It’s a foundational tenet of Christianity that all people are destined for a final judgment at the end of this age. Gospel hope hinges on this fact: those in Christ will pass that judgment and be found fit for heaven. The reason for this is the gospel itself, the spiritual reality that Christ satisfied the curse on his people’s behalf when he was crucified on the cross, and furthermore, that his righteousness is imputed to them as a free gift by faith. On the basis of this gloriously good news, a Christian knows that his final judgment day need not be a terror, it is the day when God will fulfill all the final promises of the gospel. This is Christianity 101 (which is typically the most important part).
Yet there is a question related to this final judgment that Christians sometimes ponder without full clarity. The question is this: on the final day of judgment, although we know that all who are in Christ will be found in the final analysis to be cleansed of sin, covered by Christ’s righteousness, and thus be blameless in the sight of God; in the process of that verdict being rendered, will a Christian’s sins, both before and after conversion, be publically made known to all creation?
In my ministry as a pastor, I’ve been asked this question more than once. Sometimes the person is asking because of a guilty conscience from hidden sin, and so the best answer is to examine the call to mortify sin in our lives. Gospel promises can never be biblically used as a cover for unrighteousness (see Romans 6:1).
But other times, the question is being asked because even in a regenerate mind, the staggering reality of the grace of God can be hard to believe.
How forgiven are we, really?
How thorough is salvation?
How complete is my justification?
In other words, does the gospel really clean my record out completely, or are there still indictments that remain? Luther was right when he said the Christian is simultaneously righteous and a sinner, but do we sometimes so emphasize the latter half of that maxim that we miss the full grace of the former?
In my life as a Christian, I’ve asked these questions in my own heart. Since you’re reading this article, I assume you’ve asked them too, or that if you haven’t, they have at least piqued your interest enough in this article that you’re still here reading. You are, after all, still reading.
We’re not the first ones to ponder this. Thomas Brooks, a Puritan author and pastor of the seventeenth-century, addressed this question directly. Brooks wrote:
But here an apt question may be moved… Whether at this great day [the final judgment at the end of the age], the sins of the saints shall be brought into the judgment of discussion and discovery, or no? Whether the Lord will in this day publically manifest, proclaim, and make mention of the sins of his people, or no?
Let’s look at how Thomas Brooks answered the question. Although the following thoughts belong to Brooks, I have updated the language, condensed the content, and edited for modern readability.
I humbly judge, according to my present light, that he will not; for the four following reasons:
- From the description of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46
This first reason is drawn from the Christ’s judicial proceedings in the last day, as they are described so clearly in Matthew 25. There Christ brings to light only the good works his sheep have done, but takes no notice of their spots and blots, their stains and blemishes, nor the infirmities and weaknesses and wickedness of his people (Duet. 32:4-6).
- From Christ’s vehement objection that any of his people should ever come into judgment
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
Notice that none of the gospel writers use this expression truly, truly, except for John, and he never uses it unless it is a matter of great weight and importance. He uses it to show how earnestly his spirit yearns for the thing said, and to grab our attention, and to put the thing said beyond all question and all contradiction. He is saying that it is absolutely out of the question that true believers will come into judgment, truly, truly it shall not be!
- Because not exposing our sins is most in keeping with the many precious expressions that we find scattered like shining and sparkling pearls throughout all Scripture
These glorious passages are of seven main types:
(1) Those passages which speak of God blotting out the sins of his people
I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:22)
Who is this that blots out transgressions? It is the one who has the keys of heaven and hell on his belt, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens; it is the one who has the power of death and life, of condemning and absolving, of killing and making alive – this is the one who blots out transgressions. If some servant blotted out an indictment, that may do a little good; but when the king and judge himself blots out the indictment with his own hand the indictment is gone forever. This is the reality and joy of every believer.
(2) Those passages which gloriously assert that God remembers our sins no more
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
By this God means that our sins will be completely forgiven, never again mentioned, never taken notice of, and not mentioned ever again. God has a memory of iron and never forgets the sins of the wicked; yet he promises to never remember the sins of the righteous.
(3) Those passages which speak of our sins being cast into the depths of the sea and behind the back of God
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)
When sin is pardoned, the remission can never be repealed. Pardoned sins can never be brought before God against a pardoned man ever again; this is what these figures of speech are meant to teach. If our sins were cast into a river, they could perhaps be brought back. If they were cast upon the sea, they might be found in the drift and brought back to land. But when they are cast into the very depths, to the very bottom of the sea, they shall never again float back up to the surface.
In this metaphor the Lord is teaching us that pardoned sins shall rise no more, they shall be seen no more, they shall never count again; indeed, God will drown them so deep even he will not see them a second time.
Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. (Isaiah 38:17)
This last phrase is again a figure of speech, borrowed from the way that men cast behind their backs things they do not care to see, regard, or remember. Although our own sins are ever before our face, the Lord casts them behind his back. An earthly father soon forgets and casts behind his back the sins that his child keenly remembers. So too it is with our Heavenly Father.
(4) Those passage which sweetly speak of God pardoning the sins of his people
I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. (Jeremiah 33:8)
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. (Micah 7:18)
The Hebrew word here translated pardon means a taking away. When God pardons sin he takes it completely away: even if you search for it, you wont find it.
In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant. (Jeremiah 50:20)
As Micah said above, God passes over the sin of his people. Like a man deep in thought, or a busy man caught up in business doesn’t notice what’s right in front of him; like David didn’t notice Mephibosheth’s physical defects because he saw so much of his dear friend Jonathon in him; so too God beholds in his people the glorious image of his Son, and takes no notice of all our faults and failures. This is what enabled Luther to say, “Do with me what you will, since you have pardoned my sin.”
And what is it to pardon sin, but not to mention it?
(5) Those expressions of forgiving and covering
The blessing of Psalm 32:1 (Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sins is covered) is, in the original Hebrew, in the plural: blessednesses. It is a plurality of blessings, a chain of pearls. A similar statement in made in Psalm 85:2, again using the metaphor of covering.
Covering is the opposite of disclosing. That which is covered is hidden. This metaphor is all around us: the dead are covered up in the ground, clothes cover up our bodies, The Egyptians were covered over by the Red Sea, a great cleft in the earth is filled up and covered over with dirt, the mercy seat as well was presided over by a symbolic covering. All these metaphors show the same essential truth: the Lord will not look, he will not see, he will not notice the sins he has pardoned; he will never again bring them to his judgment seat.
Like a rebel pardoned by a gracious prince, the pardoned person will never hear of and never have to give account for his sins, ever again. When Caesar was painted he would conceal his scars and blemishes by covering them up with his hands. God puts his hands over all his people’s scars and blemishes; all that remains is what is good and lovely.
(6) Those expressions of not imputing sin
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:2, see also Romans 4:6-8)
To not impute iniquity is to not charge it against a person, to not credit it to them. This is the precise blessing of pardon: that I will not have my sins brought against me.
(7) That particular promise of Psalm 103
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11-12)
What a vast distance there is between east and west!
These seven categories of precious promises form the third reason that God will never again bring our sins against us in judgment.
- Because Christ exposing our sins seems out of place on that great day, for three reasons.
(1) It seems out of place, given the great glory and solemnity of the day, which for God’s people will be a day of refreshing, a day of restitution, a day of redemption, a day of coronation, as we have already seen. Now, how suitable to this great day of solemnity the exposure of the sins of all the saints would be, I leave the reader to judge.
(2) It seems out of place, given the relationship of Jesus Christ to his people. He is their father, brother, head, husband, friend, and advocate. Now, are not all these relations bound rather to hide and conceal the weakness of their loved ones, at least from the world at large? And is not Christ so much more? He is more a father, brother and friend to us in his spiritual love than the best of all human relationships.
(3) It seems out of place, given what the Lord himself requires of us in this world. The Lord requires that his people cast a covering of love, wisdom, and silence over one another’s weaknesses.
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (Proverbs 10:12, 1 Peter 4:8)
Love’s covering is very large; love finds a bandage for every wound.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:5)
Would Jesus Christ have us to act toward one another in one way, while he acts in a completely different manner? If it is an evil to expose the weakness and faults of saints in the world, how could it be a glory and virtue for Christ to do the same on the final day of this age?
Brooks goes on to briefly discuss the glory of passing over a transgression, and then ends his answer with this concluding paragraph, which is presented here without major editing or updating of the original style:
The heathens have long since observed, that in nothing man came nearer to the glory and perfection of God himself, than in goodness and clemency. Surely if it be an honor to man, ‘to pass over a transgression,’ it cannot be a dishonor to Christ to pass over the transgressions of his people, he having already buried them in the sea of his blood. Again, saith Solomon, ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a thing,’ (Proverbs 25:2). And why it should not make for the glory of divine love to conceal the sins of the saints in that great day, I know not; and whether the concealing the sins of the saints in that great day will not make most for their joy, and wicked men’s sorrow, for their comfort and wicked men’s terror and torment, I will leave you to judge, and time and experience to decide. And this much for the resolution of that great question.
As Thomas Brooks writes, it is for you the reader to judge his view of the final judgment. Is it biblical or not? If you answer no, at least take care upon what grounds you reject it. Never settle for a shallow view of the forgiveness of sins in Christ. The sea of his blood is deep indeed. The cross is bloody and the tomb is empty. The Christian’s final hope is to be finally blameless in Christ, to his gracious glory, and by his glorious grace.
(By: Nicolas Alford)
 Thomas Brooks, The Works of Thomas Brooks, 220.
 The full original can be read on pages 220-24 in the Banner of Truth’s The Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1.
 All Scripture references have been updated to the English Standard Version.