Rewards in Heaven?

Will there be awards honored to the saints in heaven based on their labors for Christ here on earth? [suggesting that some will received more than others.] In Matthew 16:27 we read:

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

Rewards? Works or Grace!

Will believers be audited—not as regards salvation (we know that is solely by grace) but—as regards, in some way, inheriting the blessings of heaven? [Romans 2:6]. Revelation 14:13 seems to suggest that awards are warranted because it is referencing those who “died in the Lord” and the record of their service to the Lord “following.”

Some contend (for eternal security) that how we live (what we do) does not impact saving grace. They might argue that works don’t define our position in Christ but decide the rewards in heaven that will follow [Hebrews 13:17].

The Scriptures freely use such language:

  • Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you…  falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven….” [Matthew 5:11-12a].
  • “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. [Luke 6Z:35-36].
  • Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. [1 Corinthians 3:8].
  • if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward…. [1 Corinthians 9:17].

Wages or Gift?

This question seems legitimate exegetically because the word and concept of “reward” speaks of a “wage” which is always earned (not unearned) and deserved (not undeserved) which is unlike grace!

“Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” [Romans 4:4].

So how do we understand Revelations 22:12,

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

Paul appears to be careful on this point. When pressed, Paul referred specifically to a “crown of righteousness” which is equally given all believers [2 Timothy 4:8]. Elsewhere Paul clarifies: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” [Romans 11:6].

So are we arguing that both works and grace play a part in the distribution of heaven’s blessings? Or because (1) “grace” is more abundant to save from sin [Romans 5:20] and (2) grace is instrumental in our spiritual well-being [Galatians 2:20-21] and ministry [Romans 12:3], can we not say that grace alone is the modus operandi of heaven, the way in which heaven operates or the reason for the distribution of blessings in God’s Kingdom?

An Apologetic

There is a logical argument that supports the premise that, even in Heaven, grace swallows up works in the same fashion as the eternal makes the temporal disappear [2 Corinthians 4:18].

“…to him that sows righteousness shall be a sure [true] reward” – Proverbs 11:18b

An argument can be made logically for grace based on the sheer absurdity of the notion that we should expect to be treated differently in heaven based on earthly service.“It is not so much recompense as a sign of God’s grace and blessing.” [Kittel, vol iv. page 697]. In The Wisdom Literature we read “But the righteous live forever, and their reward is in the Lord.” [5:15: δικαιοι δε εις τον αιωγα ζωσιν, και εν κυριω ο μισθος αυτων.] Any “reward” in heaven would be a permanent, eternal, benefit, for how would it be possible that God would offer anything for a period of time when He is all about eternal blessings—and time is no more [Revelation 10:6]!  If heaven’s gifts are “earned” in this life we are imagining an inequality in the distribution of blessings that will be forever. My mind always goes back to the thief on the cross which the Savior brought with Him into paradise. What reward might he have lost because he had no time to merit any heavenly benefits based on works!

Earned or Inherited?

Often, words in our Bible carry a meaning not so common in our language., “Reward” is such a term associating with the word “inheritance” [Psalm 127:3].  An inheritance from the Lord is clearly an act of His grace [Galatians 3:18 NET].

“You will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” – Colossians 3:24 NIV

Few or Many?

If we get to drink from the river of life with a smaller or larger cup based on works, is there a difference, since the river never runs dry! But there is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 [and Luke 19:11-27] in which Jesus suggested a kind of reward based on faithful Christian stewardship. In verse 21, the Savior concluded, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” Although unfaithful stewards never get into heaven in the first place, is the “few” to “many” suggestive of a reward? Few and many are terms suggesting limits. These are terms that fail to describe the limitless provisions of heaven [Ephesians 2:7].

Where logic fails is in these very terms “few” and “many.” These are defined finitely not in terms of the infinite. Jesus was using temporal logic in a Jewish world to emphasize the importance to God of our stewardship. As persons of faith our entire lives are resources for God’s use [Romans 6:13]. Where the words few and many have theological value is in contrasting our labors in this life with the eternal glorious benefits of heaven. [1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17 compared to Hebrews 11:26].

For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious. – 2 Corinthians 3:11

“Everywhere in the kingdom of love, to say nothing of the kingdom of grace, all idea of merit falls to the ground….” [Lange. vol X. page 216.]

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