Q. How can we lose if we're saved by grace? We're forgiven aren't we? That means no consequences and no penalities - Christ died for our sins, didn't he? So, won't the judgment seat for Christians just be about rewards and not loss?
This is a terrific question. Thank you for even asking if Christians could potentially lose anything at all during their judgment before Christ. Many church goers behave as if they believe there is no judgment at all for anything they do - or fail to do.
This is an attitude of No consequences. No penalties. One might conclude that they don't really believe in a risen Lord or a judgment day at all. "Who cares?" they think. "We're forgiven, aren't we?"
Yet, Scripture is clear that there will be a judgment of every believer's words, deeds, and motives during his or her earthly sojourn. Here is a quick overview:
1. God will Judge our Words
"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37).
2. God will judge our Motives
"Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God" (1 Cor. 4:5).
3. God judges our Works
"For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints…" (Hebrews 6:10).
Unlike the judgment of non-believers, however, the Christian's judgment will be about rewards and loss of rewards for the believer's behavior and actions on earth - meaning that we will be held accountable for what we do or fail to do here and now. Yes, Christians will be in heaven, unlike the unbeliever who is judged and sent to hell or the "lake of fire" (Rev. 20:13-15).
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10, NASB).
Scripture clearly points to the judgment seat of Christ before which all Christians will account for what they have done during their lifetimes. This is our appointment with God after we die or are raptured. No believer escapes it. There is no such thing as "cheap grace" in heaven.
Rewards or Losses
The apostle Paul carefully explains that we need to build all of our works or actions upon the foundation of Christ - upon Christ's Lordship and Redemptive work (see 1 Peter 2:6, Eph. 2:20, Matt. 16:15-21).
What is the Foundation?
…"like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation… Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:10-11, ESV).
Therefore, the foundation upon which we must build our lasting works is Christ alone. Then Paul explains that those things which are not built upon the foundation of Christ's Lordship and Redemptive work are deeds or actions which are burned-up during judgment:
…"the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:13-15, ESV).
We Can Lose Rewards
Also, the Apostle John sternly warns that we could lose a part of our reward if we are not diligent to persevere in faith:
"Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward" (2 John 1:8).
Abide - Don't Shrink in Shame
"Little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming" (1 John 2:28).
In this verse the Apostle John encourages us to "abide in Christ" so that we will not be ashamed before Him at the judgment seat of Christians. Theologian John MacArthur defines "abiding" as "persevering in the faith of salvation, which is evidence of being a true believer (John 15:1-6)."
Part 3 - Sins of the Church
21st. Century Works which may result in Loss
Now let's consider those behaviors or works which may result in loss for the believer during our evaluation by Yeshua at the Judgment Seat.
4 Things not built upon the Foundation of Christ:
In searching for those things we see happening in the 21st century church which may be burned up at the judgment seat of Christ, Dr. Paul Benware highlights four. These are philosophies and traditions which are not part of the "foundation of Christ" - those things built upon the Lordship and Redemptive work of Christ:
That Benware lists psychology as a worldview not built upon the foundation of Christ may surprise some. But, Psychology is man's wisdom which replaces God's Word. Psychology and psychotherapy tend to diminish our view of the sufficiency of the Word of God.
As a result, we come to believe that therapy, not the Holy Spirit, cures people of their illnesses and weaknesses. Therapy replaces biblical truth with psychological theories or lies. We need to replace lies with "truth," not truth with "lies." (See our 4-part series on "Therapy Alternatives").
Psychology has so infiltrated our churches that we fear many Christians will doggedly stick to its methods of honoring man rather than God. This must be rooted out with aggressive measures.
Emotionalism and a misdirected focus upon gifts is another area Benware highlights. In his view Christians may place more importance on emotional experiences rather than on the scriptural command to renew their minds (Ro. 12:2). Sadly, many churches emphasize speaking-in-tongues to the exclusion of studying God's Word.
Others pursue what is really fortune-telling with unscriptural "prophecies" often seen on Christian television. These prophetic utterances are far beyond what Scripture says about the gift of prophecy.
Too often such forecasts have to do with earthquakes or tsunamis or economic woes - clearly a form of "fortune telling." They are no better than calling Zelda's 900 phone number to hear what astrology predicts. Some of these believers behave so badly that it surely grieves the Holy Spirit. In these cases emotional highs are pursued to the exclusion of sound doctrine founded upon the Word.
Church rituals frequently practiced within "high churches" or liturgical-churches may confuse true biblical living and belief with ecclesiastical traditions. Jesus warned the Pharisees and scribes, "But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:9, NASB).
