Robert Jeffress - Will Heaven Be The Same For Everyone?
Jim Marshall was a defensive lineman for the Minnesota vikings in the 1960s and '70s. Although Jim Marshall was a superbowl champion, Marshall is best known for the mistake he made on October 24th, 1964. In a game with the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Marshall saw a fumble, he picked up the football, and he began running the length of the field. His Minnesota vikings football team started running along with him, along the sidelines, yelling for him to run the other way. Marshall didn't realize he was running toward his own end zone. Although Marshall ended up having a fairly good game, and even though the vikings won the game with the 49ers, Marshall will always be remembered not for his success, but for his mistake that day. In fact, from that point on, the rest of his life, he was always known as wrong-way Marshall. What a title.
You know, making it to the end zone is the goal in a football game, but making it to the right end zone is the goal of winning. It's the same way in the Christian life. The fact is, if we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we are all going to make it into the spiritual end zone, into heaven, but some will make it there only after spending some time running in the wrong direction. Some who make it into heaven will be celebrated by God for the way they played the game. Other Christians will be evaluated by God for having done little to contribute to the success of the team.
As we continue our series, a place called heaven, in which we're answering 10 of the most common questions about heaven, today we're going to answer the intriguing question, WILL HEAVEN BE THE SAME FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN? The answer to that is "NO. Not every Christian will have the same experience in heaven", and today we're going to begin looking at the evaluation that we are all going to face as Christians.
Let's first of all establish the reality of the judgment of all Christians. You know, one thing the Bible is very clear about is that everybody, after death, will be judged by God. Hebrews 9:27 says "It is appointed unto every person once to die, and then the judgment". We're all going to be judged, not just some people, all of us. In 2 Timothy 4:1 the apostle Paul talked about the Lord Jesus Christ who will judge both the living and the dead. Everyone, both Christians and non-Christians, will be judged by God, but we will not all be judged in a single judgment. There is one judgment for non-Christians. That judgment is called the Great White Throne judgment. It's described in revelation 20, verses 11 to 15.
The Bible says, ladies and gentlemen, if you have not trusted in Christ as your Savior, if you have not turned to him for the forgiveness of your sins, it doesn't matter how good you are, you can't be good enough. You can't be good enough. None of us can be good enough. That is the Great White Throne judgment, but there is another judgment for those of us who are Christians. It is a judgment called the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is a judgment that results not in condemnation, but in God's commendation for the lives we have lived for Christ, and Paul describes that judgment in 2 Corinthians 5, verse 10. He says, "For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, that each one of us may be recompensed", rewarded, "For his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad".
Notice he says we must all appear. He was writing to Christians in Corinth. He said, Christians, you, too, have a judgment to face before God. It's a different judgment, it's the Judgment Seat of Christ. Now, what did Paul mean when he talked about the Judgment Seat of Christ? If you wanna get into Paul's mind to understand what he meant, you need to turn over to acts chapter 18. That word judgment seat is a very particular word in Greek, and we're gonna discover the meaning of it right now. Acts chapter 18 recounts Paul's second missionary journey. He spent 18 months in the city of Corinth, and you'll remember, there in Corinth, he had a very productive ministry. Many of the Jewish people were coming to faith in Christ. Remember Paul was a Jew, Jesus was a Jew. Paul, after he came to faith in Christ, won many of the Jewish people to Christ there in Corinth as well, as the gentiles. He was a layman in Corinth. His day job was making tents. This is what he did in his off-time, in his off hours.
Many were won to Christ, but not everybody was happy with him. Some were so incensed by what he was doing, especially in winning Jews to Christ, that they arrested him and they drug him before the Roman governor of the province, a man named Gallio, and look what happened. Verse 12, "But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat". Underline that word, judgment seat. "Saying, this man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law". The word translated judgment seat is the word bema in Greek. Bema. It refers to a raised platform on which the governor would sit. Sometimes, he would hand out rewards. If somebody had been successful in an athletic event, he would receive a reward. Sometimes, it was a place where justice was meted out. It was a raised platform.
By the way, you can walk through the excavation of Corinth right now, many of us have done it before, and they have discovered his bema, this judgment seat. It's been unearthed, the same one that Gallio sat upon and that the apostle Paul stood in front of. So the apostle Paul is brought in in chains, and he's looking at Gallio seated on that raised platform, the judgment seat. "But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, if it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, o Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you: but if there are questions about words and names, of your own law, look after it yourselves: I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters. And he drove them away from the judgment seat". Gallio was saying, "Hey, this is a Jewish dispute. You all handle it, I'm not interested in getting involved". But you know what was interesting is, Paul didn't know what he was going to say. Paul stood there realizing, "Here is the man who has the power to extinguish my life".
