Eternal Rewards, part 1

Eternal Rewards

Varied Scripture references

Bruce A. Hess

As we begin today, we want to talk about what I think is a great discipleship secret. It is a discipleship secret that is largely un-emphasized in the Christian community, yet, repeatedly emphasized in Scripture and that is the prospect of eternal rewards for a believer in Jesus Christ, for a follower of Jesus Christ.

 I believe, I’ve noticed this over the years, that eternal reward seems to be a forgotten truth. It seems to be a frequently neglected truth, seems to be an unexplored truth. I think that many believers, it is a very common thing, it seems, for them to lack a real awareness of what the Bible says about eternal rewards. At times, I think, there is even some confusion about what the Bible says about it.

People ask questions like, ‘Well, is every follower of Jesus Christ going to give an account for how they’ve lived their Christian life? Is there an event on God’s prophetic calendar where such an evaluation is going to take place? Can eternal rewards really be won or lost by how I’m choosing to live my life?’

Someone might say, ‘Wait a minute now, I don’t get this, isn’t the spiritual foundation of Biblical Christianity that salvation is not by works, it’s not something we earn? Isn’t this idea of earning eternal reward sort of a contradiction of that basic spiritual foundation?’

Or, someone might say, ‘Well, I thought, wait a minute, I thought every believer, upon faith receives an inheritance that is reserved in heaven for them, so where do eternal rewards fit in all this?’

Someone else might say, ‘Isn’t it just wrong to have as a motive to gain an eternal reward? I mean that sounds a little mercenary like to me.’

Part of the battle in all of this is, this world is all we have ever known by experience. By experience this world is all we have ever known. I think it is easy for us to be distracted and lose sight of the fact that the Bible tells us we are strangers, we are aliens, we are ambassadors to this world. Ultimately, as followers of Jesus, we are living far from home and we need God’s revelation to enlighten us about the life to come and about our future home in heaven.

Now, this study we are going to be doing for three sessions, beginning this week, is a study that I have been contemplating for a while. Here is the bottom line of all of this, this whole concept of eternal rewards comes from the very heart of God. My hope is, in these three sessions on this subject of eternal rewards, my hope is that it will bring clarity to understanding of eternal rewards for all of us. My hope is it will be a spiritual challenge for each one of us, for you and for me. My hope is that this study would catalyze and energize our motivation to live a life of faithfulness that honors Jesus. My hope is that ultimately we, your life and my life, would give glory and honor to the one who first loved us. Now, does that sound like a worthy journey to be on? It is for me and I am looking forward to it.

Our plan for today involves really three things:

  • First of all, we are going to clarify Scripture truth regarding good works and salvation. We want to make sure we are very clear there.
  • Secondly, we are going to observe the common motif of reward in the New Testament and I think we will see it is more common than we might imagine.
  • Then, the third thing we are going to do today in this opening message is take a quick glimpse at two key passages.

That is what we are going to do. This first one we are going to take on because I don’t want there to be any confusion at all. So, the very first thing we are going to do is clarify Scripture truth regarding good works and salvation.

Let me just summarize it this way, salvation, forgiveness of sin, entrance into heaven, cannot be earned by anybody. That is a core foundational truth of the Christian life. And, I want to spend a few moments summarizing the Gospel message just so we make it very clear. This is the message of forgiveness; this is the message of how we get to heaven. The first thing we need to do when we clarify that message is, we need to realize the problem. I am going to go through this truth and it is some truth that many of us know, but I never get tired of hearing it because it changed my life forever.

The first thing we need to do is, we need to realize the problem. Romans 3:23 says that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Every one of us, as a human being, if you are breathing, you have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The glory of God is the standard. God’s standard for acceptance and forgiveness and eternity in heaven is a standard of perfection. Every one of us have fallen short of that standard. We need to realize the problem.

The problem goes on in Roman 6:23, because it tells us the wages of sin, which we are guilty of, is death. That is what we have earned because of our sin in our life. It is a slow death in this life and an eternal death in the next life. What we have earned, this is part of the problem, our destiny as sinners, is hell forever. It is not a good position to be in. We can’t do enough good works to earn forgiveness from God.

Galatians, chapter 2, verse 16 says, a man is not justified by the works of the law. We can’t do enough obedience to God’s law to earn our way to heaven and to win forgiveness for ourselves. It is a futile effort.

