Send in the Judges…

Some Christians do not relish the idea that God is our Divine Judge.

J.I. Packer says that “many, it seems, do not.  Speak to them as God as a Father, a friend, a helper, one who loves us despite all our weakness and folly and sin, and their faces light up; you are on their wavelength at once.  But speak to them as God as Judge and they frown and shake their heads.  Their minds recoil from such an idea.  They find it repellent and unworthy” [Knowing God, 138].

Maybe we have oversold the idea that God is our benevolent Father and Jesus is our loving friend.  It is a wonderful selling point for the unbeliever.  It makes the unbeliever feel so good about committing their life to Christ.  God the Father is not going to think harshly about what you do; He knows of our sins but He will forgive and forget [that’s the way grace works].  We think of Jesus as the one who came to earth and assumed the role of man, exhibiting love for all mankind.  It is very popular to think of Jesus as our friend.  That is actually the way He is portrayed by some Christians.  We all know that a true friend is loyal and faithful, watches out for you, confides in you, shares his life with you and gives things up for you.  Jesus does this and much more.  He is truly our friend.

Yet we should deal with reality and the reality of the Bible is that it is full of instances of God judging man.

From the beginning in the Garden of Eden, God judged Adam and Eve, expelling them from the garden and pronouncing curses on their lives.   Of course God judged the world in Noah’s day, flooding it and destroying almost all of mankind.  God judged those who worshipped the golden calf and had the Levites destroy those sacrilegious Israelites.  Let’s not forget the sinful city of Sodom and Gomorrah; He decided to engulf the sinners in that city with a volcanic catastrophe.  Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God judged Israel for unfaithfulness.  They would make amends and have an easier life only to experience judgement again after additional lapses in faith [i.e. chasing after idols]. 

Ok, that is the Old Testament. That judgement stuff surely does not apply to the New Testament.  Things are changed due to the life and death of Jesus aren’t they?   I am afraid that Divine judgement continues.  Judgement fell on the Jews for not believing Christ in Matthew 21 and Thessalonians 2.  Ananias and Sapphira lied to God and were immediately judged and struck down.  Christians at Corinth suffered illness due to their irreverence for the Lord’s Supper.  We could continue on but Packer rightly states “The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgement, and by the problem thence arising:  How may we sinners get right with God while there is yet time?” [140].

We may not want to see God and His Son Jesus as judges but they are.  Jesus is referred to as the Judge who stands before the door in James 5:9.  He is the “righteous Judge” who will give Paul his crown in Second Timothy.  “He is the One who has been designated by God as Judge of the living and dead” in Acts 10: 42.  Paul writes to the Romans “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my Gospel declares” [Romans 2:16].

Recently my retired elementary teacher spouse and I have had discussions of childhood discipline in the church.  The idea she expressed is that parents don’t take kindly to hearing their children judged for poor behavior in a church setting.  In fact, for some parents it may seem that church is a “free zone.”  Kids can do what they want with absolutely no direction.

Let’s direct this discipline discussion heavenward.  What type of God would we have if He did not care about right and wrong?  What if He just allowed any kind of behavior, never drawing a boundary for man and woman to follow?  Just as children need boundaries for their behavior, adults need them too.  Packer raises a wonderful point about God [because his whole book is about us Knowing God]. “Would a God who did not care about the difference between right and wrong be a good and admirable Being?” [143].

You know the answer. God would not be admirable.

Would He be more popular? You bet He would.

“Moral indifference would be an imperfection in God, not a perfection” [143].

I have had many discussions with unbelievers and the “judgement thing” is a major sticking point for them committing their lives to Christ.  They fear judgement and would rather live a life without God than deal with the need to change old sinful habits.   This attitude begs the question about Christians in church. “If I am a merciless sinner outside of church and I am not a believer; are the people who are believers in church perfect?  Many I have talked to act like they are; they are better than me and I know I would not fit in with them” [a common theme].

Christians in church sin…

God knows that and God judges them just like He judges an unbeliever.  “Well then, why go to all the effort to declare Christ as my Savior?  Why should I struggle with my behaviors?   Some of my bad habits are well-established and I will have a hard time eradicating them.”

Why commit?

Because God knows the Christian’s heart.  Packer admits that all will be judged by God in the end.  That is our belief, but God knows what resides in a person’s heart.  Packer calls it the “heart index.”  “The relevance of our doings is not that they ever merit an award from the court—they fall too far short of perfection to do that—but they provide an index of what is in the heart” [145].   This heart index is the real nature of the Christian.   Willfully committing the same sin over and over again and never feeling remorse is not a sign of the Christian.  Attempting to change [even though you may fail] is a sincere piece of evidence that your heart is right with God .  Whereas an unbeliever may not feel any qualms about sinning, the Christian does and even though they may “sin and fall short of the glory of God,” they are attempting to work in a positive direction.   They have doubts and fears about their standing with God and even though their guilt about their sin is a very real thing, they are not guilty of rejecting Jesus Christ.

Granted, being judged is not a pleasant thing, but it is a fact.  We live in a world that encourages moral laxity and we fall to those temptations from time to time.  Maybe it would be easier not to worry about God looking over our shoulder, keeping His record of our sins.  We could carry on life as we please.  I am reminded of a piece of Scripture from Judges…Judges 21: 25:  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” 

The context for this book is that Israel had lost its desire to be ruled by kings.  They asked God to be freed from the idea of a powerful God-appointed monarch.  They did as they saw fit, turning to idols, committing rape, murder, mass kidnappings and genocide.  Eventually they were conquered by oppressors and they grew to realize how much they really needed God.  They were ready to turn from their idols and they questioned the idea that everyone should do what they “saw fit.”

God was ready to help.  He always is when man has a contrite heart. 

What does He do?

He sends forth warriors and champions to save Israel. 

They tried to do the work of God and Christ on earth.

They are referred to in the Bible as, [you guessed it]

Judges…

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2 Responses to Send in the Judges…

  1. Wendy says:

    How do free forgiveness and justification by faith square with judgment according to works? This is a question from Packer.

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    • My reading is the emphasis is not so much on works as it is what Packer calls the heart index. We all need forgiveness every day because we sin every day. We need justification to be made right with God [to have His forgiving grace]. Our works will never be enough to merit God’s favor, but as we grow in our faith, we are inclined to do His works and not our own. We become less selfish and more selfless, reflecting the person God intended us to be.

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