How do we balance the understanding that the believer's sins are forgiven and the fact that we will have to give an account to God for our lives? What happens if I end up with a poor account to give?
Good question. Excellent question. The relationship between what happened at the cross in the covering of all of our sins and the account we will give for the good and the evil, according to Romans 14, at the last day.
So I think believers will face an accounting. And here's the way I conceive it:
When I put my faith in Christ, I believe that all my sins were forgiven, were covered by the blood of Jesus, past, present and future. And that all my relating to those sins as I move forward is a praying that God would simply continue to cover them by his blood.
When it says, "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9), I think it does mean that we do go on appropriating the work of Christ in our lives. That is, hour by hour, day by day, we turn from our sins, confess that they were an offense to his grace, and ask God to go on covering them. So prayer is a part of the means by which we continue to avail ourselves of the blood of Christ.
Which means that we're going to arrive at the Judgment Day with no guilt. We will be perfect on the day of Christ. However, we will have more or less advanced in holiness, and that will make a difference.
It will make a difference in this way. I picture the deeds of my life, the good deeds of my life, the Holy Spirit fruits of my life as being filed away by God in a filing cabinet under the heading, "Evidences of Grace" / "Evidences of New Birth" / "Evidences of Faith." Those are necessary. Otherwise, when the courtroom is held at the end and the Judge says, "What evidence do we have here that this person by faith is united to Christ who is his perfection?" my ground of acceptance is totally Christ, not that filing cabinet. That filing cabinet is fruit of faith in perfection. And that perfection is the ground of my acceptance.
So his blood covers all of my sins, his perfection counts for my perfection, and the Judge is smiling upon me in Christ. And I know that I will make it because of Christ alone.
The filing cabinet is taken out and it has these two functions:
1) Evidence that I was born again. And it may not be a big file. In fact, there are a lot of bad grades in there, and they'll all be thrown away. And the B minuses and the B pluses will be taken out and they'll say, "That's what's needed in order to show that he was born again. These things would not have happened otherwise. So he was born again, therefore his is in Christ, therefore he is totally acceptable."
2) The other is that I think there will be varying rewards on the basis of that measure of fruit. So that one will get five cities and one will get ten cities to rule over. And I'll get a little Georgia village.
So I think that's the way it works.