“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” — Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
The last two verses in the book of Ecclesiastes are wonderful. They perfectly encapsulate the “end of the matter”—that which is the entirety of the duty of mankind. These two verses summarize so much of God’s Word to us: to fear God, obey His commands, and to know that all of our lives will be weighed before Him in measure of this. And yet, so much of mankind is painted with rebellion against this great truth; both in the world, and even within the church.
The reality of mankind is that we are all under God and His Word. The trouble though, is that we think we are free to do as we think is best. Some of us frame this by saying, “As long as I’m not hurting anyone, I’m free to do as I want.” Others purely don’t care if they’re hurting someone else or not; they do whatever they please and justify it by other means. But all of mankind has this common root in our hearts: that we imagine we can live our lives however please, doing what seems right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25).
But the truth is, humans are not a race of people that were made to be self-directed. And in fact, it is the sickness of sin that has convinced us of this. The truth is that God is a Being so holy and right and good and wise and just, and He alone supremely exists. Therefore He alone has the authority to will things purely of His own accord: He is the influencer and we are the influenced. He is the Creator and we are the created. It is not a "lowering" of ourselves to admit that we are slaves unto Christ at all. It is according to our design! God has no need of a master, ruler, or shepherd. He is entirely unlike us in this regard. We are the ones who are in need of a Master and Ruler, and to be shown what is good and right. And it is out of His self-initiated goodness and love and righteousness to make a way to restore us as slaves of His own, slaves of holiness, goodness, righteousness, and life, rather than slaves of sin, which is a deathly and horrible master. Until we grasp that we, though made in God's image, are not God and could never be gods, we will feel like it is unfair of God to expect us to either serve Him or die serving sin.
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16) Not only is God the Creator of all things, He also created all things for Himself, and it is here that we find the rightful place of man, found as a child of God, and as a servant of God. To our flesh, we detest the notion of being created by God to be His servant but what we fail to understand is that being the servant of a perfect and great Master is only a privilege and not bondage. When our hearts are bitter at the idea of servanthood it is because we picture evil masters: cruel to their servants, selfish, proud, and unholy. Moreso, we see that man is unworthy to be a master of any other man, for we are all equally man. And it is often through this lens that we view God when we speak of Him being master over us. What we fail to understand is that as a servant of God, this is our greatest joy, greatest peace, and greatest life, because God is good and holy. And within this, God is not man, equal to us, but is God Eternal. Being a servant to God is therefore not demeaning of us, it is our rightful place. And man has always been created to be this servant of God.
The trouble for man is that he fell from this right relationship to God. The fall of man was our fall from our holy place before God. And we fell at this lie: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5) We fell in the desire to be like God, and our fallen nature is painted with this singular pride: “To be like God, knowing good and evil”. Yet man is not created to be as God, but to be ruled by God. Man continues to rebel in his desire to “be like God”, rather than taking the place he was actually created for, to be a child and a servant to and for the only God. So man continues to resent being called back under God’s rule.
Yet God Still Rules Us
As we go on in this corrupted desire, we imagine that we are “free” to live as we please, and it is God’s Word that plainly tells us this is not so. Though our fallen hearts seek this perverse “freedom”, it is still never granted to us. We are still, always, accountable before God, and we all will be held accountable to Him. We can either continue on in rebellion, or we can submit to God in this life, being accountable before Him now. We will all face the truth of what we have done in this life, and God’s Word shows us here in Ecc 12:13-14 that we will be judged not upon what we presume in our minds to think is right, but only by our obedience to God’s commands, our submission to Him, or our lack thereof. God tells us that the scales of right and wrong hang on whether we are in submission to God Himself or not: “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to Him, but His great anger is against all who forsake Him." (Ezra 8:22) All of mankind is to come under obedience to God, and only doing so is good. All else is rebellion and sin. We can choose this rebellion, but we will still never escape God’s judgement of it.
The arrogance of mankind is that we think we have the ability to decide what is right or wrong, good or bad, and so man continues to walk in this arrogance, deciding for himself how he will live and what he will do in this life. And a great many people are deceived into thinking that God will not hold them accountable because they live by their private rules. Yet God tells us that He will judge us only by His rules, defined by His Word, and not our own. This is His right because God alone truly knows what is good and right, and God alone is our Creator and Master.
The Darkness of Our Thinking
What we fail to realize with our own private road maps is that we are not simply having a “difference of opinion”, we are actually entirely wrong. If we are in disagreement with God, we are in disagreement with the only God, a holy God, and this disagreement only points to how fallen we truly are. The world has flattered herself with the idea of “each having their own truth” and she has deceived herself from seeing that basic truth of all of reality: that all these other “gods”, ideas, opinions are not just “different”. Everything that falls outside of God’s Word is deeply, darkly, dangerously, and destructively wrong. It is not a cute little “difference of opinion”, but death itself: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Prov 14:12) Our great need as man is to come again into submission to God, through His Son and by His Word. Only in this will we walk in the light (1 John 1:7), and find what is good and is of life (John 14:6).
The Word of God tells us that it is only in fearing God and obeying Him that we find the path to life and truth: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10 NIV) All else is only death, darkness, and lies.
This is why only in obeying God is there any good, and why there are only two camps to all of mankind: those who obey God, doing good, and those who disobey God, doing evil. For it is only in obeying God that we will ever actually do good. Everything else is “filthy rags” of righteousness, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV). What we fail to understand is that all our “righteous deeds” outside of obedience to God, only seem good to us, they are not actually good. God is not sitting there saying, “Not good enough,” and being too hard on us. He is telling us they are not actually good deeds, but are these rags of “filthy” righteousness.
