There is a good deal of confusion regarding the judgments that follow death. Many people believe that Christians are not subject to any kind of judgment because all their sins have been covered by the blood of Christ, which is true. However, certain Bible verses declare that Christians will indeed be judged at what is called the Judgment Seat or Bema Seat of Christ. One such verse is Romans 14:10-12: “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God … So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Paul is speaking here to the Roman believers. He has a similar message to the believers in Corinth: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). In the context, it is clear that in both incidents, Paul is addressing Christians, not unbelievers.
Unlike the Great White Throne judgment of unbelievers, the Judgment Seat of Christ is not for the purpose of condemnation. We know that believers cannot be punished for sin because Christ bore that punishment on the cross and “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Rather than a judgment of condemnation or a determiner of salvation, there are two purposes for the Bema Seat. First, according to Romans 14:10-12, believers are to “give an account” of ourselves to God. What kind of account will we have to give? According to 1 Corinthians 3:10-13, we will be judged based on what we have built upon the foundation which is Christ. We make choices throughout our lives as to the kind of things we add to the foundation of our salvation. Have we built upon the Rock with gold, silver and precious stones—those things that last for eternity—or with wood, hay, and stubble which will be burned up. Have we rejoiced in trials so that our faith is proved genuine to the glory of God (1 Peter 1:6-7)? Have we escaped the “corruption that is in the world” (2 Peter 1:4) or have we succumbed to “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life” that characterizes the love for this world which is passing away (1 John 2:16-17 NIV)? Have we controlled our tongues (James 3:1-9)? These are the kinds of things that will be exposed at the Bema Seat.
A second function of the Judgment Seat of Christ is that of God rewarding us for our service and good deeds. Believers will receive “crowns” for different things based on how faithfully we have served Christ. Among the crowns we will receive are an “imperishable crown” for faithful endurance through trials (1 Corinthians 9:24-25); a “crown of rejoicing” which Paul speaks of as the presence in heaven of others in whom we have invested ourselves as he did (1 Thessalonians 2:19); a “crown of righteousness” for our faith in Him as our only source of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8); a “crown of glory” with which we will participate in the glory of God (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17); and the “crown of life” which is the promise of eternal life through Christ (1 John 2:25; James 1:12).
Unlike the Great White Throne judgment, the Judgment Seat of Christ will be a time a great rejoicing for believers, those who have waited patiently for the day when we will hear those precious words from our Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).