Forgiveness must be permanent. When you offer another human being forgiveness, you cannot drag that same offense back out a few days later when your mood is different. Temporary forgiveness is unacceptable among human beings, and yet some Christians suggest God’s grace works that way.
There are church people, some of whom I respect, who believe that God’s forgiveness has an expiration date. They are convinced that people who turn to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance are instantly forgiven of all their sins. But once those saints arrive in Heaven, we’re told that everything changes. Their sins are back on the agenda and every new arrival must appear before an angry judge who has a tape recorder with all the evidence! You might wonder where people get such an idea about God. In fact, they base it on a statement written by Paul.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10, it does say, “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.” But the context for this verse is Paul’s exclamation that he is eager to finally reach Heaven. Do you really believe he looks forward to Heaven because all his sins will be exhumed and thrown back in his face by a disappointed God? Think again! The Greek word that is translated “judgment seat,” actually has several shades of meaning. Basically, it denotes a platform with stairs. In one context, it describes the place where a judge sits. In other contexts, it refers to a royal platform where the King rests on his throne. But in other legit circumstances, it speaks of a winner’s platform where Olympians are awarded the trophies they have won.
I am convinced Paul is looking forward to a heavenly awards ceremony where God rewards lives of service and surrender. I believe that because it fits the context of 2 Corinthians 5. I also believe it because Paul confesses the same sentiment in other texts that are not in dispute. For example, just before his execution in 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul expresses his confidence that he has fought the good fight and finished the race. “And now the prize awaits me- the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on the day of his return.”
Paul is not looking forward to having an angry judge review his old, dead sins. Rather, he can’t wait to arrive in Heaven and experience the Awards Ceremony where God acknowledges lives of faith poured out for the glory of God by the saints of all the ages. 2 Corinthians 5 speaks of the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics; not the return of a verdict in a courtroom.
Elsewhere in the scriptures, it is clear that God’s grace is permanently bestowed. Psalm 103:12 reminds us, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Do the East and West ever meet? Of course not! Romans 8:1 contains Paul’s assurance, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Because of Christ, we will never again be condemned. For believers, that happened when the Holy Spirit convicted us of sin and led us to faith in Christ.
My life could never compare to Paul’s amazing life, and yet I think I know how he felt. I can’t wait to experience the splendor of Heaven. From everything I read, there will ultimately be this amazing Awards Ceremony in that Kingdom of Light. And there will finally be a moment when I stand before the Heavenly Father, who will express his approval of sacrifices I made and ministry I accomplished for Him. Scripture suggests there will be some kind of laurel or crown presented to me. And that will allow me to express my endless gratitude one more time- by placing that crown at the feet of the One who rescued me from destruction.
In closing, I do believe there is something like a “divine tape recorder,” where all the sins and failures of life are recorded. I’ll share it with you next time, because this blog is already too long. I think you’ll be surprised and inspired. So come back next week for the rest of the story. But in the meantime, if you go to Heaven before we’re together again, don’t be anxious. God doesn’t have a guilty verdict or a lightning bolt to hurl your way when you finally arrive. Rather, there will be an Awards Ceremony that will take your breath away- figuratively speaking, of course! I don’t know if we actually need to breathe in Heaven, but there will be much to celebrate.
Lift up the Cross!