I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. (Jeremiah 17:10)
I am always moved and humbled when I consider the infinite grace of God who, in His mercy, has covered each of His children in the blood of Jesus so that He may look at the heart rather than our failings. The real truth is that every Christian is ‘under construction’ and will be for the rest of our time on earth. Our Christian walk is a daily struggle against self, the world, and the devil. We are each a ‘work in progress,’ learning to overcome the things that are not of God, slipping and falling, picking ourselves us up to try again, succeeding at times and failing at others. Yet, through all this, we have the absolute assurance of ‘no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.’ Our loving, gracious Father looks beyond our failings, mistakes, and weaknesses to what lies in our hearts.Through the sacrifice of His Son, He has made it possible for us to escape the terrible eternal judgement of those who deny Christ. That is the reality behind ‘no condemnation.’ But this does not exempt us from His final judgement. Just as He looks, today, to what lies in the heart, so He will look, at the final judgement, at the heart of each one of His people.
The final judgement of God for every believer will be of the heart in our works.
Christianity has grown comfortable and complacent – a tragedy considering that we are so close to the end of the age. We have taken the wonderful truth of ‘no condemnation’ and applied a ‘blanket absolution’ to every aspect of our lives in Christ. Today’s verse makes it very clear that every single one of God’s people will be judged by Jesus, the high judge of heaven, based on two things: our works for Him and the heart in the work. The final judgement will determine our status and reward in heaven, our place in eternity rather than our destination in eternity.
It’s far more agreeable to apply the word ‘judgement’ to non-believers only. We would much rather focus on the fact that we have escaped judgement and condemnation through Christ and ignore the fact the God’s final judgement will include believers and non-believers alike, though with two very different purposes. This avoidance is a subtle but powerful deception, because it limits our Christian growth as well as the growth and glory of the kingdom. Today’s verse very clearly raises the issue of works along with faith, reminding is powerfully of James’ statement that ‘faith without works is dead.’ While we can never be saved through works, we are required to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling.’ This is the foundation of God’s final judgement for every believer.
We can look around us and find many – perhaps even including ourselves – who are busy with ‘good works.’ At the same time, we find as many who avoid them. The Word clearly states, in Ephesians 2:10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Part of the reason for our existence and salvation is to do the good works God has purposed for each one of us, so that He might be glorified in and through us. James speaks of our works, as does Paul, reminding us over and over that we will stand before Jesus in the final judgement and receive according to our good works.
It’s important, though, to note that our verse today opens with the statement that God first judges the heart. This may seem contradictory, having just determined that the final judgement for believers is about our works. But, if we look at the teachings of Jesus, we find that, while we are judged and rewarded according to our good works, the works themselves are judged according to our hearts. Matthew 7:22 speaks of those who will cry out to Jesus that they prophesied, cast out demons, and worked wonders in His name, and yet Jesus does not acknowledge them. This is because He judges the heart behind the works and finds that the heart is for self, not for God. The works are done for self-glorification rather than the glory of God alone.
While it can be argued that Matthew 7:22 relates to those who profess Christ but don’t really believe, it does not alter the critical truth that, just as God, in His mercy, will look at our hearts as we strive to overcome and live in His righteousness, so He will look at our hearts and judge our works accordingly. The final judgement makes it very clear that we will be judged, that it will be according to our works, and that the judgement will be based on the condition of our hearts rather than the number or importance of our works. The parallel of those who profess with their mouths but do not believe with their hearts is obvious – works can be as much an outward show, a semblance of righteousness with no real commitment. Our works can be empty gestures, an outward social pretence at holiness, and a means for personal power and importance and self-gratification.
Our zeal for God, our desire to serve Him, can often shift to pride in what we have accomplished for Him. We can work signs and wonders, we can bring multitudes to Christ, but if the heart behind it is wrong it avails us nothing. It won’t alter the works themselves – people will still be healed, delivered, or saved – but it will determine the rewards we receive for the works, based on the heart, or motivation, behind it. The concept of ‘no condemnation’ is used to justify incorrect attitudes, often even without realising it, because it clouds the reality of the final judgement and provides a false assurance that all is well. So long as we’re doing the good works, everything is okay.
Another subtle error pervades the church which works closely with the misunderstanding of ‘no condemnation,’ and that is that salvation is the ‘great leveler.’ We will all be equal in heaven. No one will be better, higher, or more important than anyone else. No one will be given more responsibility than another, and our rewards will all be the same. The Word of God never says this. On the contrary, it teaches repeatedly that the one who is least will be the greatest, that – as in the parable of the talents – His servants will be rewarded according to what they have achieved for the Master. Those verses concerned with the final judgement itself state very clearly that there will be different ranks and different crowns, and different rewards for every believer.
While it is immutable truth that our works will never affect our salvation, it is just as true that our works will affect our reward. It is God’s desire that we do ‘great works’ for Him – Jesus Himself said ‘these things and greater things’ – but great works in themselves will avail us nothing in the final judgement. What matters is the heart in the works. So what, then, is the heart that will please the high judge of heaven? It is the humble and contrite heart, the heart broken and surrendered to the purposes of God.
It’s all too easy to find the works we enjoy and immerse ourselves in them, convincing ourselves that we are doing well because our works are ‘working.’ God will bless our works if, for instance, He uses them to bring others into the kingdom, to make disciples, and to effect healing or deliverance. But that does not mean that the works are those which God purposed for us. There is a significant difference between doing what we want for God and doing what God wants for God. The first allows self – the heart – to govern our works according to our purposes. The second surrenders self to the purposes of God. This, I believe, will be the basis of the final judgement. Our works will be judged based on whether or not we did them for God alone.
The foundational truth behind all of this is that God created us and, like the potter, He has sovereignty over the clay. He also created us for a specific purpose. This means that He has prepared good works for each one of us – tailor-made, perfectly shaped and planned, according to His purposes for our lives. This will be a critical factor in the final judgement. Are the works we are doing those that God intended for us? If they are not, it will avail us nothing. They are, in fact, worthless and a waste of time. The only way that we can be sure that what we devote our time and energy to is of God is by being sure of His leading and command. That is where the heart is so critical. The yielded heart, the obedient heart, the heart that seeks after God and listens to His voice and does what He asks, is the heart that will receive the reward.
Lord, help us today to return to You in humility and surrender. Help us to lay all before You, to listen to Your voice, to hear Your instruction, and to be obedient, even if it means letting go of the things we are busy with in our own strength or desires. Change our hearts, Lord, and reveal to each of us Your holy purpose and those works You have already determined for us so that we might bring You glory in all we do.