I want you to check out this little thought. Putting our hope in good deeds as a way to earn forgiveness, is like trying to climb to the moon on a rope of sand. Anyone going to get there? Impossible! On a rope of sand? From here to the moon? Not going to happen. Well, the same thing is putting our hope in good deeds as a way to earn forgiveness. It’s just not going to happen. We need to realize the problem. In fact, our situation is so desperate, the problem is so desperate, the Bible says that we are helpless as human beings, we have no hope of getting there.

The second thing about the Gospel Message that we must do is, we need to recognize then, the solution to the problem. I have a significant problem, I’m helpless, I’m hopeless, but God had a solution and that is that He sent Jesus Christ who is the God-man, to come to this planet to die in my place. That is why He came, right? I just love talking about this. I could talk about this all day long. The Son of man came, why? To this planet, to give His life as a ransom for many, to pay for our sins, right?

Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us in this: while we were yet sinners (in that helpless, no hope situation) Christ died for us.” This is exciting stuff. Great to review and remember!

Then, in 1 John 2:2, one of my favorite verses in the Bible, it says that He Himself, Jesus, is the propitiation for our sins. That’s not a word we use a lot in English today, but propitiation means He completely, legally, satisfied all of God’s wrath towards sin. The penalty was fully and forever paid.

Hebrews 9:12 says that Jesus obtained eternal redemption. That is the solution that we need. When Jesus said on the cross, you remember this statement? He said, “It is finished!” What was finished? The work of redemption was finished and accomplished.

If you have been around Wildwood for a while, you know that I like to talk about how, when you take all the religious systems of the world, they all fit into one of two categories. In fact, most of the religious systems, all but one, fit into the first category and that is a category where they spell salvation, ‘DO’, D-0. There is something that we must do. Now, these various religious systems will define the do part differently, but they all say that is how you get forgiveness, that is how you go to heaven, that is how you experience salvation. There is something you must do and they usually have pretty long lists.

There is one religious system that fits in another category and that is Biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity spells salvation, D-O-N-E, ‘DONE.’ The work was fully done for us by the person of Jesus Christ.

If you have a Bible, open it to Ephesians, chapter 2. I want to look at a couple of verses, they are very familiar to many of us.  Again, I personally get excited about this, I am celebrating what God has done in my life. Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 8. It says, “For by grace you have been saved (forgiven, givenentrance into heaven) through faith; and this is not of yourselves, (right? Because we can’t work it out) it is the gift of God (it is a gift that He gives to us) It is not, (verse 9) a result of works.” Extremely clear, isn’t it? Not a result of works.

The Scripture truth of good works and salvation is that works have no part in it at all. For some of us, maybe, because I don’t know all of us here, maybe that is news to you. You thought, ‘Yeah, I have to climb some kind of a rope to get there.’ But the Bible says no. So, what happens a lot of times is, for those who have trusted in Christ, we think, ‘Well, good works, we never have to be involved with good works.’

But, see, a lot of us are familiar with verses 8 and 9, but we miss verse 10. Because, in verse 10 he says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” In other words, what he is saying is, once our eternal destiny is guaranteed by trusting in Christ, by grace through faith, once we are adopted into the family of God, he is saying good works are to be part of the life that we have been called to live. It doesn’t get us to heaven, but it is a calling we have from God.

That leads me to the second thing that we want to do and that is, we want to observe the common motif of reward in the New Testament. One commentator looked at all twenty-seven books of the New Testament and he found a direct reference to rewards in twenty-four of the twenty-seven books. So, let’s look at this common motif, which again is probably more common than we would think.

Maybe the first hint of this comes in Matthew, chapter 5, in verse 19, where Jesus says that some in the kingdom of heaven will be called least and some in the kingdom of heaven will be called great. Wait a minute, everyone’s not in the exact same situation. They are in heaven, but some are more least and some are more great.

Jesus goes on to say, again, similar things in Matthew, chapter 5, verses 11 and 12, He says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” He says, “Rejoice and be glad.” Why would anyone want to rejoice and be glad when people are insulting you and persecuting you and falsely saying all kinds of evil against you because of Jesus? Why would we ever rejoice and be glad? Well, notice He says, “For your reward in heaven is great.”

