Why is their a coming judgment for Christians if Christ on the cross became their sin and was judged “in their place” relative to eternal life?
In brief, because the coming judgment for Christians has nothing to do with sin pertaining to their life upon earth and its relevancy to their eternal state, for which the penalty-price was paid in full on the cross by Christ’s vicarious sacrifice — His spiritual death, becoming sin for all mankind and spiritually suffering separation from God the Father from the 6th to the 9th hour (Matthew 27:45, 46; Mark 15:33, 34; John 19:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 3:5).
The coming judgment for Christians pertains only to their works relative to their Christian life. Furthermore, it has nothing to do with their eternal state (spirit-salvation); but, has everything to do with their condition during the Messianic Era (soul-salvation), which is a reward-based consequence (Romans 2:6; 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11a; Galatians 6:7; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24, 25; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Hebrews 2:3; 10:39; James 1:21; 2:14-26; 2 Peter 1:10, 11; Revelation 20:4-6; 22:12).
To better understand the coming judgment of Christians, which will take place at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and although his entire book applies to this particular judgment, note the following excerpts from it by Chitwood:
The judgment seat of Christ will be operable in one realm alone — man’s actions, following the birth from above. Nothing pertaining to man’s eternal salvation (based entirely upon that which Christ has done) can come into view at this judgment, for God has already judged sin in the person of His Son at Calvary. And God is satisfied with His Son’s finished work.
Thus, all judgment relative to eternal salvation is past and can never again be brought up as an issue. “He that believes in Him [Christ] is not condemned [Greek: krino; lit., ‘is not judged,’ i.e., the one who has believed on Christ can never be brought into judgment (for judgment has already occurred)] . . . .” (John 3:18a).
And this is what bothers some Christians about thoughts surrounding the judgment seat of Christ. Scriptures such as John 3:18 clearly state that no Christian can ever be brought into judgment. Yet, Scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 5:10 — “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ . . . .” — also clearly state that judgment awaits all Christians.
This can become quite confusing unless one recognizes that two entirely different matters are being dealt with. One has to do with God’s judgment upon sin, based upon His Son’s finished work at Calvary, which pertains to man’s eternal salvation. The other has to do with God’s subsequent judgment upon His household servants relative to their faithfulness or unfaithfulness as servants in the Lord’s house, with the Messianic Era in view.
The former judgment has to do with unsaved man and eternal verities; the later judgment has to do with saved man and millennial verities. And the difference between the two could be compared to the distance between the east and the west. It is only because of the former that the latter can occur; and the latter can have nothing to do with the former in the sense of nullifying, adding to, taking from, etc.
The two are completely separate in this respect. Once a person has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ—has passed “from death to life” — that individual comes into an entirely new relationship with God. He is born from above, becomes part of the family of God; and he then finds himself among household servants, who are being dealt with accordingly.
Following the birth from above, God deals with an individual on an entirely different plane — as a household servant, with a view to the Messianic Era lying out ahead. The individual is never again dealt with (during present or future time; or, at a future judgment) on the basis of that which is past — Christ's finished work, effecting his eternal salvation.
And this fact alone should put to rest any thought that saved man could ever one day become unsaved, lost. How could he? Such would be impossible, for God never deals with saved man in this respect (and this is all aside from the fact that man's salvation is not based on anything which he has done to begin with, but on that which Christ alone has done).
But that which numerous Christians fail to recognize is the fact that they are directly responsible, as household servants, to the One who sent His Son to die in their stead. And, as household servants, they will one day stand before their Savior (to whom God has committed all judgment) to give an account relative to faithfulness or unfaithfulness in the Lord’s house.
The judgment seat of Christ will be operable in this realm alone, and decisions and determinations emanating from findings at the judgment seat will result in two things: (1) reward on the one hand, or (2) loss on the other. And both will have to do with the Messianic Era, not with eternal life.
And within both there will be a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2; 11:26) receiving exactly what an individual deserves, receiving wages exactly commensurate with the person’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness as a servant in the Lord’s house (cf. Luke 12:42-46).
Eternally Saved, But . . .
Eternal life is the free “gift of God,” obtained completely apart from works. Nothing that man does — not one single act, either before or after he becomes a recipient of this life — can have anything at all to do with his salvation, for he has been saved solely by grace through faith; and his salvation is based entirely on the work of Another. Christ’s finished work at Calvary provides a means of salvation that fallen man can avail himself of through one revealed means alone: through receiving that which has already been accomplished on his behalf.
Works are involved in man’s presently possessed eternal salvation, but not man’s works. Rather, they are the works of the One who procured this salvation. Ruined man himself is totally incapable of works. He can't operate in the spiritual realm, for he is “dead [spiritually] in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Thus, since redeemed man had nothing to do with bringing to pass his presently possessed eternal salvation; he can never be brought into any type judgment where the issue surrounds that which he acquired through Christ's finished work at Calvary.
A judgment of this nature would not only be judging that which man had nothing to do with, but it would also be judging once again that which God has already judged. God judged sin at Calvary in the person of His Son, and God is satisfied.
Accordingly, the judgment seat of Christ cannot function in the realm of one's eternal salvation. Decisions and determinations made at this judgment MUST be based solely upon the actions of the justified — actions following their coming into possession of eternal salvation.
By Grace through Faith
For by grace you are saved [you have been saved] through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us . . . . (Titus 3:5a)
To properly understand issues surrounding the judgment seat of Christ one must begin with a due appreciation for the salvation that Christians presently possess — a salvation that is non-merited and non-forfeitable.
Salvation for fallen man is both free and apart from works, but the procurement of this salvation by God’s Son was by no means free and apart from works. God’s Son provided this salvation through a vicarious sacrifice — the sacrifice of Himself; and fallen man can do no more than simply receive that which has been provided.
1) It Has Been Finished
Note the words “not of yourselves” and “that we have done” in Ephesians 2:8 and Titus 3:5. Both refer to the necessity of the total absence of works on man’s part in relation to eternal salvation. The work has already been accomplished; the price has already been paid. When Christ cried out on the cross, “It is finished" (John l9:30), He announced the completion of a redemptive work that He alone could bring to pass.
The words, “It is finished,” in John l9:30 are the translation of one word in the Greek text (tetelestai). This word is in the perfect tense and could be better translated, “It has been finished.” That is, at this point, everything relating to the work of redemption had been accomplished.
Nothing more remained to be done; and, consequently, there was no need for Christ to delay His death. Accordingly, immediately after Christ cried out, “tetelestai,” “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit [Greek: pneuma, ‘spirit,’ i.e., ‘breath’; He breathed out, expired].”
The perfect tense in the Greek text calls attention to a work completed in past time, with the results of this work extending into the present and existing in a finished state. This is the same verb tense used in Ephesians 2:8 relative to the present state of redeemed man (“you are saved”; literally “you have been saved”). Redeemed man is in possession of a salvation (present) wherein everything has already been accomplished (past) on his behalf.
The Holy Spirit has performed a work (breathing life into the one having no life [cf. Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 37:1-10]) based on Christ’s completed work (at Calvary). Both are past works, and one can no more be nullified than the other.
Redeemed man is as totally helpless to undo anything that has been accomplished in bringing about his redemption as he was to do something to accomplish his redemption in the first place. Work completed in past time through divine intervention is not something that man can change, add to, take from, etc.
