Considerable discussion is arising about judgment. Why this is a controversial subject escapes me. It would seem about as straightforward as grace…oh, wait, that is controversial as well!
One of the reasons we get caught up in these discussions: the desire to make our systematic thinking walk on all fours, to reach a universal application of our premise. We always end up in exaggeration to prove our point. Every doctrinal distinctive does this because it desires to answer every question with its initial premise, to bring it all together in a bundle, to prove the integrity of their presuppositions. It is dangerous.
For whatever reason, the “judgment” controversy seems focused upon whether or not Jesus took all the judgment to the Cross. The concept that all judgment was satisfied at the Cross then serves as a basis for declaring that God isn’t “judging” anything or anyone anymore, just working overtime to bring it to redemptive restoration.
Then, we can say, “All God is doing is trying to convince people He loves them. If only people come to know God loves them, they will be turned toward God. Forget the ‘God is a lot angrier than you think’ viewpoint. God isn’t angry at all. He loves you so much, He is like a lovesick puppy just waiting to lick your face with glee.”
Projecting human emotions and motivations upon God won’t get you a true picture of who He is and what He does let alone reveal a bit of why He does it.
Misunderstanding the Meaning the Word
“Judgment” is not a static word, so the term must always be referred to in context or by manner of use. Dialogue would be vastly easier, perhaps, if adjectives were added to the use of the word.
For example, some messages preached about judgment are really communicating about “punishment.” The prophets of doom are declaring judgment as punishment. They should go home and scream at the corners of their living rooms. I’ve had them come to our city to strike the waters of the ocean and declare the judgment of God has come to this Sodom nation – add to that the thousands of Jonah’s screaming words that are prophetic as “I decree the sun will rise in the morning.” Duh.
Judgment as punishment is the work of civil government and God. God does destroy, and He still is in the destruction business. Punishment is not the work of family and church; we never punish, we discipline. Some extremes of judgment look like punishment, especially when people drop dead, go blind, or feel the pain of discipline, but the judgment is a discipline of the culture, the whole Ecclesia, or culture that feels the pain of discipline to stop unwanted action and produce the habits of righteousness.
That is, judgment might include a sentence carried out that produces destruction or not. So, a generalization of the “judgment of God” or “we are under judgment” that assumes that judgment is punishment or destruction, lumping all other aspects of the work of the Judge of all the earth and the role of judgment in the kingdom, would produce an incomplete or distorted conclusion about judgment. A declaration that God isn’t judging anymore would be inaccurate. Even if God were not punishing anymore, God judges All, all the time.
When someone says to me, “America is under judgment,” I answer, “Yes, we’ve been under judgment since the first day we were a nation just like every other part of Creation is under God’s judgment in heaven and earth.” Everything is under judgment because judgment means God is involved and Creation is accountable for its purpose.
Of course, we are under judgment. Believe me, we want to be! Judgment means “decision,” and we want to experience, know, and carry out God’s decisions so we can prove the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.
It is really pretty shortsighted to say, “God is a God of mercy, not judgment.” In doing so, if what you mean to communicate is that God never makes a decision, just ignores reality, and lives in perpetual Divine denial and avoidance behavior, you don’t understand God or have a limited understanding of how things work in the spirit. If what you mean to say is that mercy is God checking out of reality, or the misuse of the term “grace” to mean “mercy,” you will work a bit too hard to prove this point by exaggerating about what you think God is doing and saying right now so that God’s actions and attitude will fit your systematic.
We see this clearly with cessationism. “God doesn’t do that anymore since the last apostle died.” Nothing Biblical about that idea, but the systematic is projected broadly across all christian experience to eliminate whatever the systematic has chosen to eliminate from the church. Beginning with eliminating kingdom for church by imposing an arbitrary “we are in the Church age” upon the whole timeline of history. With a sweeping brush, the systematic tells people that nearly everything God was doing in the Acts of Holy Spirit history passed away with the death of Paul, the “last apostle.” Duh.
We used to make jokes about this with Psalm 23, cutting off the phrases to illustrate how people pick out words they like in Scripture: “He maketh me to lie.” He leadeth me beside the still.” [I’m laughing as I remember these moments with young preachers in Bible college.]
The idea that we need some Bible to support this idea seems irrelevant because the systematic imposes itself through exaggeration upon the Bible. We can ignore the Gospels and Acts as history that doesn’t affect us today, just good sermon material to illustrate some point made by Paul. Etc.
