I have been studying this pretty seriously for several years so I don’t know if I can encapsulate it for you, but I’ll try.
While reading the following, I ask that you temporarily suspend some of the suppositions you have been taught about God and the Bible.
God’s plan of salvation is being unfolded in stages over time. The Bible speaks of past ages and ages to come (e.g., Col 1:26; Gal 1:4; Eph 2:7). The next age will be the thousand year Sabbath millennium.
Here is an excerpt from something I wrote about the judgment:
Now, let’s explore the coming judgment of the saints. There seems to be much confusion about the purposes of our works or deeds. I was taught that our works are the evidence of our faith. As the book of James points out, there is truth in this statement. Among other purposes for our works are bringing glory to God by spreading of the gospel (Matt 5:16; 1Peter 2:12), edifying the body of Christ (the church), and helping other people (1Tim 6:18; Titus 3:8; Matt 25:31-46).
The Bible is clear that we will be judged and rewarded or punished for our works. This is stated in many verses (Matt 16:27; Rom 2:5-6; 14:10-12;1Cor 3:8; 2Cor 5:10; 11:15; Jude 15; Rev 20:12-13; 22:12).
The Bible is also clear that there will be varying punishments depending on each person’s works and what s/he had the opportunity to know. Jesus Himself said that punishment will be more tolerable for places like Sodom & Gomorrah, Tyre & Sidon and Nineveh than for the people of the cities (like Capernaum) who had the opportunity to know Christ during His incarnation (Matt 10:15; 11:21-24; 12:41; Luke 10:13-15; 12:47). With our more complete opportunity for understanding, I wonder how we will be judged.
One of the apparent contradictions in Paul’s writings is that in some letters he says that salvation can only be obtained through faith based solely on the mercy and grace of God and in others he stresses the importance of our works.
Paul says justification, righteousness and hence salvation are a gift or free gift, the result entirely of God’s grace, based on what Christ has done and we can claim through faith alone. Paul emphasizes this many times, especially in Romans. For example: we can claim ‘…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe;’ (Rom 3:22), ‘a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law’ (3:28); ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace’ (3:23-24); , ‘…for you are not under law but under grace’ (6:14); ‘For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all’ (11:32); ‘…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace…’ (2Tim 1:9), ’ …if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved’ (Rom 10:9). That’s not to say confessing is only lip service and true belief is superficial. Of course we are to respond to this grace by presenting ourselves as living and holy sacrifices (Rom 12:1).
Yet Paul also writes that works are very important. He uses metaphors like running in a race to win the prize (does that mean that he is striving to somehow reach something beyond others?), getting fit by practicing (shadow) boxing and disciplining his body so that he will not be disqualified (1Cor 9:23-27). He says he presses on toward some sort of goal that he has not yet attained. He calls it ‘the upward call of God’ and says he hasn’t ‘laid hold of it yet’ (Phil 3:9-14).
Are we to understand that Paul, the champion of righteousness by faith, felt he was not yet saved? Is he trying to earn his salvation by works? No, but if he’s not referring to his salvation here, which he claims elsewhere is received purely through faith, what is he talking about? I believe he’s thinking beyond his own salvation. Paul wants to be more than merely a citizen of Christ’s coming kingdom. I think that this upward call he senses is Christ’s invitation to a position of authority. Paul admonishes believers to become spiritually mature because he realizes that progression on the path to godliness now will qualify us for such roles in the coming age(s). Peter says ‘… Therefore rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure’ (2Peter 1:10).
To the Calvinist the term ‘election’ means being part of the select group chosen by God for salvation. As I see it that is not quite right. Rather, it’s about the timing of entry into the kingdom and the elect won’t be the only ones just the first ones. (Paul says we believers in this age have ‘…the first fruits of the Spirit’ (Rom 8:23), James says that ‘we would be a kind of first fruits among his creatures’ (James 1:18), John records in Rev 14:4, ‘These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.’). Concerning Peter’s comment about one’s calling and election, do we not have an election to choose someone for a role in which to serve others in some capacity? Is that not why Christ came? If we have the mind of Christ it’s not about self, it’s about giving oneself up to benefit others. Peter also says to ensure your ‘calling’ but isn’t a calling a position in a certain profession?
Some will be part of the priesthood (Is 66:21; Rev 5:10; 20:6). What an honour that will be. One commentator says that Ezekiel 44:17-19 speaks of these future priests who will minister both on earth (to man in the outer court with woollen garments) and in heaven (to God in the inner court with linen garments) much as Christ, in His glorified state with a spiritual body moved between heaven and earth when he visited the disciples after His resurrection.
2Tim 2:12, Dan 7:22 and Rev 20:4&6 say that some will reign with Christ in the next age. Perhaps you are to become an administrator like Daniel (Dan 6:2) or a ruler over five or ten cities (Luke 19:15-19; Deut 1:13-15). It’s obvious that knowing the laws of the kingdom will be mandatory for such positions. Each new king of Israel was obligated to write out a copy of the laws upon taking office in order to learn ‘all the words of this law and these statutes’ (Deut 17:18, 19).
Since no type of sin will be allowed in the kingdom and there will be people judged to be at various degrees of holiness entering the next age, I believe God will bestow the honour of becoming judges to some of His saints – not to administer punishment as man does in order to separate the guilty from society and act as a deterrent but to apply the law in the compassion of Christ to restore and assist those whom the judgment at the end of this age will show are still on the journey to glorification. Jesus said to his disciples,’…when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ (Matt 19:28). Paul said to the Corinthians, ‘…do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Do you not know that we will judge angels?’ (1Cor 6:2-3). Surely we have here the antitype of Moses’ 70 elders (Ex 18:12-27; Deut 1:16-17).
For any of these callings two qualifications will be mandatory: to know the law (in both its physical and spiritual applications) and to be a co-heir with Christ (i.e. live fully according to the Christlike nature now growing within) in order to apply the law with ‘the mind of Christ’ (Phil 2:5). Would you feel comfortable standing before a judge who did not know the law and had no compassion?
Christ is our High Priest, Lord and Judge. He is the Head but we are the body and as such I believe some of us will be given the honour to assist Him in these roles in the next age.
All believers will undergo the (investigative) judgment at the end of this age, but only those who have overcome their carnal nature will be ‘blessed and holy’ and have a ‘part in the first resurrection’ (Rev 20:4 & 6). The rest of the believers, not yet ready at judgment day, will be glorified later.
I hope now you can see a very important reason for sanctification: it’s our training to be true servant/leaders (thus following the example of Jesus) to help others on their spiritual journey in the coming age.
The essential point to grasp is that the coming judgment of believers based on the lawfulness of our works is important but only with respect to the timing of our entry and future roles in the coming kingdom of God.
In this judgment the believer’s salvation is not the issue and is not at stake.
We need not live our lives worried that we are not ‘good enough’ to be saved. We can be assured of salvation. The joy and peace Christ promised can be ours now. He has won the victory. May we revel in our roles as ambassadors for Christ (2Cor 5:17-21), spreading the gospel of His love, mercy and grace as we submit to the Spirit and grow to be more like Him in this age and prepare for the age to come.