Consequently, contrary to what is often taught in certain quarters, redeemed man cannot nullify the past work of the Holy Spirit in effecting his present redeemed state, wrought on the basis of Christ’s finished work. He can no more nullify the Spirit’s work in salvation than he can nullify Christ’s finished work at Calvary. Both constitute past, completed works wrought through divine intervention, and man is completely powerless to act in these realms.
2) God’s Established, Unchangeable Pattern
Almost 6,000 years ago, God created man. Then, resulting from satanic intervention, man fell. Man became a ruined creation. And this was followed by God setting about to restore His ruined creation.
God’s work surrounding man’s restoration was preceded by His work surrounding a restoration of the material creation upon which man was to reside. Satanic activity had brought about the ruin (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:14-19), and divine activity alone could bring about restoration (Genesis 1:2b ff).
Ruined man finds himself in exactly the same condition as the ruined earth, seen in Genesis 1:2a. Satanic activity brought about man’s ruin, and divine activity alone can bring about his restoration. Man is no more capable of bringing himself out of his ruined state than was the ruined earth. And, apart from divine intervention — as occurred in the restoration of the ruined earth — man would have remained in his ruined condition forever (as the ruined earth would have had to remain in its ruined condition forever, as well).
The former restoration sets the pattern for the latter restoration. The former is God’s unchangeable pattern concerning how He restores a ruined creation, forever established in the openings verses of Genesis. Man, a subsequent ruined creation of God, MUST be restored in complete accordance with the established pattern.
In the Genesis account, the Spirit of God moved, God spoke, and light came into existence. And matters are exactly the same relative to ruined man today, i.e. relative to a subsequent ruined creation.
Exactly as in the Genesis account, the first thing that must occur is the movement of the Spirit of God. And insofar as ruined man is concerned, this initial act of the Spirit is that of breathing life into the one who is “dead in trespasses and sins.”
And the Spirit is able to do this work on the basis of death and shed blood, for apart from death and shed blood, there can be no salvation (cf. Genesis 3:21; 4:10 [Hebrews 12:24]; 22:7-13; Ex. 12:3-13; Hebrews 10:22). In this respect, the Spirit today breathes life into the one having no life on the basis of the finished work of God’s Son at Calvary.
The living Word has performed the work, and God has spoken concerning the matter (Exodus 12:6, 7, 12, 13). The Spirit moves, God speaks, and light comes into existence (man is born from above). And God then divides between the light and the darkness (God divides between spirit and soul, between that associated with the man of spirit and that associated with the man of flesh).
Thus, the pattern concerning how God restores a ruined creation was set forth at the very beginning of His Word (Genesis 1:2b ff). And this God-established pattern can never change.
(Note also that a time element was involved in God’s complete restoration of the material creation — six days, followed by a Sabbath, a seventh day of rest. This points to the six days [6,000 years] comprising Man’s Day, to be followed by a Sabbath, a seventh day of rest [a seventh 1,000-year period], the Messianic Era [cf. Hebrews 4:4, 9].
It will only be at the end of the six days [6,000 years] comprising Man’s Day that man will be completely restored — body, soul, and spirit—as the material creation was completely restored at the end of six days in the Genesis account. Only then will the Sabbath within this complete sequence ensue; only then will there be a day [a 1000-year period] of rest.
As in the established pattern in Genesis, so will it be in that which it foreshadows [Exodus 31:13-17; 2 Peter 1:16-18; 3:3-8].)
Blood and Leaven
For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.
Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. (Exodus l2:l2-l5)
There is a dual truth taught in Exodus chapters twelve and thirteen concerning the application of blood and the expelling of leaven. These chapters introduce the first two “feasts of the Lord” in the prophetic calendar of Israel — the “Passover” and the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” (cf. Leviticus 23:1ff). “Blood” from the paschal lambs was to be applied first. Then, those who had applied the blood were to put “leaven out of their houses.” This is the unchangeable order established by God in the book of Exodus.
In these two chapters, the sentence of death had fallen upon the firstborn throughout all the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:4, 5). The firstborn in every household, Israelite and Egyptian alike, must die. However, provision was made for all the firstborn in Israel to experience death vicariously. Every household was to take a lamb from the flock, the lamb was to be slain, and blood from the lamb was to be applied “on the two side posts and on the upper door post” of every house throughout the camp of Israel.
When the Lord passed through the land of Egypt to execute the sentence of death, He looked for one thing at each house. He looked for the blood upon the entrance way. The presence of blood showed that the firstborn in that household had already died. Death had occurred vicariously through a slain lamb from the flock. The Lord then passed over that house. The absence of blood, on the other hand, showed that the firstborn had not yet died. Death then occurred at the hands of the Lord, for the firstborn in every household MUST die.
It cannot be overemphasized that the only thing which the Lord looked for on this particular night was the blood. “. . . when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:12, 13). Nothing else was in view; and once the death of the firstborn had been executed, that was the end of the matter. Those who died vicariously held the same position relative to death in the eyes of the Lord as those who died apart from a substitute. The death of the firstborn had occurred in both instances, and God was satisfied. Nothing could, at a later time, be reversed.
In the antitype of this aspect of Exodus chapters eleven and twelve, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us [‘was sacrificed on our behalf'’]” (1 Corinthians 5:7). His blood was shed; and those who have appropriated His blood, through faith, have died vicariously. Death has occurred through the slain Lamb, as in Exodus chapter twelve. “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (Exodus 12:1-13, 29, 30; John 1:29; 19:16-30; 1 Corinthians 15:3). And an individual availing himself of this provision has already kept the appointment with death referred to in Hebrews 9:27. The death of the firstborn is past, God is satisfied, and that is the end of the matter. As in Exodus chapter twelve, nothing can, at a later time, be reversed.
Following the Passover in Egypt, God dealt with the Israelites on an entirely different plane. The Israelites, from this time forward, were dealt with on the basis of that which had occurred in Egypt, NEVER relative to this matter. And it is the same with Christians today. Christians are dealt with strictly on the basis of that which Christ has done on their behalf, NEVER relative to this matter.
Immediately following the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread commenced. Beginning with this festival, God dealt with the Israelites relative to “leaven” in their houses, NOT relative to that which had previously occurred (the death of the firstborn) and was now a past, finished matter. They were to put leaven out of their houses, and they were to eat unleavened bread for seven days. “Seven” is God’s number, as “six” is man’s number. “Six” shows incompleteness, and “seven” shows completeness, with “eight” indicating a new beginning. The Israelites were to put leaven out of their houses and eat unleavened bread for seven days — one complete period of time.
"Leaven points to that which is vile or corrupt; it points to sin in the lives of individuals. And the spiritual significance of this festival surrounded the fact that the Israelites, as God’s redeemed people, were to put that which was vile, corrupt, associated with sin out of the camp for one complete period of time. This period of time had to do with the existence of the nation from that point forward.
An individual Israelite refusing to expel the leaven was cut off from Israel” (cf. Exodus 12:15; Psalm 37:9, 22, 28, 29, 34). He died on the right side of the blood. He was cut off from Israel, not from God. The same held true for the entire accountable generation subsequently cut off following events at Kadesh-Barnea. They too died on the right side of the blood. Their failure to enter into the land, resulting in their overthrow in the wilderness, had no bearing upon their standing before God on the basis of that which had previously occurred the night of the Passover in Egypt.
