The sins of some people are conspicuous and precede them to judgment, while the sins of others follow them there. (1 Timothy 5:24 NRSV)
I have found this Scripture to be a very compelling one for many years. As I pondered its implications I realized that it is really notice of a choice each one of us is given, to choose the timing of our judgment, something we should take very seriously.
But first it is very important to understand the true meaning and nature of judgment the way the Bible explains it. Jesus made very clear what true judgment is when speaking with Nicodemus.
For God didn't send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him. He who believes in him is not judged. He who doesn't believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn't come to the light, lest his works would be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God." (John 3:17-21)
First let us clarify who is involved in judgment, who is presumably overseeing it.
For the Father judges no one, but he has given all judgment to the Son. (John 5:22)
This may come as a surprise to many who have long assumed and taught that God is going to preside over judging the world. But it goes even farther than this, for Jesus – the one God handed over all judgment to – says that He is not in the judging business either.
Jesus cried out and said, "Whoever believes in me, believes not in me, but in him who sent me. He who sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness. If anyone listens to my sayings, and doesn't believe, I don't judge him. For I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects me, and doesn't receive my sayings, has one who judges him. The word that I spoke, the same will judge him in the last day. For I spoke not from myself, but the Father who sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. I know that his commandment is eternal life. The things therefore which I speak, even as the Father has said to me, so I speak." (John 12:44-50)
What is made plain here is that neither God nor Jesus is directly passing judgment on anyone. Rather, the light of truth as unveiled in the life and teachings of Jesus becomes the operative agent in judgment. Jesus makes it very plain here that it is His word spoken, His teachings that reveal the real truth about God, about reality and about sin that will be the judge. Therefore we need to take very seriously what Jesus has said if we want to understand and come into right relationship with judgment.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the assembly to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Those on the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; but these have no root, who believe for a while, then fall away in time of temptation. (Luke 8:13)
Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom, and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:21-25)
James indicates here that the implanted word, the truth as brought to light by Jesus, is able to save our souls. When the true nature of sin is understood better we can begin to better appreciate what this is telling us. Sin is not bad behaviors or breaking of rules but is rather the disconnect we choose from the only Source of life in the universe. This is why the wages of sin are death, not because God is angry over broken rules but because unplugging from the only source of life unavoidably results in death.
Salvation therefore is not about getting off the hook legally after offending God by breaking His laws but is about having our perceptions, attitudes and thinking about Him healed so that we are restored to a trusting, loving relationship with Him. This relationship with the Source of life is what Jesus calls eternal life.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John 3:36 NIV)
In judgment the character that has been shaped and molded by the beliefs about God that have been embraced in the heart is revealed. When character is fully developed, it becomes impossible not to act out whatever we actually imagine God to be like, for humans are by inherent design reflectors of God. Thus our internal gut-level concepts about how God feels about us and relates to us will involuntarily react in how we feel about and treat both ourselves and those around us. Thus judgment is what happens when circumstances expose whatever internal picture of God has been cherished in the heart.
Jesus is the perfect example of what it looks like to humanly reflect the truth of what God is actually like and how He relates to His children. Jesus did not come to live a superhuman existence using inherent divine power to achieve a perfect performance just to prove it could be done. Rather He came to demonstrate that any human being could, by cherishing a right understanding of who God is and how He actually feels about us, live a life as Christ did simply by giving God access to their heart just as Jesus did every moment of His life. The example of Jesus we are called to emulate is not His perfect performance in conforming to a set of rules but rather about allowing ourselves to reflect the reality of the passionate love of God as Jesus did always being led by the Spirit of God.
Jesus never deviated from allegiance to His Father's love. He ever relied completely on His Father to motivate, guide and protect Him without once taking things into His own hands. At the same time God allowed Him to suffer in every way like any human being might suffer so that He would gain credibility for every person to be able to trust Jesus and His version of God instead of their own. By identifying with Jesus' sufferings every human being has access to an open channel of grace, healing and life that will flow into them to transform them to become like Jesus. This is never through efforts of their own to be a good person by keeping rules but through a spontaneous remission of the disease of sin as the grace, love and truth from Jesus displaces unbelief, distrust, fear and lies.
I have come to believe that Paul's short note to Timothy about judgment is an explanation of how each of us are to relate to the issue of true judgment. As Jesus spelled out clearly, judgment is about how we react to the light of truth which is most clear in His teachings as well as His actions and attitudes towards others. What I believe is compelling about this verse is that Paul is saying we can choose whether to experience judgment early or whether we will try to hide from it until it is unavoidable and too late to have our characters transformed and fitted for the society of heaven.
Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn't come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24)
If judgment involves our reaction to the light as revealed by the words of Jesus, why would He say that if we believe we do not come into judgment?
