The Fundamental Question

Here’s an excerpt from The Fundamental Question, W. Robert Godfrey’s contribution to the October issue of Tabletalk

“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

These striking words in the letter to the Hebrews are almost incidental to its teaching on the work of Christ, but they should encourage careful reflection for modern man. Every part of that statement is challenged today, although in the ancient world Christians and most pagans would have viewed it as self-evident. Today, many doubt that anything happens after death, and even more would doubt a coming judgment. Some even doubt the reality of death, calling it an illusion. Some certainly reject the existence of the God who appoints a time of death or judges the dead or has a moral standard by which to judge them.

For Christians, however, the reality of God, of death, and of judgment is a firm conviction. So, we must ask ourselves and others: How will we be judged? We know that the moral standard by which the holy God will evaluate us is His own perfect law. We also know from our own consciences and from the law of God that we as sinners cannot stand in the light of God’s holiness. The proper response to this situation is to say with Isaiah: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips . . . for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5).

As sinners, we will no more stand in the judgment in our own righteousness than the leper will heal his own leprosy. Who will cleanse, who will save, who will take our place in the judgment? The answer to this question is found in the Christian doctrine of justification, the doctrine of getting right with God. This doctrine is most fully explicated by Paul in his letter to the Romans, but it is taught in various ways throughout the Bible. As Paul uses images of the courtroom to explain justification, Hebrews uses images of the temple. In discussing the priesthood of Jesus, Hebrews shows how sinners can stand in the judgment: “[Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9:26).

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