I had quite an experience night before last. That night I read an article that talked about how Christians will be judged according to their works in life.
The article talked about how our lives are going to be tested by fire, and only gold, silver and jewels will remain- the hay, wood and straw will be burned up. Then we'll be rewarded based on how much the work of our life survives the fire.
This is not a new idea to me. I grew up learning that my life was expected to be the epitome of Christian living- pure gold. Pure gold equaled unparalleled purity- purity of theology, mind, body and spirit, and complete devotion to God.
Striving for personal purity and perfection led to gold, but cheap grace led to hay and straw. Such Christians, I learned, would have their life and their flimsy deeds burned up and they would escape with their bare lives, in shame, in front of God, Jesus and the congregation of saints.
This was a very real and horrifying prospect for me. I didn't want to disappoint Jesus, first of all. I didn't want to live a worthless, selfish life based on cheap grace. I wanted a life of gold, based on my striving for perfection, wrestling with the flesh and being God's pure and conquering Christian soldier.
When I failed spectacularly in my life, and had nothing left that seemed pure, and had to rely on grace, I resigned myself to public shame in front of Christ at the final judgment.
You might say, Jenny, why didn’t you just give up the entire teaching?
I would have to say, first, because I have a deep and lasting reverence for God, and second, because I didn’t trust myself to correct or negate the teaching- I don't have that kind of authority.
I pushed it out of the realm of anything I could change and stopped actively thinking about it. It simply stayed lodged in the back of my mind.
And that was how things stayed until the night before last, when I remembered this teaching. At first, my terror was so great that my body was physically rigid- my shoulders went up to my ears and my back was stiff.
I felt so much terror that I couldn’t hear what Jesus was saying to me, though I felt Him very close to me. I felt His love and tenderness and concern for me, but I couldn’t hear Him.
So He calmed me through music. I listened to Handel's Messiah. The profound and yet simple truth that those songs contain sunk into me and loosened the fear. I was able to start thinking more clearly, and I began to hear Him.
Jesus said, go back to the text. I really didn't want to go back to the heart of my fear. I would have preferred to continue ignoring it, but I went there, because He was with me.
This is it, in the Amplified Bible:
But if anyone builds upon the Foundation, whether it be with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
The work of each [one] will become [plainly, openly] known (shown for what it is); for the day [of Christ] will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done.
If the work which any person has built on this Foundation [any product of his efforts whatever] survives [this test], he will get his reward.
I Corinthians 3:12-14
I got terrified all over again.
Jesus said, look at the whole chapter. So I did.
I won’t cut and paste the whole thing, but Paul was talking to the church at Corinth about religious factions that had opened up among them. It seemed that Paul was telling them that because they were dividing themselves according to human leaders, they were still immature Christians.
Then he went on to talk about this judgment for reward. So then I wondered why Paul wasn't more specific here. Why did he have to use a metaphor? Why couldn’t he had just said, straight out, what gold, silver and jewels represented?
I begged Jesus to show me. What was the gold? What was gold in our lives? It must be the most important thing, the best thing we could use in our walk with God.
What was the thing He wanted from us the most, wanted our lives the most to reflect, the thing that would glorify Him the best?
Jesus pulled my remembrance back to His teaching. Here‘s what He taught:
"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
“You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other."
At this point, wonder and joy were beginning to fill my soul as a huge burden of fear and shame was being lifted, and I knew exactly where to look next- in the very same book that held the original passage that had so terrified me.
“But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.
If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 12:31, 13:1-3, 8-13
A life of selfless love, built upon Christ, is what withstands the fire. Works of faith, hope and love will last forever.
Tears began to run down my face as I wept from the sheer relief and joy of it. I sat in front of the computer screen openly crying.
As I cried, Jesus whispered into my heart:
You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
-O Holy Night