Monday night, we spent time in our final Everyone’s A Theologian class talking about eschatology – what the Bible tells us about “last things.” We talked about death. About judgment. Heaven and hell. About the nature and timing of what the Bible refers to as “the millennium.” And about the new heavens and the new earth.
One of the passages from scripture that talks about what happens after we die is a passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9–10).
This describes what is often referred to as the Bema Seat judgment. It appears to describe a setting where believers – followers of Jesus – will stand before Him as the good and bad things we have done in this life are judged and where we receive what is due as a result.
The passage can’t be talking about judgment relating to eternal life or eternal punishment. Paul tells us clearly elsewhere that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift. We can’t earn it.
The scene in 2 Corinthians 5 pictures a setting where those who have received the gift of eternal life are given some kind of heavenly reward that is related in some way to the good works we’ve done in this life.
I’ve always had a problem with that idea. Two problems, actually. You can probably guess the first one. How does the idea of rewards fit with the idea of grace? Are we supposed to think that our salvation is a free gift, but our status in eternity is something we earn?
The second issue has to do with our motivation for godly living. If we are rewarded in some way for our acts of righteousness, how can we say we’re seeking first the Kingdom and wanting to glorify God with our lives? Isn’t there a little self interest mixed in? At that point, are we living for Him or for ourselves?
Those two objections have made me suspicious of the whole idea of heavenly rewards given in response to godly living or acts of charity.
But here’s the problem. Jesus tells us that what we do in this life will affect eternity. He tells us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20). He tells us He is coming and His recompense is in His hand (Revelation 22:12).
So while I don’t understand exactly how rewards and grace fit together, here’s are some thoughts on the subject:
1. The Bible indicates that there are gradations of reward and punishment in eternity. And there is some correlation between greater sin leading to greater punishment and greater faithfulness leading to greater reward.
2. I think the use of the term reward may be part of the challenge here. I tend to think of a reward as some kind of gift or money I receive that I can then use for myself, for my own desires or purposes. But I don’t think the idea of eternal or heavenly reward is that we’ll earn for ourselves a bigger mansion or a higher rank in eternity. I think the biblical idea of an eternal reward has to do with an increased capacity for serving Christ and His Kingdom. Each one of us will be able to serve Him to our full ability or capacity for eternity. But our faithfulness here somehow giving us an increased capacity for service in the life to come. That’s how I understand the parable of the talents, with those who are faithful with ten cities being given stewardship over ten more cities, while those who were faithful with five receive five more.
3. It will be impossible for us to be envious or jealous of what another person has in terms of rewards. And I don’t think we will find ourselves eternally regretting not having more rewards. That’s inconsistent with what the Bible tells us about heaven. Could there be a sense of momentary regret or loss at the moment of judgment? Perhaps. But I’m not convinced that will happen.
4. The Bible talks about one kind of reward – crowns. But it also says that we will ultimately cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet. The joy of that reward is not some personal gain or benefit, but the joy of having more to give to Jesus.
5. I want my primary motivation for service to Christ to be love and gratitude, not desire for eternal rewards. As I said, motivation is one of my stumbling blocks with the whole idea of rewards in the first place! But again, the Bible talks about laying up treasure in heaven. So our earthly faithfulness to Christ has some connection to our future state of blessedness.
6. Finally, rewards are gifts of grace from God. I don’t think any person will be able to “claim” a reward for some act of faithfulness. Remember in Luke 17 where Jesus says that even when we have done everything that is required of us, we are still unprofitable servants? So any reward God gives for faithfulness is not something we’ve earned, but something He gives us by grace. In that regard, this link might help.
I’ll let RC Sproul have the final word on the subject of heavenly rewards. He says “Christ will ‘reward each according to his works.’ We must be careful with that phrase ‘according to.’ It does not mean that our works earn a reward. But God in His grace will distribute rewards according to our service—even though our works don’t deserve it. This is a gracious distribution of rewards; Augustine called it ‘God crowning His own gifts.’ So even when we receive the rewards of heaven, we receive them as people who, in and of ourselves, are unprofitable servants.”
Check out this picture.
Our new living room. Pretty nice, right?
Things are moving along at our new home. Last week, I told you we were hoping to make Sunday, August 25 our first Sunday in our new building. At this point, we’re thinking it will work better to move that date back one week. We expect we’ll have our final worship service in our current space on Sunday, August 25. As soon as we wrap up that morning, we’ll begin the week long process of moving out and moving in. That would mean our first service in our new home would be on Labor Day weekend, Sunday, September 1, with out official dedication service and celebration the following Sunday, September 8.
It’s possible our move in date could happen a week earlier. But for now, we feel good about the timetable I’ve outlined above.
And by God’s grace, we have raised the funded needed for many of the items on our move in wish list. We’ll have a new sound system for the church. New projectors. New video equipment. We have the funds to furnish the living room. We are so grateful to God and to so many of you who have given toward these efforts.
As you’ve heard me say, we expect to move in with some items still on the wish list. There have been some areas where we’ve wound up paying more than we had planned for essential issues like landscaping and rock removal. And there are still items on our wish list that remain unfunded. Right now, we’re hoping to raise funds for new chairs in our worship center. We need funds to better equip our expanded nursery and toddler areas. We’d still like to one day have an outdoor playground for the kids. And just as will any move, we’re just now thinking about items we’d like to have that weren’t part of our original budget, like office furniture for the reception area.
We’re about $70,000 away from being able to take care of everything on the list. So if you’ve been thinking or wondering about making a financial gift to the building fund, now is the right time to move from thinking to doing!
Guess who had a great time at church today? Our kids, that’s who!
Here’s the report from Mrs. Jen:
Such a great morning at KidsFest!!! We talked about “God Wins in the End and over You!” The kiddos were left with the question of “Who will you trust? Who will you follow?” Grace Harris did an excellent job teaching and illustrating this truth.
We celebrated KidsFest with a sundae party and the tallying of points for school supplies collected!!! BLUE team one……Mrs. Jen got a pie in the face!!!
A huge shout out to all the hands that helped with the planning, prepping, and executing of KidsFest 2019! It was a HUGE JOY!!
By the way, we have exceeded our goal for crayons and glue sticks for David O Dodd Elementary!!! Keep them coming ‘til the end of July and let’s overwhelm the staff, teachers, and students with God’s generosity through us!!
Would you like to have confidence when the Day of Judgment comes? The
Apostle John says we can. We’ll look the last half of 1 John 4 this
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!