A reader asked the following question:
When I read 2 Cor. 5:10 when it says we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad, I just don't quite understand. How do I know if I am being good enough or if what I do is bad?
I am saved and I know that I am the righteousness of God in Christ.
That is a "good" question that trips up a lot of folks.
Today, we use the terms "good" and "bad" in very generic ways. This is not how those terms are being used in 2 Corinthians 5.
It is good (here I am using "good" in a very general way in this sentence and the first one above) to read things in context. That is the first clue.
2 Corinthians 5
Awaiting the New Body
1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus taught that no man is good. In Mark 10:18 we read what happens after a man runs up to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. The man did not recognize Jesus as God and literately the man thought that there was something he himself could do (earn) eternal life.
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]”
Another time, Jesus was asked in John 6 about doing the works of God:
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
So, we can see that the only work of God is this for someone to believe in Jesus - God in the flesh.
Okay, that now leads us back to what is good and what is bad in God's eyes?
Romans 12 talks about what is good and pleasing to God.
A Living Sacrifice
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In essence, our bodies, indwelt by God's Spirit, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (which if we are in Christ, and Christ is in us, we are holy and pleasing to God not because of what we do, but who we are). Paul tells us not to conform to the way the world thinks, but allow God to transform and renew our minds.
Everyone who is in Christ is considered "good" in the sight of God, not because of a believer's self effort, but because of who Jesus is.
Everyone in Christ has allowed God to work "good" through them at some point in their lives. Maybe with some, it was at the last moment of their life, where they finally placed faith in what Jesus has done, as opposed to placing faith in what they have done their whole lives. Others allow God to work "good" through them many times during their lives. Note that I am not saying that a Christian always does good.
The bad is anything not done in faith. All the bad will be burnt up. Bad is doing something out of thinking that they are earning God's love. Bad is doing something out of a fearful attitude of thinking they will not be in fellowship (saved) if they don't do good works. Bad is anything done that is out of self. Bad is self-righteousness at its core.
Good is of God, and can only be done by God. Yes, God can use believers to do good, but any good in God's sight is allowing him to use us. This is our living sacrifice. We give up self, in order for God to use us.
Many times, things appear to be be done as good, however, only God knows the heart. He alone knows all our motives. This is and only determined by God. So, the judgment seat of Christ for believers is an ultimate declaration of those things that are good and bad. This is nothing to be fearful of, but should be rejoiced about.
Only that which is good will remain. Rejoice in him, and his righteousness, not our own.
33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
The bottom line here, for the Christian (the saved person) all the things done in the energy of the flesh (self) is going to be burned up, and the things done by faith are the things that God will reward. These rewards are given at the Bema Seat of Christ.
Here are few passages dealing with the Bema Seat of Christ or the rewards directed to Christians (Rom. 14:10-12, 1 Cor. 3:12-15, 2 Cor. 5:9-10, and 1 Tim. 6:18-19.
Hopefully that helps put things in the "good" rewards perspective.
In Christ Jesus,
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