Will all my sins be seen on the last day?
A friend recently asked me this question. More than that, this question has been asked me of me several times in recent months. Christians, with good reason, want to know what we can expect on the last day. Several have asked me point blank, "When Jesus returns and judges everyone, will all of my sins be broadcast up on a cosmic-sized movie screen for God - and everyone else - to see?"
Some passages in Scripture seem to point this way. Revelation 20:12 speaks about the dead on the day of judgment being “judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” And Romans 2:6 promises that God “will render to each one according to his works…” Verses like these give many the impression that each and every human will have the same experience on the day of judgment: having their every sin brought out into the light, to be seen for what they’ve truly done and who they truly are.
But is that what Scripture really teaches? Is that what believers in Jesus can expect? While there are many Biblical scholars who might disagree, I believe the answer is a simple “no.” If you are a sincere believer in Jesus Christ, God’s Word gives you no reason to expect one last horrifying and shameful day before you get to heaven.
God’s Word promises that Jesus’ death and resurrection give you peace, now, with God (Romans 5:13). That peace is based on the fact that Jesus has paid for our sins, which has resulted in our adoption into God’s family. In a sense, God would have to temporarily suspend that peace in order to bring our sins back into the light of judgment.
Further, God’s Word promises us that the cross has paid for our sins and that, as a result of the atoning death of Christ, those transferred-and-paid-for sins have been separated from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Rather than looking at us and seeing our sins, we have been made righteous (even “the righteousness of God”) in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is how God sees us, right now. And if this is how He sees us right now, He would need to somehow set aside the fact of our justification in order to bring old sins back up. How would it possibly be just for the Judge of all to judge us according to our past sins, which he himself has taken away?
In other words, is it even thinkable that God would proclaim “freedom” and “peace” and “love” to us right now, but take away that freedom and peace and love, even for one minute?
It’s true that the Last Judgment is a terrifying reality for those outside of Jesus Christ. But for those united to Jesus by faith, it is the day when we will be judged, not according to our sins, but according to Christ’s righteousness. Rather than expecting shame, we can and should expect joy. Whenever God’s Word speaks about that last day, we are taught to anticipate it being the very best day, the day of joy and celebration and the full enjoyment of our heavenly adoption.
To read more on this topic, especially to gain clarity on some of the verses that seem to paint a picture of believers’ sins being brought to light on the last day, please read the following article by Rick Phillips: "Five Arguments Against Future Justification According to Works" - Part 1, Part 2.
And a postscript: when presenting this idea, I've also been asked, "Doesn't the idea of my sins being brought to light on the last day present a powerful help to fight against sin?" Perhaps. Maybe. But the gospel teaches us to fight sin based primarily on our freedom from it, not based primarily on the shame of it. See Romans 8. While shame may be a reason to fight sin right now, it seems like the least and most worldly of reasons.