This is the seventh in a series of articles on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
Works of Mercy, Pieter Bruegel
In the past several posts, we have been considering the judgment that awaits us. Not only must we be ready in the ways we have described, but should allow our looming judgment to help our attitude today.
Scripture says, Always speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the Law that gives freedom. For judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful (James 2:12-13). Herein lies a way that we can influence the standard by which the Lord will judge us.
The key teaching from the Lord here is this: the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:38). This statement comes at the end of a long discourse in which the Lord summons us to be generous, forgiving, merciful, patient, and reluctant to condemn others severely.
Consider this a kind of “mathematics” of the Kingdom of God.
In effect, the Lord says, “Do the math. Realize that if you are merciful, you will be judged with mercy, but if you are harsh and critical, you will be judged by a harsh and critical standard. If you refuse to forgive, you will not be forgiven.”
Like it or not, this is the mathematics of the Kingdom of God. It does not mean that we earn salvation, but it does mean that we have a lot of influence over the standard by which we will be judged.
So, if you are going to need mercy and grace on that day (and we all are), it is good to do the math of the Kingdom and store up mercy and grace for that day.
One day, we will all answer to God. That day, as Scripture repeatedly teaches, is a day about which we should be sober. Sadly, there are many who give little thought to this truth and some who outright scoff at it.
Remarkably, we can influence the manner in which God will judge us, the standard he will use. Here we speak of the manner of God’s judgment. That is, whether He will be strict or merciful. We do not refer to the content. It is an obvious and axiomatic truth that God will judge our deeds. Hence, we should avoid wickedness and grave sins, and repent quickly when we commit such sins.
On the one hand, it would seem that we could have no influence at all on the manner in which we will be judged, for it would seem that God is no respecter of persons, and judges with perfect justice.
On the other hand, there are passages in Scripture that do speak of ways that we can influence the standard God will use, the manner of His judgment. Let’s look at four areas in which we can have influence and consider a few biblical passages.
Whether we show mercy to others
Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7). James says something similar and develops it a bit when he says, Always speak and act as those were going to be judged under the law of freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. So mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12-13). Thus we are taught that by observing mercy and patience in our relations with one another, we will influence the manner in which we are judged.
Sometimes in life, particularly if we are leaders or parents, we will need to punish and/or assign consequences to those who transgress moral laws or legal limits. Passages like these do not mean that we should never accompany correction with punitive measures. Such a way of living would be unwise and could confirm people in bad behavior. Even when punitive measures are needed, though, it makes sense to be lenient when possible and to attempt less measures before firmer ones are employed.
It is also clear from these biblical texts that it is highly foolish to go through life with severity toward others, with a lack of compassion or a harsh and unyielding attitude. We are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy at our judgment. Therefore, how misguided, how foolish it would be for us to be harsh and unmerciful toward others! For indeed, these text tell us that the merciful will be blessed and the unmerciful will be shown no mercy. Can you or I really expect that we will make it on the day of judgment without boatloads of mercy?
Now, therefore, is the time for us to seek to invoke the promise of the Lord: Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.
Whether we are strict or lenient with others
In a related text, the Lord Jesus says,The measure that you measure to others, will be measured back to you (Mark 4:24). If we hope for and need a merciful judgment, if we want a merciful measure or standard to be used, then we must do the same for others. The Lord makes it clear that He will use the measure or standard that we have used for others when He judges us. Have we been strict? If so, then He will be strict with us. Have we been merciful? If so, then He will be merciful to us. Be very careful before demanding that sinners and others who transgress receive the strongest penalties. There may be a time for such penalties, but it is not necessary that the most severe punishments always be used.
In John chapter 8, the Pharisees wanted to exact the most severe penalty (stoning) on a woman caught in adultery. Jesus reasons with them, telling them that before they demand that He “throw the book at her,” they might want to recall that there are a few things about them that are also written in the book. One by one they drift away, seemingly after considering the foolishness of their demands for the most severe penalty. They finally realize that the measure they want to measure out to her will in turn be measured back to them.
Whether we are generous to the poor
Luke relates the following text more specifically to our generosity:Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure that you measure to others will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38). This leads us to a second area in which the Scriptures teach us that we can influence the day of our judgment.
After rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees for their severity and extreme legalism, Jesus says to them (who were obsessing about cleaning the outside of the dish), You fools, did not the one who made the outside of the cup make the inside also? But if you give what is inside the cup as alms to the poor, everything will be made clean for you (Luke 11:40-41). In the light of the theology of grace, this is a daring text. It almost implies that we can somehow “purchase” forgiveness. But of course it is the Lord Himself who says it, and He does not say that we can somehow purchase forgiveness. Surely, though, He does teach that generosity to the poor will in fact influence the day of our judgment.
Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus develops the thought, saying,I tell you, use your worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings (Lk 16:9). It is a complicated text, but Jesus seems to be saying that our generosity to the poor will surely gain advantages for us at the day of our judgment. Indeed, blessing the poor gives us powerful intercessors, for the Lord hears the cries of the poor. The picture painted here is of those poor welcoming us into our eternal dwellings.
Scripture elsewhere warns, If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be heard (Proverbs 21:13). Once again, it would seem that we can have some influence over the manner, measure, or standard that will be used by God at our judgment. To the merciful, mercy will be shown. The generous will experience that their cries are heard, for they heard the cries of the poor. The Lord more than implies that those who have been generous to the poor will have powerful advocates praying and interceding for them on the day of judgment. Indeed, a number of the Fathers of the Church remind us that in this life the poor need us, but in the life to come we will need them.
Whether we forgive others
A final area to explore in terms of how we might have influence over the manner of our judgment is in the matter of forgiveness. Just after giving us the Our Father, the Lord Jesus says, For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14 – 15).
Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the terrifying parable of a man who had huge debt that was forgiven him by his master. When the man then refused to forgive his brother a much smaller debt, the master grew angry and threw him into debtors’ prison. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35).
So yes, it would seem that we can have some influence over the manner in which God will judge us, the standard He will use. While it is true that God will judge us by our deeds (cf Romans 2:6), the manner in which He judges us, whether with strictness or leniency, does seem to be a matter over which we have influence.
We are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy, for if God judges with strict justice and strict standards, who can stand? We will all have much to answer for. All the more reason for us to follow the teachings of the Lord in His Scripture, so that we can be sure that on the day of our judgment, mercy and the grace of leniency will prevail in abundance. Do we want mercy? Then we must show mercy. Do we want a gentle standard? Then we must measure out gentleness. Do we want forgiveness? Then we must offer forgiveness. Recruit some intercessors for the day of judgment by giving to the poor. They will be the most powerful intercessors for us as we leave this life and go to our judgment.
Indeed, God has shown us how we can store up a treasure of mercy, waiting for us in Heaven at the judgment seat of Christ. There are some good lessons here to heed.
In the next article in this series, we will turn our attention to Heaven, another of the Four Last Things.
Here’s an amusing video illustrating that the measure we measure out to others will be measured back to us: