The following is a guest post from Joe Barnard, Executive Director of Cross Training Ministries. This post has been adapted from his forthcoming book, The Way Forward: A Roadmap of Spiritual Growth for Men in the 21st Century
I found this book immensely helpful personally as it goes places where most books on discipleship dare not tread. The content is insightful and Joe’s writing style is punchy and engaging. The book’s target audience is men, but I think any Christian looking for a practical guide toward spiritual maturity will find help in these pages.
Thomas Jefferson is famous for having produced a version of the New Testament with all of the supernatural edited out. I sometimes wonder if a revised edition is in circulation today, not with the miracles removed, but rather all of the Biblical references to individual judgment. I have repeatedly found throughout my ministry that a lot of good Christian men—evangelicals especially—either don’t believe in a personal judgment or are so confused by the thought (how it harmonizes with grace) that they live in blithe denial.
Accountability vs. Condemnation
The confusion is due, in part, to Christians mistaking condemnation and accountability. On the one hand, Paul is clear that there is no condemnation for anyone in Christ Jesus. In saying this, Paul eliminates the worry that a Christian will be put to final shame, that there could be a final cut after which some believing Christians don’t make the team. Paul alleviates our worry by stating in plain terms that everyone who professes Christ will be saved (Rom. 5:8-9, 10:9). On the other hand, Paul is equally clear that freedom from condemnation is not freedom from accountability. Each individual, Christians included, will be judged by Christ for the things done in the body. In connection with this, rewards will be given (or missed) based on personal obedience. Now there are a lot of profound questions to be asked about the nature of such rewards. Much is unclear. What is undeniable, however, is that all Christians ought to live each day in view of a final review.
The Wrong Conclusion
The relevant point for us to consider is how inattentiveness to final judgment affects the spiritual maturity of contemporary men. Most importantly, ignorance of final judgment convinces guys that they can’t waste their lives. If ultimately all Christians receive the same inheritance, and if this life has no bearing on the life to come (other than determining who gets to ‘heaven’), the logical conclusion is that my present life has little or no eternal significance. Abiding in this logic, a lot of Christian men feel little urgency to redeem the time.
Although they would agree, for example, that deeds of mercy and service are a better use of time than watching sports or lifting weights, they do not worry about justifying their timesheet before the bar of Christ. The general assumption is that all foolishness will be forgotten on the other side of the grave.
But this mentality does not square with the teaching of the apostles. Paul, in particular, warns us that each life is contributing something to the work of God. The contribution of some is of the value of gold, silver, and jewels; the contribution of others, wood, hay, and straw. The rest of Paul’s teaching on this point is best communicated in his own words:
Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.1 Cor. 3:13-15
For us, the application of these verses is that men ought to think twice before handing over every spare moment to Netflix. Salvation by grace does not eliminate personal accountability. Even if I cannot lose my salvation (Paul emphasizes this point saying, ‘he himself will be saved’), I can bury some of my talents. I fear that some men are too easily content with their spiritual development because, deep down, they don’t believe that the present moment has ultimate significance.
For more on this subject check out Joe’s book, The Way Forward: A Roadmap of Spiritual Growth for Men in the 21st Century