Very few people in Evangelicalism believe in the doctrine of eternal rewards. Most think that the Judgment Seat of Christ is another name for the Great White Throne judgment. In their view, everyone will appear before Christ and have his works evaluated. Those whose works are good enough to prove that they were faithful followers of Christ will get into the kingdom. You know this way of thinking since it is common today. Many of you, like me, came to faith in Christ after having sat under such teaching for years.
Among those who believe that the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema) is a judgment for believers only, some say that it will be only a positive experience. Everyone will get eternal rewards. No one will experience any shame. A friend sent me a blog of a Free Grace advocate who said that the Bema will be a private experience and that there will be no shame and no bringing up of bad deeds.
The author of that blog did not attempt to prove his point from Scripture. In fact, he did not cite a single Scripture.
I appreciate any author who promotes the Bema as the judgment of believers in which eternal rewards will be given out. However, it is important that we have a correct understanding of it.
I have three Biblical proofs that the Bema will include the evaluation of both good and bad works, that it will be public and not private, and that there will be shame experienced at the Bema.
First, the good and bad. Paul said, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). He is clearly speaking of sowing and reaping after this life is over, as verses 8 and 9 show.
Paul also said, “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” (2 Cor 5:10). Good or bad means good or bad. See this article by me for more details.
Second, the Lord specifically said in Matthew 6 that the Bema will be a public judgment. He said, “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” The word openly (en tō phanerō) is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts and hence is found in translations like the KJV, NKJV, WEB, and BRG. Since it is omitted in a few early manuscripts (aleph and B and a few others), translations such as the NIV, NASB, and NET omit it. The external and internal evidence shows that the Lord spoke of being rewarded openly.
A few verses later, the Lord repeated the same idea regarding private prayer: “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matt 6:6). Once again, a few early manuscripts omit en tō phanerō. But since the majority of manuscripts include those words, and since they best fit the context, they should be included.
Further proof that the Bema will be public judgment is found in the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:16-26) and the Parable of the Day Laborers (Matt 20:1-19). (See also Genesis 49 where Jacob judges his twelve sons publicly. That judgment is likely a foreshadowing of the Bema.)
Third, both the Lord Jesus and the Apostles John and Paul warned of possible shame at the Bema. The Lord Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). Paul wrote, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Likewise, John wrote, “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).
What difference does it make? It matters in several important ways.
It is vital to know that God holds believers accountable. What we do in this life will impact our experience at the Bema and in eternity. While we will all have joy forever, some will have it more abundantly.
God does not sweep our bad deeds under the rug.
This is an important truth in evangelism too. Many unbelievers find the idea that everlasting life is a free gift to all who simply believe in Jesus to be preposterous. They think that there needs to be accountability. If they ask about that, you can explain the fact that believers reap what they sow in this life and at the Bema as well.
Finally, since the Bible teaches that there will be negative consequences at the Bema, it is important that we embrace that truth. To deny the clear teaching of Scripture is bad for our spiritual health.
Like all of you, I was in school for many years. Most of us have at least twelve years of education. Some have four years of college on top of that. And some have more years of graduate school as well. In all my years in school, I knew I was accountable. I could get good grades and praise or bad grades and shame.
Of course, today the trend in education is away from grades since the popular sentiment today is that it is not good for children or even adults to experience shame over bad grades. But such an idea is contrary to Scripture. We must take care that we do not read modern popular practices into the way in which the Lord Jesus will judge believers (or unbelievers).
Believers are accountable, whether we want to be or not. But if we are watchful for His soon return and if we long to hear Him say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17), we are in a good position to gain His approval and hear His praise.