10 years ago, I stood in that very spot where Paul stood. I looked at that judgment seat, and I thought to myself, what is it that gave Paul the courage to stand there undaunted by the threats against him? What made him so faithful and courageous? As Paul stood there and looked at that judge, Gallio, I believe he thought to himself, "One day, I'm going to stand in front of another judge on the judgment seat, and I'm gonna have to give an account to him for the way that I lived my life, and I would must rather be found commended to him rather than to this human judge who has no power other than what God gives him". Paul had that mindset, "I'm gonna live my life to please the true judge", because one day, we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Every one of us.
You know, we all have times in our life where we re-dedicate our lives to God, and I remember 10 years ago, standing in front of that. Our group was kinda wandering around different places. I stood there. I was in the process of coming to this church to be your pastor. Some of you were on the trip with me. As I stood there, I prayed, "Lord, help me the rest of my life to have a bema mentality, to evaluate everything I do, to give me the courage to stand for you, knowing that someday, I'm going to give that account to you". I wrote down in my journal, "The bema mentality, living with the Judgment Seat of Christ in view". That's exactly what Paul had in mind here. We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and that affected his life until the day God called him home.
Now, let me make a distinction between the Christian's judgment and the non-Christian's judgment. The Judgment Seat of Christ is for the commendation of believers, while the Great White Throne judgment is for the condemnation of unbelievers. The result of the Judgment Seat of Christ will be eternal rewards. The result of the Great White Throne judgment will be God's eternal punishment. Now, here is what makes the Judgment Seat of Christ different than the Great White Throne judgment. Only those who are saved will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Those who have already been declared not guilty by God are the ones who stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Hear me on this. This judgment we're talking about is not to determine whether somebody goes to heaven or hell. If you're a Christian, that has already been decided by your faith in Jesus. If you wait until after you die to choose whether you're gonna go to heaven or hell, you've waited too long. That's a decision you make now, by placing your faith in Jesus Christ. You see, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you trust in Jesus as your Savior, you are justified in the sight of God. Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ". That word justified means to declare to be righteous. It doesn't matter how sinful you are, it doesn't matter what you've done in your life, doesn't matter how much you have failed God.
When you trust in Jesus to be your Savior, he washes it all away and God declares you not guilty before him. You are justified. Think of it this way. Imagine you use a debit card to purchase something and that purchase overdraws your account. Now not only are you overdrawn, but you have a penalty that you owe the bank, and the only way to be right with the bank is to deposit the amount of your overcharge and your penalty, to come back to even. The only problem is, you're bankrupt. You don't have any money to put in your account. You're in a bad way with the bank. The good news is, you've got a generous friend who offers to deposit in your account the amount of money needed to bring you back to the right level.
Now, in a way, that is the situation we all have with God. The Bible says we're all in a deficit position with God. The Bible says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Bible says the wages of sin is death. Every sin we commit against God only adds to the debt we owe God. Every moment we have a wrong thought, every wrong action, every wrong motive, it just keeps ringing up the debt we owe God. Now, listen. If we die while we're still in that spiritual deficit with God, we spend eternity separated from him, trying to pay off the debt we owe him, but God loves us so much, he sent his Son, Jesus, and even though we don't have any righteousness, we're spiritually bankrupt, Jesus has more than enough righteousness. He's perfect, and he says, "If you will trust in me to be your Savior, if you will believe that when I died on the cross, I paid your overdraft for you, I paid the penalty for you", if you will trust in Jesus, the moment you do that, God fills up your spiritual bank account with the overflowing righteousness of his Son.
When you become a Christian, God no longer sees your sin. He sees the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that's what it means to be justified, to be in a right relationship with God. And what does the Bible say? Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus". If you are a Christian and been forgiven by God, you never have to worry that one day, God's going to condemn you. "For there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ". Isn't that a great truth?
Now, listen. God's justification exempts us from God's condemnation, but it doesn't exempt us from God's evaluation of our life. When you become a Christian, you don't ever have to worry about God's condemnation, but you still need to be mindful of his evaluation of his life. That's why 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, "For we Christians must all appear before this judgment of Christ". I checked the Greek on it this week, by the way. I looked up that word "all" in the Greek language. You know what the word all means? ALL. That's what it means, ALL. Every one of us is gonna stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, no exceptions, and that's why Paul writes in verse nine, before verse 10, "Therefore we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to him". Paul said, knowing that we're gonna stand before that evaluation, we oughta have as our one aim in life to be pleasing to God.
Now, when does this judgment take place? It doesn't happen the moment we die. Although the Bible doesn't tell us exactly the moment it happens, I believe it happens at the rapture of the church, at the beginning of the tribulation on earth. I have two reasons for saying that. First of all, Revelation 4, verse 10. The Bible says, before the tribulation begins, after the rapture, there's a picture of the 24 elders in heaven, wearing their crowns, praising God. Now, the 24 elders represent the church, that is you and I, so apparently, the church has already been rewarded at the beginning of the tribulation.
