Thursday, May 30, 2002

Posts are in reverse chronological order.

Rewards in Heaven

Do Christians receive different rewards in heaven? I think that they do, although you have to examine a number of verses to build the case.

This is not a popular subject. In my experience I have heard more sermons on "fire and brimstone" than on our rewards.

Judgement Seat of Christ

Get ready (if you're a Christian) to be brought before the Judgment Seat of Christ:

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Rom 14:10, NASB)

For we must all appear 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 Cor 5:10, NASB)

Upon in-context examination it is clear that the we in these verses refers to Christians. The final terrible judgment for unbelievers is the White Throne Judgement described in Rev 20:11-15. That is an appointment that you do not want to find in your Palm Pilot.

2 Cor 5:10 makes it clear that (1) we will be judged and (2) we will be paid commensurate with our deeds, both good and bad. There are many other verses that speak of rewards, such as

knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. (Eph 6:8, NASB)

The well know verse:

"But store up for yourselves (1) treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; (Matthew 6:20, NASB)

also teaches that we, through our actions on earth, can store treasure in heaven.

The apostles are promised rewards for dropping everything and following Christ, as are those who suffer persecution and stand firm. A careful search will reveal about 25 passages in the New Testament that talk of rewards. For some, but not all, it could be argued the promised rewards are for this life, not the one to come.

Doctrine of Works

One of the reasons this idea is not popular is the unpleasant notion of haves and have-nots in heaven. But this is tied up with our propensity, in our fallen state, to covet-- a sin which will not be part our glorified nature. I don't think we will envy others, but might we regret our own missed opportunities?

Another objection to commensurate rewards is that it implies our works are meritorious, which goes against the grain of any by-grace-alone red-blooded evangelical. So just to clarify:

  • Works done before you are saved have nothing to do with your salvation.
  • Works done after you are saved will affect your reward (and give you assurance)

This is not a salvation-by-works philosophy.

Interestingly none can complain of a lack of opportunity:

For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph 2:10, NASB)

The Wrong Argument

Many prominent theologians have made supporting statements along the lines of: It is inconceivable that (pick one or more) {Paul, Stephen, Daniel, David, ..} receives the same reward as (pick one or more) {Thief on the cross, Ananias (if he is saved), Sapphira (if she is saved), …}.

While I believe their rewards are different, it is not for this reason. This is basically the If I were God, then… argument which is always dangerous, even if it sounds reasonable. Apart from supporting scripture such an argument, no matter the source and no matter how reasonable, should be treated with suspicion.

Arguments Against

One argument against different rewards is that, yes we get different rewards as a result of judgment but we turn around and give them right back:

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." (Rev 4:9-11, NASB)

Possibly, but I donut see this as saying all rewards are in the form of crowns. The rewards Christ talks about to the apostles, for example, sound more like privileged positions in our roles as joint heirs.

Another argument is the parable of the laborers, in Matthew 20.
(This is were the workers who toiled only one hour get the same wages as those that worked all day).

I agree that the most straightforward interpretation of this parable is equal rewards in heaven. However, in light of all the passages suggesting different rewards, well, something has to give. Some interpret this parable to apply only to the gift of salvation: the thief on the cross is "as saved" as the Apostle Paul. Another possibility is that the new comers refer to the Gentiles, while those putting in a longer day are the Jews.

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