Question from a reader:
I’m reading your book Heaven and it scares me to know that I have to stand before God for all the bad I have done in my life. I was a Christian part of the time. I’ve asked for forgiveness, but to stand before God scares me. I read in your book how we will give an account for every word.
Answer from Stephanie Anderson, EPM staff:
Yes, the idea of standing before God is sobering. And it would be very sobering without knowing Jesus as Savior. But knowing Him makes all the difference, and also knowing His heart and His character makes a huge difference as we think about this. Meditating on who God is and His heart towards you in Christ will help. (Studying the happiness of God is helpful; see this article.)
When it comes to the believer’s judgment of works, which Randy references in his Heaven book (and which is separate from the judgment of faith, which determines our eternal destination), we need to remember that we won’t be coming before a cold, indifferent, angry judge. We will be standing before our loving, merciful, happy Father. He longs to reward His children, and He takes great delight in them. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12).
Randy writes this in his book The Law of Rewards: “God promises great reward for all who have served him faithfully. He will reward every loyal servant for works done in this life: ‘At that time each will receive his praise from God’ (1 Corinthians 4:5). This is a particularly encouraging passage, suggesting that God will find something to praise and reward each one of us for.”
You’re correct that knowing that we will stand before God and give an account of our lives is a serious thing. We shouldn’t take it lightly, because we shouldn’t take sin lightly. But at the same time, we have to go back to the gospel. In Christ, we are totally forgiven and accepted. He has paid the total penalty for our past, present, and future sins: “…having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). So when it comes to regret for past choices, all we can do is lean into Jesus, remember and accept His forgiveness and grace, and step forward in faith, asking Him to empower us and to help us live a life that is pleasing to Him.
Randy also says this, about believers who might have more serious things to confess at the judgment of works: “Perhaps [there is] a very short ‘I really feel bad and regret my lack of faith and faithfulness’ and expressing this to a God who graciously forgives. Then, that forever behind us, we move on to eternal joy. But there will be no ongoing suffering, for all our regrets about our past will be overshadowed by God’s grace.”
I personally found this Q&A with John Piper helpful, and would encourage you to read/listen.
Bottom line: let this press you into Jesus even further. Bring your concerns to Him in prayer. Thank Him for His forgiveness. Embrace it. Then step forward in faith with His Holy Spirit’s empowerment and do the things that God has for you to do today with joy.