What you are about to hear this morning will either be the most important thing you will ever hear in your life or a complete waste of time.
It all depends on the reality of this statement:
people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment
We know that we will all die. It may be 50 years from now, it may be a year from now, it may be tomorrow.
What will happen the moment after your heart stops beating?
Will your soul live on?
Will you experience life on the other side?
Will you come face to face with the creator of us all? What will he say to you?
How would knowing the answer to those questions change the way you live your life today?
This morning we will take those questions with us into James chapter 2. Let’s read verses 8-13.
The first thing we see in this passage is that:
- We will all be judged.
We’ll start in verse 12 – So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
We are to be judged. That’s what we’ve already seen in Hebrews 9:27. We will die and after that . . . We will not be dispersed as stardust into the cosmos, we will endure. And we will be judged.
This judgment is described in detail in Revelation chapter 20.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
James and Revelation teach us that we will be judged impartially. The great and the small will be gathered for judgment.
This is good news because God is fair and just.
Our world is often anything but fair and just, isn’t it? Our legal system does not always treat the rich and the poor equally.
In the average American jail, 60% of the inmates are people awaiting trial. In other words, 2 out of 3 inmates are people too poor to make bail.
John McAfee is creator of the McAfee antivirus software. After amassing enormous wealth, he became paranoid and moved to Belize. He built a compound, hired a security detail and paid the local police over $1 million to gain their loyalty. While living there, he stabbed a man to death who he accused of stealing an item from his home. He dumped the body on the street in front of dozens of witnesses, but the police never took action.
This world is not always impartial.
It is good news that the rich as well as the poor will get what they rightfully deserve.
Judgment is good news. But it is also terrifying news.
What will happen if I get what I rightfully deserve?
“If there is no justice, what hope is there for us? If there is justice, what hope is there for me?” That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?
How will we be judged?
The Bible tells us we will be judged according to the standards of God’s law. God’s law includes the 10 commandments. It includes the elaboration of those commandments taught by Jesus.
The Bible tells us that it is not just our actions, but our words and thoughts that will be judged against the standard of God’s law.
James 12 tells us to speak and act as if we will be judged.
And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment;
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
We will be judged. James warns the believers in his churches to consider their behavior in light of that judgment.
James speaks to the church which has given preferential treatment to the rich man, and by extension the church which has given preferential treatment to the white man or the American man.
There is a sense in which they were already judged – you have been convicted.
The gavel has struck, the sentence has been given – you are a lawbreaker.
“Really, just for giving a VIP seat to the rich guy?
It’s no big deal. I haven’t killed anyone.
I’m a regular attender, I tithe on every paycheck.
It’s no big deal.”
It doesn’t matter how regular your attendance, it doesn’t matter how much gold you have dropped in the offering plate. If you show preference to the rich man you have committed sin and you are a lawbreaker.
How is that?
The law is a package.
Verse 10 – Whoever keeps the whole law but fails at one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
The law doesn’t care if you pay your taxes, drive the speed limit and wait for the crosswalk signal to turn green every time – if you shoplift you are a lawbreaker.
2. We will be judged by the full law.
There are three things you should know about the law.
1. The law is indivisible
The divine law is a unified whole. It is an indivisible unity. To break one commandment in the law is to rebel against the law giver.
In the words of the ancient stoic Seneca: “he who has one vice, has all”. This is a Biblical concept.
We tend to think of the law of God as a collection of individual commands. I may habitually violate 2 of them, but I feel good about 98 of them. I feel good about myself. But if the law is an indivisible whole, I am guilty of violating the whole.
2. The law is universal
Robert Bellah in his book Habits of the Heart noted that 80 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “an individual should arrive at his or her own religions beliefs independent of any church or synagogue.”
According to Bellah, the fundamental belief in American culture is that moral truth is relative to the individual conscious.
We have no problem with a God of love who supports us no matter where or how we live.
But a God of judgment is difficult for us to accept. You may be struggling with this concept this morning.
It may surprise you to hear that for most cultures in world history, it is not divine judgment that is difficult to accept in Christianity. For many, the real challenge is the concept of loving and forgiving enemies.
It makes sense for us in our cultural context to say that God is not judgmental, but loving. That doesn’t make sense, however, to anyone who has been raised in a world of conflict and instability. If you were to tell a woman in Africa whose village has been ravaged by a terrorist group that you have good news for her – God is not a God of judgment, she will be laugh in your face. Good news? What do you mean there is no judgment? How can a loving God not judge the men who have ravaged my city?
Becky Pippert wrote in her book Hope Has Its Reasons about the relationship between love and judgment.
“Think how we feel when we someone ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it . . . Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference . . . God’s wrath is not a cranky explosions, but his settled opposition to the cancer which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.”