Now, not all of us are going to be persecuted necessarily, or have people falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of the person of Christ that we claim, but for those who have that happen to them, there is a reward that is great, He says, in heaven.

Matthew, chapter 6, verse 1 – Jesus, in light of them looking at the way the Pharisees operated, He says to the disciples, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them,” which is what the Pharisees did, when they wanted to pray they wanted to pray right in the front, publicly and do things in a very showy kind of way. Everyone look at how spiritual I am. He said, ‘Don’t do that for if you do that, “You have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”

See, if we are involved in being spiritual so that everybody gets to see how spiritual they are, you know, we’re talking about how often we are doing our devotions and we are memorizing this, whatever it may be, or we’re serving, we are doing it so that people can see us, He says, there is no reward when that happens, at all.

Look at Matthew, chapter 6, verses 19 and 20, Jesus talking to the disciples again, and He says, “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Remember, He says that because what is here on the planet doesn’t go to heaven. He says, by way of a command actually, this second verb, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” That is a command. We are told to make investments in heaven, by way of a command, there is reward in heaven for doing that.

Matthew 10:41, an interesting passage, Jesus speaking, “He who receives a prophet…” what does that really mean? It is referring to someone who would help out a prophet, who would travel in those days, maybe help them out financially or give them some things that they need. He says, “He who receives a prophet (this latter part astonishes me) shall receive a prophet’s reward.” It doesn’t say part of a prophet’s reward, it says if you reach out and help maybe assisting a missionary or something, you receive that person’s reward.

Look at Luke, chapter 6, verse 35. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” What does He say then? When you make those choices in your life, your reward will be great. Well, what if I choose not to love my enemies? I’m not going to get a great reward. See how that works?

Luke, chapter 14, verses 13 and 14. Jesus said, “When you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and you will be blessed.” Notice He says this, He says, “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” If you minister to the poor and the crippled and the lame and the blind, there is a reward for doing that. Now, if I’m not ministering to the poor and the crippled and the lame and the blind, I don’t receive that kind of reward at the resurrection of the righteous. 

John 12:26, a very simple statement, it says, “If anyone serves Me…the Father will honor him.” Now, when He talks about serving Me, He’s not talking about doing it vocationally. So, here’s a question, does everybody who attends church, are they actively serving Jesus in some way? Maybe or maybe not. But, if anyone serves me, He says there is a reward for that. The Father will honor him.

1 Corinthians, chapter 3, see how this goes on and on, this motif? It is everywhere. It says in chapter 3, of 1 Corinthians, verse 14, “If any man’s work remains,” there is going to be this test that happens of the things and the choices we’ve made in our life, we are going to look at that more coming up, it says, “he will receive a reward.”  But not everything is going to remain so there would be a lack of a reward.

James, chapter 1, in verse 12, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial.”  Why is he blessed? If he holds up under trials and adversity and we’ve all experienced those kinds of things, do we spiritually collapse? Or, do we persevere through that in the power of God? If one does, he will receive the crown of life. There will be a reward for that.

Revelation, chapter 2, in verse 10, He is talking the church there. They were under persecution; they were under the threat of losing their life and do you know that we have followers of Jesus around the globe now that are under that very threat? It could cost them their life. He says, if that is true of you, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” There will be a reward you see, for that.

I want you to turn, if you would, to 1 Peter, chapter 5, in your Bibles. I want to look at a few verses here in 1 Peter, chapter 5. What happens in the first four verses is, Peter is addressing the leaders of the church, the elders of the church, and He says to them in verse 2, what I want you to do as church leaders is to shepherd the flock of God among you. I want you to do it voluntarily, according to the will of God. I want you to do it not for sordid gain, you are not in this leading the church thing for money gain. Nor, as yet lording it over those allotted to your charge. You’re not to be dictatorial as you lead in the church.

Then, He says, you are to be proving to be examples to the flock, you are to be a spiritual example to others and when the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive the unfading crown of glory. When, as church leaders, you lead the way I have exhorted you to do, you are going to receive a reward for that.

Now, not all church leaders do that. Some church leaders are in it for money gain. Some church leaders are not setting a good example for the flock. Will they get a reward? No. But, the church leaders who do, will receive a reward.

