course to a question.  Are you serving God in a way that will bring you reward from Jesus?  Will He say to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Or will you stand ashamed before Him because you have squandered the gifts He has given you, you’ve taken advantage of God’s forgiveness, and Christ’s sacrifice, and you have put self before God?

What will your reward be?