Furthermore, the apostle Paul clearly warns, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
This sort of confusion may be taught in seminaries where traditional thought supercedes biblical foundations. Christians need to carefully evaluate their teachers and pastors to scrutinize all doctrines in light of the Word of God (1 Tim. 4:1-3, 2 Tim. 1:13, Acts 17:11).
Doctrinal practices and beliefs such as infant baptism, eschatology, and Israel's role in God's plan may need to be reevaluated. Other issues to consider might be which Bible translation to use, the extent of God's providence and sovereignty, and other doctrinal matters.
4.False Doctrines&Doctrinal Errors
Finally, Benware points out that errors or false doctrines concerning theological beliefs (such as Christ's identity) abound in many churches. Teachers may lose their full reward or suffer loss if they teach wrongly (2 John 1:8). This is why teaching is such an awesome responsibility.
Bible teachers must be diligent to carefully teach what the Bible says. The apostle Paul demands that we "retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me… guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13-14, NASB).
This does not excuse students and congregations, however, for their need to practice diligence in evaluating doctrines. Such doctrinal errors as disbelief in resurrection, or an acceptance of annihilationism, or universalism, may influence the effectiveness of proclaiming the gospel to the unsaved.
No Fancy Degrees Needed
We need to remember that God has equipped all men with the truth - not just those with "fancy" theological degrees. Paul states,
"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV).
We cannot stress this enough: Everyone who is a careful, diligent student of the Bible who is Spirit-led is qualified to teach, train, and correct themselves and others in the church. No fancy degrees are needed for this premier task.
(Benware 2002, 60-66)
Part 4 - Sins of Individuals
The apostle Paul lists four sins in 1 Corinthians 10:6-10 which result in disqualification of a believer, either now on earth or later at the judgment seat of Christ. Paul points to the experiences of God's children in the wilderness during the Exodus for this example.
For these sins a believer may be disqualified or "benched" from service. The term "disqualified" carries the same meaning as being "benched." To be "benched" might mean loss of authority, respect of family and friends, the loss of meaning and purpose for life, or to be disciplined during difficult times.
There are several examples of this in the New Testament:
Illness or Death
As Dr. Benware and Dr. MacArthur explain, in the extreme it can mean that a severe illness or situation "flattens" a Christian from productive work, or to be "disqualified" could even result in premature death!
We know this is shocking. Dr. Benware puts it this way: "In the ultimate sense, the believer could be denied participation by premature death. The Lord is essentially saying to that believer, 'Come on home since there is nothing I can entrust to you anymore.'"
Weak, Sick, Dead
"For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep" (1 Cor. 11:31).
Delivered to Satan
"I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5).
Paul said, "I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27).
The word "Adokimos" means to be "declared unfit," "rejected," and "disqualified." The apostle goes on to point out the sins of the wildnerness children in this regard:
"Do not be idolaters as some of them were. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer" (1 Cor. 10:6-10).
4 Sins resulting in Disqualification
Webster defines idolatry as excessive devotion or reverence for a person or thing. Of course, this means anyone or anything that competes with the Lord for our hearts and minds.
Idolatry may be a fat 401K, a business, or buying and living in the fanciest house. It may be a sports car, boat, or athletic competition for the younger generation. As we come to be dominated by anything which consumes our time and passions to excess, we fall into idolatry.
2. Sexual Immorality
Sexual immorality includes infidelity, pornography, or seductive and inappropriate ways of dress or of acting out. According to Scripture, immorality results in disqualification here and now, or loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ (c.f. Num. 25, 1 Cor. 9:24-27). It is a no-nonsense serious offense against the body - the holy temple of God.
3. Trying the Lord
"Trying the Lord" may be characterized by questions such as: "Why did this happen to me, Lord?" Or, why can't we buy that million-dollar church down the road?
Questions like these may show our distrust of God's blessings and His ways of teaching and training us. It demonstrates that we are dissatisfied with how God has provided for us. Just as the Children of Israel were guilty and complained about God's provisions, we also can be guilty of this. In their case, God's justice was swift and severe!
What about us?
If you have raised whining children then you know what grumbling is: "I'm tired of hamburger." "I never have anything new to wear." "I'm sick of this old car." "I'm sick and tired of my…" (Fill in the blanks).
We are not saying Christians should never ask for or even expect God's blessings, or that we should not pray for relief from hard circumstances. But, we are saying that God expects us to recognize that He gave us those "difficult" people and things for a purpose.
