Believers and the Bema1
by Earl Radmacher
There are many people today who are rightfully distressed by the level of living of many of their fellow Christians, at least those who profess life in Christ. They see them coming to the Lord Jesus, claiming Him as Savior, but witnessing little or no change in their lives. That is not only the observation of fellow Christians, that is the observation of such a neutral observer as the Gallup Poll. For when the Gallup Poll evaluates lifestyles of all people, religious and not religious, it frankly sees little difference in the lifestyle and ethical system between those who profess to be born again and those who do not. That is disconcerting, to say the least!
Propping Up the Gospel
Consequently, there are many people today who, I think, are in danger of corrupting the Gospel of grace because they want to keep adding to what is necessary to be a Christian. They talk about the fruits which are necessary or which must be evident if you are really a child of God.
Many wise pastors have insisted that the basis for knowing that I am a Christian is not what I do but what God's Word says about what Christ has done and continues to do for those who have believed (John 1:12; 1 John 5:13). I know I belong to Christ because I have believed in Jesus Christ as my only Savior and Redeemer from eternal destruction. It's not the evidences of my life that are my basis for knowing that. It's the Word of God. God said it. That settles it. I am fearful of those today, who because of a genuine, valid concern about the lack of growth and the lack of evident Christian lifestyle, are willing to try to prop up the Gospel by adding to it.
Having said that, am I less concerned than some others about the failure of believers to move on to maturity in Christ? No, I am not unconcerned about that. I am desperately concerned about it, for I believe that America probably has the largest spiritual nursery that it has ever had in its history, and that can be a real drain on our spiritual resources. We desperately need to move people out of the nursery and into the infantry. I believe that there is a missing note in evangelism that can be a legitimate corrective and a powerful motivator in place of what is being used in the compromise of the Gospel today. And that is to move on in our thinking from justification, through sanctification, to glorification. What is going to happen to me in the life to come?
Training for Reigning
In 1 Cor 4:2, Paul tells us that "it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." What is a steward? A steward is a manager of somebody else's property or equipment. When I came into the family of God, He gave me a sovereign deposit and said, in effect, "Now take it and trade with it. Use it. Show Me what kind of commitment you have got. If you do nothing with it you will get nothing." That's the gist of 1 Cor 3:12-15. Another portrayal of it is wood, hay and stubble versus gold, silver, and precious stones. Everyone's work will be tried of what sort, right? Not how much, but of what sort it is. The wood, hay, and stubble will be burned up but the believer will be saved, "yet so as through fire" (v 15) Why? Grace! Not by what he did. He will be in heaven because of what Jesus Christ did.
As I write these words, I stand in God's sight faultless and perfect because God Almighty sees me through Jesus Christ. There is no compromise to that. No one who knows Jesus Christ will ever appear at the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20. Believers "shall" appear, however, at the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema2) and will be judged by their works (2 Cor 5:10).
It is significant to note that both the unregenerate and the regenerate will be judged by their works. The unregenerate will be judged by their works at the Great White Throne Judgment and the result of that judgment will be degrees of eternal punishment in hell. The regenerate will be judged by their works at the Bema and the result of that judgment will either be reward or the lack of it.
I can never be judged for my sins because my sins have been paid for. The Lord Jesus Christ became sin for me. I owed a debt I couldn't pay. He paid a debt He didn't owe. Christ, who knew no sin, became the epitome of sin for me in order that I, who knew no righteousness, might become the righteousness of God in Christ. What a transaction that was! What an exchange! All of my sins traded in for His righteousness.
Don't compromise that. Don't try to shore that up by motivating the person to good works by that. No, the motivation to good works is the Judgment Seat of Christ. And if we would have people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ focus more on the Judgment Seat of Christ, on their glorification, on their manifestation, in the life to come, they would be able to agree with Paul that these light momentary afflictions are producing for them an eternal and exceedingly heavy weight of glory (see 2 Cor 4:17).
Getting Ready for the Bema
Today I am becoming what I will be in the life to come, and that motivates me. I don't feel like I want to hold back. I want to give it my all. I don't need to live a long time. What I do need to do is live qualitatively because a short life of that kind on earth will have a long effect through all eternity. A weight of glory, a kind of manifestation where I shall reflect the glory of Jesus Christ forever and ever. If you don't know Christ, come drink of the water free of charge (Rev 22:17). Don't start talking about what you will have to do: you haven't got the grace to do it. He doesn't come asking you to bring something. God comes saying, "I have something for you. Come and receive it. Come and get it." Then when, in effect, you have received it and you've been made new in Him and you've been given life, you will recognize that it's not only your privilege to have life but it's your possibility to faithfully use the resources He gave you to help set up your position of service with Christ in the life to come.
But reader, if you know Him as your Savior do a progress check. Where are you in the process of becoming? Do you like what you see? If you don't, you have time to make some changes that will effect you in your position and privilege with Christ in the life to come. Become a believer who's ready for the Bema.
1This is a small excerpt of an article which will appear in the Spring 1995 Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society.
2Bema is the Greek word for the tribunal judge's bench, or judgment seat.