9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.
10 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.
All Christians should be workers; and as such they will appear before the judgment seat of Christ where their work—but not their sins for they were eternally abolished at Calvary—will be tested, and if found comparable to gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Corinthians 3:12) it will be declared “good,” but if found to be wood, hay, and stubble it will be condemned as “worthless.” — Williams, page 901.
[Paul said that we labor to be accepted of Christ.] Why this? Absent from Christ, as we are, we are still “accepted in the Beloved” as far as our position is concerned (Ephesians 1:6). Thus, when we have gone to be with Christ, finally without sin, will we not be “accepted of Him?” Ah, the reason why Paul strove—and why we should strive—to be “accepted of Him” whether present or absent, is explained in the next verse. …
Twice Paul forewarns believers that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (v.10, cf. Romans 14:10).
We must be careful, however, to distinguish between “the Judgment Seat of Christ” and “the Great White Throne,” where the final judgment of the unsaved will take place.
Every believer in Christ has already been judged for his sins at Calvary. We read in Hebrews 9:26 that Christ appeared “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” “There is therefore now no condemnation [or judgment] to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Since our Lord put away all our sins by paying for them Himself at Calvary, there are no more of these left to be dealt with. But here in 2 Corinthians 5:10 the apostle refers to a judgment of the believer’s life as a Christian. This is also true of Romans 14:10.
The Greek word for this judgment seat is bema, the dais upon which judges in court actions, or judges at sports events, stood or sat. The judges at the former, of course dealt out justice, while those at the latter dealt out rewards to those who excelled at sports events. the word bema is used ten times with respect to legal trials and two with respect to the giving out of awards as at sports events (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Apart from the word itself, however, the bema is often referred to in Paul’s epistles (e.g., 1 Corinthians 3:12-17; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24). The word is never used, however, in connection with God’s judgment of the unsaved. Believers have only the happier aspect of bema to face, with its rewards or loss of rewards, the latter of which an, however, be a most embarrassing and humiliating experience….
The apostle warns the permissive Corinthians that our conduct will be reviewed at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Every one who had tolerated immorality among them and every one in particular who had committed the immorality will stand before Him who shed His life’s blood to save the, “that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” “Bad,” here, is a negative word, meaning “not good” or “lacking good.” The thought is, “whether deserving rewards or not.” The vilest sins of these Corinthians had been paid for and “put away” by the death of Christ on the cross, but the question at the Judgment Seat of Christ will be: What about their lives as Christians? Will the results of this examination be mostly rewards or loss of rewards? …
This aspect of the bema is clearly outlined for us in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. There it is explained that while no man will lose his salvation at the bema, some will be “saved so as by fire” (v.15), i.e., like a man fleeing naked from his burning house with everything lost but his life. …
It should be carefully observed that the question in 1 Corinthians 3 is not one of conduct, but of service, indeed, of the kind of service rendered, or our workmanship. Hence the repeated use of the word “work”: “Every mans’ work shall be made manifest,” … “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is,” … “If any man’s work abide [i.e., abide the fire of the divine scrutiny] he shall receive a reward,” … “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss …” — Stam, pages 103-106
This clearly points out the flaw in the teaching that “We’re saved by faith, but if we don’t do good works, that proves we never had faith.” No, it proves that we still have a sin nature (see Romans 7:14-21). Right after Paul admits that he continues to do what he doesn’t want to do and to not do what he wants to do, what does he say next? Does he say that his sin or his lack of works proves he’s not saved? No, he says “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:24–8:1). He doesn’t ask “What should I do?” He asks, “Who will deliver me?” Notice also that while Paul himself—the real Paul—serves the law of God, his flesh (which he speaks of as something separate) serves the law of sin.
(Incidentally, the rest of Romans 8:1, which reads “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” isn’t in the original manuscripts. It was added, no doubt, by someone who couldn’t tolerate that thought that people who they didn’t think were good enough to go to heave might actually get there.)
We have no business judging whether someone is saved or not based on their works. God knows.
Faith alone in Christ’s death and resurrection, through God’s grace, saves us. Period. The Judgment Seat of Christ won’t eliminate anyone from heaven. It will, however, determine how many rewards we bring into heaven with us.