The Judgment of Believers
The question of whether or not God will on the Day of Judgment expose to the world of men and angels the secret sins of his redeemed children is one that vexes many and is somewhat unclear to all men.
On the one hand, there are passages in Scripture that appear clearly to say that, on the day of divine reckoning, all people will be compelled to account for their every idle word and secret deed, and even thought (Matt. 12:36, Luke 12:2, 3, Rom. 14:12, 1 Tim. 5:24). On the other hand, there are passages that seem to indicate that the Day of Judgment for believers will be a day not of the exposure of any of their sins, but rather their full and final salvation from those sins and the perfection of their entrance into the joy and glorious reign of their redeeming Master (Matt. 25:31-14, Rev. 21, 22). How is this vital and somewhat vexing question to be decided?
To begin our consideration of this question, we should understand that the precise and full answer to it is not so much a matter of it being of those revealed things that belong to us, but rather is of the secret things that belong to our God. While there are hints that all things, including all our sins, shall be made known, it is far from a certainty that the first part of our life in eternal glory shall be spent with an exhaustive exposure of our secret sins and those of all of humanity committed over a cumulative period of trillions of years. The nature of the question and the limited light our Lord has given us concerning it make it ultimately for us to be a matter in God’s holy and just and loving hands.
This is not to say that we can gain no understanding of this matter. We can go far in our apprehension of a true and sufficient grasp of the question when we pose it in view of certain clearer and more precisely detailed truths that are revealed to us in Scripture and confirmed by our experience of life in the kingdom of our heavenly Father’s grace.
For example, we must seek to understand this question in view of what we know about the character of our God. He who has in love predestined us to adoption, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:4,5) can be trusted to decide what, in the Day of his Judgment, should be declared from the housetops and what should be buried in the sea of his holy determination to remember no more. We can rely on the love of our Father to reveal or to hide for his glory and our good, knowing that our joy, gratitude, and loving devotion to him will be infinitely increased and in no way diminished or dampened by his determination.
We should also consider the matter in view of the treatment we see God the Father and Christ his Son affording sinners throughout the pages of Scripture. There is, when earthly divine judgments are rendered, a decided tendency for our God to treat his people with a hand that covers rather than explicates their sins. With Adam’s sin, God does not specify charges of sin so much as ask our fallen first father questions, in a Socratic method that is surely designed to lead him and us to search and confess what he and we have done. Regarding our first parents’ shame that was a consequence of their sin, God covered it quickly with animal skins of his provision. Similarly, when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus for judgment, our Lord first scattered her accusers then declared that he did not accuse her and sent her on her way with a tenderly gracious admonishment to sin no more. The only time Jesus exposed sin in detail was when he castigated the Scribes and Pharisees who with resolute refusal to accept his saving grace, sought to cover their shame with the rags of their own righteousness and their murderous intention with the clothing of their wicked hypocrisy. In the letters to the seven churches in the opening chapter of Revelation, Jesus also charges some (not all) of the churches with certain failures to appropriate his grace, but that is with a view to sanctifying correction, not judgmental exposure and condemning.
The character of the justifying work of Christ also has impact on this question. He died on the cross, was raised from the tomb, and ascended to heaven ever to intercede for us so that he might present us to himself having no spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27). When we confess the sins of which we are aware, we are told that our God not only forgives those sins we stipulate but even cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This he does through the advocacy of his righteous Son, who is the propitiation for all of our sins and all of their consequences (1 John 2:1, 2).
Although these considerations appear to negate any exposure of our secret sins in glory, yet we who have died to sin should be determined no longer to live in it, not so much because we fear ultimate exposure, but rather because we regard with profound gratitude the saving love that has justified us. So thorough is that justification, and so secure are we in it, that even if all of our sins are published to men and angels in glory, those sins will be to us then as Pharaoh’s army was to Moses and the Israelites: when the pursuing Egyptians were alive, they were dreaded by the people of God; but when they were put to death in their immersive baptism in the Red Sea, the people of God rejoiced over them exceedingly and sang their grateful and loving praises to their Lord, to the glory of his saving grace and power. In this life, we know only in part. In glory, whatever is published or withheld about us, we shall know all and be known by all not as great, hypocritical, secret sinners, but only, ever, and always as beloved, redeemed, and holy members of the glorified bride of Christ (Rev. 21, 22). That is all we can know now and all we truly need to know forever.
William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia.
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