How To Test Your Gospel Part 4: Final Judgement
Hell-fire and brimstone are most associated in our time with a type of preaching that died in the 1980s. It died because it lost its value in the western culture. One would then have to ask, “What could the culture ever have found attractive in such a message in the first place?” The simple answer: a lot more substance than can be found in modern messages.
In a sense, the amount of hell-fire and brimstone—or we can say, final judgement—that influences our gospel determines how faithful our gospel is to Scripture. One only has to glance at the many gospels in vogue today to see that the lack of final judgement in a gospel causes an unhealthy preoccupation with immediate justice. In turn, these gospels begin to look more like political platforms for criminal justice than a proclamation of Christ bearing the justice of God for sinners.
Therefore, the final judgement of God is a test for our gospel. It tests both the content of our gospel and the practical outworking of it in our daily lives.
1. God’s final judgement shows us the inherent sinfulness of man. Our sinfulness is not determined by societal standards: it is not because we are victims of circumstance or oppression that cause us to sin, nor is it because we identify with oppressors or the privileged that make us sinful people. We are sinful regardless of where we find ourselves in society; the place we occupy, whether oppressed or oppressor, does not mitigate, nor does it exaggerate our sinfulness. God’s judgement is for all, and it is good.
We know our sinfulness when we see the perfection of God’s judgement. God’s law displays His holiness and our unholiness, displaying that all are condemned to death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Our end, apart from Christ, is the hell-fire and brimstone few are willing to hear of. And if we do not have a healthy understanding of this judgement, we will soon lose sight of our need for a saviour.
2. God’s final justice drives us to focus on His justice on the cross. Final judgement forces us to look for a way of escape, and Christ on the cross is where our searching eyes come to rest. When Christ hung on that tree with our sin on His shoulders, the judgement meted out to Him was infinite. Being truly God and truly man, He alone was able to bear it in order to bring salvation to those who believe in Him. If that judgement is placed on us, it is placed on us for eternity. Christ could be raised from the dead because of His perfection; we cannot after we die in sin. Death awaits those who die without Christ.
The courts of earth pale in comparison to the court of heaven. Our judgements here are only temporary while the judgement of heaven is eternal. Our judgement can be clouded by bias, God’s judgement is sure. Our judgement doesn’t always have every evidence for perfect justice, the omniscient God of the universe judges with perfect knowledge. Criminals may escape earthly courts, sinners will never escape the heavenly court. Therefore, when we turn to the judgement of God on Christ, we turn to a perfect judgement measured out on Christ in our place.
3. In the practical sense, God’s final judgement gives us patience in trials, tribulation, and persecution. We are confident that though injustice happens to us on this earth, perfect justice prevails in eternity.
If it is trials we face, we understand that they are not for our eternal harm, but rather for our eternal good. If we face tribulation, we wait expectantly for heaven’s joys. If we face persecution, we understand that no harm can come to us that would take God away from us. We also understand in those moments that God will ultimately judge those who corruptly punish us without a lawful cause. This understanding translates into our hearts and into our reality as patient endurance through the harshest circumstances.
4. Another practical implication of a proper view of the final judgement is a love for our enemies. Without a final judgement, we have no motivation to love those who do us harm or oppose us in every way. We would resort to meting out judgement on them ourselves. Who else is there to do it properly? However, if we see there is a final judgement, and we see the judgement placed on Christ in our place, we are compelled to love even our enemies so that they would escape that final judgement. Judgement for our enemies is up to God, not us—we are called to love. And true love, we conclude, is to bring our enemies to experience the judgement of the cross before they reach the judgement seat of God. Whether they are judged on the cross or on Judgement Day, we are called to love them.
From this, we can observe that a gospel which includes a final judgement is a gospel with depth. It carries weight. It is devoid of fluff. The final judgement of God matures our gospel so that we are not so easily tossed to and fro by it. Does your gospel account for the judgement of God? Or, lacking judgement, does your gospel make you the arbiter of justice? If you long for a simple gospel, test your gospel with the final judgement of God.