The Bible speaks of believers being cleansed of all sin and covered in the righteousness of Christ, but it also testifies that believers have to give an account of their lives before God. When passages like 2 Corinthians 5:10 tell us we must appear before Christ’s judgment seat, we can’t discount the clear meaning. But there is an important implication to which we must pay attention. In that very verse, it says the purpose of appearing before the judgment seat for believers is to receive what is due for what we have done in the body. That language is the language of reward, though the verses certainly pose themselves as a sort of warning as well.
Throughout the Bible, there is a strong theme of reward for genuine service to God through faith. We can think of the judgment seat of Christ for the believer as that time when God determines how much additional blessing we are to receive for the life we have lived in Christ. Thankfully, every believer gets to experience God’s kindness and grace poured out on them for eternity (Ephesians 2:7), but the Bible does make it clear that we have varied levels of reward within that framework of eternal blessing. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul shares with us an understanding of God’s judgment as weighing our work. It’s not so much about us as what we’ve built with Jesus while we’ve been here. If we waste our time and talents here, our work will fail to pass the test, but we will pass the test and be saved yet because of Jesus standing in our place.
This is perhaps the most important part. Justification is about guilt and righteousness. We who believe are justified by grace as a gift through Christ (Romans 3:24), and Jesus Himself becomes our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). That means we are justified by faith, which means we are “held as guiltless” by the Judge Himself. We are no longer guilty because Jesus paid it all. This is what allows us to be reconciled to God and spend eternity with Him. And we can rejoice in that. But the work we do as justified followers of Christ will be weighed at the end of our time to determine its value.