If we are saved by grace, then why would God judge us afterward?

“Why would God judged us if we are saved?” Throughout all the statements of judgment in the Scripture, especially in the gospels and epistles, God is stating that we are responsible for our actions after we are saved. All of life teaches us that there are consequences for the choices we make. That is a spiritual law as well. You cannot expect to break a civil law and receive no consequences, even if you have been awarded a prize as the most noteworthy citizen of the state. Likewise we cannot expect to break a spiritual law and not suffer the consequences. God is now our Father, and He will deal with us as His children (Hebrews 12:7-11) and discipline us to train us to be godly men and women. We will receive chastisements in this life; God will administer negative consequences for us making poor choices if God is really our Father.

Jesus gave us one of the principles by which God judges us: as we deal with others, so God will deal the same to us. For example, if we show no mercy to others, God will withhold it from us at the judgment. He will show us as much mercy as we show others. We see this powerfully illustrated in Matthew 18:21-35, where an unforgiving servant was himself treated with the same lack of mercy he showed to the other servant. What was the basis for the king retracting his mercy and punishing him? The servant did not follow the king’s example of mercy and show it to his neighbor. God has mercy on all sinners who come to Him for cleansing in the blood of Jesus. For us to withhold mercy to those who have wronged us is therefore scandalous. To drive the point home, Jesus applied the lesson directly to His believers: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” What He says to them applies to believers today. God will withhold mercy from us if we do so toward others.

Another passage of mercy states the principle behind God’s judgment of us even more plainly.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” is not to be read as, “Blessed are the church-goers, baptized, born-again, or saved, for they shall obtain mercy.” Rather, Matthew 7:1-2 is a clear statement that God will do to us as we do to others: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Only the merciful will obtain mercy at the judgment seat.

Please note that taking retribution (or wishing to do so) upon those who have hurt you is natural behavior. But showing mercy to your oppressor is supernatural behavior – it’s proof that one has allowed the Holy Spirit to have His way in him. The Sermon on the Mount throughout Matthew chapters 5-7 reflects the character of those who have been through the training of the Spirit, who have learned through God’s correction to live in fear of consequences and cling to God’s high standards.

So our treatment at the throne will be based on our treatment of others during this life. James 2:13 plainly affirms that mercy triumphs over judgment, so choose to show mercy if you want it shown to yourself!

It is normal within God’s kingdom for people to be held accountable. In the past, it was normal for schoolmasters and parents to discipline children with the “rod,” a switch, or spanking. When discipline is faithfully and loving applied, the child’s conscience is built up to fear consequences for doing evil. Eventually, The Ten Commandments were thrown out of the schools and the schools stopped administering discipline, leaving that to the parents. Then the child psychologists declared God’s way of discipline to be harmful child abuse, so many parents abandoned it lest they fall afoul of the law. Now we have young men and women who wonder why there is punishment in store for the people of God. It appears that this generation does not fear evil; it does not see that it is normal for bad things to happen when people do bad things. “Why would God punish me?” is the question of those who do not fear consequences.

Along the way, God seeks to build up our conscience so that we fear consequences for disobeying Him. Thus we develop a healthy fear of God and that keeps us desiring to please God. Paul stated his fear of God in this same context of punishment: “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men …” (2 Cor. 5:9). This is the perspective of life of one of the most godly men who ever lived. Are we being trained to accept this same perspective? After all, the same Spirit that taught Paul is teaching us.

Not only is this discipline misunderstood, so too is grace misunderstood.

Let me state up front that we are indeed saved by grace alone by faith alone, and we cannot lose our salvation. (I’m putting aside the fact that our salvation is actually not one thing, but a bundle of things, and they are not all a sure thing. For instance, sanctification, becoming more like Christ, is not a sure thing; one can turn one’s back on this aspect of salvation and continue in carnality. Then that person will REALLY get it at the judgment seat!)

Unfortunately, grace is often misunderstood as God being permissive or having the feeling of love toward us. The question this article is addressing makes no sense if you see God’s grace as Him giving us everything we need to be saved to the uttermost, to be delivered from the sinful tendencies in us. But it does make sense if you see it as God being permissive or having a feeling of being gracious. We’ll see by the following passages that a proper understanding of grace includes God giving us whatever we need to live up to His highest standard of righteousness. I encourage you to read the verses before and after in the links that follow to get a fuller sense of what is meant.

Rom. 1:5 — We find that grace is given to help us obey God — obedience to the faith.

Rom. 15:15 — Grace helped Paul be bold.

1 Cor 3:10 — Grace helped Paul lay the foundation of Christ.

1 Cor. 15:10 — Grace helped Paul labor mightily. If he did not exert himself in his work, then the grace would “be in vain.” See also 2 Cor. 6:1.

2 Cor. 8:1 — Grace helped the Macedonian church to give sacrificially. In 8:6-7, Paul wants us to abound in this “grace” too. We can’t do it in the natural; but God wants to create this kind of giving character in us. If He gets it in us, then we have received His grace; in other words, we have accepted His enabling and acted on it to give.