The second reason is, Revelation 19, verse eight. You know, the Bible says at the end of the tribulation on earth, and the great Battle of Armageddon, suddenly the skies will part, Christ appears, and we are with him, and notice what verse eight says. "And it was given to her", that is the church, "to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints".
Apparently, by this time, we have been judged. We have received our rewards. It's described as bright linen, but it is tied to our righteous acts after we became a Christian. And that leads to an important distinction of the importance of good works in a Christian's life. Do our works really matter to God? Some people say yes, some people say no. We've got to distinguish between the value of our works before we are saved, and the value of our works after we are saved. What are the value of our good works to God before we become a Christian? Zero, zilch, nada. Isaiah said our righteousness, the best we can do before God, is like a filthy rag to God. Our works are worthless to God. That's why Ephesians 2:8 and 9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith: and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not as works, that no one should boast".
God doesn't allow us to work for our salvation. If he allows us to work for our salvation, then salvation is something he owes us, and God refuses to owe any man or woman anything. No, salvation is simply a measure of God's grace to us. Our value of our good works before we are saved is nothing. We cannot earn our salvation, however, there is value to our works after our salvation. I want you to write down this phrase. I have it on your outline. While our works are worthless in securing us a place in heaven, they are integral in determining our experience in heaven. Let me say it again. While our works are worthless in securing a place in heaven, they are integral in determining our experience in our heaven.
We are not saved by good works, but look at Ephesians 2:10. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them". Listen to me this morning. Before we are saved, the only value of our works is our works are sufficient to condemn us before God, but after we are saved, our good works are sufficient to commend us to God, and that's why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9 and 10, "Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to him. For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, that each one of us may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether they be good or bad".
You know, not everything we do in life is either morally good or morally bad. There's nothing morally good or bad about going to the movie. I guess it depends what movie you go to, but you know, there's nothing good or bad about that. There's nothing good or bad about going to the mall. There's a lot of things we do, but that's not the standard. The standard is, is it worthless? In the big scheme of things, as God's kingdom is kept in view, is your life gonna be judged as having substance, of being invested in growing God's kingdom, or will you life be judged as being inconsequential? Worthless? And that's the judgment that we're gonna face. How did we invest our time? How did we invest our money? Not that we invested in bad things, but were they worthless things compared to the Kingdom of God? That is the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Luke 8:17, Jesus said, "For nothing is hidden that shall not become evident, nor anything secret that shall not be known and will come to light". Of course, that raises a lot of questions. Is God more interested in what I do, or why I do what I do? What do these rewards actually mean to me in eternity? When you say heaven's not gonna be the same for everybody, what's gonna be the difference? And if I don't win rewards in heaven, am I gonna spend the rest of my life regretting the way I invested my life here on earth? Those are great questions, and we're gonna answer them and more as we continue talking about our judgment before God at the great Judgment Seat of Christ.
In our series A Place Called Heaven we began addressing the question last time, "Will heaven be the same for everyone"? And the answer, the surprising answer for many is "No. It will not be the same for everyone". While becoming a Christian exempts us from the condemnation of God, and aren't we grateful for that? It exempts us from God's condemnation. Being a Christian does not exempt us from God's evaluation of our life. The fact is, every person, non-Christian and Christian alike will be judged by God. The judgment for non-Christians is the judgment, the Great White Throne judgment. Those who have not trusted in Christ, whose names are not found written in the Lamb's Book of Life, they are cast into the lake of fire and tormented day and night forever and ever. But those of us who are Christians are going to stand before a different judgment. It's an evaluation of our life. It's called the Judgment Seat of Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul says, "For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body according to what he has done, whether good or bad". That phrase judgment seat, bema, refers to a raised platform in which the governor, or some other official would reward those who had done exceptionally well in games or some other type of contest. One day, we're going to stand before God's judgment to receive rewards for what we have done.
Now I've given you a sentence on your outline to help you understand the difference between the judgment for Christians at the Judgment Seat of Christ and the judgment of non-Christians at the Great White Throne judgment. The Judgment Seat of Christ is for the commendation of believers, while the Great White Throne judgment is for the condemnation of unbelievers. How will we be judged? Well Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. We will be judged according to what we have done. This evaluation of our lives as Christians is based on our works, what we've done.
Now that confuses a lot of Christians because they say, "Well, wait a minute, I thought our good works don't matter". Well they don't matter before we're saved, but they matter a great deal after we're saved. And we made the distinction last time between our works before we become a Christian. Prior to our salvation, the best you and I can do is like a filthy rag to God. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it very clear. "It's by grace we are saved and that not of works lest anyone should boast". Good works play absolutely no role in earning salvation. However, our good works have a great value after our salvation. Ephesians 2:10 says, "We are saved not by works", but for good works.
