The Bema Seat (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Judge-Judy

“One day you will stand before the judgement seat, the books will be opened, and there will be a reckoning. If your good works outweigh your bad, you’ll be safe. But if your bad works outweigh the good, you’ll be toast.”

You may have heard a line like this, but it’s not in the Bible. It’s the age-old religion of bookkeeping, which Christ came to end.

So what are we to make of this verse:

For we must all appear before the judgment (bema) 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 Cor 5:10)

How will we be judged and what are the good and bad things that are judged? Let scripture interpret scripture and the following becomes clear:

  • We all have a date with Jesus. This includes babies who died young and unreached tribes. Every single one of us will bow the knee (Rom 14:11). Some bow in adoration and some bow grudgingly, but all will recognize that Jesus is Lord.
  • Everyone receives something from the Lord, either life or death (John 3:16), righteousness or wrath (Rom 1:17-18). Righteousness is a gift, but death is a wage. Righteousness leads to eternal life, wrath leads to death. “Yes, wrath is for the sinner,” says the hellfire preacher. Actually, righteousness is for the sinner. God gives grace to the sinner (Rom 5:8). So who gets wrath? Those who don’t want grace.
  • “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” asked the rich young ruler. There is no good thing you can do to inherit an inheritance. You only get an inheritance when someone dies and Someone did.
  • So what are the good and bad things Paul is referring to? These are the useful or useless choices we make, the worthwhile or worthless works. All good work flows from trusting Jesus (John 5:24); all useless work flows from trusting self (Jer 17:5-6).

That’s a broad overview, but we can get a clearer understanding of Paul’s words about being rewarded for doing good or bad by reading what Jesus says here:

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)

Who lives?

Those who have “done what is good” meaning, those who “hear and believe” (v.24). Jesus has good news for us – “God loves you!” – and those who hear or hearken to these words will live (v.25).

Do you see? At the end of the day you are not judged on your resume or reputation. God is not counting the good and bad things you have done (although our actions surely have consequences). In the final analysis, there is only one choice or work that matters:

The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. (John 6:29)

Who dies?

Those “who have done evil” meaning, those who jam their fingers in their ears and refuse to hear the good things God has to say. They’d rather hear whatever bad news they’ve bought into and as a result they are missing out on the good stuff. Note that this has nothing to do with punishment, for apart from Christ we are dead already. The evil work is refusing “to come to me to have life” (v.40). It’s diving into the quicksand when you could be resting on the rock.

And who are these evildoers?

“It’s filthy, degenerate sinners,” says the moralizing preacher. Not so, said Jesus, the friend of sinners. An evildoer is someone who rejects Christ (John 3:36). This includes the religious person who studies the scriptures that testify of Jesus yet refuses to come to him (John 5:39-40). It’s the preacher who cries “Lord, Lord” while fleecing the sheep and prostituting the love of God (Matt 7:21-23).

An evildoer does something. He denies the Lord (Jude 1:4) and judges himself unworthy of life (Acts 13:46). He turns away (Heb 12:25) and goes astray (2 Pet 2:15).

The choice we all make

To do evil in a religious sense is to break the rules, but to do evil in a Biblical sense is to harm yourself by “thrusting away the word of God” (ie: Jesus) (Acts 13:46), “suppressing the truth” (ditto) (Rom 1:18), and “trampling the Son of God underfoot” (Heb 10:29).

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life. (Deu 30:19)

Everyone gets a choice and Jesus wants you to choose life. This isn’t rocket science. If you reject life, what are you left with?

I hope you can now see that the religious caricature of Judgment Day – the one where God tallies up your good and bad deeds or plays a videotape showing all your secret sins – has no basis in scripture. None at all.

And this brings us back to the judgment or bema seat. We could debate whether this is a literal or metaphorical seat, and we could argue over whether we’ve appeared before it or are yet to appear before it. But such debates would distract us from the larger point which is this:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them … We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:18-20)

Be reconciled, is the point. Today, is the point. Your sinful past and a future judgment should not hinder you from enjoying God now. (What about the fear of the Lord mentioned in 2 Cor 5:11? See my next post.)

  • Religion says, “Beware the books,” but the gospel declares, “There are no books.” God keeps no record of your sin.
  • Religion says, “Count your sins,” but the gospel declares “God is not counting your sins.” So why should you?
  • Religion says, “Busy up your life with good works,” but Jesus says, “There is only one work that counts and I did it already. Rest in me.”

As with everything in scripture, the Bema Seat is only interesting because of who is sitting on it. The Bema Seat is not about you and what you’ve done or must do. It’s about Jesus who did it all so that you might truly live.

