By Peter Amsterdam
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Throughout the Bible, there are numerous promises of the rewards that will be given to the faithful, both in this life and in the life to come. But what is the essence of these promises and what is the purpose of these rewards? What is the relationship between the lives we live and the rewards we will receive? Is there a guarantee that each of us will receive rewards? These and other questions are answered within God’s Word. Let’s take a look.
The Judgment Seat of God
The Bible speaks of the individual judgment of all human beings, stating that everyone who has ever lived will appear before God for judgment, both the saved and the unsaved. The apostle Paul stated: We will all stand before the judgment seat of God … So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.1 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.2
As believers, our judgment before Christ won’t be focused on whether we will be condemned for our sins, because there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.3 Because we have received Jesus as our Savior, we are seen as righteous by God. Though we are guilty of sinning against God, Jesus has taken the punishment of our sins upon Himself, and therefore we are not judged or condemned as guilty for them.
As children adopted into God’s family,4 forgiven and seen by God as righteous through Jesus’ sacrifice, we will not experience separation from God, as those who have chosen to separate themselves from God in this life will.5 Instead, we will live in God’s presence forever. Nevertheless, we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where we will give account for the lives we led and receive what is due for what we have done.
So while we are not condemned, we are held accountable before the Lord. The judgment of God’s children can be seen as an evaluation of our lives and the point at which various degrees of reward are given or withheld. Each of us will stand before our Savior who, as Paul says, will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.6 When we are judged, we will not receive condemnation but rather whatever commendation—or praise—the Lord sees fit to bestow upon us.
Degrees of reward
The Bible indicates that there will be degrees of rewards for those who are saved, and that our rewards are connected to the lives we live in relation to Jesus.
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.7
This implies that every Christian’s reward won’t be the same. Some will find that though they are saved, the lives they led didn’t reflect the love of God, they didn’t live in a manner which bore fruit in their lives or the lives of others, and they didn’t lay up treasures in heaven. The picture conveyed here is of one whose house catches fire and all they had was burned, but they make it out of the house alive. There is loss, but at the same time gratitude that they have been saved from the fire.
What we do in our lives makes a difference in the life beyond, as we each receive what is due for the things done while in the body.8 This doesn’t mean that the works we have done will save us from judgment, as only faith in Jesus can do that. But it does mean that how we live after receiving salvation is taken into account when it comes to rewards. There is the expectation that our faith in Christ will result in Christlike living and works. The way we live is an indicator of our personal relationship with Christ, and how that personal relationship is manifested in our lives, character, decisions, interactions with others, etc., plays a role in the rewards we receive.
Jesus said, Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.9 When we live our faith by applying the teachings of Jesus, and act in love, and operate in obedience to God’s Word, with the right motive, we will be rewarded in heaven.
The motive factor
Our motives play a role in the reward we receive, as attested by the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus pointed out that those who do the right thing with the wrong motives have already received their reward, implying that they won’t be rewarded for it in the life to come.
Rather than seeing rewards as “payment” for the things we’ve done for the Lord in this life, it would be more appropriate to consider them an acknowledgment from the Lord of our love and our obedience to His Word and living our lives as He has instructed us. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”10 In other words, we live our lives in accordance with His teachings because we love Him. Whatever rewards God decides to give us, in this life or the next, aren’t earned or deserved purely through our works, any more than we earn God’s love or His salvation. Rewards are the blessing we receive for living out our love for the Lord.
The greatest reward is the blessing of having a relationship with our Creator, the God of love who has saved us through the sacrifice of His Son—and we have that blessing right now, in this life. The greatest reward for believers is having the Lord in our lives.
The concept of heavenly rewards has nothing to do with competition or the pride which can stem from it. It’s not as though if we work hard for the Lord in this life we will achieve rock star status in heaven, while others will be household servants. And we won’t be in sorrow or mourning because we feel our rewards are less than someone else’s.
The following quotation expresses this concept well:
Though [degrees of rewards] may exist, those in heaven will be glorified, and their values will be completely different from earthly values. There will not be envy or jealousy, but rather praise. It will not be, ‘Why did you get more rewards than I?,’ but more likely ‘It is wonderful how you allowed the power of the Lord to work in you,’ or, ‘It is amazing what persecution you endured for the Lord.’ Finally, everyone in heaven will realize that rewards, like salvation, are of God’s grace, and will give Him praise accordingly.11
Our lives as Christians are meant to be God-focused, living in a manner that glorifies Him. The rewards we receive for living in that manner will be given as an outward acknowledgment of the love for and obedience to God which we manifested through the lives we led. Our love for the Lord, the way we follow and serve Him, and our actions which are done for His glory, all factor in to the rewards we will receive in heaven and in some ways in this life as well. Our goal isn’t the rewards; it’s to love and live for God. We do best when we understand that God Himself is our greatest reward.
Originally published August 2014. Adapted and republished January 2019.
Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
1 Romans 14:10,12. Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the ESV.
2 2 Corinthians 5:10 NAU.
3 Romans 8:1.
4 Galatians 4:4–7.
5 James Leo Garrett Jr., Systematic Theology, Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, Vol. 1 (N. Richland Hills: BIBAL Press, 2000), 858.
6 1 Corinthians 4:5 NAU.
7 1 Corinthians 3:11–15.
8 2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV.
9 Matthew 6:20–21.
10 John 14:15.
11 T. D. Alexander and B. S. Rosner, eds., in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).