How reflecting on Judgment Day can help you fight sin today

April 18, 2019

“This was your life,” it said, and that scared me half to death.

I was a child, and came across a fundamentalist Christian evangelistic tract, drawn in a comic book style. As a hardcore fan of all things superhero, I assumed this little booklet would take me to the same sorts of imaginative places my Superman and Justice League of America and X-Men books did. Instead, it took me to a cartoony version of the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The tract pictured a dead man on Judgment Day standing before the throne of God. As he stood in judgment, a film was shown about the man, in front of the assembled crowd of friends, neighbors, key biblical patriarchs and prophets, and, of course, Jesus. Everyone was watching all the secret sins he had ever committed, great and small. The man would squirm in embarrassment, but he couldn’t deny any of it. “This was your life,” the angel beside the throne said.


What would my parents think when they saw the things I had done? What about my Sunday school teachers? Maybe if I died early enough, I could go through the film before they could get there to see it? But, even so, there would still be Jesus. And I’d be exposed as a fraud. Nothing could be worse, it seemed. I even wondered, briefly, if hell might be even better. At least I could hide from the shame of having to watch that film.

Looking back, I now find that tract had a certain degree of power because it detailed graphically something that I intuitively knew was true about God and about myself, namely that “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). But I also find that it skewed the biblical vision of what the Judgment Seat is for those who are in Christ. As a matter of fact, a reflection on the Judgment Seat of Christ is, it seems to me, precisely what we need in order to find the freedom and joy to follow Jesus in the present. In fact, spending more time looking forward to the Judgment Seat of Christ just might save your life.

How the gospel transforms Judgment Day

Yes, the Scriptures warn the unrepentant of coming judgment. That’s an essential part of the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of the Apostle Paul. At Mars Hill in Athens, for instance, Paul asserted that, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). To the governor Felix, Paul “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment,” to the point that Felix was alarmed and changed the subject immediately (Acts 24:25).

That, it turns out, is the universal reaction of unregenerate humanity. God has embedded in the human conscience an awareness of his law and of sin in a way that points people toward “that day when God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16). Left to ourselves, though, we “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Instead of an awareness of judgment, we then follow the path of our own inclinations, convincing ourselves otherwise, until all that remains is usually a kind of inchoate angst, a fear of death (Heb. 2:15), and an intuitive “fiery expectation of judgment” (Heb. 10:27).

The gospel changes all of this for us, though.

When we are united to Christ, we are not to cringe before Judgment Day. This is because we have no case to make for our own innocence.

God has already revealed our guilt, at the cross, and we have already agreed with his verdict, in our confession of sin and our ongoing repentance of it. Judgment Day happened for us, in a very real sense, already, at the Place of the Skull outside the gates of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

Judgment Day, then, is not some foreboding pending assessment of whether God is for us or against us. As the Spirit has said to us, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Rom. 8:33-34). The good news of the gospel tells us now of our Judgment Day: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

As I look back, it was not punishment of my guilt, but exposure of my shame that terrified me. For Christians, the Judgment Seat frees us from such shame. The Judgment Seat reminds us that God sees everything about us, that God knows everything about us. There is nothing hidden that will not be exposed on that day (Luke 8:17; 12:2-3). But there is also nothing that Jesus, our judge, will learn about us on that day that he doesn’t already know, that he hasn’t known since long before he gave himself up for us.

This is the startling truth of the Jesus in the Gospels. Not that he forgives, but that he is not shocked by what they are hiding, for good or ill. Jesus reveals how much he knows about a seeming stranger when he tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he knows about her sin: “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). Jesus knew this already when he offered her the living water of life.

Freedom from shame

Judgment Day frees us from shame because, through the gospel, we no longer try to hide from God, as our prehistoric ancestors did before us. That voice “Adam, where are you?” that once drove a sinful humanity to hide in the vegetation still goes forth. But Jesus, a faithful and obedient humanity, answers confidently, “Here I am, and the children God has given me” (Heb. 2:13). We are free to confess our sin, boldly, knowing that Jesus forgives us, intercedes for us, and is not one bit shocked by us.

That reality, rightly understood, doesn’t lead to presumption but to accountability. We do not hide our sins and vulnerabilities. Darkness is, in fact, where these evils latch onto us. We shine light on our own darkness, confess our sins to one another and to God, and seek help for others to bear our burdens with us. Knowing this about ourselves helps us then to free ourselves from judgmental attitudes toward the sins and struggles of others.

Paul asked the church at Rome,

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Rom. 14:10-13).  

Knowing we will be judged along with everyone else gives us compassion.

Freedom from a sense of meaninglessness

The Judgment Seat also frees us from a sense of meaninglessness. The Judgment Seat not only divides the redeemed from the damned, but also evaluates our lives in light of eternity. The Judgment Seat shows us that what matters is not what seems to matter in this fallen universe obsessed with power and prestige. In Jesus’ teaching on the Judgment Seat, the “sheep” are known not by their visible impressiveness (the “goats” have that), but because they recognized Jesus in the naked, the poor, the imprisoned, the starving: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).

Our lives given over to the vulnerable take on a renewed significance precisely because they do not meet the criteria for the “judgment seats” of this present era. Jesus said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14).

The New York Times columnist David Brooks famously distinguished between “resume virtues” (our accomplishments in career or with money or fame) and our “eulogy virtues” (those more important aspects of character that people will remember us by when we die). Jesus would show us that more important than our resumes or our eulogies is a Judgment Seat proclamation: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). Reading backward from that, we can see what in our lives really matters, and what doesn’t.

Freedom from the need for approval

A focus on the Judgment Seat also frees us from our need for the approval of people, and from our fear of their disapproval. The apostle Paul wrote to his critics: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court . . . . It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore I do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:3-5).

The Judgment Seat reminds us that we are not seeking the approval of man, but of God (Gal. 1:10). Conscience and integrity and holiness are far more important than the commendation of whatever crowd is around us. And, even if we must stand alone sometimes, we do so without fear. Jesus did not flinch at Pontius Pilate’s “judgment seat” (Matt. 27:19; John 19:13) because he knew the real Judgment Seat was yet to come, and that the roles there would be reversed.

Freedom from the fear of death

The Judgment Seat in our prospective vision also frees us from the fear of death. The fear of our own finitude and morality leads to all sorts of immorality and misery in ways that don’t seem to have anything to do with death. Most of the people I’ve known who have destroyed their families with an adulterous affair weren’t looking for the experience of orgasm but rather to reclaim the feeling of being young. The “sneaking around” with a new romance promised to kindle for them the illusion of their days in high school or college, before they had all the responsibilities of spouse or parent or caregiver or breadwinner.

The Judgment Seat is not the end of something, a wrapping up of one’s history back when one was “alive.” Quite the contrary. The Judgment Seat is the beginning of something. Jesus says to his disciples on Judgement Day: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). As C.S. Lewis put it in The Last Battle: “You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And, of course, it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”

So, Christian, walk away from the siren song of temptation. Stop checking your approval ratings in the eyes of those around you. Love people the world finds invisible. Stop worrying. Exult in the freedom of the Lord. It’s beginning to look a lot like Judgment Day. And Jesus is the Judge on the seat before us. That means there’s nothing left to fear, nothing left to hide.

This is your life.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24