42 Comments on The Bema Seat (2 Corinthians 5:10)

  1. I like your take on what happens to those who ‘have not heard’, in that those who want Grace will receive it; those who don’t will not. There’s actually no Scripture that says that we have to ‘decide for Christ’ in the here and now, Heb 9:27 notwithstanding (it doesn’t actually say that!)

  2. So, what happens to those who reject God’s offering of salvation through faith in Jesus?

    • They get what they ask for.

    • For Jason
      Because the GOD we worship is SO GOOD,( and because of that, and the best medical science that tells us that the sense of hearing is the last sense we lose before dying,) I believe that the HOLY SPIRIT speaks to that dying one, gives him the GOSPEL, and another chance to receive CHRIST before he gives up the spirit……”Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of GOD”………GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME…..Neil , in Canada

      • Neil, I so agree with you: God’s mercy never ends! And if you read Imagine Heaven, by John Burke, you’ll see the reality. He explores Near Death Experiences in the light of Scripture and it’s amazing. His Mercy doesn’t end with death, though there are those who even then do reject Him. Blessings!

  3. Keep up the good work Paul,another good one,I very much expect to see “your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone” sorry couldn’t help it,know im telling my age

  4. This is liberating truth. Thank you for this post.

  5. I’m sure Judge Judy is a nice lady, but it is good news that God’s ways are higher than Judge Judy’s ways.🙂

  6. Anthony B. // May 12, 2016 at 3:15 am // Reply

    Aramaic Bible in Plain English (Jude 1:4)
    For men have obtained entrance, who from the beginning were written with this guilty verdict: “Evil men who pervert the grace of our God into an abomination and deny him who is the only Lord God and our Lord Yeshua The Messiah.”

    These men aren’t just evil doers they are “evil men”, this is thier identity. They reject the inheritance that God the Father provided for all, which is Jesus. Where as those who have simply recieved Jesus as there inheritance are new creations in Christ.

    Aramaic Bible in Plain English (2 Cor 5:17)
    All that is in The Messiah is therefore The New Creation; the old order has passed away to such.

    Our identity is Christ himself, (1 Cor 12:27).

    1 John 4:17-19 (AMP)

    17 In this [union and fellowship with Him], love is completed and perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment [with assurance and boldness to face Him]; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect (complete, full-grown) love drives out fear, because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment, so the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. 19 We love, because [a]He first loved us.

  7. Paul, I agree with the points you make but have trouble when i try to reconcile them with Matt. 25:31-46 where Jesus sits on his throne and divides the sheep from the goats. The way he differentiates the sheep from the goats is based on how they helped those needing help. This reads more like words of prophesy than a parable. It seems clear that Jesus is saying this will happen. Why did Jesus not just say that the differentiation is based on our acceptance of him. Putting the emphasis on works, even if they are a result of our faith, is confusing. i don’t think I have seen you address this passage – at least I can’t find it in the archives. i would appreciate your thoughts.

    • That’s not technically true. He divides the sheep from the goats on the basis of them being either sheep or goats. He puts the sheep on one side and the goats on the other. One group is “blessed by my Father” while the other has refused those blessings and cursed themselves through unbelief. If we divide people on the basis of the good and bad deeds, or charitable and uncharitable lives, we’re going to have a problem with Jesus’ words in Matt 7:21-23. What makes a sheep a sheep? Jesus knows them (John 10:14) and they follow him (John 10:27). Why are the good workers of Matt 7 told to depart? Because Jesus doesn’t know them (Matt 7:23) and they don’t believe him (John 10:26).

      I may write a post on this.

      • Hi Paul – I REALLY enjoy your blog and I would really like it if you would write a post about Matt 7:21-23…I grew up around super “religious” people (i.e. it’s all works based- Jesus loves you, but you’d better straighten up and fly right- Also-Dress a certain way, act a certain way, etc.) and it’s always frightened me to think that you could want forgiveness from Christ and not be deemed worthy to receive it even though it’s God that does the work and paid for your sins. Grace can be a hard concept to wrap your head around when legalism has been drilled into you for so many years. Thanks again for your uplifting posts- I really enjoy them. Blessings. -Charlie <

      • I already did. You can find it in the Archives > Scripture Index. Enjoy!

