The Final Judgment — Good News?

©iStock.com/alphaspirit

©iStock.com/alphaspirit

What images pop into your head when you hear the term “Judgment Day”? Standing all alone before a great white throne, your knees knocking together? A wrathful God holding you over hell’s hungry flames? A gigantic balance that weighs your good deeds against your not-so-good deeds?

Many of our ideas about the final judgment are still rooted in the odd mixture of superstition, Roman mythology, and partial scriptural references that come to us from the (aptly named) Dark Ages. But how do these notions compare to Scripture?

Never without an IntercessorMorris L. Venden discusses the Final Judgment  in Never Without an Intercessor: The Good News About the Judgment (Pacific Press, 1996). I recently ran across this 159-page book in a used bookstore. I found it engaging, strongly based in Scripture, and surprisingly easy reading for such a heavy topic. And, as the title suggests, the conclusion is good news.

One of the key take-away points is the distinction between sin and sins—and the trouble we get into when we confuse the two. Sin is a state of being—the state of living apart from God. Sins are the actions that result from our living in this state.

If we focus on the actions, we end up trying to generate holiness by sheer willpower. It doesn’t work. But when we shift our perspective to the relationship—when we focus on abiding in Christ—we open the way for God to work out His holiness in us. From the standpoint of the judgment, this shifts the focus from the lives we have lived to the life that Christ has lived out in us.

This simple distinction has several significant corollaries. For example, the Bible talks about the importance of overcoming (Rev. 3:5). If we interpret this as overcoming sins, we focus on self-discipline and struggle to squeeze ourselves into a holy mold.

But “the real issue is overcoming living life apart from God day by day” (page 104)—that is, overcoming sin. As we do this, we are “clothed in white raiment” (Rev. 3:5). This refers to the righteousness God gives us (Isaiah 61:10), rather than any sort of righteousness we can weave together on our own, because real “obedience comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This means that we must come into a relationship of absolute dependence upon Him. This relationship allows Him to do what He has always wanted to do—live His life in us. Then He wills and does according to His good pleasure. And whatever Jesus does is real obedience through and through” (p. 125).

First John 2:28 states this most important point very clearly: “Little children, abide in him.” Stay with Him. Stay in a relationship with Him day by day. And if you do, you won’t be ashamed when He comes, because you will have the garment on. It’s a promise. If I overcome living life apart from Jesus, the white raiment is going to be there (p. 111).

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