But doesn’t belief in a God of judgment cause people to be judgmental?
Miroslav Volf is a Croatian writer who was surrounded by conflict in war as he grew up in the Balkans. In his experience the only thing that can stop the vicious cycles of war and violence is the concept of justice.
“If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence – that God would not be worthy of worship. . . it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God’s refusal to judge.”
We have to remember that every culture has its blind spots. If there is a transcendent moral reality that cross cultural boundaries, we should expect that reality to affirm and to challenge elements of each culture.
“Let’s imagine that Christianity is not the product of any one culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God. If that were the case we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place.”
Tim Keller, The Reason for God
As individuals and cultural tribes, it is easy to miss our blind spots and to become self-righteous. It is tempting for us to look at the Bible and to pick and choose what seems sensible to our cultural tastes.
“If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”
3. The law is relational
The final quality of the law I want you to see is that it is relational. James tells us in verse 11 that there is one lawgiver behind each command in the law.
Sin is more breaking of relationship that breaking a rule.
Sometimes the worst thing about disobeying your parents is not knowing that you will be punished for it, but knowing that you will have to face them after turning your back on their wishes.
In high school I had a wonderful teacher named Mr. Farley. Do you have any favorite teachers who drew out the best in you? Mine was Mr. Farley. He was a tough old guy from the old school who broke up fights by lifting student off the ground by their collars. One morning we had a fire drill which was mismanaged by the school and allowed us a chance to skip out on class for an hour. When I arrived at Biology next hour, I was startled to find out that Mr. Farley knew what had happened and knew every name of the kids who had skipped class. He told us he was disappointed but that he was especially disappointed in Tom Brown because he expected better from me. You can imagine how I felt in that moment. I slid down into my chair and wanted to disappear, not because I was afraid but because I respected him so much and couldn’t bear to see the look on his face.
To break the law is to rebel against the one who gave us life, who is the source of all truth and beauty and goodness.
And there will be a judgment for that.
We will be judged, we will be judged by the full law.
3. We’ll be judged by our judgment.
Judgment will be without mercy for those who show no mercy.
Mercy is “kindness that makes you forgive someone, usually someone you have authority over.” (Cambridge Dictionary)
This principle comes from the words of Jesus. Matthew 6:14-15 tells us that we cannot expect to be forgiven if we do not forgive others.
Unless I have been merciful, I will not be shown mercy. Unless I have forgiven other, I will not be forgiven.
Do I view others according to what they offer me, or do I treat them according to the mercy God gives me?
4. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
What does that mean?
We are all convicted by the law as lawbreakers, we all deserve judgment. But that’s not the end of or passage and it’s not the end of the story.
Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Imagine with me that you are in a courtroom. You have committed a crime. There is video evidence. There are witnesses. There’s nothing you can do to get out of the verdict. It doesn’t matter how you have kept the other laws, it doesn’t matter if you are sorry for what you’ve done. Justice requires judgment.
Now imagine the judge, after pronouncing a guilty verdict, were to stand up and step off of the bench. And imagine if he took of his robe, walked over and sat down beside you. “You committed the crime. There must be justice. But I am merciful and I love you. I will go to jail on your behalf. As a substitute, I will receive your punishment and you will be free.”
This is mercy.
This is the story of Christianity.
The central event in the history of Christianity is the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, God gave a judgment for our sin in justice. And in mercy he came down and stepped into our place as a substitute.
If you will acknowledge your need and come to Christ as a sinner in need of mercy, mercy is what you will have.
On the cross of Christ judgment and mercy met and mercy triumphed. That word triumph means to boast or gloat. Mercy wins and loves to win.
In many parts of the world, this is the unbelievable part of the Bible.
If you receive the mercy of Christ, when the final judgment comes you will hear your sins recounted. And you will hear the voice of Jesus standing at your side, “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” (Philemon 1:18)
We are in different places this morning.
You may be agnostic, you are not sure what is true and you are open to exploring Christianity. You have questions about what is true. What you need to do is find answers to your questions. They are there. Talk to me.
You may have been around for a while and you’ve come to believe that this is true, that Jesus was more than just a man and that there is a God who you will face. Make a decision to receive mercy right now.
For those of us who consider ourselves to be Christians, James is asking us to take a look in the mirror. If I say that I have received mercy, but I do not show mercy to others I may have a problem. If I say that I have accepted Christ as Lord, yet I have chosen to ignore one of his commands, I may have a problem.
For most the answer is repentance. Stop showing judgment to others when you have received nothing but mercy yourself. Stop committing adultery and believing it’s okay because you’re giving to missionaries and serving in the church.
For a rare person, the answer might be to come to the sober conclusion that you have never in fact received the mercy of Christ.
We’ll look more at that next week.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown