Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Investigative Judgment: Is it Biblical? Part One

by Herbert E. Douglass

The subject of the Investigative Judgment is timely, personal, and perhaps the most urgent that men and women can think about today. But in the interest of being brief, let’s lay out fundamental axioms:
  • God doesn’t close our individual probation—we do. God’s gracious promises are always on the table, His front door is always open, His light is always on: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). To be perfectly clear, men and women who are making a habit of saying “No” to the Spirit, who stubbornly resist whatever light of Truth they have, they are closing their own probation. Not God!
  • Therefore, as far as the living are concerned, the Investigative Judgment is not focused on angels, or even God, turning pages but on the maturing of a person’s life. Only one question: Is that person maturing into one who can be trusted with eternal life?
  • God the Father is not the Judge “for the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22, 27-30). “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved’ (John 3:17).
  • If Jesus is not the frowning Judge so often seen in medieval art, how, then, does He do His job of saving the world (which is His way of “judging” the world)? By bringing light “to every man who comes into the world” (John 1:9), by revealing truth in some way to everyone on which moral decisions are made. Thus, those who reject this light are condemning (judging) themselves (John 3:18-21).
  • Contrary to some notions of the past few years, Christ’s record does not stand in place of our records when our names come up in the Investigative Judgment.
  • We are not to be saved by our works, but our works surely will judge us: “They were judged each one according to his works” (Revelation 20:13). “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” (2 Corinthians 5:10). “For the Son of man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). The redeemed will be more than admirers of Jesus; they will be His followers who are determined to overcome evil even as He had overcome (Revelation 3:21).

The whole point of the gospel is to restore men and women to the place where they can be trusted to say “Yes” to God’s will as forever examples of divine-human cooperation.[1]

How are we measured?

Basic biblical premise is that no one “deserves” salvation. Or putting it another way, we can not in any way “earn” eternal life. Hardly! The righteousness of Christ alone provides our “title” to heaven, and our “fitness” for heaven is made possible by His grace that supplies the power to overcome all self-serving; otherwise, none of us could be trusted with eternal life.

The Investigative Judgment separates those who have claimed the Lord’s name but not His character (Matthew 7:21-23) from those who have seriously and genuinely accepted the way of the Cross, and like Paul, “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31) to all self-centered, self-glorifying desires. Further, the issue is not who has absolute perfection but who has, with the time lived, given the angels, the unfallen worlds, and God Himself, a trajectory of what his or her life would be if time were to be continued. This kind of genuine faith describes the thief on the Cross as well as that of Enoch. That spread of experience will include every one of us!

These biblical fundamentals will help us understand what has been going on in heaven during the Investigative Judgment.

· The judgment books (Revelation 20:12) record our choices, whether we are becoming more like Jesus or more like His adversary, the devil. The Bible uses various analogies, such as sheep and goats (Matthew 25:32, 33), wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and the seal of God and the mark of the beast (Revelation 7:3; 13:16, 17; 14:9). How these records are kept are beyond our imagination. However, with modern computer memory systems, with trillions of computations performed virtually simultaneously, we get a faint idea of how the mind of God “records” the DNA and, thus, character configuration of everyone who has ever lived. Then when we think of the marvels of modern DVD or video recordings and storage, we get further glimpses of how any episode since creation can be replayed instantly. Nothing will be subject to guesswork. As Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 13:37).[2]

· Jesus does not arbitrarily balance out one’s good deeds and bad deeds in determining one’s eternal future. One’s future is determined by whether a person’s character is becoming safe to save or not, whether his or her life trajectory shows a person who, if time were given, could be trusted with eternal life. As Ellen White writes: “The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.”[3]

· Adventists do believe that sins are forgiven when they are confessed and forsaken. Adventists don’t wait until the Investigative Judgment to know with certainty that their sins are covered by the mercies of Jesus. Further, they rejoice with New Testament writers who describe Christ’s atoning (or, reconciling) work as twofold: not only for Christ’s forgiveness but also for His “cleansing” (Proverbs 28:13; l John 1:9). “Cleansing” is John’s word for “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

· Jesus has done this wonderful ministry of forgiveness and cleansing (empowering) since He ascended to heaven. But since 1844, He has added a new phase to His work as our Mediator. In addition to His two-fold ministry since the Cross (grace of pardon and the grace of power), the Investigative Judgment is now concerned with the judgment of character and the preparation of a people to meet Him at the Second Advent.

In Part Two, we will focus on what has been going on in heaven since 1844 where the Investigative Judgment has been in session.

[1] “Those who refuse to cooperate with God on earth would not cooperate with Him in heaven. It would not be safe to take them to heaven.” Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1900), 280.

[2] “In the book of God's remembrance every deed of righteousness is immortalized. There every temptation resisted, every evil overcome, every word of tender pity expressed, is faithfully chronicled. And every act of sacrifice, every suffering and sorrow endured for Christ's sake, is recorded . . . . There is a record also of the sins of men. . . . . The secret purposes and motives appear in the unerring register; for God ‘will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.’ 1 Corinthians 4:5. . . . Every man's work passes in review before God and is registered for faithfulness or unfaithfulness. Opposite each name in the books of heaven is entered with terrible exactness every wrong word, every selfish act, every unfulfilled duty, and every secret sin, with every artful dissembling. Heaven-sent warnings or reproofs neglected, wasted moments, unimproved opportunities, the influence exerted for good or for evil, with its far-reaching results, all are chronicled by the recording angel.” Idem., The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1911), 481, 482.

[3] Idem., Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1892), 57, 58. Notice also what she writes in Christ’s Object Lessons, 315, 317, 319: “When those who claim to be children of God become Christlike in character, they will be obedient to God's commandments. Then the Lord can trust them to be of the number who shall compose the family of heaven. . . . They have a right to join the blood-washed throng. . . . He expects us to overcome in His name. Those who reject the gift of Christ's righteousness are rejecting the attributes of character which would constitute them the sons and daughters of God. They are rejecting that which alone could give them a fitness for a place at the marriage feast. . . .There will be no future probation in which to prepare for eternity. It is in this life that we are to put on the robe of Christ's righteousness. This is our only opportunity to form characters for the home which Christ has made ready for those who obey His commandments.”

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