The second epistle of John, verse 8, “Watch yourselves,” this is spoken to the followers of Jesus, “that you do not lose what we have accomplished.” What he means by that, we have spiritually invested in you. I don’t want you to lose that, to sort of forfeit that in any way. I don’t want you to waste that, “But that you might receive a full reward.” In other words, there are choices you are going to make in your spiritual life, I want you to receive a full reward. The New Living Translation says, “Be diligent that you might receive a full reward.” That means it is possible for us to not get full reward, right?

Then, in Revelation, chapter 22, verse 12, “Behold, (Jesus says) I am coming quickly (this is fascinating to me) and My reward is with Me, to render to every man, woman, according to what they have done.” You see, this is a common motif and yet it is often a forgotten truth, a neglected truth, an unexplored truth.  What that means, men and women, is that the study of eternal rewards is very, very important. In fact, it is spiritually vital to each one of us who name the name of Christ.

Again, we have limited perspective from Earth. We have the world, the flesh, the devil, pulling on us all the time. Here is what is interesting, one day it will be crystal clear to us what we should have done.

Randy Alcorn says this, this is really very accurate, he says, ”Five minutes after we die, every Christian will understand that heaven is our home and earth was simply a temporary lodging on the homeward journey. Then, we’ll know by experience, what was important and what wasn’t. We will see with eternity’s clarity. We will know exactly how we should have lived.”

Totally true! I mean, five minutes after we die and everything is crystal clear, we are going to know what was important and what wasn’t and there will be no argument, we’ll see it clearly. We’ll see with eternity’s clarity. We will know then exactly how we should have lived. You know what the problem with that is? It is very true, the problem with that is, it’s too late. Right? If we have to wait until we arrive there to have that all crystal clear, it’s too late.

This is why the word of God is so valuable, this is why the Scripture is so valuable, because the Scripture pulls back the curtain and we get to see now what is important and what isn’t important. And, we get to see now how exactly we should live our lives. So, what that means, right at this juncture is, I think we need to sit up and we need to lean in to what the word of God has to say.

As we stated, we were going to do three things. We were going to clarify Scripture truth regarding good works and salvation, because I don’t want to garble that at all. Then, we said we were going to observe the common motif of reward in the New Testament. The third thing we want to do is to take a quick glimpse at two key passages that talk about this whole idea of rewards.

The first one is found in Romans, chapter 14, verses 10-12. So, that is what we want to look at for a moment. I want to read chapter 14, verses 10-12. In verse 10, he is talking to the believers at Rome and He says, “Why do you judge your brother? Or you as well, why do you regard your brother with contempt?” Then, notice what he says there, “For we all will stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, to Me every knee will bow, and every tongue will give praise to God.’ So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”

What is he talking about in verse 10? He is talking about choices that we make in how we are living our life, actions we would take or not take, and he says at the end of that, we will all stand. How many people are included in all? How many people in this room, who know Jesus Christ personally, are included in all? All of us! We will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  That little phrase, that term judgment seat, in the original language is just one word that has four letters to it. It is the word, bema, b-e-m-a. We are going to all stand before the bema of God. What in the world was a bema? Well, we are going to be looking at that in the coming times.

Notice, again, it says there in verse 12, “So then each one of us,” wow, there is a lot of emphasis here that no one is left out, “will give an account of himself to God.” In other words, there is a future event ahead for each of us, who are followers of Christ, where there is going to be an evaluation of choices we made in our spiritual life.

The second passage I want to look at very quickly is 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 6-10. I want to read those verses. Chapter 5, verses 6-10. Verse 6 says, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-for we walk by faith, not by sight-but we are of good courage and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

Now, you don’t know this, but yesterday we had a memorial service here for Louis Boyd (a 40+ year church member) and Louis Boyd’s body was parked right there, right there [Bruce points to the floor right below the pulpit]. Now, Louis was not there. He was absent from the body and present with the Lord, but his earth tent was still here. What he is basically saying, that no matter where we are, the goal is the same, to be pleasing to Him. He is saying that is the ambition that I have, that is the aim that I have, why is he driven like that? Well, he tells us in verse 10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body (while we were on the planet) according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

Look at it again. We must all, here we go again, appear before the bema of Christ. Why? So that each one, anyone left out of that? No one. May be recompensed for his deeds, for the life choices we made in living out our Christian life, we did it in the body, while we were on the planet, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

What is this all saying? That I am going to give an account for how I have lived my Christian life and rewards are at stake. Here is what is interesting about that, I think that is often far from our thinking, but you notice it’s not far from Paul’s thinking. You say, ‘Well, Bruce, I don’t fully understand all of this. I mean, how does all this work? I mean what is this bema thing? What is involved in this evaluation?

