Eternal life is free. In other words, it’s a gift. As Paul says:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8-9).
Do not misunderstand the nature of God’s grace and what it excludes. The sheer graciousness of salvation means eternal life could never be something earned by your good works. If it could, then salvation would be a wage, not a gift:
Now to the one who works, the wages are not credited as a favor, but as what is due (Rom 4:4 NASB).
Many people have heard of eternal life. Fewer have heard of eternal rewards. Eternal life and eternal rewards are like two completely different economic systems. While eternal life is given by faith apart from works, eternal rewards are earned by works. As Jesus promised:
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Rev 22:12).
What is the basis for receiving rewards from Jesus? Your work.
Paul told us where Jesus’ judgment of His saints would happen, i.e., at the Judgment Seat of Christ:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).
Jesus told us to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). And as Paul revealed, the Judgment Seat of Christ will show how much of your life’s work translated into heavenly treasure:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor 3:11-15).
Here’s another key to having a well-rounded understanding of the Biblical doctrine of eternal security. Once saved, always saved does not mean you can live a prodigal life of hay and straw and not expect it to be burned up. Your works matter. While those works are not necessary to earn, keep, or prove eternal life, they are the basis for gaining eternal rewards in Christ’s coming kingdom.
To put it in simple terms, believers have a performance review coming. And depending on what you’ve done, the Boss will either give you a bonus and a promotion, or He’ll reprimand you. So work hard for that payday.
But whatever happens, good or bad, everlasting life can never be lost.