Those who look forward to Jesus returning know that they will not be judged for their sins. That judgment already happened when Jesus died on the cross on behalf of all who trust in Him. Hebrews 9:28 says, “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (NKJ).
While believers will not be judged for our sins, we will be judged, “for God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). All of us will have an ultimate performance review; Romans 14:12 says, “each of us shall give account of himself to God.” God will judge believers for what we have done to advance His kingdom. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 describes this judgment:
“No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
The purpose for God judging His followers will be to determine our reward. That is why sin-forgiven believers don’t do just any wild thing that enters their mind because we know we will be judged for what we do and we don’t want to lose any of the reward God has in mind for us. Not only will God judge the quantity and quality of our works; He will also consider our motivations. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.” Many good works will merit no eternal reward because their motivation was to be “seen by men” and thus their reward was already received (Matthew 6:5).
The Bible says our rewards will include crowns (2 Timothy 4:8) and apparel (Revelation 19:8) which reveal how much we have contributed to God’s Kingdom. But as the parables of the talents and minas reveal, we will also be rewarded with a greater capacity to participate in what the Lord will be doing in eternity (Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27). Just being in heaven will be great but our experience will be enhanced by having more authority there which only comes as a reward for our good works in the here and now.
Our rewards in heaven will become apparent at “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Our rewards ceremony takes place at the marriage supper of the Lamb… “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:7-8).
The judgment you don’t want to be a defendant in is the Great White Throne judgment…
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15)
As there will be degrees of rewards for the good works of Jesus-followers, there will also be degrees of punishment for unbelievers. Luke 12:47-48 says, “that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.” Jesus also said in Luke 20:46-47 that those who make a great show of their piety, “will receive greater condemnation.”
So everyone will be judged for their good works and will receive rewards (or lesser punishment) as a result. The most important question is whether you will experience these results in the Lord’s presence or separated from Him for eternity. As Jesus said, “behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12). We are here to prepare for eternity, making sure we spend eternity with the Savior by believing that He paid the penalty for our sins when He died on the cross is the most important thing we can do.