I mean, what are these rewards we are talking about? What should I be aiming for in my life? I have all these kinds of questions.’ That is why we are going to be back next week and the week after that. We’ll be zooming in on all those things and answering many of those questions.

Now, as we close our time together, I want to go back to what we started with and that is the issue of salvation, which by the way, is the most important issue in all of the universe, because it determines our eternal destiny. Earlier, we talked about how, if we are going to understand the most important issue, we must do three things. Again, I get excited talking about this because, I cannot believe that God showed this to me.

We have to realize the problem. The problem is sin. We were infected with the virus when we were born and we make choices that just prove over and over again, that we are sinners. The problem isn’t just that, the problem is that we earn death because of that, which is really eternal death, which goes on for all time. I can remember when it first was communicated to me, maybe some of this is new to some you, I don’t know all of you well, but I can remember when this was first communicated to me, it like took my breath away, are you kidding me? That is the problem I have. I’m helpless and hopeless to do anything about it?

Then, I recognized the solution because it was communicated to me that there is nothing you can do to earn that, but someone named Jesus Christ came to this planet to solve the problem. He paid all the penalty, He died in your place, He took all the responsibility. Then, He offers forgiveness to you as a free gift. He offers you eternity in heaven as a free gift.

Well, what do I need to do to make sure that happens? Then, they communicated to me, the third thing you need to do is, you need to rely on Christ’s work. You make a life choice to say, I’m not counting on…no way I’m counting on my good stuff to get me there, what I want to count on and believe in by faith, is Christ’s work on my behalf. Hey, here’s the deal, just as I was speaking to the group yesterday at the memorial service, I don’t want anyone to go away without having trusted in Christ, because the price is way too high a price to pay.

One of my favorite verses, the second verse I ever memorized was John 3:16, you know, “God so loved the world, that He gave His unique Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish (which means really to have eternal death) but have eternal life.” One of the things that is really neat to do is to put your name in there. Maybe you’ve never done that.

For God so loved Bruce, that He gave His unique Son that if Bruce believes in Him, trusts in Him, and counts on His work, Bruce shall not perish, but have eternal life.

As we are going to go on and we’re going to talk about rewards and we’re going to talk about living out the works that God has called us to live, I just want to give a chance for every person to make that life choice, just the same way I did. If you’ve never done that, if you are unsure whether you have done that, let’s make it plain and sure today. Alright?

I am going to close us in prayer and you know your heart before God. If you have never put your name in the blanks and made the life choice to count on the work of Christ, I encourage you, I beg you to do that very thing this morning. So, I am going to pray as I close and I am going to pray some phrases and if you would like to know eternal life and to have eternal life and to trust in Christ—just from your heart to the heart of God—repeat these phrases as I pray. All of us can be praying about any who may not know Him yet, right now.

Let me pray. Father, we thank You for Your word and we thank You for what we’ve studied today. For those who have never done so—or they are unsure whether they have ever done so—may they make their eternity sure today. May they pray this – Father, I acknowledge that I am a sinner and have violated Your standards. God, I deserve Your judgment and eternal death. Lord, right now, I put all my reliance and trust in Jesus’ death on the cross for me. Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me. Make me who You designed me to be. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

Eternal Rewards Week one

1. How often have you heard teaching on the subject of eternal rewards? 

    Why do you think the subject isn’t addressed more frequently?

2. Some people feel that encouraging a believer to make spiritual life choices with the

    motive of  gaining an eternal reward sounds wrong…sounds mercenary-like.

    Why do you think that is?

    How does that idea square with Scripture?

3. Re-read 2 Corinthians 5:6-10.  What should we learn from such a passage? Elaborate.

4. CS Lewis said this in Mere Christianity:

            If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present

            world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  It is since Christians

            have largely ceased to think of the future world, that they have become so

            ineffective in this.

      Pray that God will deepen your personal focus on the world to come—which, indeed,

      is our true home.