One of the common themes which ties the minor and major prophets together is the threat of the judgment of God against His covenant people because of their sins. Repeatedly God used the prophets to warn the people that their current course of action would lead to divinely allowed calamity. We see in the exilic era of Judah the people began to believe that they had been unjustly punished for the sins of their ancestors. Was this accusation against God correct or did the people miss the point of the judgment they had endured. This leads us to the larger question, what is the correlation between personal responsibility and God’s judgment on his people?
A Proverb about the Judgment of God
During the exilic era and even in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem the people had adopted their own parable to explain what had happened to them. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This proverb is understood to mean “Children atone for the misdeeds of their fathers, or the sins of the fathers are visited on their innocent children.” Through this understanding the people believed that in their eyes they were innocent and did not deserve the calamity which they had experienced.
This complaint from the people did not escape the ears of God nor the prophets as both Jeremiah and Ezekiel addressed this complaint. First Jeremiah stated in 31:28-30;
“28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the Lord. 29 In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 30 But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (ESV)
Here we have the image which “depicts a person’s involuntary reaction to an extremely unpleasant taste. Since experience cannot be transferred, the saying implies that the children’s suffering for their parents’ sin is unnatural.” God is attempting to assure the people that it is their actions which will bring the sourness into their own lives.
Years later in another country Ezekiel also faced the same complaint from the people taken in the earlier exile to Babylon, in 18:1-4 the prophet states;
“The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (ESV)
Ezekiel and Personal Responsibility
The effect of time is evident as “Jeremiah looked forward to the day when this proverb would no longer be used; but Ezekiel insists that it should cease forthwith.” On a theological level “Ezekiel was a pioneer in developing the doctrine of individual responsibility” and tried to demonstrate that the people in exile with him were there because of their own participation in their parent’s sins. The covenant people which had been compared to sheep, children and a wife had come to the theological conclusion that they could act in whatever manner they chose and not face judgment because of the presence of YHWH in the temple and the covenant of Moses.
We see then that the judgment of God fell upon Judah not because of the sins of previous generations but because the present generation continued in the sins of their fathers. While there were reprieves under Josiah and Hezekiah the overall atmosphere of the nation had remained spiritually corrupt. The people did not recognize the grace given to them but continued to act in whatever manner they pleased, for they assumed that God would only bring good things upon them as long as they maintained the rituals. This belief also created the acceptance of the prophets which would do nothing more say pleasing words to the people and assured eternal protection of Jerusalem. It is these same prophets which held influence over the priesthood which would go on to reject and assault Jeremiah.
The Judgment of God on His Stubborn Sheep
Those who witnessed the destruction accomplished by Babylon only did so because they like misguided sheep continued in the rutted path their others set out. Despite warnings from the true prophets they did amend their hearts or ways. “The Lord had expected from his people fidelity (honesty/truth), wisdom and the practice of godliness. Instead, graft, power, cheating, greed and perfidy were the order of the day.” Therefore, the judgment of God was just upon them, as they were not innocent of the crimes of their ancestors because they themselves were also committing them. The people had lost sight of living in a real covenantal relationship with God and settled for the routine religiosity they had adopted. The words of Hosea 6:6 were far from their hearts, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Even with the covenant which they had put their trust in, the people ignored Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 24:16. “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” The people also ignored the long line of potential curses in Deuteronomy 28 and the promise of destruction in exchange for covenant unfaithfulness in Deuteronomy 7. Among all of this evidence “here the belief that God had no direct concern with the individual is opposed: the fact that God will restore the innocent descendants of the original exiles affirms the doctrine of individual responsibility for sin.”
Now then what is the correlation between personal responsibility and the judgment of God on his people? It is a correlation that God will not judge a child for the actions of their parents if they do not do as their parents did. Conversely a wicked child would not be spared judgment because of the righteousness of their parents. Each generation is judged upon their own actions, and what we saw with the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem was God’s intervention against a generation which did not repent but made the deplorable actions of their ancestors look like child’s play. Even when God acted in judgment He always did so as a last resort when the people refused to repent and whenever judgment was passed a remnant was preserved and a hope was given to the few that did not share in the sins of the nation.
 Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 8 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 279–280.
 John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Eze 18:2.
 John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 22, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1969), 148.
 Duane A. Garrett, “Ezekiel, Theology Of,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 231.
 William VanGemeren. Interpreting The Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1990), 302
 B. M. Pickering, “Jeremiah,” in A New Commentary on Holy Scripture: Including the Apocrypha, vol. 1 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942), 506.