The entire matter is the same in Christendom today. Christians are commanded to “keep the feast,” which is to be done in a new way, “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). Christians are to put that which is vile, corrupt, associated with sin out of their lives for one complete period of time — the entire duration of the Christian life.
Christians refusing to expel the leaven will, as the Israelites who refused to expel the leaven, be “cut off.”
The Israelites under Moses were called out of Egypt to go into another land and realize an inheritance awaiting the nation. Those cut off in Israel forfeited the realization of their calling. They fell on the right side of the blood but outside the land to which they had been called.
And so it is with Christians. Those refusing to expel the leaven will forfeit the realization of their calling. They will fall on the right side of the blood but outside the land to which they have been called. Such a failure, as in the type, will have no bearing upon that which previously occurred in their lives through the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit in effecting their standing before God.
Many Christians, because of the sins of the flesh, have their lives cut short during the present time. However, this is not the primary meaning of being “cut off.” Those “cut off” in Israel were separated from a realization of their calling. They were called out of Egypt for a purpose; and most were overthrown, failing to realize the goal of their calling.
Such an overthrow for Christians in the antitype awaits the issues of the judgment seat of Christ, for it is there that decisions and determinations that directly affect Christians relative to their calling will be made. God will not countenance sin in the lives of His people; and before the judgment seat, the harbored sins of Christians will be brought out into the open and dealt with. Those refusing to judge their sins prior to that time, availing themselves of the high priestly ministry of Christ, will then be judged. Their sins then, though, will be dealt with in an entirely different manner; for, at that time, Christ will be their Judge rather than their High Priest (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:31; 1 John 1:9-2:2).
Basis for Judgment
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
If anyone’s work that he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Something little understood today is the fact that the “basis” for God’s judgments is always works. God judged sin at Calvary, based on Christ’s completed work; and when God views redeemed man today, He views this past completed work of His Son and past judgment upon sin. Redeemed man, through the Spirit having breathed into him, possesses spiritual life; and Christ’s righteous, justifying act — His finished work at Calvary — has been reckoned as merit to him (Romans 5:l6-l8; Philemon l8).
However, redeemed man in this standing before God is directly responsible to his Creator; and he, in his justified state, will himself be judged on the basis of works — his own works performed following salvation (Matthew l6:27; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
And works are the basis for all God’s subsequent judgments upon man — Israel, the living Gentiles coming out of the Great Tribulation, and those appearing before the Great White Throne. Man’s appearance or nonappearance at a particular judgment, or place in this judgment (e.g., man’s appearance at the judgment seat of Christ, or at the great white throne judgment 1,000 years later), is dependent on his acceptance or rejection of the past work of Another; but judgment of the individual will be on the basis of his own works, which will be performed either as a redeemed or as an unredeemed individual (Ezekiel 20:34-38; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11; Revelation 20:11-15).
Before the judgment seat of Christ, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest . . . it shall be revealed by [in] fire.” There will be works comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones”; and there will be works comparable to “wood, hay, straw.” One set of material reveals works of intrinsic value, which will endure the fire; but the other set of material reveals valueless works, which will be burned in the fire.
Works performed by Christians during the present time can vary a great deal in worth. Such works can be performed under the leadership of the Holy Spirit and redound to the praise, honor, and glory of the Lord; or such works can be performed under the leadership of man and redound to the praise, honor, and glory of man. At the judgment seat, all will be revealed; for “the fire shall test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”
1) Works . . . Revealed by Fire
Works emanate out of faithfulness to one’s calling and bring faith to its proper goal, which will result in the salvation of one’s soul (cf. James 2:l4-26; 1 Peter 1:5-11). At the judgment seat, the worth of every man’s work in this realm will be revealed; and decisions and determinations emanating out of this judgment will determine every man’s position in the coming kingdom (cf. Matthew l6:24-27; 24:45-51; 25:l4-30; Luke 19:12-27).
“Judgment” on the basis of works is alien to the thinking of many Christians, for they have been exposed time and again to a proclamation of salvation by grace through faith apart from works, unbalanced by the proclamation of the coming judgment of Christians on the basis of works. The emphasis has been placed almost entirely upon the finished work of Christ at Calvary, with little regard given to Christian living, the coming judgment seat, and the coming kingdom.
Teachings of this nature have centered almost solely on the salvation that we presently possess; and things having to do with the inheritance awaiting Christians, the salvation of the soul, etc., have been removed from their respective contexts and applied to our present salvation. Ministries centering on this type teaching in the churches have produced both confusion and complacency in Christendom.
Then, there is another type widespread teaching in the churches that recognizes works but has every Christian performing good works. The reasoning of those who so teach centers on the thought that if a person is really saved he will produce good works; if, on the other hand he doesn’t produce good works, this simply goes to show that he was never really saved in the first place. Aside from having no scriptural basis whatsoever, such a teaching produces both an erroneous view of salvation by grace through faith and an erroneous view of issues surrounding the judgment seat of Christ.
If every Christian produces good works to show that he has been saved, then works enter into an area where works cannot exist.
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. (Romans 11:6)
The presence or absence of works on the part of Christians can have no connection whatsoever with their prior reception of the finished work of Christ. Christ’s finished work allows an individual to be placed in the position where he can produce good works. There is nothing in Scripture which teaches that he, of necessity, will produce good works. Such would be completely contrary to the teaching of salvation by grace through faith apart from works.
If it be maintained that every Christian must produce good works to show that he has been saved, then it must follow that every Christian would appear at the judgment seat of Christ with works that “abide” the fire. Possessing works of this nature, every Christian would “receive a reward.”
But this thought is at once seen to be erroneous by reference to the text in 1 Corinthians chapter three. There will be Christians appearing at the judgment seat who will “suffer loss” and “be saved; yet so as by [through] fire” (v. 15). ALL of their works will be burned, but they themselves will “be saved,” i.e., they themselves will be delivered. And this deliverance will occur “through fire.”
This deliverance at the judgment seat can have nothing to do with eternal salvation, for all issues surrounding one’s eternal salvation, whether during the present time or at the future judgment seat, are past issues (e.g., Christ’s finished work at Calvary, the Spirit’s finished work of breathing life into the one having no life, allowing him to pass “from death to life”). God judged sin in the person of His Son at Calvary, and God is satisfied; and the Spirit breathes life into the one having no life, on the basis of the finished work of God’s Son. And this work of the triune Godhead is a past, finished deliverance that could never be referred to in the future sense seen in 1 Corinthians 3:15.
The deliverance seen in 1 Corinthians 3:15 is, contextually, a deliverance out of the fire at the judgment seat. Though all of the person’s works will be burned and he will appear naked in Christ’s presence (Revelation 3:17, 18), he himself will not be burned. Rather, he will be delivered — delivered from being burned with his works.
But, though he himself will be delivered in this respect, “so as through fire,” he will be unable to escape the dire consequences that will result from his works being consumed by the fire and his consequent naked appearance. And there can be no deliverance from these consequences, for there will have to be a “just recompense” — exact payment for services rendered in the house during the time of the Lord’s absence. If not, God would not be perfectly just and righteous in His dealings with His household servants.
