“Eternity has begun for us.”
That phrase was used in a message on the First Day of the Feast of Tabernacles this year, and it kept cropping up in conversations and sermons throughout the rest of the week where I was keeping the Feast.
In my churches, we teach that people who are not called today will get a chance at salvation after the second resurrection. The books will be opened, giving them understanding of the Bible, and then after an unspecified period of time they’ll be “judged according to their works” (Rev. 20:11-13). For those in God’s household today, though, judgement has already begun. This is our chance at eternal life.
Those of us who’ve responded to God’s call and entered a covenant with Him have been given great gifts of understanding. After we receive an invitation to become firstfruits, God teaches us “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). The kingdom of God is a mystery that isn’t shared with just anyone yet, and for a very good reason.
And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48)
The more someone knows, the more they’re accountable for. Today, God is working with a select few — people He knows can make it if they will truly follow Him and love with all their hearts, minds, and souls. Even so, we’re warned quite clearly that there will be people in the churches who think they’re serving God but still don’t “get it.”
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23)
We can’t follow God however we want, even if it looks good from the outside, and expect to make it into His kingdom. We have to follow God the way He commands, and cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Run To Obtain
As God gets to know us on our walk with Him, He’s purifying and molding us into a “new creation” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). At the same time, we’re being judged to see how we measure up. Are we growing? Do we desire a relationship with Him? Will we submit to His headship in our lives?
In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when He “comes in His glory” He will gather people before Him and divide them into two groups. By this time, the judgement is already made — He knows who is a sheep and who is a goat (Matt. 25:31-46). When we stand before Christ, it will be too late to try and convince Him you really were a sheep who just acted like a goat sometimes. We have to commit ourselves to His way of life now.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
God isn’t going to make you or me a firstfruit just because we showed up for church. There isn’t a participation prize. Not everyone who runs a race wins, and not everyone who claims to follow Jesus will be in His kingdom. We have to discipline ourselves to run in a way that qualifies us to receive the ultimate prize.
God wants people in His family who are teachable and humble — who respond to His work in their lives and take an active role. Only God can transform us, but we can chose whether or not to let Him. We can choose to strive for “an imperishable crown.”
For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor. 11:31-32)
The uses of “judge” in 1 Corinthians 11:31 come from two different Greek words. “If we would judge” — diakrino, to discern (G1252) — “ourselves, we would not be judged” — krino, tried in a solemn judicial manner (G2919). If we would exercise discernment and take a good look at ourselves, we would behave in such a way that there was no need for a divine judicial ruling to correct and motivate us.
There’s still cause for hope even when we don’t exercise perfect discernment in judging ourselves. God’s first response when judging someone is to give them a chance to change, not destroy them. He judges and chastens us as a Father does His children (Heb. 12:5-11). It’s for our correction and growth.
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now, “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:17-18)
“The time has come,” Peter said, and that was almost 2,000 years ago. The house of God is still going through “a solemn judgement, a judicial trial” (Zodhiates, G2917, krima). God is looking at us right now, refining us and correcting us to make certain of our character. He wants us to fill important roles in His family, and He won’t give us those roles if we aren’t a good fit — it wouldn’t be fair to the people God’s family is serving and teaching in the Millennium.
Becoming like Christ is the key to our transformation from someone who would be judged as a goat to someone who will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We have to follow His example completely, develop a close relationship with Him, and learn to obey God’s commands. Hebrews tells us that even Jesus, “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). If God in the flesh had to learn and suffer, it follows that we will as well. Indeed, the context of 1 Peter 4:17-18 is suffering “according to the will of God” without being ashamed (1 Pet. 4:16, 19).
In a proper Christian context, trials are seen as a good thing because they are a tool God uses to bring us closer to Him. Suffering, chastisement, and judgement are part of the refining, discipline process of turning us into firstfruits. It’s meant as a stepping stone — not a stumbling block — on the way to eternity.