Let me ask you a question about your personal history. Growing up, who in your family was easier to please – your parents or your brothers and sisters? Kind of depends on how emotionally healthy your family was, doesn’t it? Some of us, for example, had a mother or father who was very difficult to please. No matter how hard we tried to please them, they rarely gave us a word of encouragement. And as a result, we grew up feeling closer to and loved more by our siblings than our parents. But let me ask you. Is that the way it’s supposed to be? Of course not! For ideally, who ought to be the easiest ones in a family to please? The parents! Right! After all, they’re the adults in the family and ought to set the example of love for everyone else. Whereas our brothers and sisters, they were just kids too. So what could we realistically expect from them but immaturity!
And so it is within the family of God! Some of us have grown up with the misconception that it’s our Heavenly Father who is difficult to please. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, He’s given us guidelines for living that He expects us to follow, but not to make our lives more difficult—not if we receive them in the spirit with which they were given. John explains in chapter 5 of his letter: “This is the love of God: that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.” And the reason they aren’t burdensome is two-fold: first, they were given in love to make our lives safer, healthier, and full of the joy Jesus came to give us.
Jesus said in John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full;” and second, because God’s commandments aren’t hard to keep, nor is our Heavenly Father difficult to please. Instead, who are the most difficult ones to please? Other people! For like us they haven’t yet learned to love others with the compassion of our Heavenly Father! That’s why the Bible says the fear of man brings a snare—because their expectations are all over the map, which means if you’re living to please people, you’re never going to be successful.
Aesop told a fable about this—about a man, a boy, and a donkey who were traveling together. As they passed through the first village, the townspeople called him a fool because he was walking instead of riding. So to please them, he climbed on the donkey’s back and began to ride. But as they rode into the second village, the people criticized the man for being selfish and making the boy walk while he rode. So to please them, he got down off the donkey and let the boy ride. So on they rode to the third village where the people scolded the child for being lazy and riding the donkey while the man walked. So the man climbed back on the donkey and the two rode together. But in the fourth village the people were appalled! “How could you be so cruel as to make your donkey carry two riders at the same time?” So both the old man and the boy got off. And the last anybody saw of them, the frustrated old man was seen carrying the donkey down the road on his back.
That’s what happens when our purpose is to please people because what many people are just waiting to do is to unload all sorts of free advice on us. And some of it may be good, but the point is if we try to please everyone, we’re going to wind up pleasing no one and carrying a burden heavier than our Lord ever intended.
Remember Jesus’ words? “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gently and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.” Does that reflect your life? Are you well-rested and carefree? Or are you frustrated, exhausted, and all stressed out? Then you’ve been carrying donkeys—trying to please both Christ and people at the same time. And that’s a game you’re never going to win.
In fact, in the case of the Apostle Paul the expectations and criticism got so bad that he finally wrote: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” Paul says there’s a judgment day coming. Therefore that’s what we’re to live for—not the passing praise of people but the everlasting approval of God.
I want us to see what’s involved in making that happen. I think it’ll be encouraging because what we’re going to see is that even though God will judge us for what we do in these bodies, His expectations are reasonable and He’s not a difficult Father to please. Turn in your Bible to 1 John 4:17-19 where John emphasizes two major points we need to understand. The first is the certainty of judgment. The second is how to be confident in the face of judgment.
1. There Is a Day of Judgment Coming.
Listen as I read verse 17: John says, “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.” That as you may know is one of the great themes of the Bible reaching all the way back to the time of Noah when God judged the world by flooding it with water. And the same thing will happen again except this time Peter says it’ll be a judgment by fire rather than water. “By His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
That’s what we’ve been longing for, isn’t it? I want justice for those who’ve been murdered and molested and maimed and taken advantage of by the rich and powerful. Don’t you? That also happens to be a major concern of the young adult population among us, Christian and non-Christian alike. Their concern is social justice and that things be made right in the world!
