Sitting on a curb in East Chester, NY, Jerry sat pondering what to do. He had just checked out of his motel when he discovered his car sitting in a pool of oil. During the night all of the oil had leaked out of his engine. The car appeared to be fully functional. However, without oil the car was all but dead. Jerry knew that if he attempted driving it without oil, the engine would burn up before he could even drive a mile.
To most it would seem silly to drive a car without oil; however, people do this with their theology everyday. It is my contention that just as a car breaks down without oil, the gospel of grace breaks down quickly without the doctrine of rewards.
Throughout my ministry at GES, I have been confronted with innumerable questions about rewards. The following are six questions that I hear quite often. Come on down the road to reward with me. The road begins here.
Don’t Rewards Contradict Justification
by Faith Alone? (Romans 4:4-5)
There is no room for boasting in the kingdom (Eph 2:8-9). Justification is by faith in Christ, not by self-effort. We know that Romans 4:4-5 says, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted as righteousness.” There is no room for God to pay us with eternal salvation for the work we do; eternal life is the gift of God. However, there is room for God to pay us with eternal rewards. Justification and sanctification are not the same. Neither are eternal salvation and eternal rewards.
The grace of God is wonderful. However, it is possible to be so enthusiastic about grace that we ignore any Scripture that speaks of accountability and rewards. We cannot afford to ignore our Lord when He says, “For the Son of Man will come… and then he will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:27).
Aren’t Rewards a Selfish Motivation?
For many it seems inherently selfish to strive for rewards of any type, eternal or otherwise. After all, the person who is striving for rewards is focused selfishly on what is in his or her own best interests.
It is admittedly selfish to work for pay. Yet I’m sure all of us expect our employers to pay us a reasonable wage. Is this wrong?
Should we pay our children to do their chores? Should teachers give out grades? Should athletic contests give out trophies? All of these produce selfish motivations.
The word selfish has two main meanings: greedy at the expense of others, and intent on personal gain. The former is clearly unbiblical. The latter is not. Even the Lord Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:1). The Hebrews 11 Hall of Fame is filled with people who were motivated by eternal rewards.
We are not competing against each other for some limited amount of rewards. God has an infinite amount of rewards to give. The more we encourage and help others now, the more we will all be rewarded later. It’s OK to be intent on our own personal gain as long as it is not at the expense of others.
Won’t All Believers Be Equally Rewarded? (Matthew 20:1-16)
The Parable of the Day Laborers does teach that laborers who worked different numbers of hours were equally paid. The person who worked one hour was paid one denarius—so the persons who worked 3, 6, 9, and 12 hours. One denarius was paid to all.
Doesn’t this prove that we will all get the same amount of eternal rewards? No one will get more or less than any other believer, right?
But wait a minute. If that is true, then why did the Lord speak in Luke 19 of one servant who will rule over 10 cities and another over 5 and another over none? Clearly there the rewards are not identical.
The Parable of the Day Laborers shows that God will not penalize a person for coming to faith in Christ shortly before they go to be with the Lord. All who serve God wholeheartedly during their Christian life, whether they are Christians for one year or 50 years before going to be with the Lord, will be rewarded equally.
But if a person comes to faith and doesn’t serve Christ wholeheartedly throughout his Christian life, he will not get the same degree of reward as one who does. Just as employers don’t pay all employees exactly the same wage, neither does God (Matt 16:27).
Won’t Differences in the Kingdom
Lead to Jealousy?
Won’t differences in rewards lead to jealousy in the kingdom? If some rule with Christ and some don’t, the non-rulers will be jealous, right? If some have more treasure and some less, won’t the ones with less treasure be jealous?
We must admit the force of these questions. This might be true if sin were possible for glorified saints. However, glorified saints will never sin. And since jealousy is sin, no glorified saint will experience jealousy.
A glorified saint might regret that he didn’t do more in this life for Christ, which is not sin. But he will be content with what he has, for all glorified saints will be content. Even in this life it is possible to not be jealous of those who have more. If that is true, then surely with glorified bodies and no sin nature, we will not be jealous.
Aren’t We Merely Servants Who
Deserve No Rewards? (Luke 17:7-10)
Doesn’t Luke 17:7-10 demonstrate that we should consider ourselves as humble servants of God who deserve no rewards?
This is true. And if that were the only passage we had on rewards, we might infer that there probably wouldn’t be rewards. However, because there are many passages in which the Lord promises rewards, this passage is merely saying that God is not inherently obligated to reward us.
God could have chosen not to reward faithfulness. He could still have motivated us to obey Him out of gratitude, present blessings and chastisement, and fear of rebuke at the bema. However, He chose to obligate Himself to recompense us for the work that we do. So our attitude should be one of humility, for we are merely servants. And we should be grateful that God has chosen to reward our obedience.
Won’t We Just Give All Our Rewards Back? (Revelation 4:9-10)
Even if there will be differing degrees of rewards, they will all be given back, right? We will cast our crowns at the feet of Jesus. Thus, won’t the only lasting reward be the joy we experience at having given our rewards back to the Lord?
Hypothetically that could be true. However, in reality the Lord spoke of treasure that was eternal (Matt 6:19-21). Also, Paul spoke of imperishable crowns that last forever (1 Cor 9:24- 25).
Revelation 4:9-10 does not refer to a one-time event. Most miss the fact that the first word in verse 9 is “whenever.” Day after day these angelic beings are glorifying God and casting their crowns at His feet. They do not lose the crowns. They merely keep putting them at Jesus’ feet to honor Him.
There are many questions concerning the doctrine of rewards, however, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear—there is a day of reckoning ahead for believers. It really matters how we live now. God has chosen to hold us accountable and to reward faithfulness.
After preaching hundreds of messages on eternal rewards, I have found that this teaching energizes people. Rewards motivates.
One reason the gospel of grace is not taught more commonly is because of the lack of teaching on rewards. These two doctrines go hand in hand. A failure to believe and teach eternal rewards usually results in a failure to believe and teach the grace gospel. The many passages dealing with eternal rewards lead to confusion on the gospel if they are wrongly taken as dealing with what we must do to make it into the kingdom.
Will you come on down the road to rewards? Will you stay on that wonderful path? I sure hope so. You’ll be glad you did!