Apply this mode of thinking to a discussion of “judgment.” You see my point? Beginning with the initial idea, the premise is projected over the whole of Scripture, some proof texts chosen that seem to carry the mail on the premise, and then a wave of discussion follows to overwhelm the rest of Scripture with conclusions to be reached since this idea is true.
Take care how you communicate the concept, “all judgment fell upon Jesus,” else the consequence of your exaggeration of that premise will lead to the same error many good people have reached: there is no hell and everyone is eventually going to be saved. This is not the presupposition of Scripture nor the ultimate definition of success in redemption. Human beings will populate hell and be dumped into the eternal condition of “the lake of fire” with the devil and his angels. Eternal death and destruction is part of Jesus’ authority to quarantine the universe of sin.
Making Decisions, Solving Problems
Judgment means “make a decision.” This is the basis of accountability, that someone has the authority and assignment to hold us accountable. We can judge ourselves, make ourselves accountable, but even then, we are making ourselves accountable to someone else, to God’s assignment, alignment, and authority for our lives which may be to God directly or to leaders He has assigned to our lives.
We are accountable to ourselves, thankfully. We can judge ourselves by His standard so we can avoid the decisions of discipline that would bring us into fulfill of His will. Judgment is the basis of free will, the reality that freedom to choose means accountability for decisions made.
Judgment destruction like Sodom and Gomorrah remains real. Jesus says that of His generation’s destruction. God made a decision. Based upon their decision, His decision was carried out. He had also made a decision about their redemption if they made a very different decision. God handed down the judgment they deserved by reason of their decision; God makes decisions and solves problems. God is the Ultimate Leader, and He has given all authority to Jesus to judge All.
God Killed Ananias and Sapphira
Now to Ananias and Sapphira: God did that! By the process that produced their deaths, the pronouncement by Simon Peter that released God’s decision, and the consequent condition of the awe of God that this produced, we learn from inspired and inerrant history that judgment – a decision of God handed down by His apostolic representative – touched these people’s lives. It was a decision of destruction based upon their decision to lie to Holy Spirit; the decision for a very different outcome had already been made.
Note: the appropriateness of this outcome seems to challenge the modern mind in ways that did not challenge the minds of the culture in existence at the time. Their response was awe. The modern response seems to be bewilderment or outrage. There’s a strong lesson in this.
When any system of teaching seeks to apply its limits at extremes, to make blanket statements, that system always reaches exaggeration. Exaggeration is one of the greatest enemies of Truth. It discredits Truth and removes trust for Truth in ways that are hard to recover.
Beware any effort to establish a systematic through exaggeration, to remove the mystery from God, to declare that God will do what our systematic says He will do as a means of understanding God. God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants and remain eternally and perfectly consistent with His character and purpose.
Every stream of doctrinal distinction does it. Exaggerated Sovereignty. Exaggerated holiness. Exaggerated gifts. Exaggerated miracles [think snake handling saints]. Exaggerated apostolic authority [think the pope]. Exaggerated grace [think mercy defined as grace]. Exaggerated Bible. Exaggerated church. You get the point.
Paul and Judgment
Paul says that the kingdom Ecclesia should provide a decision-making process called “judgment” to solve disputes and bring discipline, but he also makes this point by mentioning that the kingdom Ecclesia will be involved in “judging angels.” Paul means that leaders have authority and responsibility to make people accountable. Paul doesn’t mean that leaders have blanket and arbitrary dictatorship power to treat people according to their whims, tastes, and personal moods.
We will have poor judgment. When we do, that means that judgment is a part of the process. It is just not very good, that we make decisions and solve problems, however, is the very definition of leadership. Poor judgment is never an excuse for no judgment. False is never a reason for nothing. Perhaps we would get better at leadership if we would provide more leadership. Paul seemed to recommend this strategy.
God is Not Destroying Cultures
Is America under judgment? I hope so! If not, get ready for the end. Of course, that is not what God has in mind for America or any other culture on earth. God isn’t destroying cultures, He has reserved and preserved a remnant for Himself in each of them awaiting a faithful kingdom generation with the authority to judge those cultures in redemptive ways that will redeem and restore their purposes!
If you mean, is America going to be destroyed? Then, we have a different discussion. We are already destroying ourselves and facing destruction, but there is no evidence of the inevitability of evil, and God has preserved and reserved a remnant in America that is rising now to reclaim the covenant purpose of this land for the kingdom! Note the difference between judgment and reaping what you sow. Some consequences are inescapable because they are written into the code of Creation.
To these consequences, Jesus’ finished work responds with hope, help, and health. He is working to restore All, not destroy it.