One-sided views of the judgment seat that maintain that every Christian will appear with good works are little different than the teaching that ignores works. Confusion and complacency, once again, can only be the ultimate result.
Much of the preceding, erroneous teaching is fostered by a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 4:5. This verse in the King James Version reads,
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (1 Corinthians 4:5, KJV)
The problem emanates from both a mistranslation in the text and a non-contextual understanding of the words, “then shall every man have praise of God.” The words “every man” could be better translated “each man”; and the reference is back to the faithful stewards in verse two. Faithful stewards will, individually, receive praise from God; but there is nothing in Scripture which teaches that “every man,” apart from the context would also include unfaithful stewards, will receive such praise. To the contrary, Scripture quite clearly reveals that both faithful and unfaithful stewards will appear at the judgment seat, that the judgment seat will be operable in two realms, and that faithful stewards alone will receive praise of God.
2) If Anyone’s Work . . . Endures
“Rewards” are being reserved for the faithful alone. This is one side of the judgment seat. Christians have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:l0). Works of this nature, performed by a Christian exhibiting faithfulness to his calling, will “endure” at the judgment seat. They will be manifested as works comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones” and will endure the fire. Such works will result in the Christian receiving a reward and a position with Christ in the kingdom.
Works that endure the fire will be the type works necessary to bring faith to its proper goal, resulting in the salvation of the Christian’s soul. Following the testing of such works, the Christian will receive praise from his Lord. He will hear his Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter into the joy of your Lord”; and he will subsequently be positioned according to rank among those destined to rule as joint-heirs with Christ (Matthew 24:45-47; 25:l9-23; Luke l9:l5-19; Romans 8:17).
3) If Anyone’s Work is Burned
“Suffering loss” is in store for the unfaithful. This is the other side of the judgment seat. It is possible for a Christian to appear before the judgment seat of Christ without one single good work to his credit. He may have works, but not works done under the direction of the Holy Spirit, for the praise, honor, and glory of the Lord. Such works, comparable to “wood, hay, straw” will be burned. They will not endure the fire. But the Christian himself “will be saved [delivered]; yet so as by [through] fire.”
The presence of works, the absence of works, or the type works can have no bearing on his eternal salvation, wrought completely apart from his own works. He will come out of this judgment, as Lot from Sodom, with nothing to show but escape from the condemnation befalling the unregenerate.
Works consumed by fire will be the type works unable to bring faith to its proper goal, resulting in the loss of the Christian's soul. Following the testing of such works, the Christian will be rebuked by his Lord. He will hear his Lord say, “Thou wicked and slothful servant . . . .”
Then, that which had been entrusted to him during the time of his Lord’s absence will be taken from him. He will be denied a position with Christ in the kingdom, a position that could have been his had he previously exercised faithfulness in his calling; and he will be appointed “his portion with the hypocrites.” (Matthew 24:48-51; 25:l9, 24-30; Luke 19:l5, 20-26).
He will then find himself cast “without,” into the place that Scripture calls, “the outer darkness” (ASV). In this place there will be “the weeping and the gnashing of teeth [an Eastern expression showing deep grief]” (ASV) on the part of Christians who realize too late that they could have occupied one of the proffered positions with Christ in His kingdom. Their rights as firstborn sons — the rights of primogeniture — will have been forfeited; and they, as Esau, will lift up their voices and weep.
(For a detailed discussion of “the outer darkness,” refer to the Appendix.)
Receiving rewards or suffering loss at the judgment seat of Christ are grave issues about which most Christians seem to know very little, or, for that matter, appear to even be concerned. But such will have no bearing upon the fact that there is a day coming in the not too-distant future when every Christian MUST render an account to his Lord for the “things done in his body” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Events of that day will come to pass at the end of the present dispensation, immediately preceding the Messianic Era; issues of that day will surround a review of the works performed by Christians in view of their receiving rewards or suffering loss; the purpose of that day, aside from providing a “just recompense,” will be to make decisions and determinations concerning Christians occupying positions with Christ in His 1,000-year rule from the heavens over the earth.
Everything is moving toward that l,000-year Messianic Era when God’s Son will reign supreme. Man’s Day, in conjunction with his rule over the earth, is about to end; and the Lord’s Day, in conjunction with His rule over the earth, is about to commence. A kingdom, such as the coming kingdom of Christ, requires a King with numerous vice-regents. Christians are today being tested, tried, and refined with a view to that coming day.
Events of the entire present dispensation revolve around the thought that God is today calling out the vice-regents who will reign with His Son during the coming dispensation; and the presence of the Church upon the earth will extend, in one sense of the word, to that point in time when God will have acquired the necessary rulers to occupy the proffered positions in the kingdom under Christ. It will extend to that point in time when the Spirit successfully completes His search for a bride for God’s Son.
The removal of the Church and the appearance of Christians before the judgment seat will involve the issues of two dispensations: This basis for this judgment will have to do with works, emanating out of faithfulness or unfaithfulness of the Lord’s servants during a past dispensation (the activity of Christians during the present dispensation, which will be past in that coming day), and the purpose for this judgment will have to do with Christians participating in the coming reign of God’s Son (co-heirs ascending the throne with God's Son in the kingdom of Christ).
(For information relative to “dispensations” and “ages,” refer to the author’s book, The Study of Scripture, chapter 5.)
Preparation occurs today; placement, based upon preparation, will emanate out of issues and determinations made at the judgment seat and will be made known after the Father delivers the kingdom to His Son (cf. Daniel 4:17, 25, 32; 7:13, 14; Matthew 20:20-23); and positions in the kingdom will be realized in the reign of Christ that follows (cf. Matthew 25:19ff; Luke 19:15ff; Revelation 2:26, 27).
That Every One May Receive
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.
Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . . . (2 Corinthians 5:10, 11a).
Decisions and determinations emanating from findings at the judgment seat will fall into two major categories — “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . .” and “You wicked and lazy servant . . . .” (cf. Matthew 25:19-30; Luke 19:15-26). The fact that “a just recompense” — exact payment for services rendered — will be meted out to every individual is set forth in Scripture in a number of different places through a number of different means (types, parables, direct statements), beginning with the writings of Moses in the book of Genesis and terminating with the writings of John in the book of Revelation. The Scriptures are replete with information concerning exactly what the future holds for all Christians, and there is no excuse for any Christian with an open Bible set before him to be other than knowledgeable concerning these things.
Each Christian, individually, will appear before the judgment seat of Christ to “receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” The specific statement is made that Christians will be judged solely on the basis of that which they themselves have done, which will be a judgment solely on the basis of works.
Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by [in] fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
(1 Corinthians 3:13).
The works of Christians that will be tried “by [in] fire” in that coming day will, according to Scripture, fall into two central categories: “gold, silver, precious stones,” and “wood, hay, straw” (1 Corinthians 3:12). And every Christian will receive “a just recompense,” completely commensurate with that revealed by his works.
Reason for Judgment
There are two major events in Scripture, common to all Christians, with which every Christian should be intimately familiar. One event is that past moment when the individual became a Christian through the birth from above, and the other event is that future moment when the same individual will be removed from the earth to appear before the Lord in judgment.