At one point or another you’ve probably heard a Christian talk about God’s judgment falling on some person, place, organization, or even on yourself. Biblically it is the great equalizer that reminds us that one day we are all to stand before God for our celestial hearing (Revelation 20:11-15) before we either enter Heaven or eternal punishment. But this idea has been abused and misunderstood to the point that people inside and outside of the church have become numb to the concept of God’s judgment, or they even believe that it vanished after the cross. But there’s so much more to this concept of Judgement and it has a key role to play in your everyday life, but only if you allow it
At one point or another you’ve probably heard a Christian talk about God’s judgment falling on some person, place, organization, or even on yourself. Biblically it is the great equalizer that reminds us that one day we are all to stand before God for our celestial hearing (Revelation 20:11-15) before we either enter Heaven or eternal punishment. But this idea has been abused and misunderstood to the point that people inside and outside of the church have become numb to the concept of God’s judgment, or they even believe that it vanished after the cross.
What gets lost in our understanding of Scripture is that God is not just storing up all of His judgments for the last day like some vindictive squirrel, but He is watching and judging the world, the church and ourselves constantly. A fact that many people no longer accept thanks to overzealous doom and gloomers. In Micaiah’s encounter in 1 Kings 22 he shows us God’s judgments in action. Here the prophet witnesses God passing judgment on the kings of Israel and Judah by relaying a scene from the heavenly courtroom of the eternal King who made judgment against them, and sent out someone to enact it.
Far too often we become fatalistic with the concept of judgment when it comes to God but at the same time our everyday lives paint a different story. From what I can tell by the primetime TV schedule it seems that a lot of people have a love of reality TV shows featuring performers and Judges. I’m not exempt as even my wife and I watch America’s Got Talent. There the judges are an intricate part of the show as they act as coaches and gatekeepers of the talent.
Without them anyone could make it onto the show and the ones who are actually talented and could win may be blocked out by the sheer number of people. Without these judges it would better resemble the Gong Show than a talent competition. The judges are there in that show to (for the most part) separate those who are talented from those who just think they are. That is the first judgment, the second judgment comes when trying to encourage those who have talent to improve themselves so they can survive in such a competitive arena.
At times in these shows they will mock and ridicule the contestants but in the finale you always see the ones who took their criticisms seriously and consistently bettered themselves and their craft throughout the process. It was less of a process of condemnation and expulsion and more of a refining process which was brought about through the challenges set before them.
Perhaps this is how we should be looking at God’s judgment in our own lives. Going forward I want to you only look at yourself and your own situation. Don’t think about how so and so needs to read this, or I wish _______ would get a hold of this. No, first of all you must apply this to yourself rather than running out as some sort of Divine Justice Warrior imposing your pet peeves upon others and calling it holiness.
Spared From The Great Judgment But Awaiting Debriefing
Facing judgment while we are part of this world should be seen as process of refinement and not condemnation. How we respond to God’s judgments and critiques of our life today will determine our final judgment. It is like someone staring at their phone while walking, they keep their heads down and keep scrolling but with each step they get closer to the edge of a pier. People may try to yell at the person to “watch where they are going” or God could speak to their heart and say “look up” or even “look up, or else!”
If the person doesn’t look up they’ll eventually fall off of the pier and might even blame God or others for what happened. This is how God’s continual judgments of our lives work, we set upon a course that could lead in destruction, ruin, pain, frustration or vanity and He tries to correct us before we plummet down our own proverbial pier (whether you land on the ground or in the water varies). God has a higher perspective than we do and uses that vantage point to judge, correct, direct and counsel us.
At the same time God is not just looking to provide course corrections but He is looking to correct the issues in our heart as well. The personal excuses we come up with for different behaviors or even the ideas of “that’s good enough” does not equal a job “well done” in the eyes of Jesus. God through Jesus uses His judgment which comes from a place of love and mercy to refine us as individuals into the image and shape of Jesus (working this process through a church is usually done in conjunction with the five-fold ministry).
We see this process of judgment and refinement in action with Jesus’s words to the seven churches in Revelation chapters two and three. Here Jesus tells these groups of believers the good, the bad and the ugly of how He sees them operate. Jesus was not quick to condemn but spoke out in immediate judgment so that they would be spared future judgment and condemnation. Here Jesus was speaking out of love to preserve these parts of His body, He wasn’t looking for an excuse to amputate them. Jesus was looking to restore them and to purge them of any evil influences and the barnacles of the world and its ways.