And so this is why God will judge us by His Word in the end, and not by our own version of “what’s good and right”—because He sees that our “righteous deeds” are not actually righteous, but even they themselves are evil. We will only do good when we align with His Word: fearing God and obeying Him (Ecc 12:13).
God’s Judgement Through His Son
God has established through His Word His judgement on all of mankind, and God has now also established this judgement by His Son. “...but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Act 17:30). Many of us see that through Christ, God brought salvation to this earth. What we often fail to see is that through the Son of God, God also began judgement upon the earth. Both salvation and judgement began at the coming of the Son of God.
God has commanded, through the coming of the Son of God, that all people on this whole earth “...Repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Again, there are two camps established by God: those who repent and believe in Christ, and those who do not. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” (Ps 2:12)
We are warned in scripture that God’s judgement of all of mankind is established in those who believe in His Son, and those who do not: “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18) Fearing God and obeying Him means obedience to His Word, and His Word commands us to believe in His Son and obey Him.
With Christ’s coming, God then commanded all persons upon this earth “to repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). He tells us that “now He commands all people everywhere to repent” (Act 17:30). He established with His Son that all are now accountable to God through His Son. If we do not fear God and obey His commands, believing in His Son, then we stand condemned (John 3:18).
There are a great many Christians today that fail to realize they must go on, further, in obedience to God, through His Son. That faith in the Son of God is not the end, but is the doorway to a life of holiness, faithfulness, devotion, dying to self, and serving of God.
What many of us fail to understand is that when we are set free by the Son of God, we are not set free in the ways that we would imagine: we are set free to God, are not set free to do as we please. We are set free from sin and death, to be slaves of God and righteousness (Rom 6:15-23). “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Rom 6:18, emphasis added)
Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest, April 23rd: “The only concern of Christian workers should be their concentration on God. This will mean that all the other boundaries of life, whether they are mental, moral, or spiritual limits, are completely free with the freedom God gives His child; that is, a worshiping child, not a wayward one.” The saint of God is entirely free from anything that hinders our devotion to God, and we have no obligation to them. This is our great freedom. But we fail to understand that we hinder ourselves in this freedom when we seek to not use our freedom to live for Christ and in obedience to Him. In the same entry, Chambers adds, “But be careful to remember that you have been freed for only one thing—to be absolutely devoted to your co-Worker.” It is a great perversion in us to assume that our freedom is for anything else, except to be devoted entirely to God.
The prevailing issue of the saints of God today is that we still seek to live as our own, this is fallen man’s idea of “freedom”. But we are taught in God’s Word that this is not at all the freedom that God has granted to us. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Cor 6:19-20) Our freedom is in our slavery to God. Yet so many of us live in the same willful, rebellious, and disobedient perverted “freedom” that the world lives against God, rather than in the true and biblical freedom that Christ purchased for us. When we continue on in this wrong “freedom” we continue in our sin and willfulness and yet presume that God will not hold us all accountable for this because we wrongly imagine that this “freedom” grants us a removal of accountability for how we live our lives. Ecclesiastes 12:14 makes it very clear to us that we will be held accountable for how we have lived our lives.
We fail to realize that it is only those who die to self-will and live to God’s will that are living in the fear of the Lord and obedience to God. We fail to realize that it is only those who truly live to His Word that are at all pleasing to Him. And we fail to realize that we as Christians will still have our lives weighed by God in the end. This means that if we persist in self-will, we will still be held accountable by God for it.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Often we mistake faith to mean this removal of accountability, but God shows us in His Word that true faith is found in obedience to Him: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) In fact, it only shows us our lack of faith to believe that God doesn’t call us to holiness, because this does not align with scripture.
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4) Additionally, many of us dangerously presume on God’s mercy and grace that He will not hold us accountable for the “obedience” we offer up to Him. We imagine that we can offer to God whatever sort of “obedience” we like, picking and choosing which scriptures to follow. And many of us are busy with our self-made plans of morality, echoing the same pattern of the world; those who live by their own rules and think they will get away from it. So how dangerous is it for us to presume the same thing? Indeed, it is—even for the Christian.
1 Cor 3:10-15 is a great warning to us that what we use to build on this foundation of Christ will not simply be counted as valuable by God, but only that which is done in the will of God will be of value and worth (Matt 7:21). Only that which is done in true obedience to the Son of God will stand the day of judgement and reap reward: “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” (1 Cor 3:13) Many of us are in need of realizing how busy we are with our own plans and moralities, and yet how, if these are not truly of God’s will and Word, they are only of the same willfulness and thinking that is found in the world. We need to understand that unless we serve God as He tells us to, we still fall short of His commands.
The work of each Christian is to be brought into full obedience to God, doing His will and not our own. Not partial in obedience, but fully obedient. “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:38-39) Many of us are in danger of loss because we persist in our own thinking, plans, and ideas, rather than being in full obedience to God’s Word and Spirit. The freedom that Christ purchased for us was to make a way for true holiness, submission, and obedience to God. “Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” (Eph 1:4, emphasis added).
“For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecc 12:14). All of us will be judged by God at the end of our lives: we will be judged by what we did in this life, and by whether we were obedience to God and His Word or not. This is obedience to God in repentance, believing in His Son, and obeying God’s commands in scripture. We can go on in our rebellion from God’s call to this repentance and obedience, or we can submit to God, through His Son, and walk in newness of life.
Let us all realize that we are accountable before God right now, in this moment in life. And let us seek in prayer and according to the Word of God to no longer walk in our own thinking, but give every effort to live in obedience to God. The "duty of man" is to serve the Lord, both in heart and actions. Plain and simple. That's not only why we were made, it's how we were made. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecc 12:13-14)