“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV84)
Have you ever found it confusing to hear that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by our works (Eph. 2:8&9), and then to read verses about Judgment Day and find that we are judged by our works (our verse for today)? Even Jesus states in Matthew 25 that the sheep and goats will be separated by what they did or did not do. Jesus either blesses or condemns based on what they did to “the least of these.” How can this be? How do we make spiritual sense out of this?
Let me start by stating that faith is something that is inside us and is unseen by others. The only way that faith can be seen from the outside is through the actions of the faithful. James makes that point clearly when he says, “show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” This is why Jesus says that He is the Vine and we are the branches. The only chance we have in bearing fruit worthy of Jesus is to be branches clinging to the Vine of Jesus Christ. It is the life-giving force that flows through the Vine that produces in us fruit (good works).
God can judge us by our works because our works show the evidence of saving faith. Believers in Jesus produce works for the kingdom of God. They produce works that naturally flow from their faith relationship with Jesus. Conversely, unbelievers will also produce works that flow from whatever source they believe. But because they are not connected to the Vine of Jesus Christ, their works cannot be worthy of His kingdom. Their works do not flow from a faith relationship with Jesus. Hence, on the last day, God will judge all people by what they have done, because what they have done directly reflects what they believe and whether they had a faith relationship with The Lord. On the last day, God is simply going to make externally visible what is an internal reality — whether we have faith or not.
Do NOT spend the rest of your days on this earth worrying about your good works. Rather, focus on clinging to the Vine of Jesus Christ and let the fruits naturally begin to produce.