Again, here's a sentence on your outline to write down. While our works are worthless in securing us a place in heaven, they are integral in determining our experience in heaven. Good works can't earn you your place in heaven. That's only by God's grace, by trusting Christ. But once you've done that, your good works matter in determining the kind of experience you will have in heaven. And that's what we're going to talk about today.
Let's first of all begin by looking at exactly what happens at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Since you're gonna stand there one day, wouldn't you like to know exactly what's going to happen at that judgment? Well to explain what happens at the Judgment Seat of Christ, Paul uses three analogies. The first analogy is the trustee analogy. And it's found in Romans 14. Take your Bibles and turn to Romans 14. Paul is writing to Christians in Rome. They were busy judging one another. There were divisions in the Roman Church. And Paul said, quit your judging of one another. He says in verse 10, "But why do you judge your brother? Or why again do you regard your brother with contempt? You are not to judge another".
When he says don't judge your brother, he was talking about Christians who were pronouncing judgments about behavior the Bible didn't even address. Christians were judging each other about what they ate or what they drank, or about whether they kept the sabbath days or not. And Paul said, quit judging people. Let's everybody be convinced in his own heart about that because every one of us, look at verse 10, will stand before the judgment seat of God. One day, you and I are gonna answer to God, not to one another for these areas the Bible doesn't address. Verse 11, "for it is written, as I live says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God". That's a quotation from Isaiah 45.
Did you know everybody who's ever lived is one day going to bow before Jesus Christ? Some will bow before him at the Great White Throne judgment. They will acknowledge him as judge and it will be too late for them. But others who have received God's grace, we too will reaffirm that Jesus Christ is Lord. And then the conclusion, verse 12. "So then, each one of us as Christians shall give an account of himself to God".
Now there is that trustee analogy. That word, give an account, is a word that referred to a financial manager. You know, if you want to, you can entrust your assets to a manager who will oversee them, and invest them on your behalf. Now he doesn't own the assets, you do. He has a responsibility, a trust agreement to maximize your assets for good. That is the responsibility of the trustee. He doesn't own anything. He's simply a manager of what's been entrusted to him.
And as we saw a few weeks ago, you and I, we don't own anything. We're simply managers. We don't own our money, God does. We don't own our lives. We don't even determine how long our lives are. God does. He just entrusted us a certain amount of treasure and time and opportunities and gifts. And our responsibility with what he's entrusted to us, listen to this, is to further his agenda, not our agenda. And although we have a lot of latitude in what we do with our money, and our time, and our talent, one day we will give an account to God for what we've done with those things we've managed. Just as the trustee gives an account to the owner of what he's done. And that's the allusion here.
Now what's interesting is, in this trust agreement, as trustees, we only will give an account to the owner, God, of what he's entrusted to us, not to what he's entrusted to other people. You know, when I stand before God, my judgment at the Judgment Seat of Christ is gonna be very personal and individualized. God is not gonna judge me according to the same standard he judges Billy Graham. God has given to Dr. Graham certain gifts and certain opportunities that are unique to him. He's not gonna say to me, you know, why didn't you preach more faithfully in that stadium filled with 100.000 people? Well, I've never had that opportunity. Dr. Graham did. And so he's gonna give Dr. Graham a different judgment than he judges me. He's gonna judge you according to a different standard than that which he judges me. The Judgment Seat of Christ is gonna be a very personalized, individualized judgment according to what has been entrusted to us. That is the trustee analogy.
Secondly, he uses the construction analogy to describe the bema, the judgment seat. Turn over 1 Corinthians 3. We read that passage just a few moments ago. Now to be clear, in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul specifically is talking about building a ministry, about the kind of ministry he had versus other apostles. But he extrapolates from the ministry example to include every Christian's life. Notice what he says here. "According to the grace of God", verse 10, "which was given to me as a wise master builder, I laid a foundation and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ". Paul is inviting you to think about your life like a house that's being constructed.
Now every Christian has the same foundation for his house. Your life is like a house that you construct. You have the same foundation as every other Christian. And that is that foundation is the unchangeable Jesus Christ. We're all saved if we've trusted in Christ. Jesus is our foundation. But we have a choice of what kind of house, that is what kind of life, we build on the foundation of our salvation. And the choice of what kind of house we build depends upon the kind of building material we choose. Look at verse 12. "Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw". You can build your life according to what building materials you choose. But notice one day, the kind of life you have built is gonna be tested by the fire of God's judgment. Verse 13, "Each man's work will become evident, for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will reveal the quality of each man's work".