But what people forget is that when God judges the world in righteousness, He isn’t going to judge us in groups. He’s going to judge us as individuals for the good or evil that we’ve done. Ecclesiastes 11:9 warns, “Rejoice, young man, and follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.” In fact, Jesus said, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment”—like using His name as a curse word, sharing a juicy piece of gossip, or shading the truth to gain an advantage over your competitor. So there’s a great day of judgment coming when each of us is going to be held accountable for all these things.
But there are two things to understand about it and that’s there are actually two great judgments to come. There’s the great white throne of judgment where unbelievers will appear and be condemned for their sins, and there’s the judgment seat of Christ where only believers will appear and be rewarded for the good or bad things we’ve done in our bodies. Many people blur the two events together thinking there’ll be just one great day of judgment at the end of time where everyone will appear together. But the Bible never lumps believers and unbelievers together like that. Instead, Jesus said there’ll be two resurrections at the end of time—one issuing forth in eternal life and the other ending in everlasting punishment. “Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear My voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
John gives us the details about the resurrection of condemnation in Revelation 20 where he writes: “I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books…And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” This is the Great White Throne Judgment where unbelievers, great and small, stand before God and are condemned and cast alive into the lake of fire, because they’ve never bowed the knee to the Lordship of Christ.
But here’s the good news if you worship the Jesus of the Bible: You won’t be there, for “there is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Or as the Lord Jesus Himself promised in the passage we looked at a moment ago, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” “So I’m safe,” you say, “I can live however I want and I don’t have to worry about the consequences?” No, not so fast. First, if it’s your desire to continue in sin, there’s doubt as to whether or not you love Jesus because He hates sin and died so you could be free from it!
Furthermore, the Bible says there’s another judgment coming, this one for believers only. Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 5:10. He says, “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. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.” This is a judgment of believers, for Paul is writing to Christians here, and it’s a judgment of rewards, not punishment, for the term Paul uses here, “judgment seat of Christ,” is very precise. It’s the Greek word Bema referring to the platform at the ancient Olympics where the athletes stood to receive their awards.
Cheryl and I had a chance to stand on that ancient platform in Corinth several years ago imagining the athletes competing all week long, the judges scrutinizing their performance, and then at the end of the event, the judge would lead the winner to the platform and lay the laurel wreath on his head. That’s the purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ. It’s a judgment of reward, not punishment. No one at the Olympic games was flogged for failing to win. Nor will we! We’ll be judged based on our service, not our sin; the purpose being to review our performance, not to punish us for failing.
But there is still a fear associated with it—not the fear of someone about to be thrown into hell, but the fear of someone who’s about to be tested! Think back to when you first walked into the Department of Licensing to take your driving exam. You felt fear, didn’t you? Not a fear that sent you running away in terror but a fear that made you careful to do your very best. That’s the kind of fear we ought to have as we approach the Judgment Seat of Christ, because we definitely do not want the shame that many Christian will suffer.
“Shame in heaven?” you say. “How can that be?” John warned us of this in our passage a few weeks ago, when he said (1 John 2:28-29): “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” You see, even though it’s a judgment of rewards, there’s still a reason for fear and a possibility of shame, at least initially when we first stand before Him.
Maybe I could liken it to my high school graduation. For the first 3 years of high school, I was one of the top 20 students in my class and very proud of it. But as Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” So in my senior year, I got cocky, failed to concentrate on my studies, and pulled a “C” out of chemistry which dropped me down from #20 to #23, and that meant that instead of getting to sit up on the stage at graduation with the top 20 students in my class and all the other dignitaries at the ceremony, something my mother had been looking forward to for four years, I had to sit down on the main floor with everyone else, which was a very humbling and disappointing experience not only for me, but for my mother as well, because we both knew that all it would have taken was just a little more effort on my part and I would have won the prize.
You see there was never any doubt about my graduating. That isn’t the point. The point is I lost my reward and there was nothing I could do to get it back. That’s what many are going to experience as they stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. We’ll be saved because we’ve trusted Christ to save us, but there’ll be a sense of loss over rewards we could have received but can never regain because we weren’t as faithful as we could have been. Remember “Only one life will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
That is Paul’s reminder in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15—“No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” So how do we avoid the regret and approach the Judgment Seat of Christ with confidence, knowing that we’re going to receive a full reward? That’s what John explains in the rest of the passage we’re studying.
