Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
September 21, 2014
Trying to get ready for Judgment Day
Many statements in the Bible rattle my cage. One example is this sentence by Paul in the Epistle to the Romans: “The day will surely come when at God’s command Jesus Christ will judge the secret lives of everyone, their inmost thoughts and motives; this is all part of God’s great plan, which I proclaim” (Romans 2:16, Living Bible).
As I understand it eventually there will be a Judgment Day. On that day everyone, Paul says, will “stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” On that day my “secrets” will be exposed and my “inmost thoughts and motives” will be judged by Christ. To ponder that makes me uncomfortable.
Judgment, of course, is part of the fabric of life. We are all “judged” from the cradle to the grave. Our parents judge us. Our teachers judge us. Our peers judge us. And five days a week judges “sit” in our courtrooms making judgments about matters brought before them. However, during this earthly sojourn, none of us is ever judged for our secret thoughts. But the Bible says one day God will do just that.
Since “confession is good for the soul,” I will confess why I get uncomfortable thinking about Christ judging my secret thoughts. For starters, I am quick to stand in judgment of others, especially those who are cavalier about moral conduct that, according to Scripture, is abhorrent to God. I am guilty of harshly judging “the liberals” who do not share my conviction that God’s Word should guide for daily living.
Paul’s words drive me to my knees as I recall the times I have condemned others for sins I struggle with in my own life. I can preach a sermon against judging others even though I continue to find fault with others. To paraphrase the words of Jesus, I am an expert in spotting “the speck” in my neighbor’s eye but often blind to “the log” that is in my own eye.
As I ponder the problem of my own secrets I remember the compelling words of this prayer from the communion liturgy:
“Almighty God, unto whom are hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
That prayer disturbs me. My heart is an open book to God! He knows all my secrets! He knows my every desire, my every thought! How arresting is that thought! Yet the prayer does not leave me in despair but gives me hope. God can cleanse my heart of every shameful thought – if I am willing.
Paul felt the guilt that I have felt about harshly and wrongly judging others. Early on he had condemned Christians, jailing them for their blasphemy in proclaiming Christ the Messiah. Then he met Jesus! He was saved by the mercy of God. His sins were forgiven. Gratitude for God’s mercy became a dominant theme for Paul.
My judgment of others does not serve God; it does not honor Christ. People who are living in darkness do not need my condemnation. They need my compassion. They need my encouragement, my love, to trust Christ and allow him to rescue them from their sins. I need to remember, every time I am tempted to condemn others, that if God can cleanse my heart, then he can cleanse the hearts of others.
If I remember that I am a Christian only by the mercy of God, it helps me to offer mercy to others. Many living in sin are moved by the love of believers to seek God’s forgiveness. No higher compliment is ever given than when a seeker says, “There is something different about you and I want what you have.” What they want, of course, is the spirit of Christ, and that spirit is in me only by the mercy of God!
The energy used in condemning others can be channeled into deeds of love and mercy. In the first year of our ministry my wife and I had lunch in the humble home of Mrs. Emma Shepherd. The subject of Oral Roberts’ healing ministry came up. I began pontificating on the matter, roundly criticizing the television evangelist. I ripped the dear man up one side and down the other.
Mrs. Shepherd, the godly matriarch of a large family, listened patiently as I sounded off. Then, in a sweet, conciliatory voice, she said quietly, “Now Brother Albritton, if you cannot say something nice about someone, you had best say nothing at all.”
Her words stopped me in my tracks, and I condemned no one else that day. I wish I could say “no one since that day,” but I cannot. Over the years I have recalled Mrs. Emma’s words many times, as the Holy Spirit invited me to cease judging others.
The thought of the coming judgment day constantly reminds me that the judge’s chair is no place for me to sit. God does not need my help in judging his children. Instead I need to make it my business to do what Paul says: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” + + +