2 Cor. 8:9 — Jesus surrendered to the cross by the grace of God; we are to also. Going the way of the cross is God helping us! Staying in the place of our comfort zone is rejecting God’s grace. God does not give us grace to stay there; He does not feed the flesh.

Gal. 2:21 — To live by faith takes grace. If we choose to live according to our five senses instead, then we “frustrate the grace of God.” In the context of this passage, if we look at our good deeds to see if we are doing well, then we reject God’s enabling to trust in Jesus for righteousness.

Eph. 4:7 — Grace gives us the ability to exercise our God-given gifts; if we don’t apply them to help others, we are rejecting God’s help in that area.

Heb 2:9 — Grace means that Jesus went the way of the cross, even to death, with God’s help.

Heb 4:16 — Grace helps us overcome the issues the Word brings up. This is the context of Heb. 4:12-16; the Word reveals the innermost thoughts and intentions of the heart so we can come to the throne of grace and ask for help to overcome them.

Heb. 12:28 — Grace helps us to serve God. If we are not serving God, then we are not living by His grace, but living by what we feel like doing.

2 Tim. 2:1 — Being strong in grace means we are able to keep the commands in the verses that follow in the same chapter. God’s grace helps us obey Him and keep His high standards of holiness.

Grace (help) is also given to build character:

Rom. 12:3 — Grace helps us to humility.

Eph. 4:29 — Grace gives us the careful and wise spirit enables us to speak to edify others. Also Col. 4:6.

Heb. 12:15 — Grace helps us to have peace with others and hold off developing bitterness. If we develop a bitter spirit, we have not accepted God’s grace (help) in this area. By grace we are saved by faith; but if we choose to live by our feelings of bitterness, then we are not progressing in our salvation, are we? There is no progression if we don’t believe God. If we find ourselves living in unbelief and not faith, then we can run to the throne of grace and plead for help to walk in faith.

James 4:6 — God gives grace to the humble, not to the proud. Also in 1 Peter 5:5.

1 Peter 5:10 — Grace helps us get through suffering to perfect us. If we are angry or upset with difficult situations, then we have not been taking hold of God’s grace (help) to learn.

So God has the right to ask us why we did not take hold of grace (His help) to become all that He wants us to be. God’s grace is not just forgiving, but giving. He has given us everything we need to overcome all sin and be transformed into the image of Christ, to obey Him to the utmost, no matter the threat facing us. Yes, He has. Believe it! Grace will supply it and strengthen us for everything so that we can say with the apostle Paul all along the way, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

One more thing that is misunderstood. I used to think that when I died, I will magically be transformed into the character of Christ. Over time and much reading of the scriptures, I find that it will not necessarily be so for all church-goers. It will not be so to those who do not want it! Review the stories Jesus told of the servants who gave an account of their work to the returning master in Matt. 24:44-51, and regarding the unfaithful and faithful servants who were judged in Matt. 25:14-30. The character they had when the master returned was the same character they had when they appeared before their master in judgment. And the ones who had poor character were punished accordingly. (See in Matthew 24:44-51, where we see the difference between a one who is watching for the Lord’s return and one who isn’t. See Matt. 25:14-30, in which three servants give an account to their master. They appeared faithful or not, according to the time the master appeared. They were not all automagically judged faithful and worthy of rewards. This latter thinking comes from an “entitled” society which expects preferential treatment, a generation that has not been receiving the training of godly discipline.)

We seem to think that death is a magical door that stops all judgment. Why would death stop God? God will punish in this life and the next. Death will not arbitrarily block that. Specifically, what we don’t deal with in this life in confession, repentance, and walking in the light, will be dealt with at the judgment. Take this to heart: God has graciously given us the blessings of confession, repentance and walking in the light to help present us before His throne spotless and blameless. Don’t miss out on this grace! This help is for every believer.

It’s my personal impression that if you have shown by your conduct that you desire to be like Christ more than anything else, then God will give you your heart’s desire at the judgment. That will be your reward; in addition to ruling with Christ, you will be like Him. See 1 John 3:2-3, which tells us that we shall be like Him when He is revealed, but this blessing is conditionally given to those who are purifying themselves in this life, not to the whole church. First John 2:28 is clear that this component of our salvation is not a sure thing if we are not abiding in Him in this life.

In summary, it is normal for God to discipline us in this life so that we are trained up as mature sons of God. God’s grace is a giving, helping grace, meaning that He enables us to grow up and be more like Christ. This is His aim in giving us help. If we do not work with the Spirit to be like Christ, then we are unlearned and not taking hold of His help in every area of life; we are continuing in sin; we are not dealing with sin now and must therefore deal with it at the judgment seat.

But because God is gracious and helps the humble and repentant, there is always hope for us.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

To God our Savior
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.

(Jude 24-25)

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting lives in Southern California with his wife and son. He enjoys encouraging others through writing, and likes reading, digital photography, the outdoors, calligraphy, and iced coffee. He has written several books and ebooks, and hundreds of Christian devotionals. Steve is also having a great time illustrating God's Word with calligraphy.
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