The birth from above in no way prepares an individual for that which will occur at the judgment seat. Becoming a Christian only places the individual in a position where he can appear at this judgment. Otherwise, he would appear at the great white throne judgment, with the unsaved dead from throughout Man’s Day (Revelation 20:11-15).
Issues of the judgment seat of Christ will occur before the millennium, and issues of the great white throne judgment will occur after the millennium. Issues of the judgment seat of Christ must occur before the millennium for the simple reason that these issues will involve the millennium itself. Such will not be the case with judgment to be executed at the great white throne. Issues of this judgment will involve only the eternal ages beyond the millennium. Thus, the judgment seat of Christ finds its place in Scripture preceding the millennium, and the great white throne judgment finds its place in Scripture following the millennium.
The Church was brought into existence to be the recipient of that part of the kingdom which Israel rejected, the kingdom of the heavens; and the Church must appear in judgment, with the kingdom of the heavens in view, preceding the time Christ takes the kingdom.
The primary purpose for the judgment seat of Christ is to reveal, through a testing “by [in] fire,” each Christian’s qualifications for occupying one of the numerous proffered positions as a co-heir with Christ in the kingdom. Emanating out of this revelation through testing will be a just recompense — each individual receiving exactly what he deserves, either receiving rewards commensurate with his service or suffering loss commensurate with his failure to serve.
Christians, at the judgment seat, will be shown to be either qualified or disqualified to occupy positions of power and authority with Christ in the kingdom. And every Christian will either enter into and occupy one of these positions or be denied one of these positions.
Issues surrounding the judgment seat will involve the activities of two dispensations — the present dispensation, and the coming dispensation. The present dispensation is one filled with trials, testing, and preparation; and issues of the judgment seat will be based entirely upon Christian involvement in these activities, with a view to the coming dispensation. Then, in the coming dispensation, the Messianic Era, findings and determinations previously made at the judgment seat will be brought to pass.
In the coming dispensation, every Christian will find himself in one of two positions. He will either occupy a position of honor and glory, or he will occupy a position of shame and disgrace. And there will be no equality among Christians in either position, for there will have previously been a just recompense at the judgment seat. There will be a reaping in accord with the sowing. Every Christian will “receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
This is the reason why some Christians will occupy higher positions in the kingdom than other Christians. And this is also the reason why, while some Christians will be given territorial authority, other Christians will be denied any authority at all (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27).
The words, “judgment seat,” are a translation of the Greek word bema. This word refers to an elevated platform upon which the chair of a magistrate rested. This was the recognized place of magisterial authority; and the person occupying this chair issued decrees, judgments, etc. relative to the matter at hand.
Some expositors have sought to understand the word bema in the sense that it was used in connection with the ancient Grecian athletic games in Athens. At these games, the bema was a raised platform upon which the president or the umpire sat; and the victorious participants would appear before the bema, at the conclusion of the contests, to be rewarded. At these games, there was no thought of judicial activity in connection with the bema, only rewards; and this use of the word has led many Christians to view the bema of Christ within the same framework — a rewarding stand, apart from judicial activity.
However, the word bema is used a number of times in the New Testament in quite a different sense, and Scripture must first and foremost be understood in the light of other Scripture. The use of words in contemporary sources outside the Scriptures can, at times, provide added light on definitions, meanings, etc.; and this could extend into the way in which the word bema was used in connection with the athletic games in Athens. But the use of this word in connection with these games shows only one facet of the way in which the word is to be understood. New Testament references show other facets, which are quite different.
In many instances, rewards will emanate from findings at the judgment seat. Every man’s work will be tried “by [in] fire.” The race will have been run (the present “race of the faith”), judgment will follow, and only then will rewards come into the picture. The Grecian athletic games had only the contests and rewards in view, with no thought of judicial activity in connection with loss following the various contests. The use of the word bema in this respect shows only a portion of one side of the judgment seat.
Victorious and non-victorious runners alike will appear before the judgment seat of Christ: “For we must ALL appear . . . .” This was not true at the Grecian athletic games. Only the victorious participants appeared before the bema at these games. But all Christians will appear before Christ’s bema, judgment will be executed, and, as previously seen, a just recompense will result in every Christian receiving “the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad “ (2 Corinthians 5:10b).
Despite the previous differences, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul likened himself to a contestant in the games of that day, though one with an entirely different purpose and goal in view. A contestant in the games conditioned himself physically, with his ultimate goal being the reception of a corruptible crown; but Paul, as a contestant in the race of the faith, conditioned himself spiritually, with his ultimate goal being the reception of an incorruptible crown.
The thought in both contests is straining every muscle of one’s being as the contestant moves toward the goal.
(The word translated “striveth — ‘competes’ in NKJV — [v. 25]” is from agonizomai in the Greek text. This is the word from which the English word “agonize” is derived. Note Luke 13:24 where the same word is translated “strive”; note also the intensified form of this same word [epagonizomai], translated “earnestly contend,” in Jude 3.)
Paul knew that he would appear before Christ’s bema at the termination of the contest, as a runner either approved for an incorruptible crown or disapproved for this crown (“castaway” [Greek: adokimos (v. 27)] should be translated “disapproved”). At that time, approval will result in the person subsequently being crowned (after Christ receives the kingdom and returns [cf. Daniel 7:13, 14; Revelation 19:11ff]), and disapproval will result in the crown subsequently being denied. Denial of the crown will also involve something additional. The contestant who fails in the race of the faith will also “suffer loss” at this time (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15).
The word bema is only used twice in the New Testament relative to the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The reference in Romans 14:10, according to some Greek manuscripts, should be translated “judgment seat of God.” This is the rendering preferred by most commentators, but the rendering is open to question. In the final analysis though, the question resolves itself as really being immaterial. "For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22). And since the judgment seat in Romans 14:10 is the one before which all Christians must stand, this can only be synonymous with the judgment seat of Christ referred to in 2 Corinthians 5:10.
Other uses of the word bema in the New Testament are found in the gospel accounts of Matthew and John and in the book of Acts. In these accounts, the word bema appears in connection with magisterial functions of Pilate, Herod, Gallio, Festus, and Caesar.
Note the different usages of the word bema in these three books:
1) Matthew 27:19; John 19:13: The word bema is used in these two passages referring to the place where Pilate sat when he issued the decrees that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Pilate sat in judgment upon God’s Son, but the day is coming when these roles will be reversed. God’s Son will one day sit in judgment upon Pilate; and the past judgment rendered by Pilate, among other things, will be accounted for (Revelation 20:12).
2) Acts 12:21: Herod arrayed in “royal apparel,” sat upon “his throne [bema] and made an oration.” The people listening associated his voice with that of “God” rather than “man”; and Herod, not giving God the glory, was executed by the angel of the Lord.
3) Acts 18:12, 16, 17: Gallio, deputy of Achaia, refused to judge Paul when the Jews “brought him to the judgment seat [bema]” (vv. 12-16). Then in verse seventeen, “the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat [bema].”
4) Acts 25:6, 10, 17: Paul was brought before Festus’ “judgment seat [bema],” which he called “Caesar’s judgment seat [bema]”; and upon Paul’s appeal to Caesar, Festus rendered the decision to send him to Rome.
