I recently encountered two paradigm-shifting passages in First Corinthians 3 and Second Corinthians 5 that have been percolating in my mind because they should have a bearing on everything I commit to for the rest of my life. We’re generally creatures of habit; many of us don’t know why we pursue some of our life goals, and worse still, we rarely think about the impact of our environment on our priorities. Often, the people around us have the same priorities as we do, and watching them pursue the things we also want reinforces our worldview. It’s usually prudent to stop and reevaluate our choices and motives if they align with what the majority is doing, and that’s what the two passages I referenced earlier prompted.
In the context of history and eternity, our time on earth is short [James 4:14]. As a parent, I often struggle to recognise my kids when I look back through old pictures. Time truly flies. So, I can understand why Moses prayed God would teach us to number our days so we pursue wisdom [Psalm 90:12]. Time is a commodity we must use wisely to get anything out of life. But I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of what I did with my time on earth until recently. Scripture says we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive our reward for how we lived [2 Corinthians 5:10]. In other words, believers and unbelievers will face divine judgment after this life [Hebrews 9:27].
The New Testament highlights two judgements. The first is about our soul’s final destination – eternity with God or in the lake of fire [Revelation 20:11-15]. One question will decide everyone’s destiny: Did you believe in Jesus Christ [John 16:9, Romans 10:9]? It’s important to stress that nothing we do can earn heaven. Eternal life – eternity with God – is a gift we accept or reject. God will never compel us to spend time with Him. He loves us too much to force us to do anything we don’t want to do, and sadly, people choose daily not to have anything to do with God. It breaks His heart because God paid such a high price to give us the option to choose. Yet, He will respect their choice [Deuteronomy 30:15-20]. However, the paradigm shift for me was realising that those who believe in Jesus won’t receive the same reward in His kingdom. Instead, we’ll be rewarded according to our deeds [Psalm 62:12]. So, while eternal life is a gift I accept, my reward in Jesus’s kingdom is a consequence of how wisely I use my time on earth.
In First Corinthians 3:12-15, Paul lays out how the believer’s judgement will unfold and the role our works will play. That passage dovetails with his teaching on the purpose of our salvation [Ephesians 2:8-10]. However, while there’s a divine expectation of what believers should do with their lives, God never forces us to serve His agenda. We must submit to Him of our volition [Romans 12:1]. Jesus was the perfect example of such a life, and His secret was simple: He only did what He saw His Father do [John 5:19]. As a result, everything He did pleased the Father [Luke 9:35, 2 Peter 1:17]. Though tested as a man, nothing in Jesus displeased God [Hebrews 4:15]. Therefore, He received His reward [Philippians 2:5-11]. So, on Judgement Day, Jesus, having lived perfectly as a man, will reward us for how we spent our days [Acts 17:31]. As I read Paul’s exposition of the believer’s judgement, I imagined carrying everything I did on earth through the fire of judgment in a basket. He says the fire will test everything in my basket, and my reward will be determined by what survives the fire. I couldn’t help wondering what I’d have left in the basket if I were to meet Jesus today.
That was a searching thought. Adults will generally have lots to put in the basket because we spend our days doing many things like Martha [Luke 10:41]. But, we seldom pause to ask: Am I doing what God wants me to do today? Additionally, even if our deeds are praiseworthy, we must examine our motives because God looks at the heart [1 Samuel 16:7], and we cannot please God if our deeds or motives are unrighteous. I see now why we should judge ourselves so that we won’t be judged [1 Corinthians 11:31]. We can deceive others, and sometimes ourselves, with our good works but not God. First Corinthians 3:12-15 exhorts us to ruthlessly eliminate anything we know won’t survive the fire of judgment and pursue what will while we still have the freedom to choose. Those who heed that prompt are wise [Proverbs 9:10].
We rarely get time to reflect on the trajectory of our lives, and sometimes, the Christmas season might present just the opportunity as many of our commitments take a back seat for the holidays. The two passages behind this week’s blog remind us to live with eternity in sharp focus. I understand that the adjustments many of us need to make aren’t trivial. But what’s the point of spending your brief time on earth on anything that isn’t fireproof [1 Peter 1:17]?
Sadly, many of us do things for applause from men, which is futile [Matthew 6:5]. Some are self-centred; they serve only their belly and yearn after material things [Philippians 3:19]. Others are complicit in their ignorance because they don’t make time to learn God’s word and consequently make bad choices [Ephesians 4:18]. Nevertheless, true disciples principally seek to emulate the life of their Master [Matthew 16:24]. So, like Jesus, let us set our hearts on the joy which awaits, casting aside everything that will not survive the fire [Hebrews 12:1-2].