In the magisterial book of Romans, the apostle Paul lays out the good news of salvation. He methodically proceeds in presenting this doctrine from our natural state of rebellion to the hope of reconciliation in Jesus Christ and on to what this means for all of humanity. The arguments are complex, but accessible when approached passage by passage. For example, he speaks of the coming judgment to Jewish readers in Rome:
For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2: 13 – 16)
When we work to unravel this challenging bit of Scripture, we’re caught off guard by the last line in which the apostle associates the day of God’s wrath being exercised in the fullness of its fury with the good news. How in the world is this good news? The answer, of course, is grace. When the Christian stands before their Lord on that day of judgment barren of all works, we have confidence in grace. It is the condition of our hearts that will be judged, and it is the humbled acceptance of the righteousness of Christ that determines this state. As the apostle restates this good news later in his letter to the church at Philippi, his hope is “be[ing] found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9)
Tim Keller says this, “… God’s just judgment is fundamental to his declaration about God’s son. Without judgment, salvation has no meaning. Without the reality of God’s present and future wrath, the cross is emptied of its glory.” Oh! how this expands our meditation. Not only is the day of judgment good news because we have, in Christ, no fear, but the horror of the cross is gospel as well. That God placed the fullness of my sin on the shoulders of his Beloved Son rather than my own, that is unimaginable good news. I stand before the Judge in full confidence knowing that my Savior -actually the Judge Himself!– has taken the penalty that belongs to me as his own.
Judgment for the Christian is good news as we already know the outcome. Our gratitude and humility for the atonement of our sin should be reflected in the effort that we devote to sharing this gospel truth with others.