In response we are to thank Him with a grateful and humble heart. If we don't get what we want, we are still to trust Him because He has more information than we do to make correct decisions regarding our needs and our future development - including how to prepare us for a future of potentially ruling over cities along with Christ.
In other words, Christ is training us for reigning with Him!
Full or Diminished Inheritance
Last, we need to be careful not to lose our inheritance in Heaven, or to do those things that might lead to a diminished inheritance.
Dr. Benware notes that Paul wrote Galatians 5:19-23 to Christians who had already "entered" the kingdom. In other words, he was warning born-again Christians of what they must NOT do if they expect to receive their full "inheritance" in the kingdom of God.
Please note that Benware's views may contradict some theologians who maintain that those who practiced "deeds of the flesh" mentioned in these passages were never saved in the first place. However, after carefully considering his exegesis, we tend to agree with Dr. Benware.
Joint-Heirs but not necessarily Co-Rulers
Benware states that while all Christians are joint-heirs with Christ, not all are fit to reign with Christ. This is what he means by "two inheritances" from a proper translation of Romans 8:16, 17. Benware says,
"At the judgment seat of Christ, an inheritance may or may not be given to the child of God who appears there before the Lord. The receiving of that inheritance, which will be of incredible value and greatly desired, will be granted to those believers who have faithfully lived for the Lord Jesus during this life. While some of God's children today may give no serious thought to this inheritance, they will on that day, as it will become a focus of attention and for some a source of real regret" (Benware 2002, 30).
This article is not of sufficient length to provide readers with a complete view of the "two inheritances." To simplify this concept, we teach that one aspect is salvation by grace alone. All believers are saved by grace through faith alone. The second aspect pertains to rewards for things done on earth. Rewards will vary according to how a believer behaved during his lifetime.
(We encourage all serious bible students to obtain their own copy of Paul Benware's book to begin a thorough study of this subject).
Fleshly Deeds of Believers:
Now, here is the Apostle Paul's list of fleshly deeds of those believers who had already entered the kingdom but may not receive an inheritance as they had hoped:
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21, ESV).
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 repeats, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters…nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God."
Ephesians 5:5 says, "For this know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."
Entering His Rest
Related to our future inheritance is the concept of entering God's Rest found in the book of Hebrews. Unbelief hinders us from achieving it:
"Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12, NASB).
"Therefore, let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience" (Heb. 4:11).
As Bruce Wilkinson notes in his tape-series, "A Life God Rewards:" On that day of judgment before the Lord, we will desperately wish we had lived our lives for Christ! We will desperately desire to serve Him…Desperately!
Make a decision to make your lives count for eternity NOW. We think the effort will be worth it.
1. Christians will be judged for their words, motives, and deeds.
2. Those things not built upon the foundation of Christ shall burn up at the Judgment Seat.
3. Church sins for which we may suffer loss are psychology, inappropriate emotional experiences, unscriptural church traditions, or false teachings and errors.
4. Individual sins for which we may suffer loss include idolatry, sexual immorality, trying the Lord, or grumbling.
5. Fleshly deeds which may cause us to suffer loss include sexual immorality, sorcery (including drugs and horoscope readings), enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, drunkenness, envy, idolatry, dissensions, divisions (arguments and taking sides), and other things listed in Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, and in other relevant passages.
6. The book of Hebrews warns us against unbelief, so that we will not be hindered from entering God's rest (Heb. 3:12, 4:11).
We Serve Christ, not Man
We are told to "work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward" (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV).
Payback without Partiality
Finally, we are told to understand that it is "from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality" (Col. 3:25).
All of us wish to hear the Lord say to us:
"Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little. I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21, ESV).
Benware, Paul. 2002. The believer's payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
Dillow, Joseph C. 2006 ed. The reign of the servant kings. Hayesville, NC: Schoettle Publishing.
Emilio, V&K. A payday for believers - judgment. Available from: www.remnantreport.com.
—- Disqualified Christians in pagan culture. Available from: www.remnantreport.com.
—- Can we lose our place in heaven? Available from:www.remnantreport.com.
MacArthur, John. Delivered to satan. (tapes 54-9 and 54-10). Grace to You Ministries. Available from: www.gty.org.
Wilkinson, Bruce. 2002. A life God rewards. (tape-set). Session Six, Side B - The eternal reward of rulership. Global Vision Resources. Available from: www.brucewilkinson.com.
Authors: Kenneth Emilio received his BS from CSULB and an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Valorie Emilio received her MA in History focusing upon Christian origins from UCLA. They strive to teach others to "bring every thought captive to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5), and to make the "best use of the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15).