      • Thank you🙂 Ironically I think I read that when it was posted last Fall, however I appreciate you re-directing me back to it because I needed to re-read it. Thank you so much for your Web site. I can’t begin to tell you how much comfort I’ve gotten from reading some of your posts. Please keep up your mission because there are LOTS of people that need to hear “Jesus loves you” when they’ve been beaten over the head by religion. Thanks again and God Bless. -Charlie <

  8. Neil MacEwan......in Windsor ONTARIO CANADA // May 12, 2016 at 10:30 am // Reply

    Judgment begins at the house of GOD. 1Peter4: 17> ;
    John 5:22. 26,27The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son
    John8-15 ..ye judge after the flesh; I (Jesus) judge no man
    John 12:48….He that rejecteth me( Jesus), and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him; THE WORD THAT I HAVE SPOKEN, THE SAME SHALL JUDGE HIM IN THE LAST DAY
    Rev 20: 12-15…the dead,small and great, stand before GOD; AND THE BOOKS WERE OPENED (what books?) …..dead were judged by those things that were written in the books, according to their works
    THE BOOKS ARE THE WORDS JESUS SPOKE……FOUND IN THE SCRIPTURES
    Sp God doesn’t judge, neither Jesus, but Jesus’ words spoken judge the lost and Christians are judged at the BEMA

    • You might be interested in this article on 1 Peter 4:17.

      • Hi again…..The reason I cut short what I had to say was the 250 word limit…the rest of what I want to say about the church being first in line for judgment has to do with the Rapture…since the Church will be raptured BEFORE THE NON BELIEVERS JUDGMENT,
        THE CHURCH WILL BE JUDGED AT THE BEMA SEAT, AGAIN BEFORE THE REST OF THE JUDGMENTS ON THE NON BELIEVERS!
        That’s why the Judgment has to start with the CHURCH!

    • What about the cross? Wouldn’t God be denying the cross if He judged the church as anything other than righteous? 2 Cor 5:21, Col 2:14

      • TO LJP
        IT’s been my experience that many have the wrong idea of judgment, as applied to Christians. The Bema seat of Christ is judging the things we have done WHILE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST,THE WORKS WE DID THEN WILL EITHER GENERATE A REWARD OR BE BURNED UP IN THE FIRE…the Bema seat is NOT determining your entrance into Heaven…that has already been determined by our Belief in Jesus…the main purpose of the Bema seat is to determine what rewards the Christian will receive…..did I do the things that THE FATHER HAD PLANNED FOR MY LIFE?

      • We are the Body of Christ because we are in Christ and He is in us… Is the body of Jesus really less than perfect and in need of purification?

  9. Does it mean that homosexuals, sexually immorals and criminals etc. are NOT EVIL DOERS as long as they believe in Jesus?

    • Stephen Meek // May 12, 2016 at 7:14 pm // Reply

      Cris – Your courage in possing this question is one of what many of us might first find as a loaded question.

      “Anyone”, is the operative word when speaking of the sin in all man-kind which brings death Rom 7. Homosexuals… etc. are no more or less suceptible to the decrees of God concerning sin than anyone not choosing these behaviors – but are choosing others, just as much sinful as sexual or criminal sins.

      Remember, “believing in Jesus” – is it the same as being born-again? The one who took Jesus to a high place, attempting to get His worship for himself – he believes in Jesus, but does not respect Him as God. He believes & similtaneously trembles with (fright/dread) present real fear.

      Many people know the truth of what it means to choose life in Jesus, but would rather have things their way – and so remain outside of the Kingdom of God.

      In the end, if homosexuals, sexual immortals & criminals etc. [all are actively participating] yet, at the same time are claiming faith in the testimony of God concerning the Christ – then perhaps they might need Grace from their believing peers in Christ; to speak to what scripture speaks to as, coming out of the world where they once were, but are no longer of.

      • Bro. Stephen – according to this post if I understand it correctly. “Evildoers” are only those people who rejects Christ. An individual no matter how grave the sin he is still doing is not a sinner. It looks like a person is still saved even when that person refuses to change their behaivior as long as they understand that they are saved by grace alone. Yes, I do understand that we are not saved by our own works. But should we not expect any fruit from a professing believer?

    • Anthony B. // May 13, 2016 at 5:28 am // Reply

      The answer Cris is yes, its all about identity. If you believe on Christ you are a new creation, born again. None of us are perfect in actions and deeds, but in Christ God the Father sees us perfect and complete.

      New Living Translation (Col:210)
      So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

      GOD’S WORD® Translation (Acts 13:39)
      However, everyone who believes in Jesus receives God’s approval.

      The Message (Acts 13:39)
      But everyone who believes in this raised-up Jesus is declared good and right and whole before God.

      This gift was for the entire world Cris, anyone who adds the finished work of Jesus to their account is no longer a “Evil Doer” or “Evil” in general.

  10. Indeed, you’re a blessing to the body of Christ. You make the gospel so so so simple.

    Just love you Saint Paul.

    Greater Grace!

