There are many things in scripture that require of us what other places in scripture make clear that we cannot give. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). Yet, “If he will contend with him, he cannot answer Him one of a thousand” (Job 9:3). “For He is not a man, as I am, that I should answer Him, and we should come together in judgment” (Job 9:32).
Why do we find these apparent impossible requirements in scripture? It is because man is accountable to God, yet man is sinful. Being accountable, He must give what God requires. Being sinful, he cannot give one thing God requires. Man stands guilty, condemned, corrupt and helpless, with no way either to compensate for his wrong or to fulfill what God requires of him (Romans 1:18 -- 3:20). Nevertheless, God's requirements stand. Justice will have her due. Man must render to God perfect righteousness. Every man must give an account of himself to God.
Nothing produces greater trembling in my soul than the thought of standing before God in judgment. Nothing! Though the prospect of future judgment is terrifying, the Lord Jesus describes it to us. It must surely come to pass as He tells us in Matthew 7:21-23. This is future history. It will happen. It cannot fail. It is the word of the Lord Jesus Christ who is God and man! Many people will stand before Him in judgment and give their defense as He records for us here in these verses. But these will hear Him say to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me!” This is therefore a great warning to us all. Let us learn from it as dying men learn from a living Savior!
In that day, many will give their defense before the Lord, the final Judge of all. Though they give their defense, they will hear their personal sentence with unequaled horror: Depart -- forever! There is no possible appeal beyond the judgment of Christ. And note this: not just a few, but many will go down this broad path and enter this wide gate that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14)! If we must all stand before Christ in judgment, and yet we are all sinners, how can we possibly answer for our souls to Christ as Judge?!
Have you ever taken a course in college with a final exam? One of my favorite college professors used to give “pop” quizzes to prepare us for the mid-terms, and ultimately the final. To pass the course, you had to pass the final. There were generally many questions on each quiz, more on each test, and many more on the final. In such courses, much is at stake, and the tension is very high. The fewer the questions, the higher the stakes. One of my professors raised my stress to the highest level by giving only two or three questions on each mid-term.
The Day of Judgment is a final exam. If you fail that final, you must forever depart from all comfort, all truth and justice, all hope and all help into outer darkness! There will be only one question. There will be only one Judge. There will be only one acceptable answer. It won’t be a multiple choice test. The men in Matthew 7:21-23 failed the test. They gave the wrong answer. Can you imagine what it will be like on that day as every person ever born into this world waits their turn to go into the courtroom of God’s judgment? You might be able to imagine it. If you are outside that room, awaiting your turn, groups of people begin to form to comfort one another and share their best answers to the “final.” There is the atheist group, still denying their Creator. There is the Muslim and Jewish and Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormon groups, with all other religious groups, tallying the sum of their best efforts in hopes their good will exceed their bad. But in Matthew 7, we find the Christian group! Notice what their answer to the Judge of all the earth will be in that day. “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” Clearly, these men were not your average professing Christians. These were the teachers and preachers. And they were able to do miracles, even cast out devils. What could possibly be wrong with that? The amazing thing about these men is that they did all that they did “in the name of Jesus.” Does that surprise you? Remember also, these are the “many.” Not just a few among the untold billions will give this answer in that day!
I can see them in my mind’s eye before they enter the great hall of judgment. Many surround them: those who followed them throughout their time on earth. Perhaps, as they share last minute notes with one another before the “final”, their followers wish that they could have spoken like them, done miracles like them, or cast out devils like they were able to do. But hear what our Lord Jesus will say to these: “Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23). I can think of nothing more dreadful than those words of our Lord! These men plead for their lives! Yet for all their pleading, their answer is the wrong answer! Why was their answer wrong? Why did Jesus call them “workers of iniquity?”
What is the only correct answer to the Lord Jesus, the righteous Judge of all? Clearly, the answer these men gave depended on what they did. Notice the form of their answer, “Have we not…?!” What these did required miracle working power! I recently saw a TV show where the Catholic church wanted to declare a deceased man to be a “saint.” The motive of those involved was clearly money, because the community where he had done his work was to receive compensation if he earned the title. The requirement for receiving this “honor” from the “church” was that the man must have at least one documented miracle to his credit. But notice here in Matthew 7, these men had done -- not one or two, but -- many wonderful works in the name of Jesus, yet the Lord professed to them, “I never knew you!”
The reason the answer these men gave was wrong, was that in their answer, their entrance into heaven came down to their works. Does it shock and surprise you that men who taught and preached and worked miracles in Jesus’ name were actually in the “broad” way? And why did Jesus call them “workers of iniquity?” It was because they used God’s law unlawfully. The law was given to close men’s mouths: to silence them in their conscience before God as guilty and condemned. In judgment, many will give their best defense based on their best works. But no amount of works, not even works allegedly done under the influence of God’s power or grace, will answer God’s justice in that day! And all who depend on them will be exposed as those whom the Lord never knew. All such will be commanded to “Depart!”
In Job 8, Job’s “friend” Bildad expressed the same theology that these men in Matthew 7 believed. He told Job that it was because of the sins of his sons and daughters that they were taken away by God. (What a cruel assessment!) He said that if Job were pure and upright, God would hear his prayer and answer him according to his righteousness (Job 8:1-6). Bildad’s theology was that God rewards men good for their good works and bad for their bad works. Listen to his claim: “Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers” (Job 8:20). Though Bildad held as true what all men naturally believe, yet out of the agony and misery of Job's trials, God had revealed to him His salvation, just as He does over and over again throughout the lives of His people. Job answered Bildad, “I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God? If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand” (Job 9:1-2). Job felt the heat of God’s requirements. He agreed with Bildad that God cannot pervert judgment. But knowing in himself that he could not meet one of God’s requirements, he cried out in the distress of his affliction, “But how should man be just with God?!” Job honestly confessed, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse” (Job 9:20).
