A case in point: In a recent small-group Bible discussion, we took a look at a simple last-days timeline—a timeline showing the church age, the rapture, the great tribulation, the millennial kingdom, and eternity to come, punctuated in appropriate spots by the second coming of Christ, Armageddon, the Bema Seat and Great White Throne judgments, and the advent of the New Heavens and the New Earth.
One of the questions that arose in our discussion involved the Bema Seat judgment. That’s when Jesus Christ will judge the performance of His saints--those who repented and trusted in Him during this life--and grant heavenly rewards to those whose earthly thoughts, words and deeds have eternal value.
The woman who raised the question wondered if our wasted time and worthless deeds will reduce or perhaps wipe out those rewards. “If so, I’m in trouble,” she said mournfully. She is now being used richly by the Lord; but she was concerned that the futility of her past behaviors would override her current service.
From time to time, I’ve wrestled with this very question in my own heart—in spite of the apostle Paul’s Philippians 3 admonition to forget “those things which are behind and … press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
My thinking went something like this: Well, sure, Paul’s pre-conversion life was at best worthless, and was at worst horribly anti-Christ. However, surely his work following that fateful day on the Damascus Road more than made up for his ghastly past, paving the way for glorious rewards in heaven.
But that was Paul. What about the rest of us?
Eventually, however, the Holy Spirit brought Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 to my attention:
"For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
Envisioning the picture Paul painted here, I finally saw it clearly: No matter how big a bonfire our personal piles of wood, hay and straw may create, this bonfire won’t damage or destroy the gold, silver or precious stones that will determine our rewards.
So while our eternally worthless thoughts, words and deeds will go up in flames, vanishing just as surely as did the sin Christ bore on the cross, the things we’ve done of eternal value will survive intact. And we can trust the God of perfect justice to make sure that we are rewarded for our efforts on His behalf.
What more can I say but “Hallelujah, what a Savior!”
Ah, but perhaps a resolution is in order. Next time I’m wrestling with a weighty theological question, I’ll try not to waste time thinking it through under my own power. Instead, I’ll go straight to the Bible. After all, the Lord has provided the answer to every question of any importance to us. Questions that remain unanswered are simply not worth worrying about.