How are believers to be judged?
The basis of the examination at the bema of Christ. It is to be observed carefully that the issue here is not to determine whether the one judged is a believer or not. The question of salvation is not being considered. The salvation given the believer in Christ has perfectly delivered him from all judgment (Rom. 8:1; John 5:24; 1 John 4:17). To bring the believer into judgment concerning the sin question, whether his sins before his new birth, his sins since his new birth, or even his unconfessed sins since the new birth, is to deny the efficacy of the death of Christ and nullify the promise of God that “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17). Pridham writes:
A saint will never again come into judgment on account of his natural or inherited iniquity, for he is already dead judicially with Christ, and is no longer known or dealt with on the footing of his natural responsibility. As a man he has been weighed and found wanting. He was born under condemnation, to a natural heritage of wrath, and nothing good has been discovered in his flesh; but his guilt has been obliterated by the blood of his Redeemer, and he is freely and justly pardoned for His Saviour’s sake. Because Christ is risen from the dead, he is no longer in his sins. He is justified by faith, and is presented in the name and on the merits of the Just One before God; and of this new and ever-blessed title to acceptance the Holy Spirit is the living seal and witness. Into judgment, therefore, on his own account he cannot come.
This whole program is related to the glorification of God through the manifestation of His righteousness in the believer. Kelly commenting on 2 Corinthians 5:10, says:
So again it is not a question of rewarding service as in 1 Corinthians iii, 8, 14, but of retribution in the righteous government of God according to what each did whether good or bad. This covers all, just or unjust. It is for the divine glory that every work done by man should appear as it really is before Him who is ordained by God Judge of living and dead.
The word translated “appear” in 2 Corinthians 5:10 might better be rendered “to be made manifest,” so that the verse reads, “For it is necessary for all of us to be made manifest.” This suggests that the purpose of the bema is to make a public manifestation, demonstration or revelation of the essential character and motives of the individual. Plummer’s remark: “We shall not be judged en masse, or in classes, but one by one, in accordance with individual merit,” substantiates the fact that this is an individual judgment of each believer before the Lord.
The believer’s works are brought into judgment, called “the things done in his body” (2 Cor. 5:10), in order that it may be determined whether they are good or bad. Concerning the word bad (phaulos), it is to be observed that Paul did not use the usual word for bad (kakos or ponēras), either of which would signify that which is ethically or morally evil, but rather the word, which, according to Trench, means:
”…evil under another aspect, not so much that either of active or passive malignity, but that rather of its good-for-nothingness, the impossibility of any true gain ever coming forth from it…This notion of worthlessness is the central notion.
Thus the judgment is not to determine what is ethically good or evil, but rather that which is acceptable and that which is worthless. It is not the Lord’s purpose here to chasten His child for his sins, but to reward his service for those things done in the name of the Lord
Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come