When we talk about the Judgment of God it is something so much higher and powerful than anything we could see on a reality TV show. It has to do with our eventual debriefing of our natural life on Earth. I’m not talking here about the judgment which separates those in Covenant with God from those outside of it. I want to talk about the second judgment which falls upon us who have received and follow Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:9-11 “9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.” (NKJV)
John 5:22 and 9:39 paints for us a picture of how Jesus came into this world as not just at simple lamb but also as the eternal King and Judge of the universe. We see that God’s judgments flow through Jesus and that Jesus is testing the hearts of the people to see who will actually recognize and follow Him. From that point on those who do recognize and receive Jesus are not excused from any further judgment but rather begin to live a life filled with the encouragement, judgment and refinement of God to make us into what we were originally created to be.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 shows us how our lives which have been redeemed through Christ are no longer dictated by our own desires, but they are to be directed by Jesus. Given all that Jesus has done for us it is a very reasonable request. It would be no different that if a person was rescued from a nomadic lifestyle where they lived outdoors without shelter and was suddenly transported to the most expensive penthouse in Vancouver. They would have to undergo a process of change and adaptation to match their new living environment. The nomad couldn’t set rabbit traps by the bus stop, go to the bathroom in a hole he dug in the boulevard, have a campfire in the living room and so on. The same picture can be applied to a day care worker, they could not get away with acting like a four-year-old for eight hours a day and keep their job. They are working among the children, but they are not acting like a child while they are working.
We must understand that Heaven is not the absence of consequences, it is the ultimate consequence and what we do here and now lives forever there. This is what is meant by a heavenly debriefing that we are to give account for what we did in this world, and that includes given an account as to why we did not listen to God when He spoke to us about a great many things. It is one thing to say that you made an honest uninformed mistake it is another thing to say you willingly made a mistake even though you were warned that doing it was a mistake. I fear many people will be facing that judgment more than the former.
Growing Through Sanctification
Eventually God will ask you the question “How did you live your life?” This begs us to ask ourselves right now questions such as: “How have I contributed to the work of the Great Commission?” “Have I been forgiving and loving?” “Am I a living witness of Christ to others?” “What have I done to build and strengthen the kingdom?” “Am I a benefit or a hinderance to the Holy Spirit’s work here on Earth?” “Do I tolerate habitually sin in my life?” “Am I judgmental, prideful or selfish?” “Do I obey God am I too busy to pay attention or follow through on what I heard?
To be able to answer these questions positively we each need to go through the process of sanctification, the process of God reforming us into Jesus’s image. When we become a believer in Jesus the Bible says that we are reborn, we are made into a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17-19), we have been changed from death to life, and so on. Accepting Jesus as who the Bible says He is comes at a cost, a high cost – it costs you your life.
Much like how a caterpillar goes through the process of transformation from something that crawls around into something that can fly, so to have we been transformed by the cross and the resurrection. The process of sanctification can be seen as our battle to break out of the cocoon of grace God places us in after we receive Christ. It is that struggle to once and for all cast off the way our life used to look because once it has been shaken off you are able to fly.
By accepting God’s various judgments about our life, thoughts, actions and intentions we are being helped in our process of sanctification. In reality, by listening to God we are able to avoid greater judgment through our commitment to sanctification. This is why we have to continually ask God to refine ourselves and to point out what needs to change or improve in lives. The best place to look for advice on how to grow in sanctification and avoid judgment is to look at the life of Jesus. He is our example and the root of our identity, everything God tells us to do and think comes from how Jesus acts and thinks.
The Three Main Areas of Judgment
In the process of sanctification we need to continually look at the three areas I believe God is most concerned about judging and refining us in the most: our thought life, our interpersonal life, and our Kingdom life.
1) Our thought life has to do with everything that goes on inside of us, what we think, feel, desire, believe and so on. It the part of our lives which is hidden from others but not from God (Hebrews 4:12) and we are promised (Romans 2:16) that God will judge this inner life within us. This is the part of our being which Jesus said is the source of evil thoughts and actions (Matthew 15:19, Acts 8:22), and it is the battlefield of the “War Within Our Heart.”
Just because no one can see or hear our thoughts does not mean that we are not guilty of displeasing God. Jesus said that lust was equal with adultery and that hatred was equal with murder (Matthew 5:22, 28). This internal part of our life is where fear, pride, selfishness and unforgiveness dwell. However, when we allow God to judge us and lead us through the process of sanctification and Christlikeness those wicked traits are replaced by faith, hope, love, forgiveness and the rest of the “fruits of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26).