  11. You no the Gospel ”good news” jus keeps getting better with great insight as this Paul.. .
    People ‘those who don’t want the grace” can finally let go of the fear of doing a great deal of Job in keeping these GRACE.. .and understand it has been made easy n lightened,,it’s an inheritance.
    ..Truth will always be Truthful..
    Nice1 Paul

  12. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
    Matthew 7:16 nlt

    But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.
    Hebrews 6:8 NLT

    How then can we identify those who are saved and who is not based on an individuals identity without looking at their actions. Anybody can say that they’ve received the gift of God’s grace. But they cannot deny the fruit of their lives. Are we to say they are ok with God even though they live lives no different from any other evil person?

    • The context of Christ’s words reveal that he is describing false prophets or wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s “Watch out for them” not “play the judgement game with your brothers and sisters.” You might not know who belongs to Christ, but he does (John 10:14).

    • Colleen G // May 14, 2016 at 9:25 am // Reply

      If you are genuinely concerned about giving someone false assurance when they might not really be saved the best course is to continually expose them to the fullness of the gospel and trust that faith in Jesus is enough to make someone a new creation.

      • Laurence Brill // July 15, 2016 at 5:40 pm //

        🌏 I like that Colleen… nicely put without a feeling of compromise. A wise and common sense way to go about it. Any sowing of the word will hopefully have an effect of renewing the mind, therefore revealing more truth about the entire God factor, turning the individual closer to their Maker ✅

  13. Bro. Paul thank you for your response. But isnt describing false prophets or wolves in sheep’s clothing exercising our ability to judge already? Are we to judge differently between false prophets and false brothers? I think there’s a difference between judging and condemning. Could you help me understand this verse? Maybe its out of context but I would want to understand it better.

    Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves?
    1 Corinthians 6:2 NLT

    • Anthony B. // May 14, 2016 at 4:41 am // Reply

      Christians are in this world not of it…

      New International Version (Jn 15:19)
      If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

      GOD’S WORD® Translation (Php 3:20)
      We, however, are citizens of heaven. We look forward to the Lord Jesus Christ coming from heaven as our Savior.

      NET Bible (Eph 2:19)
      So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household

      • The problem with man-made reasoning is that we constantly judge ourselves by what we do or don’t do and by what we did or didn’t do. We negate the work of Jesus in cleansing our guilty conscience. I say this not to make the guilty feel more guilty but to encourage them to reveal the truth, that Jesus accepted them when they believed and they are judged on account of Christ’s blood and that Christ is in them. Sin will always seek to disqualify before God, but that’s not what God’s Word does, rightly divided. Don’t elevate man-made reasoning, distorting God’s love, damaging hope, and diminishing faith.

  14. Thank you Paul. I always read your posts and really appreciate the way you share your insights. I would like to ask you; you said that there are no books but the book of Revelation talks about them 20.12
    And what about when Jesus told his deciples that what ever is done secretly in the dark will be uncovered, brought to the open at the end of times.
    Would you help!me to understand more on these?
    Thank you!

    • The Lamb’s Book of Life is not a record of sin. It’s a very good book to be recorded in! As for the words of Jesus, do you mean these? “We’re not keeping secrets; we’re telling them. We’re not hiding things; we’re bringing everything out into the open” (Luke 8:17, MSG).

  15. scbrownlhrm // May 13, 2016 at 11:30 pm // Reply

    As a recovering legalist:

    The hubris required for frail and contingent beings such as ourselves to foist upon God all that is Self, My, I, Mine, rather than Other (Thee, God), Yours, Thine, just is the antithesis of love’s deference. Such motion sums not merely to pride but also to the annihilation of love for it does not, cannot, end in the unicity of love’s Self/Other, but can only end in the isolated I. Now, the isolated I, if one is God, just is the All Sufficient, the Good, the True. However, for any frail, mutable, and contingent being, such an isolated locus just is non-life, non-being. In Trinity we cannot find pride for all is God, Good, True, and we find love in Trinity for we find love’s interfaces there amid Self/Other. We find that timeless motion of Thy and not My, Thee and not I, Yours and not Mine by which love is our irreducible terminus of all explanation. To stand before God and foist Self, lean on Self, trust in Self is not only the birth of pride, but it is also the death of love.

    God offers us love – which is to say that He offers us Himself.

    Does love require something of us?

    Yes: love’s delightful shout amid the beloved of Thy and not My, Thee and not I, Yours and not Mine.

    All else is love minus-some-thing (evil).

    Lean on Christ. Other. God.

    Not Self.

    Nothing less than all-sufficiency will do.

  16. Renee Woodward // May 16, 2016 at 1:15 am // Reply

    I think E2R is great. It is nice to hear various preachers from different parts of the world sharing the same thoughts of the same scriptures.

  17. Jhay Mens Harris // May 29, 2016 at 10:56 am // Reply

    Paul, I’m wondering of our works that will be purified in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15

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