Are There Two Judgments?

A few weeks back, I received this question, “I have been reading your column in the Cape May Herald, which I have found helpful and informative. Recently, I was listening to a radio program and [the speaker mentioned] that Christians will have two judgments, one of which will be receiving a crown for the work we have done. I have never heard of two judgments and I was wondering if you had an opinion on this.”

Although I did not listen to the radio broadcast, I do believe that I know what he is referring to. Hopefully, I can explain this complicated content in such an abbreviated space.

The Bible does indeed talk about two different judgments. In the Bible, they are seen as the judgment seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment. Christians differ about when these happen with some saying they happen all at once and others saying that they happen in stages. Here are some core essentials:

The first judgment that people refer to (not chronologically, but logically) is the judgment of faith. This is built upon the idea that our eternal state is determined by whether or not we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God. If we have placed our trust in Jesus to save and redeem us, then his sacrifice is for our substitute, but if we do not place our trust in the finished work of the cross, we are opting to pay the sin debt for ourselves.

In John 5:24, Jesus makes it clear, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Similarly, Paul says in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those who trust in Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for salvation from eternal judgment will find that he is a most trustworthy object of their faith.

This judgment of faith is, most likely, one of the two judgments that the man you heard on the radio was talking about. The second is the judgment of works.

Although followers of Jesus won’t be judged on account of their sin (because Jesus has taken that judgment for them), they will be judged according to their works and their faithfulness. The New Testament explains this through various passages (one being Luke 19:12-27) which emphasize stewarding the resources God has given us to ensure that we love God and people well.

Conversely, other followers of Jesus will be grieved by a lack of faithfulness even though they themselves will be saved. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 3:15 when he says, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved [on account of his faith in Jesus].”

The point of all of this is that one of the two judgments is a judgment on the basis of works. God gives us resources in our life (time, money, mental ability, etc). We are called to be faithful managers of these resources and enjoy them as gifts from God, but also use them as tools for his glory. Believers are rewarded for their faithfulness in their life, but this is a moot point if the foundation is not faith. In other words, works are not the means of building the foundation, but the proof that the foundation is there.

What is the nature of these rewards? This is hotly debated, but I lean towards the understanding that the biblical descriptions are figurative using things that we care about in this world (e.g. money or gold), but as the giver of the gift is always greater than the gift itself, I tend to think that the reward is less tangible than “stuff.” Jonathan Edwards used to say, paraphrasing, that in the ocean of joy there are bathtubs and teacups, but all of them are full and content in differing capacities.