2) Our interpersonal life has to do with how we live and interact with our family, friends, coworkers, church members, strangers and so on. In these cases we are judged in how we treat others, how our thought life becomes a reality, what we value in people and whether or not we walk in love (I don’t mean as a push over but actually caring for people). Matthew 5:22 and James 5:9 speak warnings about how we are to conduct ourselves with others, in that we are to avoid hatred, judgmentalism and baseless complaining (Matthew 12:33-37). God will judge our actions according to our heart’s intentions (Romans 14:12-13). Even if we do a “good deed” for a person it will be disqualified if our intentions were not pure, such as helping someone today to take advantage of them tomorrow.
The lack of sanctification and welcoming of God’s judgment in our lives is what produces most of the strife and interpersonal issues in the church. Why would a person want to go to a church if they just see the people acting as cold, political, argumentative as the secular world? The issue is the many Christians are unwilling to allow the renewing of the Holy Spirit to happen in their hearts because they either believe the they don’t need to, they already know everything, or they use grace as an excuse to act however they please. Grace is not a crutch to excuse our old nature, it is a new leg for us to stand on (Revelation 21:7-8).
3) Our Kingdom life has to do with whether or not we did our part to contribute to the Great Commission. I’m not talking about everyone joining the ministry, but each individual has a responsibility to share the gospel, disciple other believers and to move in the spiritual gifts God has given to them. This is the parables of the Talents and Minas in action whereby God asks us what we have done with the gifts, talents, and opportunities He has given us to proclaim Christ and bring glory to Himself. Paul called us ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20-21) not spectators, we are representatives of the King in a foreign land and it is our duty to share the culture and power of Heaven in this world. Our Kingdom life also must deal with matters such as worship, reading and studying the scriptures, prayer, intercession and other matters. God created us for relationship, and Jesus became a sacrifice to restore that relationship. Our Kingdom life is not just proclaiming the Gospel but it is also our living relationship with God. Everyday God is looking for us to spend time with Him as a loving Father and His judgments are not out of anger or malice but to help us in bringing others into the same relationship that we have.
All of this is a progression from what our heart thinks, to what our body does, then all the way up to how we will use those two facets of our being to proclaim the gospel, so others can be freed from eternal judgment.
What would happen if we took on a worldview that said everything is awesome and perfect all of the time and you never need to improve? What would your life look like? What would the church look like? This is a life without sanctification or the concern of judgment, it is what happens when we erase these parts of God’s nature and expectations of us.
Let me put it this way, this way of life is like a hockey coach who has accepted a philosophy that no one needs to improve because everyone is already the best version of themselves that they can be. As long as they can express themselves and their desire to play that is all that matters. The coach then goes about placing the intentions of the players above their physical performance, it’s the “as long as you tried” approach which allows people to avoid having to work and improve.
Now imagine if there was this mentality where you had a bunch of people who had never played hockey before and were allowed to think that they were the greatest and there was no reason to improve because they expressed the very best they thought they could do. Then somehow you place that team up against one from the NHL. What would happen? They would be crushed and defeated to the point where they would never want to play again.
Hope In Judgment
This is a ridiculous example but it paints a picture of what it is like when we reject sanctification and God’s judgment on our lives. We never progress spiritually, and we end up like the congregation which the book of Hebrews was written to, one that was dependant on milk and unable to eat the spiritual meat of the Bible. We need to seriously take 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 to heart: “31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” (NKJV)
For us as believers judgment does not have to be about condemnation or punishment but it can be about refinement and becoming more like Jesus so we can be a better witness in this world. However, when we ignore God there are consequences for rejecting His warnings of judgment and His calls for sanctification. We can see the consequences clearly throughout the New Testament in place such as 1 John 3:36, Acts 5:1-16, Acts 13:8-11, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 1 Timothy 1:20 and so on.
We need to lay hold of what Paul has said:
2 Corinthians 7:9-10 “9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
God does not bring to His children warning, correction or judgment for the sole purpose of hurting or condemning us, He does it so we avoid condemnation, the consequences of sin, the judgment of Himself and others. God does not want to bury us in depression but instead wants to set us free, but this only happens when we are willing to confront the issues God brings into the light. Repentance leads to sanctification and sanctification helps us avoid any negative judgment by God, and it strengthens our witness to this world.
Now what will you do? What has God been speaking to you that needs refinement? What do you need to change or improve? What will you do?
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