Would you notice the two criteria God is gonna use to judge the kind of life you and I have built. Number one, the significance of our life. The significance, or the durability of our works. For example, if you spend your time and talents, and treasures here on earth pursuing power and profits from self glorification, that's like building a house of wood, or hay, or straw. I'm not talking about building a life that's built on evil. I'm just talking about a worthless life, a life that is centered around your own agenda, profits, power, or pleasure. What happens at the judgment if your life is built with those thins? It's not like the story of the three pigs where Jesus will huff and puff and blow your house down. Instead, he just sets a match to it. He burns it up. That's what he's saying here. Nothing will last. It will be consumed with fire.
On the other hand, you can build your life with more durable materials, gold, silver, precious stones. A life that is built around glorifying God, making him look good, no matter what your daily responsibilities are. A life built around sharing Christ with as many people as possible. A life built around giving up some temporary pleasures and perks in this life to invest your money in God's kingdom. Those things really matter to God. They make a difference. It's a life built with gold, silver, and precious stones. Verse 14, "If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward".
But notice verse 15. "If any man's work is burned up". That is, evaluated to be worthless. "If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself will be saved though as by fire". That's probably a save like we would have today. He will be saved by the skin of his teeth. Have you ever heard that before? He'll make it to heaven. If you're truly a Christian and your life is judged to be worthless, you'll still get into heaven, but you'll smell of smoke. You'll just barely make it there. Though as by fire. That's what he's talking here, by the skin of your teeth.
So the first criterion of judgment will be the significance of our works. The second judgment will be according to the motives of our works. Sometimes why we do what we do is as important as what we do. In 1 Corinthians 4:5, Paul says, therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time. But wait until the Lord comes who will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts, and then each man's praise will come to him from God. God cares about our motives. You know, if you give money to God's work in order to be able to brag to others how much you're giving, that doesn't count for gold. It counts as wood. If you are diligent in sharing your faith with other people so that you can brag about how many people are in the kingdom because of you, that's not silver, that's hay. Our motives really do matter before God.
Proverbs 16:2 says, all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. Now some of you might ask well pastor, isn't living your life in order to earn rewards, isn't that kind of a selfish motive? Isn't that self-centered? I want to earn all these rewards so I can have a better spot in heaven than other people. That sounds pretty selfish to me. Look, selfishness, somebody said, is trying to achieve at somebody else's expense. Selfishness is trying to gain more at somebody else's expense. But did you know it's possible to gain more at God's expense? Because God does not have a finite amount of resources that if you take some from him he has less. He has an inexhaustible supply of riches. When he rewards you, his net worth is not diminished one iota.
In fact, when you think about it, working for rewards is really a sign of what God values most in our life. And that is faith. Think for example about Abraham. Why is it that Abraham was willing to uproot his family and travel to a land he didn't even know where he was going to? What was his motive in leaving everybody and everything familiar behind him? Verse 10 of Hebrews 11 says, Abraham was looking for the city which has foundations whose architect and builder is God. He did it for heaven. He obeyed God because of the rewards that awaited him in heaven. Or think about Moses. Moses voluntarily surrendered the perks of living in Pharaoh's household to identify with God's people, the Israelites. Why was he willing to give up those privileges? Out of his dedication to God alone? Partly, but not completely.
Verse 25 of Hebrews 11 says, Moses choosing rather to endure ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering, verse 26, the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. For he was looking to the what? To the reward. Verse 26, that word considering, Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater than the rewards of Egypt. That word consider is a mathematic term. It means to calculate, to calculate. In other words, as Moses was weighing what decision he was gonna make, he did the math in his head. He said okay, the choice is temporary pleasure in Pharaoh's household or eternal riches in heaven. Hey, I think I'll choose the latter. The eternal riches are better than temporary pleasure. He did the math. He calculated the rewards in heaven was what was worth living for. That wasn't a selfish motive.
You know, when you give up temporary money, pleasure, pursuits in this life, in order to earn rewards, that's the essence of what faith is. When you give up the temporary for the eternal. Whether it's your money, your time, your energy. When you make that trade, you're showing the essence of faith. God, I believe what you've said. I believe you reward those who diligently follow after you. The third analogy here is the race analogy. It's found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Just look at verses 24 and 25. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way as not without aim.
Now the readers in Corinth understood what Paul was talking about here. This was an allusion to the isthmian games. They were held in Corinth every two years. Now you had the Olympic games that were held in Athens. But the isthmian games were held every two years in Athens. It was a multitude of different contests. Wrestling, boxing, foot races. But Paul here talks about the foot race. And he says you know, if you're gonna win this game, you've gotta run in such a way as to win. And then he makes the allusion to the fact that those who run a foot race in this world, they do it to receive a perishable wreath. Now if you won in the Olympics in Athens, you got what? You know what the reward was? Gold, I mean you got the gold medals. But at the isthmian, they were kinda budget conscious there. So you didn't get gold. Instead, when you walked up the bema, the judgment seat, the governor would place around your neck a wreath made of parsley or wild celery. Little step down from Athens okay.
