Many Free Grace proponents have pointed out that God rewards Christians when they obey Him. That involves believing what He says. When believers take the Lord at His word and act upon it, they will be blessed. These rewards will be realized at the Judgment Seat of Christ. But we can also be rewarded in this life. The rewards we can experience here and now would include greater intimacy with the Lord, the fruit of the Spirit, and greater opportunities to be used by Him in various capacities.
I recently saw what that looks like because of an incident in the life of John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias. Specifically, Zacharias shows us what a reward from the Lord might mean. Unfortunately for him, he does so because he lost that reward. He shows us what could have been.
Zacharias was a righteous man. From the account in Luke 1, we deduce that he was waiting for the coming of the Christ. He believed in Him. He believed in the coming kingdom of the Christ. He believed that God would fulfill all His wonderful promises, including the resurrection of the dead. Zacharias believed that the power of God would accomplish all these things.
But there was one thing he didn’t believe. When Gabriel told Zacharias that he and Elisabeth would have a son and that that son would pave the way for the coming King in the Spirit of the prophet Elijah, Zacharias was not convinced. He did not believe it. He pointed out to Gabriel something he evidently thought the angel hadn’t noticed: Zacharias and Elisabeth were old. They had been trying for a child for a long time and it seemed impossible that Elisabeth could have a son. Zacharias seems to tell Gabriel that, while he doesn’t believe God can do this, perhaps he could be convinced if the angel were to give him some kind of sign (1:18).
That was a mistake. Gabriel tells Zacharias that he will certainly give the old man a sign. He tells Zacharias that he had been sent by God to speak to him the good news that he and Elisabeth would be parents of the greatest OT prophet (1:19). Because Zacharias did not believe what God said, he would not be able to speak about that good news until the baby was born. That would be the sign.
This conversation between Gabriel and Zacharias took place in the Holy Place of the temple. Zacharias was burning incense on the altar, and I am told this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a priest like him. A large crowd was waiting for him to exit the temple and give them a blessing. He could speak about what it was like to serve the Lord in that capacity.
What a blessing and sermon Zacharias had to tell! The Christ was coming. Elijah was coming. The Lord was going to fulfill His promises to the Nation of Israel, which was subjugated under Roman rule. The kingdom was coming. It is no exaggeration to say that Zacharias had the greatest sermon anybody there had ever heard. Some would say it would have been the greatest sermon anybody in Israel had ever heard up to that point.
But he couldn’t say a word. I can’t even imagine how frustrating that must have been for him. Luke says that when he came out of the temple, he could only make motions with his hands. I picture him as being like a person playing a game of charades and nobody can figure out what he wants them to know.
Imagine his return to his hometown. For nine months he could not speak to others about the good news Gabriel had told him. And every time he wanted to shout it out, he was reminded that he did not believe what the Lord had told him. I have to believe that he pulled out whatever hair he had left on his head in frustration. What a loss of opportunity to serve the Lord and the Nation of Israel. He could have stood up in the synagogue–as Elisabeth’s stomach grew bigger and bigger each week–and said, “That is Elijah right there!”
It is easy to see how the same thing can happen to us. When we read the teachings of the Lord in the NT, but do not believe what they say, what reward do we miss out on? If we would believe and then act upon His teachings, how could He use us? Our loss may not be as dramatic or visible as it was in the case of Zacharias. But let us make no mistake about it. When we don’t believe what the Lord tells us, the loss will be ours.