The use of the word bema in the preceding passages is not at all in accord with the thought of a rewarding stand. In each instance the judicial activities of a magistrate is in view, which is exactly the Scriptural view of the judgment seat of Christ. When the various Scriptures bearing upon the subject are viewed together, it is clearly revealed that this judgment will result not only in praise and rewards but also in rebuke and suffering loss. The latter will be as much of a reality as the former, or vice versa; for, again, every person will “receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Justification by Faith, Works
At the judgment seat of Christ there will be an execution of perfect justice and righteousness. If rewards are merited, then rewards will be forthcoming; if, on the other hand, punishment is merited, then punishment will be forthcoming. Every Christian will be judged “according to his works,” and there will be exact payment for services rendered. The former will be exactly commensurate with the latter.
In Scripture there is a justification by faith and there is also a justification by works. And, correspondingly, there is a salvation associated with each. Verses such as Ephesians 2:8, 9 deal with justification by faith, with Ephesians 2:10 leading into the thought of justification by works. Then, a passage of Scripture such as James 2:14-26 deals more in detail with justification by works.
This is where individuals often commit mayhem when studying Scripture. They see only justification by faith throughout Scripture, and they attempt to make passages such as James 2:14-26 fit into the framework of teachings surrounding justification by faith. And, as a result, confusion reigns supreme.
Justification by faith is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ at Calvary and has to do with the salvation that Christians presently possess — the salvation of the spirit (“. . . that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John 3:6b]). Works performed by the one being justified by faith cannot enter into this justification in any form or fashion — either preceding or following salvation.
That is, unredeemed man cannot do any works to be saved, and redeemed man cannot do any works to either stay saved or to show that he has been saved. It is a justification “by grace through faith” completely apart from the works of fallen man — whether preceding or following salvation. Works enter into this justification only to the extent that Christ performed the works on man’s behalf, and man can be justified only by receiving that which Christ has already done.
Justification by works, on the other hand, is based entirely upon the actions of those who have already been justified by faith, those who have been justified on the basis of Christ’s finished work. “Faith” itself is not part of justification by works. There is no such thing in Scripture as a justification by faith and works. There is a justification by faith alone, and there is a justification by works alone; but there is no such thing as a justification resulting from a combination of the two.
It is true that works emanate out of faith. And it would be equally true that a different type of works, on the other hand, would emanate out of unfaithfulness (James 2:14-26). All Christians will be judged on the basis of that emanating out of one or the other. They will be judged either on the basis of that which emanated out of their faithfulness or on the basis of that which emanated out of their unfaithfulness. That is, they will be judged on the basis of their prior reaction to faith, which will have to do with either their prior faithfulness or their prior unfaithfulness. And, emanating out of the former or out of the latter will be a revelation of works at the judgment seat comparable to either “gold, silver, precious stones” or “wood, hay, straw.”
In justification by faith, it is the work of another (Person) that makes possible justification on the basis of faith alone; in justification by works, it is faithfulness on the part of those who have already been justified by faith that not only results in works but makes possible justification on the basis of works alone.
In this respect, the type of works resulting in justification by works emanate from one’s faithfulness to his calling; and works of this nature, in turn, bring faith to its proper goal. And the goal of faith, brought to this point as a result of works, is the salvation of one’s soul — the salvation associated with justification by works (cf. James 2:22; 1 Peter 1:9).
Thus, justification by faith is based entirely upon Christ’s righteous, justifying act — His finished work at Calvary (Romans 5:16, 18); and justification by works is based entirely upon the “righteous acts of the saints” — the works of those having previously been justified by faith, through the work of Another (Revelation 19:8, ASV).
The word translated “righteous acts” (“righteousness,” KJV) is plural in the Greek text (dikaiomata) and cannot refer to the imputed righteousness of Christ possessed by every Christian (which is a singular righteousness). Dikaiomata in this verse can only have to do with the works of saved individuals (the same word, appearing in the singular, is translated “justification” and “righteousness” in Romans 5:16, 18 [referring to justification by faith, made possible through Christ’s finished work at Calvary]; and a cognate verb [from dikaioo] is translated “justified” in James 2:24 [referring to both justification by faith and justification by works]).
The “righteous acts of the saints” — justifying acts of the saints — emanate out of faith (faithfulness to one’s calling). And these acts alone will result in justification by works.
The type of works possessed by every Christian will be revealed “by [in] fire” at the judgment seat. Works emanating out of faith will be revealed as works comparable to “gold, silver, precious stones.” And works of this nature will bring about three things:
1) Justification by works (i.e., a justification on the basis of works that will have emanated out of faithfulness [James 2:14-26]).
2) Provide the Christian with a wedding garment (made up of the righteous acts of the saints [Revelation 19:7, 8]).
3) Bring faith to its proper goal (which will result in the salvation of the soul [1 Peter 1:4-9]).
An individual having been justified by works will appear in Christ’s presence properly clothed. He will possess a wedding garment; and, consequently, he will be in a position to participate in the activities attendant the bride. Having denied himself, taken up his cross, and followed Christ, he will realize the salvation of his soul (Matthew 16:24-27). And he will be among those who will occupy positions as joint-heirs with Christ in the kingdom.
An individual having failed to be justified by works will appear in Christ’s presence improperly clothed. He will not possess a wedding garment; and, consequently, he will not only be naked but also ashamed (cf. Revelation 3:15, 17, 18; note “works” [v. 15], “naked” [v. 17], and “shame” [v. 18]).
Lacking a wedding garment, he will be in no position to participate in the activities attendant the bride. Having saved his life (soul) — living for self, rather than having lost his life (soul) for Christ's sake during the present day of trials and testing (Matthew 16:25) — he will not realize the salvation of his life (soul) in that coming day. Faith will not have been brought to its proper goal; and, as a result, he will not be among those who will occupy positions as co-heirs with Christ in the kingdom.
(Saving one’s life, living for self, has to do with allowing the self-life [the soulical man] with all its fleshly desires, appetites, etc. to control oneself [in opposition to Matthew 16:24]; losing one’s life for Christ’s sake, on the other hand, has to do with bringing the self-life [the soulical man] with all its fleshly desires, appetites, etc. under subjection to the spiritual man [cf. Genesis 16:9; Galatians 4:21-31], taking up one’s cross, and following Christ [in accord with Matthew 16:24].)
Terror of the Lord
Faithfulness to one’s calling, the righteous acts of the saints (the wedding garment, the covering associated with works emanating out of faithfulness, providing a justification by works), and the salvation of the soul are all intimately related and have to do with issues surrounding the judgment seat. Scripture deals with this overall subject on a far broader scale than many realize. Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; and 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11 are only three of many passages dealing, either directly or indirectly, with the judgment seat in the New Testament. From the parables in the gospel of Matthew (e.g., 22:1-14; 24:40-25:30) to the opening chapters of the book of Revelation, the New Testament is replete with information concerning things related to the judgment seat.
According to 2 Corinthians 5:11, the judgment seat is the place where “the terror of the Lord” will be manifested. The word “terror” in this verse is a translation of the Greek word phobos, referring to “that which causes fear, terror, apprehension.” This is the same word translated “fearful” in Hebrews l0:31 (“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”), another reference to events at the judgment seat.