Now everybody was honored to receive that wreath, but you could only wear it for a day or two before it began to wilt. You know, you had to throw it away. It started to smell. Nobody wanted to wear that after a week. And that's what Paul was talking about here. Those who win these foot races, they do it for a perishable wreath. We do it for an award that is imperishable. You know, if you're gonna win a foot race, couple things you have to do. First of all, you have to start when the official sounds the firing gun. Secondly, you have to stay in the course that has been designed for you. But most importantly, you have to keep your eye on the finish line. You can't get distracted.
You know the greatest threat to a runner is becoming distracted, not keeping your eye on the finish line. And what Paul was saying here is, I don't run without aim. I keep my mind on the finish line. You know it's so easy for those of us who are Christians to be distracted, to forget why we're here, to spend our time not in evil things. That's not what I'm talking about. But spend our time reading our Facebook or Twitter feeds, or watching television. Getting caught up in the news or getting caught up in this pursuit. Nothing wrong with any of those things unless it distracts you from doing that one thing God has left you to do.
Well, what are the consequences? I mean, if we're all gonna make it to heaven anyway, does it really matter? Do these eternal rewards matter? Well, there are two possible outcomes of our standing at the Judgment Seat of Christ. One possible outcome is rewards. There will be rewards for some Christians. Theologian, norm Geisler said it this way, "Everyone in heaven will be fully blessed, but not everyone will be equally blessed. Every believer's cup will be full and running over, but not everyone's cup will be the same size". You know, a lot of us say, that's not fair. I mean, shouldn't everyone be treat equally? Shouldn't we all just participation trophies and call it a day? It doesn't work that way in heaven. We are going to be rewarded for what we've done.
In Revelation 22, verse 12, Jesus said, "My reward is with me, to render to every man according to what he has", what? "According to what he has done". God cares how you behave. God cares what you do in this life. Again, 2 Corinthians 5:10, "We shall be judged according to the deeds we have done in the body, whether they're good or worthless". These rewards that Christians receive, some Christians receive are referred to sometimes in the Bible as crowns.
How many of you have heard about a Christian's crown in heaven? There are at least five different crowns that the Bible talks about that are possible rewards we will receive in heaven. Let me go through them with you real quickly. First of all, there is the imperishable crown. This is the reward for living a spirit-filled, disciplined life. Again, Paul mentions it in 1 Corinthians 9:25. "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable". This refers to a spirit-filled, spirit-controlled life. Unlike the moldy celery or the moldy parsley of the perishable wreath. The Fruit of the Spirit lasts and lasts and lasts. That's what this crown relates to.
Secondly, there's the crown of exultation. Or some people call it the crown of rejoicing. This is a reward for those who have dedicated themselves especially to evangelism, winning people to Christ, and discipleship. It is mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 2, verses 19 and 20. For who is it that is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? "Is it no even you, in the presence of the Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our glory and our joy". William Barkley said, "Our greatest glory lies in those whom we have set or helped on the path to Christ". Some people have dedicated their lives to evangelism and discipleship.
You know, I think about he's in heaven now, but one of our godly deacons who was my Sunday school teacher. Many of you knew him well, Ed Hack, who was a converted Jew. Gave his life to Christ. I think he has shared the Gospel with over 50.000 people through tracks. He kept an account of everybody he had shared the Gospel with. Now there is a crown for Rd Hack in heaven right now. And others who do these things as well.
Thirdly, there is the crown of righteousness. The crown of righteousness. This is a reward for those who live their lives obediently, in anticipation of Christ return. Those who are so caught up with idea of Christ return. They're looking for his appearing that they live righteous, obedient lives. 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul talks about this. "In the future there is laid up for me the of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to those who have loved his appearing". Living your life in anticipation of the return of the Lord.
Forth, the crown of life. This is a crown reserved for those who endure specific trials and tests in life without denying Christ, or giving up their faith. James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life". I think about of Christian brothers and sisters around the world right now, in the Middle East, who are being put to death, being decapitated, burned alive for their failure to renounce Christ. There's a crown awaiting them for that. It's not just to martyrs though. It is anyone who goes through the trials of life without giving up his faith.
