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Ultimate accountability

As Christians we believe that world history is not purposeless but is moving towards an ultimate crisis, which biblical writers sometimes describe as "the Day of the Lord" (Isaiah 2:12-21; Joel 2:30-32). In the Old Testament the prophets used the term to look forward to the time when God's righteousness would be ultimately realized on earth, the day of triumph and transformation. The God of Israel would be revealed to all nations, for blessing and for judgment (Amos 5:18-27). The revelation of Jesus Christ changed the shape of this hope, though not its content, so that we now look forward to the time when Christ will be exalted and universally acknowledged as Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

1. Judgment

It is in this context that we can speak of judgment. Judgment is the fulfillment of God's promises. It is the fullest affirmation of God's righteousness, of the liberating message of the New Testament, of the trusting faith of those who believe in a loving God. Judgment manifests the triumph of good over evil, the righting of wrongs, the validation of the truth, the victory of love over fear, the new Heaven and the new earth. 

Judgment is also the fullest affirmation of universal accountability. All are accountable to God, during life and beyond death. This is the clear message of the New Testament. We have personal responsibility for our lives, for the choices we make, for our attitude and actions towards our fellows, for the stewardship of what we have received, for our ultimate destiny (Matthew 25:31-46). This accountability is essential to our dignity as bearers of the divine image: God takes us seriously. 

God alone is the judge. Because our judge is also our Savior, we can face judgment with confidence. His judgment will validate our faith-response (1 John 4:17). We can rest with assurance in the mercy and grace of God, as well as in his absolute justice (Psalm 9:8; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15). We cannot dictate to God who will be saved and who will not. But we can trust to the judgment of God the lives of all those whose life and experience, personal creed and spiritual opportunities are different from our own because he is the loving Creator of all (Romans 2:12-16).

2. Heaven and Hell

To believe in judgment is to accept the reality of Hell and Heaven. Biblical pictures of Hell are terrifying and vivid and remind us that to choose and reject the grace of God must issue in a separation from him that reaches into eternity (Matthew 13:24-30). Ultimately, our God-given freedom includes the freedom to make choices with eternal consequences (Matthew 25:1-13; Matthew 25:31-46). As Hell refers to the anguish of those who face eternity without God, so Heaven describes the bliss of those who enjoy the full experience of his presence. Biblical references to Heaven and Hell are only faint glimpses of the greater realities, of the final abode of the saved and the lost (Mark 9:42-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2 Peter 3:8-13).