Actually, Hebrews 10:30, 31 forms a parallel reference to 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11, and the preceding verses (vv. 26-29) provide additional information concerning that facet of the judgment seat associated with “the terror of the Lord.”
Note how this entire section in Hebrews chapter ten begins:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge [Greek: epignosis, mature knowledge] of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
but a certain fearful [Greek: phoberos, a cognate of phobos] expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation that will devour the adversaries. (vv. 26, 27)
That Christians, rather than the unredeemed, are in view is evident. The verses introducing this passage (vv. 19-25) deal with Christians alone (“Having therefore, brethren, boldness . . . .” [v. 19]), and there is no change in the identity of those addressed beginning with verse twenty-six.
The word “we,” appearing twice in this verse, shows that the writer is talking about himself and other Christians, continuing without a break in the overall continuity of thought from the preceding verses. Further, the word “knowledge” in this verse is a translation of the Greek word epignosis, showing that these individuals had acquired a mature knowledge of the truth (“after we have received the knowledge [mature knowledge] of the truth”).
Gnosis is the regular Greek word for “knowledge,” and epignosis is an intensified form of this word (through a preposition being prefixed to the word), referring to “a mature knowledge.” Only redeemed individuals possess saved spirits into which the Word of God can be received; and only redeemed individuals possess the indwelling Holy Spirit who can take the Word of God, after it has been received into their saved human spirits, and lead them into “all truth” (resulting first in gnosis, but leading into epignosis). None of this is possible for the unredeemed, for they possess no means to either receive or rightly divide the Word of God.
The “things of the Spirit of God,” revealed through the Word of God (John 16:13-15), are “foolishness” to the unredeemed; they cannot “know [gnosis]” these things, for these things “are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The unredeemed man, the soulical man, cannot even come into a rudimentary understanding (gnosis) of the things revealed through the Spirit of God, much less a mature understanding, referred to by the word epignosis (note also the word “illuminated” in v. 32. This is from the same Greek word translated “enlightened” in Hebrews 6:4, which, drawing from the type in chapters 3 and 4, can refer only to the saved).
Thus, there can be no room for controversy concerning exactly who is in view in Hebrews 10:26ff. Drawing from both the text and the context, the passage can be understood only one way — a passage of Scripture dealing with the saved alone.
(Epignosis in v. 26, as it is used throughout the epistles, is often seen having a peculiar relationship to knowledge as it pertains to the Word of the Kingdom. And, contextually [from vv. 23-25], that is the relationship seen in this verse through the use of epignosis. Then, also contextually, it is only those who have come into this mature knowledge of the Word of the Kingdom who are able to commit the particular sin in view.)
Christ provided Himself as the sacrifice for sin, His blood is today on the mercy seat in heaven, and He is presently occupying the office of High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary on behalf of sinning Christians. Christ is presently performing a cleansing from defilement for Christians who sin, and all a Christian needs to do in order to avail himself of this provided cleansing is to confess his sin. When he does this, cleansing will occur (1 John 1:9).
The willful sin of Hebrews 10:26 results in defilement, as does any sin. But, a different situation exists with this sin. This verse states that no sacrifice exists for those who sin after the manner dealt with by the verse, which separates it from Christ’s present ministry.
How does this sin differ from any other sin that Christians can commit? Is it possible that this sin could somehow be brought under Christ’s present ministry and confessed, with forgiveness resulting from the person's confession? If so, “How?” If not, “Why not?”
1) Christ’s Present Ministry
To properly understand the willful sin, for several reasons (one reason being contextual), it should be viewed, first of all, in the light of the present high priestly ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. Note the context of Hebrews 10:26 (vv. 19-22) and also 1 John 1:6-2:2. The “blood” of Christ is presently on the mercy seat in the “holiest [Holy of Holies]” of the heavenly sanctuary; and a “new and living way” of access has been provided through the One who shed this blood, our “High Priest over the house of God.”
The blood of Christ, presently on the mercy seat of the heavenly sanctuary, “cleanses [keeps on cleansing]” Christians who have become defiled (through sin) as they “walk [keep on walking] in the light” (1 John 1:7; cf. Hebrews 10:22). It is impossible for the ones walking in the light to occupy a position other than being cleansed from sin; but, viewing the other side of the picture, it is entirely possible for Christians to not walk in the light, in which case there will be no cleansing.
To understand exactly what is meant by walking in the light, one must draw from the typology of the tabernacle. The light was provided by a seven-leafed golden candlestick inside the Holy Place where the priests carried on part of their ministry, and the only way that these priests were permitted to enter the Holy Place and walk in this light was through a previous cleansing at the brazen laver in the courtyard.
This laver lay between the brazen altar and the Holy Place and had upper and lower basins for washing the hands and feet. The entire bodies of these priests had been washed upon their entrance into the priesthood (Exodus 29:4; 40:12-15) — an act never to be repeated — but in their subsequent ministry, it was necessary to avail themselves of partial washings at the laver. Their hands and feet became soiled in their ministry, and these parts of the body had to be cleansed prior to entering the Holy Place (Exodus 30:18-21; 40:30-32).
Exactly the same thing holds true for Christians, New Testament priests, in the antitype today. Christians have received a complete washing (received at the point of the birth from above, upon their entrance into the priesthood) — an act never to be repeated.
But, as the Old Testament priests, they must now avail themselves of partial washings in their ministry. And this is seen in the type through the actions of Old Testament priests washing at the laver.
This is what Jesus alluded to in John 13:8, 10: “If I do not wash [Greek: nipto, referring to a part of the body (the Septuagint uses this same word in Exodus 30:19, 21)] you, you have no part with me [note: not ‘in me,’ but ‘with me’]”; and “He who is washed [Greek: louo, (‘bathed’ in the NKJV) referring to the entire body (the Septuagint uses this same word in Exodus 29:4; 40:12)] needs only to wash [Greek: nipto] his feet . . . .” This is also what is alluded to in Hebrews 10:22 and 1 John 1:7.
Old Testament priests whose hands and feet had become soiled through activity in the courtyard could not bypass the laver and proceed on to the Holy Place. Nor can New Testament priests. New Testament priests must first, as the Old Testament priests, avail themselves of cleansing. Defilement in the Christians’ case comes through contact with sin; and cleansing, according to the context of 1 John 1:7, is accomplished through confession of sin:
If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (v. 9)
And this cleansing is accomplished solely on the basis of Christ’s shed blood on the mercy seat in the heavenly sanctuary:
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate [Greek: parakletos, one called alongside to help in time of need] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
And He Himself is the propitiation [Greek: hilasmos, (God appeased, through Christ’s work on the basis of His shed blood on the mercy seat)] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world [contextually, a reference to all of the saved in the world, not the unsaved (a cleansing for Christians alone is in view; the unsaved and eternal salvation are not in view at all in these verses)]. (1 John 2:1, 2)
Thus, the ones walking in the light in 1 John 1:7 are Christians who have availed themselves of the provision in 1 John 1:9. As they continue walking in the light (continue availing themselves of this provision, allowing continued access to the Holy Place), the blood of Christ continues cleansing them from “all sin.”