Fifthly, the crown of glory. This is a crown that is reserved for pastors who lead their flocks in a way that is pleasing to God. In 1 Peter 5, Paul says, "And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory". Earlier in that chapter, he says to pastors, "Shepherd, the flock of God among you exercising oversight". And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory. You know, I read that passage every Saturday. Once a week, I read that passage, as a remind that this church is not my church. This church belongs to Jesus Christ. This is his church, he's the chief shepherd. I'm just the fill-in, the stand-in, the under shepherd. And one day, I'm gonna stand before God and give an account of how I have lead this congregation. Believe me, that is a sobering reality in my life. That is the crown of glory.
Well, what do these crowns actually mean? Billy Graham once wrote, "Jesus did not call us to wear a crown in this life. He called us to bear a cross and live for him in the face of ridicule. When we get to heaven though, we will put our crosses down and put on the crowns he gives". Now, some people believe that these crowns are literal crowns that we will wear, but that we will throw them down before the throne of God. We sang a song, "Holy, holy, holy" that talks about casting the golden crowns before the throne. That's build on Revelation 4, verse 10. Where the 24 elders are praising God and they cast their crowns before the throne of God.
Some people interpret that to mean, well, whatever rewards we receive are ultimately meaningless because we cast them before the throne of God. But that's a very questionable interpretation. Because the fact is, there are going to be different experiences for people in heaven. And while it's true, we're all going to praise God. For our salvation and even the ability to earn rewards ultimately are a gift from him. But that doesn't mean everybody's experience is going to be the same in heaven.
Are these crowns literal crowns? Some people believe they are. Of course, you know you have to wonder if you have more than one or two, how is that gonna work? Walking around with four or five. Most of us won't have to worry about that, but a few might. How does that work out? Other people say, well, we're gonna cast them all before the throne and it doesn't matter. My own belief is, these crowns may be literal crowns. And indeed, we may cast them before the throne of God, as a sign of our worship of God. But that doesn't negate the fact that these crowns represent real tangible rewards that will extend throughout eternity. You say, what kind of rewards are you talking about? This isn't my imagination. This is what the Bible says. There are three kinds of rewards that these crowns represent, I believe. First of all, these rewards include special privileges in heaven. Special privileges in heaven.
When Julia and Dorothy were little, we used to, you know, sell a kidney and take them to Disney World or Disneyland. You know, it's not the cheapest thing in the world to do. But we would go there and have a great time. Now if you've ever been to the happiest place in all the world, you know that for a basic price, you get into the park. And everybody gets in the park. You pay this one price, you ride the rides as many times as you want to. Till you throw up, you know, if you want to. Everybody gets to ride the rides. However, if you wanna pay a little bit more, you get to do some extra things. You get to go into the park an hour or two early before the crowds come. You get to jump in front of the line before other people and get to the rides first. If you really wanna pay and arm and a leg, you can have breakfast with Mickey and Minnie. It's a special privilege to those who are willing to do a little more.
Heaven's going to be that way. The experience of heaven is not gonna be the same for everybody. Secondly, I think these rewards entail special positions in heaven. Those who are faithful in this life are gonna be put in charge and have more responsibilities in heaven. Jesus taught that in Matthew 25:21. Remember the parable of the talents? Jesus commended those who were faithful with a few things and said they will be put in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master. Thirdly, I think the rewards in heaven entail special praise. Special praise.
Can you recall, look back in your life and recall something your mom or dad might of said to you that was especially encouraging to you? Son, daughter, I am so proud of you. Or maybe you can think of something your employer said to you like, you know, you're doing such a great job. We couldn't make it in this company if it weren't for you. You know, you hold onto those things, don't you? You replay them over and over in your mind. If we can get that excited about what a parent or an employer says to us, think about what it's gonna be like if we were to stand before God at the judgment seat and see a smile across the face of Jesus saying well done. Well done, good and faithful servant. That's a reward worth working for. And that's what's gonna be awaiting some in heaven. Special privileges, special positions, special praise. One possible outcome of the judgment we're all gonna stand before is rewards. The other possible outcome is regrets. The forfeiture of rewards.
Some people will stand before Jesus in shame. And I don't make up that word shame. It's a biblical word, 1 John 2, verse 28 says, "Now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame at his coming". Some people will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and as Jesus evaluates their lives, they'll have their heads down, they'll be scuffling in the dirt, unable to look the Lord in the eye as they look back with regret at what could've been theirs had they been more faithful in their service of Christ. Paul writes about that in 1 Corinthians 3:15. He talks about some people having their lives made of silver, gold, and precious stones endure. But he says in verse 15, "If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet at though through fire". There will be real measurable loss some people will experience in heaven. And there will be regret as people look and see what could've been theirs had they been more faithful to Christ in this life.