2. We Can Be Confident in the Face of Judgment.
Listen again as I read 1 John 4:17. He says, “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is so also are we in this world.” There’s dynamite in this verse! First, John tells us where our confidence comes from as we face the Day of Judgment. It comes from the love of Christ being perfected in our lives. But this word for “perfect” doesn’t mean faultless. Only Jesus was faultless in His love. This word means complete or mature. Remember what Jesus said the night before His death? He prayed, “Father, I have finished the work you’ve given me to do.”
You see, that’s what love does. It fulfills the good works God has given us to do and it also ensures that we do them with the right motive. How do I know that? Because of what John says at the end of the verse. He says, “Because as He is, so also are we in this world? Who’s the “He” in this verse? Jesus! John says loving God and those He puts in our path makes us just like Jesus in this world, and was Jesus ever afraid of standing before His Father in judgment? No, and we won’t be either if love is our way of life.
By the way, that agrees with what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, doesn’t it? He said, “Be ye therefore perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” But He wasn’t talking about faultless perfection there because what was the context in which He said it? It comes upon the heels of His statement that we’re to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, just as God is good both to those who love Him and hate Him, making it rain and shine on both the righteous and unrighteous. So if you want to be like Jesus and your Heavenly Father and finish the work He’s given you to do, what should you do? This one thing—focus on loving those He puts in your life and not only will His love be perfected in you, you’ll also be filled with confidence as you face the Day of Judgment.
In fact, just to double down on what He’s been saying, notice what John adds in verse 18. He says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Isn’t that great news? John is saying that God doesn’t want you to be afraid of Him or anything else. He wants you to be filled with the confidence and joy of the Holy Spirit. Paul says the same thing in 2 Timothy 1:7—“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Is that true of you? Are you experiencing the love, the joy, and the confidence of the Holy Spirit? If not, ask Him to fill you with those things because that’s His will for you as His child. He doesn’t want you to live in fear any longer. He wants you to draw near to Him so He can comfort you and protect you from every fear the evil one tries to sow in your heart. Love is the great motivator God uses in our lives, not fear, for fear involves what? Punishment! And Jesus already paid the penalty for our sins, didn’t He? He also paid the penalty for our enemy’s sins, so we have to forgive them as well. And He paid the penalty for our children’s sins, which is why we train our children; we don’t punish them as Christian parents. In fact, we no longer use fear as a motivator in anything we do. We use love, because as He is, so also are we in this world.
Bob Richards the Olympic gold medalist, now an evangelist, tells the story of the goof-off who joined the football team. The kid never took anything serious or applied himself. Then one day, as the rest of the players were finishing their laps after practice, the coach called him over and said, “There’s a telegram for you.” “Read it to me, would you, Coach?” The kid had barely learned to read. So he read it to him. “Dear Son, your father has died. Come home right away.” The coach told him how sorry he was and gave him the rest of the week off. But to his surprise, he was back by game time Friday evening, begging the coach to let him play. At first, he said, “No.” But with their team behind by several touchdowns at the end of the half, he figured, “What can it hurt?” and put him in. And the moment the kid hit the field, the momentum changed. The kid ran. He tackled. He caught passes. And their team caught up. In fact, with just seconds to go, the kid intercepted a pass and ran it back for the winning touchdown! The crowd went wild and the kid was everybody’s hero!
So afterwards the coach asked him about it. “Hey, kid, what happened out there? I’ve never seen you play like that.” “You see, my dad died last week, Coach.” “Yeah, I know. I read the telegram.” “Yeah, but what you don’t know is my dad was blind, and this is the first game he ever saw me play.”
Good story, but more important is this reminder: We have a Father in heaven who loves us more than we can imagine and is watching us eager to welcome us home and reward us for every good thing we do in these bodies. So let’s put away the fear and live in light of His love. For perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment and the one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.