And a Christian refusing to avail himself of provided cleansing today is seen walking in darkness. He has not come to the laver and, consequently, can only remain in the darkened courtyard outside the light in the Holy Place. He has refused confession of sin; he has refused the cleansing provided by Christ. And for such an individual, in reality, “there remains no more sacrifice for sins.” That is, there is no sacrifice for those refusing the sacrifice that God has provided in the person of His Son.
Thus, contextually (Hebrews 10:19-22), one might think that the willful sin in verse twenty-six (for which there is no sacrifice) would be a Christian’s refusal to avail himself of Christ’s present high priestly ministry. In this respect, there would be no sacrifice for his unconfessed sins (for a Christian refusing to confess his sins would be refusing the provided sacrifice).
2) But . . . .
But Christians harboring sins of the flesh and refusing to confess these sins cannot possibly be that which they are warned against in Hebrews 10:26. This verse continues the thought from the immediately preceding verses (vv. 23-25), and this thought has nothing whatsoever with Christians confessing (or not confessing) their sins.
Nor can the willful sin in this verse be thought of in the broad sense of sins committed by Christians in a willful, or a deliberate, or a knowing manner. If the truth were known, it could probably easily be shown that most sins committed by Christians would fall into a singular category — things which Christians knew were sins before they committed them, knew were sins during the time in which they were committing them, and knew were sins after they had committed them.
The only possible way to properly understand the willful sin in Hebrews 10:26, for which there is no sacrifice, is to view this sin, contextually, within the book of Hebrews where it is found. If this is not done, a person will invariably go wrong at this point in Scripture.
Note first that all of the warnings in Hebrews are closely related, drawing heavily from the Old Testament types. The second warning (chapters 3 & 4) draws from the account of the Israelites under Moses, and the same thought is continued in the third warning (6:4ff), relating the matter to Christians.
In both the type (chapters 3 & 4 [second warning]) and the antitype (chapter 6 [third warning]), the sin referenced in the fourth warning (10:26ff) is present. The Israelites under Moses committed a sin for which there was no sacrifice (second warning), and Christians today can commit exactly the same sin, with the same result following (third warning). Then the fourth warning continues with thoughts pertaining to this sin; and the matter has to do with “so great salvation” (chapter 2 [first warning]), resulting in “blessings” associated with the "birthright" (chapter 12 [fifth warning]).
That is the broad contextual scope of the matter. The Israelites, in the type, through their actions at Kadesh-Barnea — refusing to go in and take the land to which they had been called — committed a sin for which there was no sacrifice. And, with there being no sacrifice for this sin, God didn't, He couldn't, change His mind concerning that which He had decreed pertaining to the matter.
And Christians, in the antitype, can commit exactly the same sin relative to the heavenly land to which they have been called. And, as in the type, no sacrifice exists for such a sin. As in the type, God won’t, He can’t change His mind concerning that which He has decreed pertaining to this sin, if committed by His people today.
This is plain from that which is stated in Hebrews 6:2-4, again drawing from the type in chapters three and four — ‘For it is impossible . . . if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance . . . .” (Reference the author’s book, Let Us Go On, chapter 5).
Then note that the reference to this sin is the continuation of a text having to do with a central purpose for Christians assembling together during the present dispensation — whether on Sunday at a regular meeting place, or at any other time or place during the week (vv. 23-25). The particular purpose given in the text is singular: Christians meeting together in order to exhort and encourage one another concerning the hope set before each one of them (“profession of our faith” [v. 23, KJV] should be translated, “confession of our hope”). And this hope set before every Christian is the hope that they might one day realize the very thing to which they have been called — win a crown in the present race of the faith and, as a result, occupy a regal position with Christ in that coming day of His power.
In short, Christians are exhorted to assemble together for a particular purpose, and then they are warned concerning the danger of failing to assemble together on a regular basis for this purpose. They can either find mutual strength in the race of the faith through assembling together, or they can fail to assemble for this mutual strength and find themselves in danger of falling away and becoming involved in that which Scripture refers to as willful sin.
The willful sin, simply put, has to do with apostasy, after one has come into a mature knowledge of the things surrounding the hope set before Christians — something seen in the type in the second warning and in the antitype in the third warning. And committing this sin will result in a Christian failing to come into possession of so great salvation (first warning), synonymous with failing to realize the rights of the firstborn (fifth warning).
Numbers 15:30, 31, immediately following the account of the Israelites refusal to enter into the land at Kadesh-Barnea (chapters 13 & 14), deals with God’s statement concerning a sin for which there was no sacrifice. And an example of such a sin — a man violating the Sabbath — immediately follows God’s instructions concerning the matter.
God’s statement concerning a sin for which there was no sacrifice in this passage had to do with a person acting in open rebellion, followed by his being cut off from the people of Israel (which was exactly what occurred at and following the events at Kadesh-Barnea). And the contextual example not only had to do with the experiences of the Israelites, beginning at Kadesh-Barnea (chapters 13 & 14), but it also had to do with a man violating the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36).
As with the Israelites at Kadesh-Barnea, so with the man violating the Sabbath. There was no sacrifice for the sin committed by either. Rather, in both instances, the Lord commanded that a sentence of death was to be carried out. And, resulting, an entire accountable generation died on the one hand, and a man was taken outside the camp and stoned on the other.
The land set before Christians is associated with a rest, a Sabbath rest, drawing from Genesis 2:1-3 (Hebrews 4:4-9). And a Christian turning his back on this land (after coming into a mature knowledge of the things surrounding the land) would be doing exactly the same thing which the Israelites under Moses did at Kadesh-Barnea (after hearing the report concerning the land by the twelve spies). Then, in another respect, such a Christian would be doing violence to that which God had to say about the Sabbath rest set before the people of God, in a similar respect to the man violating the Sabbath in Numbers 15:32-36 (for the Sabbath was given to Israel as a sign [Exodus 31:13-17]).
The Sabbath was a sign pointing to a day of rest following God’s present six days of work. As God rested on the seventh day after working six days to restore a past ruined creation (the material creation) — establishing an unchangeable, foundational pattern — He is going to rest on a seventh day (a 1,000-year day) after working six days (six 6,000-year days) to restore two present ruined creations (both man and the material creation once again).
Thus, drawing from both Numbers 13-15 and Hebrews 3, 4, 6, it can easily be shown how Christians, in Hebrews 10:26ff, can sin willfully today. They can do so through only one means: coming into a mature knowledge of the truth surrounding their calling, and then apostatizing (turning away from this truth).
Any Christian committing such an act will have done three things: (1) “trodden under foot the Son of God,” (2) considered the blood of Christ “an unholy [a common] thing,” and (3) insulted “the Spirit of grace” (v. 29). God places the willful sin in a category of this nature simply because of the high place in which He holds that which He has stated concerning the coming reign of His Son. And, according to Scripture, any Christian coming into a mature knowledge of that which God has stated in this realm, and then turning away — apostatizing — has only one thing awaiting him: “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (v. 27).
Then note how verses thirty and thirty-one of Hebrews chapter ten parallel 2 Corinthians 5:10, 11:
For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord shall judge His people.”
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Readers are also invited to secure the following books and read the comments on this subject as noted:
 Judgment Seat of Christ by Arlen L. Chitwood; The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 2001; pages vii, viii, 1-15, 35-52