Now I know what you're probably think. You're saying, wait a minute, pastor. I thought heaven was supposed to be a place of complete, unending joy. And you're saying there's gonna be regret, sorrow in heaven? That doesn't make sense. Well, the fact is, joy and regret are two emotions that can exist at the same time. You can be joyful and regretful at the same time. Did you know that? I mean, think about this. Let's just imagine your insurance agents calls you up and says, I've been looking over your homeowners policy, I think you're underinsured. I think you need to increase your insurance by $100.000 to cover everything you have. You say, well, I'll think about it, I'll think about it. You never give it another thought.
Couple of weeks later, you awaken in the middle of the night. You smell smoke. You realize the house is on fire. You grab your mate, hopefully, you grab your mate. And you grope through the darkness. You find your children, you gather them out. There's only one exit out and it's through the window. You take a chair and throw it through the window. You climb out onto the lawn. And as you stand there in your pajamas, you turn around and you see your house being totally consumed by the flames. Now what is your emotion at that moment? Certainly there's joy that you escaped the fire, with your life intact. And that your loved ones are standing with you. Immeasurable joy, but don't you think there's gonna be a little bit of regret there as well? As you see everything you owned being burned up and realize you don't have the insurance to cover it?
Joy and regret can exist at the same time. And it'll be that same emotion for those who see their lives burned up at the Judgment Seat of Christ and being turned as absolutely worthless. Pastor, what about that verse? Revelation 21:4, God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. That's right, he's gonna do that for us. But Revelation 21:4 occurs after the Judgment Seat of Christ. After the new heaven and the new earth. And while God will wipe away our every tear, he will not wipe away the consequences of failing to win rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Those consequences last for eternity. You know, we have to be careful here. To overdo the sorrow regret aspect of the Judgment Seat of Christ, is to turn heaven into hell. But to underemphasize it, is to make obedience in this life inconsequential. Rewards will matter.
In his book, "Your Eternal Reward", my friend, Erwin Lutzer, tells a fable. About an Indian beggar who stood by the road every day to beg rice from any passerby who would be so generous. He stood there by the dusty road, and in his bowl, he had a few grains of rice just to get people started with the idea of generosity. One day, as he stood there, he saw this elegant chariot racing toward him. And when the chariot stopped in front of him, a wealthy rajah descended from the chariot. He went over to the beggar. The beggar's heart was filled with hope, as he thought, surely this rajah will give me what I need. But instead of giving the beggar rice, he said to the beggar, give me your rice! The beggar was startled. Give you my rice? Give me your rice! And so, begrudgingly, the beggar took out a grain of rice and gave it to the rajah. Now give me another! He reached in and gave another. I want another one as well! He gave him another.
By this time, the beggar was seething with anger. Why would this wealthy man who had so much demand that from somebody who had so little? Finally, the rajah ascended back into the chariot and rode away. The poor man looked into his bowl and noticed something. Something sparkling. He looked in there and he saw a grain of gold. And then, he saw another grain of gold. And another grain of gold. For every grain of rice the beggar had given the rajah, the rajah had exchanged it for a grain of gold. You know, exchanging rice for gold is a pretty savvy trade. But exchanging the temporary pleasures and treasures of this life for eternal rewards in the next life, that's a real lucrative transaction. That's what rewards in heaven are all about. Trading the temporal for the eternal.
For we must all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. That each one of us may be rewarded for what we've done in the body, whether it be good or worthless. Some of you listening here in this worship center or to this broadcast are not yet Christians. You're not sure about your eternal destination. And if that's true of you, let me make this very clear. You cannot earn your place in heaven. There's not enough good works you can do do ever merit eternal life. The Bible says the best we can do, our righteousness is like a filthy rag to God.
It's not what you do for God that allows you to go into heaven. It's what Christ has done for you. He died on the cross. He took the punishment that you and I deserve for our sins. And it is only by grace, trusting in what God has done for us that we can ever have a home in heaven. There's only one group of people that go into heaven. It's not baptists, catholics, Jews, or any other group. Nobody goes to heaven in a group. We go one by one. The only people that go to heaven are forgiven people. We have to be forgiven of our sins. And we have to ask for that forgiveness in this life.
Now today, if I'm speaking to some of you who want to be assured that you're gonna be welcomed into eternity in heaven, I want to invite you to pray this prayer in your heart right now to receive God's forgiveness in your life. In just a moment, I will lead you in this prayer. I want you to pray it in your heart to God, as I pray it out loud. Knowing that God is listening to you right now. Would you pray with me?
Dear God, thank you for loving me. I know that I have failed you in so many ways and I'm truly sorry for the sin in my life. But I believe what I've heard today that you don't hate me, you love me. You love me so much you sent your son, Jesus, to die on the cross for me. To take the punishment I deserve for my sin. And right now that this very moment, I'm trusting in what Jesus did for me. Not in my good works, but in what Jesus did for me, to save me and to forgive me of my sins. Thank you for forgiving me. And help to live the rest of my life for you. In Jesus name.