This article is excerpted and slightly adapted from an article which appeared in the Autumn 1991 issue of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society under the title, “We Believe in Rewards.” This portion of the article is taken form pp.3-6. Future articles in this series will also be drawn from that article.
Among the very last recorded words of our Lord Jesus Christ are these:
And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.
—Rev 22:12; emphasis added
This is a clear and definitive statement on the subject of rewards by the Lord Himself. Not to believe in rewards is not to believe His words. The Grace Evangelical Society does believe in rewards!
Some Christians are troubled by the doctrine of rewards because this doctrine seems to suggest “merit” instead of “grace.” They argue that a doctrine of meritorious good works is a contradiction to the truth that we are not under the law but under grace (Rom 6:14).
This point of view is a serious misreading of the Scriptures. As a matter of fact, it badly confuses the doctrine of divine grace with the truth of human responsibility.
Look again at the words of Jesus quoted above. Our Lord says clearly that His “reward” is according to each man’s “work.” There is no way to escape the obvious implications that “rewards” are earned.
Salvation, of course, is not earned. Therefore it can be said to be “by grace…through faith” and “not of works” (Eph 2:8-9). Our works have nothing to do with whether we go to heaven or hell. Salvation is a gift and it is absolutely free. Faith in Christ is the means by which this gift is received.
Paul taught us clearly that grace and works are mutually exclusive. His words are important:
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
In the light of this clear-cut statement, we dare not confuse the Bible’s teaching about rewards with the truth of God’s unconditional grace to us. If we claim that rewards must be “by grace” then we are saying they can have nothing to do with “works.” But if we say that, we contradict our Lord’s words which relate His “reward” to each man’s “work.”
If we try to “redefine” works in terms of “grace,” then according to Paul we change the character of one or both of these. Either what we call “work” is no longer really work, or what we call “grace” is no longer really grace.
Lordship Salvation illustrates this unavoidable result. Since Lordship theologians claim that people must do good works in order to reach heaven, they cannot really call their doctrine salvation by “grace.” But of course they do claim to teach salvation by grace. Yet, according to Paul, what they call “grace” is no longer really grace!
But Christians who deny that the works considered at the Judgment Seat of Christ are really rewarded on the basis of their spiritual merits fall into a similar error. They are trying to fit “works” and “grace” together in a way that Paul says is impossible. In the process they will either distort the true meaning of grace or distort the meaning of work.
Let us hear Paul again:
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
In this verse, Paul uses precisely the same Greek word for “wages” that Jesus used in Rev 22:12. It is the Greek word misthos, which basically means “pay, wages.” It clearly carries the suggestion of getting what one has earned.
There is no getting around this biblical truth. God gives us His salvation, but He pays us for our good works.
To confuse these two lines of truth is to subvert the doctrine of grace and the doctrine of works in Scripture. It is an attempt to mix spiritual apples and oranges. The result can only be confusion about the true nature of both of these great themes in the Bible.
This is not to say, of course, that there is no connection between God’s grace to us and the works that we do for Him. Of course there is a connection! We would not even be able to do rewardable good works if we had not been regenerated by grace through faith. As the Apostle Peter makes clear to us, at the moment of salvation we receive “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3). That is to say, God has given us—by grace—all that we need to live a godly life.
But we must utilize this provision diligently. Peter says this quite plainly too:
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge…
—2 Pet 1:5; emphasis added
Thus God graciously supplies the means by which we may serve Him, but the decision to serve, and the diligence employed in doing so, are our contribution. Thus our works involve our efforts and are rewardable.
A totally passive view of the Christian life, in which we make no effort to do right or to please God, has no foundation in the Bible. We are not mere passive vehicles for the Holy Spirit, but active ones who must apply “all diligence.”
As we do, we earn rewards!