Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Evaluation

I began preaching on today’s passage last week. That’s when I reminded you, from the first part of the verse, that you’re going to die. Today, I’ll be dealing with the rest of the verse. I’m going to remind of what happens after you die. Listen again to Hebrews.

… it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment ... Hebrews 9:27

The first thing that I want to do is to make sure that you understand that ‘judgment’ here does not mean being condemned. ‘Judgment’, here, is about an appraisal. Your life is going to be evaluated, and that by God. What I’m going to do this morning is to take a look at that evaluation. Just as it is a sure thing that you’re going to die, it’s also sure thing that you will be evaluated. And that’s a test that I want you to be ready for.

This evaluation breaks down into two steps. The first step of this evaluation answers a simple question. Have you been born again by the Spirit? It’s sad to say, but throughout the history of the Church there have been those who have claimed to be Christians, but who actually never experienced the new birth. They weren’t children of God. These will be grouped with all those who never even claimed to be Christian. And they all shall suffer the justice of hell.

Paul expressed his concern about this in a letter to the saints at Corinth.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5

There will be those - good, moral, church-going folk - who will spend eternity far from God. Their lives will be evaluated and found wanting. They weren’t born again.

Now, the right question to ask at this point is, ‘What should we be looking for to heed Paul’s warning about examining ourselves?’ Clearly, it’s not enough just to say that you’re a Christian, even if you do some Christiany things. What we need to see are some signs of actually being a child of God. So, one thing you should look for is the obedience of faith.

Listen to what John wrote to some saints.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 1 John 2.3

John points to obedience. In this he is only saying the same sort of thing that Jesus said.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7.21

Where there is no obedience there can be no saving faith. This is something that many need to hear these days. And this brings us back again to that third membership question about endeavoring to live as becomes a follower of Christ. You need to be working at obedience. It’s evidence that you’ve been born again.

Now, for those who pass the first test - those who are born again - there is a second test. All the disciples of Jesus will be further evaluated.

Paul explains:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10

And again, this apostle is only repeating what Jesus taught. 

​For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:27

It’s important to note that last phrase, ‘according to what he has done’. Jesus is going to take a look at your works, what you did. That will be the basis of His evaluation.

There are some things about this evaluation that I find quite fascinating. For one thing, He will not use the same standard for all. His expectations for each of us will be based on the particulars of our situation.

Jesus explains:

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required… Luke 12:48

So, the Christian in, say, Somalia who doesn’t own a Bible and hasn’t had much opportunity for good teaching or quality Christian friendships - this Christian will be evaluated by a standard that comes nowhere near what Jesus will expect of us Americans who own multiple Bibles, have had the benefit of many good Bible teachers and lots of opportunity for deep Christian friendships. His expectations, the standards that He will use, will match the situation of the person being evaluated.

Let me explain what that means. There will be many faithful Christians, like those Somalians, who worked at making progress in the faith but weren’t able to advance very far. They didn’t have many of the tools that make growth possible. In the age to come, these still will be blessed. In fact, they will be blessed to a greater degree than a good number of American Christians who will have advanced further in the faith than those Somali Christians. But why is that? It’s because those American Christians didn’t grow as much as they could have in light of the tools and the opportunities that were available to them.

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required…

Jesus will evaluate us using different standards. He will take into consideration the particulars of our situations.

Now, listen to what Paul adds. He wrote this about the coming evaluation of pastors, but what he wrote has application to all Christians.

… each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15

Did you catch it? As a result of this second evaluation, there will be some Christians who will enjoy a reward and other Christians who will suffer loss. Yes, there will be Christians in heaven who will have, in some way, suffered loss. Their works didn’t match Jesus’ expectations.

Now, sadly, there are some who will respond to this by saying something like, ‘Well, I don’t care if I suffer loss. All I care about is getting in. As long as I can enjoy heaven - instead of the other place - I’m fine.’ But, wait a minute! Is this the way that a faithful disciple thinks? No. This is how a phony Christian thinks. For this person, being a Christian is simply a way to avoid hell. He’ll do just enough to make it. All he wants is to have a good time, now and later. But following Jesus isn’t about us and our having a good time. Following Jesus is about Him. We are Christians so that we can make Him look as good as He actually is. That’s one reason why we work at obedience. We want to make Him look good.

It is as we succeed at working at being faithful disciples of Jesus that we will enjoy His reward.

So, let me pull this together. What have I told you?

You’re going to die. And then, you will be evaluated by God. That evaluation will be done on two levels. First, to see if you actually are born again. Second, to see how well you have been working at faithful discipleship. Different standards will be used, based on your particular situations. And there will be different outcomes, reward and loss.

Now, why did I preach on this? There are several reasons. This first one isn’t the one that I thought of first. It’s not my primary motivation, but it is a motivation that I want you to be aware of. It comes from something Paul said to some Christians.

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Acts 20:26-27

This is just a variation on my theme, ‘I get to hear the sermon first’. You see, I am going to be evaluated also. But, unlike you, I will be evaluated as a pastor. That’s my particular situation. Jesus’ expectations of me will be much greater than His expectations of you. One of the things that Jesus will look at is how well I did at explaining His truth to you, the whole counsel of God. So, to neglect preaching about the coming evaluation, especially as the Spirit guided me to this topic, would have been a failure on my part, a failure worthy of my suffering loss.

But that wasn’t my first thought, nor is it my primary motivation for preaching on this. When I first thought about preaching on this subject my motivation was for your welfare. God forbid that any of you not arrive with the rest of us to enjoy the age to come. What I want on that last day is a great re-union. All of us there, happy and rejoicing, complete with hugs and kisses. I really want to see you all there. So, just in case anyone here has been fooled into thinking that they are born again when they aren’t, I mentioned that first evaluation. Be sure that the Spirit resides in you. And if it is dawning on you just now that you’re not born again, the solution is easy.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Acts 2:21

Call out to Jesus to save you, and He will.

Then, there’s what I said about the second evaluation. I had two purposes in that. First, to rouse any who might be coasting. You don’t want to do that. Our situations are all different. Faithful living will therefore look different for each of us. But we all need to be working at faithful living, whatever it may look like in our respective situations. No coasting. We are ‘to endeavor … to live as becomes followers of Christ’. God forbid that the sin of coasting would be true of any of you.

But then, there is this other reason to talk about the evaluation. Faithful living is hard. And unless I’m terribly wrong, it’s going to get harder. And one thing that can help you to keep at it is realizing that Jesus sees your efforts at living faithfully in the face of difficulty. He sees that and will reward you for it. Listen.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. ​Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

In saying this, Jesus wants to encourage you. It’s as if He were saying, ‘I know that it’s hard. I get that. But listen, I promise you that I will make it worth the effort.’ There will be a reward. A lively hope in the age to come makes a huge difference now.

Last thought. Some of you may have questions about rewards, about how that all works. I know that I do. Frankly, when it has come to trying to understand rewards, I’ve thought that just to be there to see Jesus and walk with Him in that new Garden and listen to Him explain things - that’s all the reward that I need. But as I was thinking about rewards this week, a new thought occurred to me. Maybe, just maybe, being granted whatever reward, I will be able to praise Him that much more in the age to come. Now, that would make me very happy. That really would make it all worthwhile.

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