Biblical teaching on the judgment is critically important. Many churches insult God by portraying him as merciless, a cruel deity who would torture a human for eternity for one sin because he is “holy” and “just.” (What sort of holiness and justice tortures people for one sin?)
This error arises from the evangelical tendency to interpret the Bible only from their incorrect understanding of “salvation by faith alone.” Thus, evangelicals use verses on faith to create doctrines on baptism, judgment, and other subjects without taking into account the passages that address those subjects. Thus, they have a misunderstanding of judgment that insults God, making him the most unholy and unjust of all deities. Being merciless is neither just nor holy.
The Bible’s actual passages on judgment show us a God of true justice, who punishes only the wicked and sets things right. We don’t have to take our own revenge because he will take vengeance on those who deserve it (Romans 12:19-21). He is merciful, and he only punishes the guilty (Ex. 34:6-7; Gal 6:7-9). He takes no delight in the death of the wicked, but promises that if the wicked will repent and live righteously (“but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”–Micah 6:8), then he will reward life. (Ezek. 18:20-30; 33:10-20). He gives eternal life to those who help the needy and sends to hell only those who turn their hearts and faces away from the hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned (Matt. 25:31-46).
People who teach the awful, cruel judgment of the evangelical god wind up teaching that Jesus died to change God. God wanted to be merciful, they say, but his justice prevents him from being merciful unless he kills someone. (How awful is this portrayal of God?). Thus, they say, Jesus died so that God would not kill all of us. That may be a wonderful portrayal of Jesus, but it is a terrible portrayal of his Father.
Because of this terrible teaching, the wonderfully kind promise that those who do good will receive eternal life (Romans 2:6-7) cannot be believed. To them such a judgment is not kind because no one can possibly do good. They claim the rest of Romans explains that Jesus’ death delivered us from God’s cruel judgment rather than from our own slavery to sin.
Rightly understood, Romans explains that under the Law, the sin in our flesh causes us to violate the Law; therefore Jesus died to free us from “sin in the flesh” by putting “sin in the flesh” to death (Romans 7:1 – 8:4). We are freed from sin (Rom. 6:7), we receive the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), and then sowing to the Spirit leads to not growing weary in doing good and the reward of eternal life (Gal. 6:7-9). Galatians 6:7 says we are not supposed to be deceived about this.
If we are going to teach the judgment, it is obvious that we ought to use verses on the judgment to teach about it. We should read Ezekiel 18 and 33 and get God’s understanding of the judgment into us. We should pay attention to God’s kind words about Job, David, Daniel, and Noah (e.g., Ezek. 14:14,20; 1 Sam. 13:14). Once we do, verses like John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (NASB), will be delightful to us. They will motivate us to both the godly fear AND the unspeakable joy of which Peter speaks (1 Pet. 1:8,17).