By making the choice now to pass from death into life by believing the truth as it is in Jesus, we have passed through judgment already and there is no need to come into the final judgment for it has already exposed us and there is nothing left in hiding. Judgment is only about exposing what is hidden, so for those who live in the light and allow nothing to remain hidden in their heart, there is no more judgment.
Judgment involves exposure to the light that Jesus brings, so we can choose to enter into judgment now through our willing choice to embrace healing and deliverance from sin. As we choose to continue to come to the light, allowing the words of Jesus to transform us by taking them seriously for ourselves, the Spirit can accomplish the transformation needed in our hearts to fit us for heaven by synchronizing our hearts with the heart of God. We then find ourselves naturally reflecting the same image of God that Jesus reflected consistently which is what Paul speaks of as growing from glory to glory.
Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
Choosing to come to the light as revealed by Jesus means that both our conspicuous sins as well as our hidden ones are exposed by the light of truth brought to us in the words of Jesus that we allow to judge us. Because God's judgment is not about condemnation but is simply about exposing reality, such judgment actually opens the way for the healing grace of God to pour into our souls to flush out anything out of harmony with Him. This is what results in what is called a godly life, or to put it in the language of Genesis, we are restored to reflect His image, His likeness, His beauty.
Initially it can appear very frightening to allow our sins to be made conspicuous. But as we appreciate better the nature of our problem and the truth that God is not in the shaming, condemning business but only in the saving, healing business, we find increasing encouragement to come to Jesus to receive His rest, His love and His acceptance, not acceptance of our sins but of ourselves.
The only alternative to allowing our sins to become conspicuous in the light of truth as it is in Jesus is to continue to try to cover them up and hide them as long as possible. The fatal flaw in that is that by clinging to our fears, our selfishness, our pride and retaining rebellion deep inside, our sins generate guilt, shame, condemnation, fear and foreboding of a coming time of judgment. This constant dread will work to eat away our soul from the inside until at some point we will either repent and allow God to do His work in us or will become so hardened by our resistance to conviction that we no longer find it possible to ever respond positively to any attempts by God to save and heal us.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries. A man who disregards Moses' law dies without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will he be judged worthy of, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified an unholy thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "Vengeance belongs to me," says the Lord, "I will repay." Again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But remember the former days, in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great struggle with sufferings; partly, being exposed to both reproaches and oppressions; and partly, becoming partakers with those who were treated so. For you both had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an enduring one in the heavens. Therefore don't throw away your boldness, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:26-35)
I find this passage fascinating as I see the reference in the middle to falling into the hands of God applying in both directions. Those who were mentioned previously, who chose to continue sinning willfully in spite of their awareness of the truth either in the Law or who understood the grace revealed in the blood of Jesus, will find it terrifying when their deliberate choice to spurn the love and grace of God is seen in the light of unavoidable revelation. Judgment is all about exposing what is hidden, and in the final day of judgment nothing will be possible to be hidden any longer.
Meanwhile, when a multitude of many thousands had gathered together, so much so that they trampled on each other, he began to tell his disciples first of all, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up, that will not be revealed, nor hidden, that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light. What you have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers will be proclaimed on the housetops. (Luke 12:1-3)
It is never God's choice that any person will ever be lost. In the end it will become clear that every person who ends up being eternally lost are so because they themselves chose their unsalvageable condition. God has done far more than what is needed for everyone of us to be saved, but if we reject and spurn it all we are the only ones left to blame for missing out on eternal life.
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
Finally then, brothers, we beg and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, that you abound more and more. For you know what charge we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God: your sanctification. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3)
Who blocks a person from being saved, from coming to a full knowledge of truth, from being sanctified? It is never God that holds them back. He is never the one to blame. So who is it?
Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the manifestation of his coming; even he whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deception of wickedness for those who are being lost, because they didn't receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
(2 Thessalonians 2:8-10)
This lawless one is a consummate liar whose greatest efforts are to prevent anyone from knowing or embracing the saving truth as it is in Jesus that will draw us to the light that exposes all the lies the enemy has implanted in us. Whether this lawless one refers to a front entity being manipulated by Satan as revealed in the book of Revelation, or whether it refers to the devil himself, their shared passion is to obscure the truth about God as much as possible by saturating our minds with lies to keep us afraid of Him and unwilling to draw close enough to see differently.
You are of your father, the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and doesn't stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks on his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)
He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. To this end the Son of God was revealed, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
So how do I come to judgment early so that I won't find myself being exposed when it is too late to alter my character and I am permanently trapped with a heart molded into the image of evil?
There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved! (Acts 4:12)
This is not about some arbitrary requirement to say the literal name Jesus or one cannot be saved as many assert. Insisting that one says just the right words in the right order using the literal name of Jesus in a certain formula or else God will refuse to accept or save you is a dangerous delusion and is rooted in a serious misunderstanding of the real problem of sin.
The name of Jesus is not about the word/label 'Jesus' or any other variant of His name as many assert. The concept of name in the Bible has to do with character, not the name they respond to when called for supper. The name of Jesus has to do with the kind of person He is, His disposition, attitudes and the reflection of God seen in His life. What this statement means is that to imagine God to be in any way different in character or disposition than what is seen in the human Jesus is to remain in deception. There is no other identity anywhere under heaven that reflects accurately the truth about God that has power to save us from all the lies that infect our hearts and make us afraid and distrustful of God.
He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Hebrews 1:3 NAS95)
Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
We have already seen that judgment is what happens whenever light of truth is encountered. That means we can choose to come to the light voluntarily ourselves to experience judgment presently by allowing that light to expose and bring us healing, or we can try to hide from the light of truth until it become inescapable on the final day of judgment and revelation when there will be no place left to hide and light becomes so pervasive it will be impossible to hide anything any longer.
Therefore it is better to choose early judgment by coming to the Light and embracing the truth as revealed by Jesus, for He is the source of all light and truth. This is why there is no other way to get to the Father except through Jesus, because He is the only explicit revelation of truth about the Father. Since sin started with lies about the Father, the only way to get rid of sin is to expose and expel all the lies about the Father that make us afraid of Him. And that is exactly what Jesus came to accomplish.
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him." (John 14:6-7)
Paul says that to be saved (meaning to be healed in the way we perceive God and reality) involves embracing a love of the truth. Jesus plainly said that He was the truth. So to embrace a love of the truth that saves us would include falling in love with the only One who is the personification of truth.
What does it mean to come to the Father through Jesus? It involves coming to believe that the Father is exactly like Jesus. This was the topic of instruction dwelt on repeatedly during Jesus' last moments with His disciples before He was arrested and crucified. Getting the right conception of God in our heads and our hearts is the only way anyone can be fitted to live in God's fiery presence of passionate love, for without an open, unresistant heart fired with the passionate love of God as witnessed in Jesus, it is impossible for any being to survive the intensity of a love that defines the very essence of divinity.
Judgment then, can result from choosing to invite God's Spirit to cleanse the heart and mind of anything that is foreign or out of harmony with the pure passion of divine love. By cooperating with the convicting Spirit of God and authorizing Him to replace our sin and selfishness with the attributes of God in our heart, we are sanctified and made holy in preparation for experiencing the final ultimate judgment without any residual fear that could sabotage us and bring us torture.
Therefore don't throw away your boldness, which has a great reward. For you need endurance so that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise. "In a very little while, he who comes will come, and will not wait. But the righteous will live by faith. If he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:35-39)
Now, little children, remain in him, that when he appears, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28)
The fires of hell when correctly understood in biblical context are a description of the intensity of this shame that is induced when the truth of God's passionate, unconditional grace and love for everyone is fully exposed in sharp contrast to the lies believed by all who have despised His mercy, love and forgiveness. It is not God who changes at that point to unleash fury, anger and inflict torture on His enemies. Rather the torture they suffer will be a result of a fire fueled by internal resistance they have stored up within themselves reacting violently to the truth that is now inescapable.
By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your traffic, you have profaned your sanctuaries; therefore have I brought forth a fire from the midst of you; it has devoured you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the sight of all those who see you. All those who know you among the peoples shall be astonished at you: you are become a terror, and you shall nevermore have any being. (Ezekiel 28:18-19)
What is the root cause of this fire that comes from inside? It is nothing less that resistance to love.
Or do you despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are treasuring up for [in] yourself wrath in the day of wrath, revelation, and of the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:4-5)
Rightly understood, judgment in Scripture usage literally means revelation, exposure, unveiling what has been hidden. This is why we have the option to choose to enter into judgment now to allow it to expose the lies that produce resistance in our heart against God and to allow His Spirit to replace them with saving truth. Or we can postpone judgment as long as possible only to discover after it is too late that what we have resisted believing all along is unavoidably true anyway. The difference is that to enter into judgment willingly and early means we give God access to heal us and bring us into harmony with love; the other option is to defer judgment until our characters become so hardened by unbelief that it is impossible to dissolve the resistance we have allowed to destroy our capacity to love.
Therefore, even as the Holy Spirit says, "Today if you will hear his voice, don't harden your hearts, as in the provocation, like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested me by proving me, and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was displeased with that generation, and said, 'They always err in their heart, but they didn't know my ways;' as I swore in my wrath, 'They will not enter into my rest.'" Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God; but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called "today;" lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end: while it is said, "Today if you will hear his voice, don't harden your hearts, as in the rebellion." (Hebrews 3:7-15)