Job understood what we must understand and believe. We are sinners. We are guilty. We are corrupt and therefore we cannot do what is required of us. There’s no answer that we can give to God for ourselves. Even if in ourselves we were righteous, by man’s standard, and even if God’s “final” had a thousand questions on it, we could not get one of them right (Job 9:3). We cannot give God an answer for one of our sins. Then what answer can we give in the Day of Judgment?!
There’s only one correct answer to the one question on the final of Judgment Day. The question is this: “Give an account for yourself!” Here, we must learn from unbelieving Israel of old. It is said of them, “Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness” (Romans 9:31). Israel attempted to attain to the righteousness of God’s law. But their attempt was their own personal obedience. For this reason, they failed. Though God requires righteousness of us all, Israel failed for this reason: “Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone” (Romans 9:32)! Their “stumblingstone” was Christ. Israel failed the test because they did not believe the Lord Jesus Christ. They did not believe God’s law convicted them as sinners. They did not believe His law was so holy that they could not keep one commandment one time, and that therefore they were utterly helpless in the hand and at the mercy of God! They did not believe that it was necessary for Christ to come from heaven and give His life for the life of sinners. They did not believe what the OT sacrifices taught them: that God requires blood for the remission of sins (Heb. 9:22). They did not believe what all the prophets and the Psalms taught: "that Christ must suffer and enter into His glory" (Luke 24:26,45-47; 1 Peter 1:11). And when Christ came, though they saw Him and saw His miracles, they did not believe Him (John 6:36). They did not believe the death of Christ was the only perfect righteousness and satisfaction to God that His law and justice can and will accept (Galatians 2:21; Galatians 3:31).
All my life I searched for an answer that I could give God for myself in judgment, but I found none. With no satisfactory answer, my conscience was in a state of constant torment and fear, though most of the time I turned a deaf ear to it. Men gave me lots of things to do. But I found that in all my attempts, I could not actually do one thing they called for: repent! commit! dedicate your life! witness! give! Mercifully, God has given His answer in His word!
Here is the only correct answer that God will accept in the Day of Judgment. It’s the answer Christ gave at the cross. It’s the same answer He now gives to every believer in their conscience, when they look to Him only. This is the only correct answer God will accept in the Day of Judgment:
“Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died” (Romans 8:34)!
You see, this really is the answer to every important question, isn’t it?! Is God Just? Listen to God’s answer: “It is Christ that died!” How bad is my sin? “It is Christ that died!” Will God accept my good works if I do them by myself or even if I do them with help from God? No. Why? Because what God requires is far greater than you can give: “It is Christ that died!” (Gal. 2:21). How can I have eternal life? Only one way: “It is Christ that died!” (Gal. 3:21). How can the love of God for His people be measured? “It is Christ that died!” Can any perish for whom Christ died? No, because “It is Christ that died!”
You see, it’s who died that makes what He accomplished in His death effective to answer every question, especially this one: “How can man be just with God?” Only this: “It is Christ that died!” How do I know that Jesus died for me? By this: Does this one answer, “It is Christ that died!”, which Jesus gave for His people at the cross, and which God accepted when He raised Him from the dead, satisfy God’s justice and His law and your conscience for your every sin and every requirement for your obedience? If so, then you have been given the faith of God’s elect, the faith of Job, the faith of Paul, the faith of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6:35,37,39-40,51,67-68). If Christ is all you have; if His answer is your only answer, your complete answer, your perfect answer, then His answer is for you, it is enough! You have all things! Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” What you and I will say in the day of Judgment has already been foretold. Every man will say what he truly believes, because that’s what's in our heart.
What is my assurance that in the Day of Judgment I will be accepted by God and given entrance into heaven? Only one thing: “It is Christ that died!” Believing Him, “I am fully persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day!” (2 Tim. 1:12).
You see, I have no answer for myself! I am a sinner! My natural self is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be (Rom. 8:7)! Therefore, if Christ’s answer is not enough, I have no answer! But wonderfully, His answer is enough! For God Himself calls heaven and earth to His bar and challenges all with this, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth! Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Romans 8:32-34)!
The best answer of the best of Christian teachers and preachers will fail in that day, because their answer relies on something from themselves, their dedication, their commitment, their “making Jesus Lord of their lives,” and so on. But the answer that whelms up and boils over in joy and praise out of every sin-afflicted, grief-stricken soul under the trial of faith is this: “It is Christ that died!” The Son of God, the one Lord, the One chosen of God, appointed by God, sent from heaven, born of a virgin; this one man, by Himself, purged our sins, and in so doing, fulfilled the law and the prophets for His people, and sat down in triumph, and now reigns on His Father's throne (Heb. 1:3; Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4)! Therefore, I pray this:
"Lord! Be my Answer! Answer for me in my conscience now and throughout my life. Cause me to believe that you gave the only answer God can and will accept, and that your answer is complete and perfect. Tell me again that you answered in my place as my Surety and Substitute, and that nothing can condemn me or separate me from you because your love is the bond of my union to you in your life, in your death, and in your resurrection. Not even the all-seeing Word of God (Heb. 4:12) can find fault in your obedience unto death! I am clinging to you alone, Oh great Advocate and Savior of my soul! You are my one and only and all-sufficient answer!”
Sometimes I wonder if I will remember what I need to know and say in the Day of Judgment. Yet, I have no confidence that my memory will survive death and the resurrection. I have no confidence that I will be capable of answering for myself on that august day. Yet, by God's saving grace, I have the answer that God Himself gives! Therefore, I take great comfort in this: "Lord, be my Advocate; Answer for me!" (1 John 2:1). “Remember me” (Luke 23:42)! "I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness" (Micah 7:9).