In our culture today, man is seen as a cosmic accident moving inexorably to the bottomless pit of nothingness. The optimism of earlier generations has turned to bitter gloom, so the culture has turned to drugs and other means of escape to avoid the horrible idea that our lives are an exercise in futility.
The clear teaching of the NT and of Jesus is that our lives do count and that we are accountable to God – truths that every human being knows apart from philosophical investigation and reflection. People have a sense of God within their hearts. They were given consciences by their Creator and know they will be held accountable for how they live their lives [Romans 1:18-20, 32]. There will come a day when God will judge every man and woman by His law.
The apostle Paul told the philosophers of his day that “God commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man [Christ] whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, we will hear you again on this matter…. However, some…believed” (Acts 17:30-32, 34). Things have not changed. When we tell people that God has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness, people laugh. Only a few took Paul seriously, and few believe today.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that every human being has a sense of “oughtness” built into his conscience, which is what drives ethics. In order for this sense of right and wrong to be meaningful, Kant said, there has to be justice. And since justice does not occur in this life, there must be some kind of survival beyond the grave so that justice can be distributed.
For Jesus, however, the last judgment was not a matter of speculation but of divine declaration. He warned that every person will be judged according to his works. God is aware of everything we have ever thought, said, and done. And Jesus made it clear, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
Justification is by faith alone, apart from works, but the rewards God will distribute to His people at the last judgment will be according to works, according to the degree of obedience (Matthew 25:31-46). On judgment day, Jesus will declare to all unbelievers that all their works (even works that were outwardly good) were evil (Matt. 7:21-23).
God has appointed a Judge, and the Judge is the Lord Jesus Himself. When we stand before that judgment, we had better be ready.
[Adapted from R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian]