THE PROMISE OF REWARDS

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

Christ has called us to a radical discipleship, to a life that is incredibly distinct from the world.

This distinction, this essential difference and otherness, is the core meaning of ‘holiness’. Perhaps you have noticed that these studies have not focused on the concept of ‘holiness’ or the command to be ‘holy’. But think again. To be ‘holy’ is to be set apart. To be ‘holy’ is to be unique, distinct, different. All of the calls of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, all of the challenges of Christ in the parables, all of his commands and even his promises, confront the believer/disciple with one foundational fact: you, the Christian, are different, and in fact, of necessity, involves us in a responsibility: be what you are.

The call to Christian discipleship is a call to holiness of life based on and flowing out of the already existing holiness of identity given as a gift in the Gospel.

The Gospel says: in Christ you are holy in God’s sight:

God’s eternal purpose is that in Christ we would be ‘holy and blameless in his sight.’ [Eph 1:4]
God presents us to himself as ‘holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation’ [Col 1:22]
All believers are called ‘saints’ – which literally means ‘the holy ones – the set-apart ones’ [see the introductory greetings in most of Paul’s letters].
Through the sacrifice of Christ we ‘have been made holy’ [Hebrews 10:10].
In and through Christ, believers are ‘a holy nation’ [1 Peter 2:9]

The Gospel makes us God’s set-apart people. His special treasure. His unique possession. His children.

The call to on-going Christian discipleship is the call to holiness of life: to a life that is as distinct from the world as God is distinct from all else that is called ‘god’, to a life that manifests that we belong to the God who is holy.

All that we have looked at in these studies confirms these two brief sentences:

You are holy. Be what you are.

 

A. IS BEING A DISCIPLE OF CHRIST ‘WORTH IT’?

Faced with this call to an incredible and absolute discipleship there are those that consider that it is not worth it. The rich young ruler couldn’t face it [Matthew 19:22]. The Jews as a whole couldn’t accept it at all [John 8:31-47]. The large majority of those who walked around with Jesus and listened to his teaching decided it was too much for them [John 6:60-66]. In fact the majority is of this opinion, either actively and openly or passively by default – that to follow Jesus is not worth it.

Is it worth it? Or are we in a fool’s game? The Bible teaches that it is worth it and that there is a reward for those who follow Jesus.

Paul put it this way:

‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is Christ the Lord you are serving.’ [Colossians 3:22-23]

Some of the rewards are present and on-going. Other rewards are in the future, either beyond our personal death, or after the return of Christ and the Day of Judgment.

 

B. CHRIST PROMISES REWARDS THAT ARE IDENTICAL TO SALVATION

B.1 Promises of reward that make salvation look like salvation by works
It is easy to be confused concerning some statements about rewards in the New Testament, because when read superficially, they seem to say that salvation is the effect and result of our human performance, and to teach salvation by works. They make us think that if we live like this, then God will give us the reward of salvation.

This is not the intended meaning. Rather, they are teaching that the salvation that we already possess in Christ and because of our union with Christ, is our already guaranteed ‘reward’: that the life we live because we possess this salvation is the evidence that we already posses it either already or in certain anticipation.

 

Reflection and response: Study these Scripture passages. Discuss the fact that they present as reward what the genuine believer already possesses in Christ.

Expressed as reward

Description of what is promised

Expressed as salvation

Matthew 5:3, 10
Luke 6:20

Kingdom of heaven/God

Matthew 8:11; 13:38;18:3
John 3:3-5; 14:1-4
Colossians 1:13

Matthew 5:4

Comfort

Matthew 11:28-30
John 14:16
2 Thessalonians 2:16

Matthew 5:5

To inherit the earth

Romans 8:17
2 Peter 3:13
Revelation 21:1-7
Matthew 5:6
Luke 6:21

To be filled/satisfied

John 4:14; 6:35; 10:10

Matthew 5:7

To be shown mercy

Romans 12:1;
Ephesians 2:4;
1 Peter 1:3; 2:10
Matthew 5:8
Hebrews 12:14

To see God

John 14:7-9

Matthew 5:9; 5:45
Luke 6:35

To be called the sons of God

John 1:12;
Romans 8:14-16;
1 John 3:1

Luke 6:21

Will laugh

Luke 2:10;
Romans 5:2b,3,11
1 Peter 1:8

1 Timothy 4:8

Crown of righteousness

Romans 1:17
1 Corinthians 1:30

James 1:12

The crown of life

John 20:31
1 John 5:12, 20

 

 In all of these Jesus tells us: it really is worth it – look at what I have already given you. Yes, it is hard and isolating to be a Christian – but think of what you are and have in being a Christian. You do pay a price for being my disciple, because being my disciple means that you will walk in my steps – you pay in terms of rejection, of self-denial, of being committed for the long haul, and even sometimes of physical suffering and death because of my name – but this price that you pay is not the purchase price of the blessedness I promise you.

The price you pay is, rather, an unavoidable part of [1] identifying with me and my one purpose to glorify the Father, and [2] associating with me in a world that rejects me.  I have made you my own, I have blessed you with an immeasurable blessedness, and now you are walking with me on this narrow road. And walking with me on this narrow road you are blessed, for only on this narrow road is there any salvation.

To belong to Christ is to be blessed with multi-faceted salvation. But to belong to Christ is also to be on this narrow road. The blessedness, the reward, and the narrow road cannot be separated.


B.2 Promises of reward centred on ‘glory’
There are quite a number of promises relating to ‘glory’. Again, what looks like a reward for what we do or experience for Christ’s sake is the cause of this ‘glory’. And again we would be mistaken to make that conclusion, because ‘glory’ is one of the aspects of God’s gift of salvation. The following table includes texts that identify ‘glory’ as part of salvation, and others that point to ‘glory’ as consequent to a life of living or suffering for Jesus. The two are not contradictory. As we have seen right through these lessons those who believe in Jesus also obey him. The faith and the actions go together. Without the actions, the claim to faith is invalid. Glory is promised on the basis of our faith union with Christ, but if there is no evidence of that faith union there is no promise of glory.

Reflection and response: Discuss the salvation nature of the rewards promised in these verses.

Text

What is promised

On what basis is this ‘glory’ promised?

John 17:24

To be with me and see my glory

 

Romans 5:2

The glory of God

 

Romans 8:17

To share Christ’s glory

 

Romans 8:18

Glory revealed in us

 

Romans 8:30b

Glorified

 

1 Corinthians 2:7

Our glory

 

2 Cor 4:16-17

Eternal glory

 

Colossians 1:27

Glory

 

Colossians 3:4

We will appear with him in glory

 

1 Thess 2:12

Glory

 

2 Thess 2:14

Share in the glory of Jesus Christ

 

Hebrews 2:10

Glory

 

1 Peter 5:4

Crown of glory that does not fade

 

 

From these texts we see that glory is very definitely another way of describing the salvation every believer has in Christ. It is not the reward for any work we do for God or any suffering we endure on behalf of his kingdom. But because true faith works, only those whose claim to faith is accompanied by works, receive this, or any other, reward.

B.3 Rewards in Revelation that are actually our salvation

We find this same reward/salvation concept is found in the book of Revelation. And again the reason behind this apparent contradiction of the grace nature of salvation is that true faith is always evident. It does not exist as an isolated intellectual concept: it exists in the realities of life, in the choices we make and in the things we do, and it persists despite the pressures of life. We do not need to go past the letters to the seven churches to find aspects of salvation promised as a reward for ‘overcoming’.

What is promised to those who ‘overcome’ in these texts from Revelation? Describe the ‘salvation nature’ of what is promised. Use other Scriptures to affirm this.

2:7

2:11

2:17

2:26-28

3:5,6

3:12

3:21

 

The one who ‘overcomes’ is the one who believes to the end: the one whose faith is real faith in Jesus Christ. Only real faith in Jesus Christ resists and overcomes the pressures to give up on Christ. The faith that gives up in a final way has proved itself non-real. As such, it never has possessed salvation.

 

C. ASSURANCE OF REWARDS

The promise of reward is grounded in the word of Christ.

  • ‘I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward’ [Matthew 10:42; Mark 9:41]
  • ‘I tell you the truth … you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones … will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life’ [Matthew 19:28-29; Mark 10:29-20]
  • ‘… a faith and a knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time’ [Titus 1:2]
  • ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful’ [Heb 10:23]
  • ‘So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised’ [Hebrews 10:35-36]
  • ‘… he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him’ [James 1:12]
  • ‘… to inherit the kingdom which God has promised those who love him’ [James 2:5]

 

D. REWARDS FOR THE PERSECUTED

Jesus promised rewards in heaven to those who suffer persecution for his sake.

Reflection and response: Check out these verses.

Text

To whom is reward given

What is the reward? Is it the same salvation that every believer is promised, or something additional?

Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:22,23

   

Romans 8:17

 

   

Revelation 6:9-11

 

   

Revelation 20:4-6

 

   

 

E. REWARDS THAT APPEAR TO BE REWARDS FOR WHAT WE DO

But there are also rewards that appear to be additional to salvation. Eternity may yet prove them to be identical with salvation, for the Gospel states that we are all one in Christ [Galatians 3:26-28] without distinction in righteousness [Romans 3:22-24], and also states that there will be no tears in the final state [Revelation 21:4]. Yet, for the moment, we can work only with what is made known to us, and that is that it certainly appears that there are going to be rewards distributed according to things we have done.

Reflection and response: Discuss these texts. To whom are these rewards promised? How are they described? In what way do they appear similar or dissimilar to salvation?

Text

To whom the reward is promised

What is taught about the reward?

Matthew 6:6,18

 

 

 

Matthew 16:27

 

 

 

1 Cor 3:10-15

 

 

 

 

2 Cor 5:10

 

 

 

Ephesians 6:7-8

 

 

 

Revelation 22:12

 

 

 

 

F. WRONG ATTITUDES TO REWARDS

Because of our sinful self-focus and our performance-based paradigm, the whole area of rewards is filled with potential sin on our part. As soon as rewards are mentioned, we fall into one or more of a number of sin-traps:

  • We obey Christ’s commands just to get the reward, not because he is who he is
  • We preach the Gospel in order to get a reward, not for the joy of honouring God and bringing others to honour him
  • We think that we are doing something worthy of reward even when we are only doing what we should have done anyway
  • We become full of pride thinking that we will merit rewards
  • We become full of despair thinking that we will not get any rewards
  • We fall into the habit of comparing ourselves with others
  • We do things only that we expect to receive a reward for
  • We expect that men also will reward us for our piety
  • We would rather have the immediate reward of man’s praise than the eternal reward that God gives.

All of these cut right across the grace and unity that are at the centre of the Gospel and take our eyes off Christ who is supposed to be our focus.

Reflection and response: What warnings do these verses contain about wrong attitudes to rewards?

Matthew 5:45

 

 

Matthew 6:1-4, 5-6, 16-18

 

 

Luke 6:32-34

 

 

John 5:41-44

 

 

1 Corinthians 9:16-18

 

 

Colossians 2:18

  

 

 

G. DANGEROUS ATTITUDES TO REWARDS

Contemporary culture and much of contemporary Christianity displays a different attitude to rewards than we have seen in this study. Discuss the contemporary attitudes listed below, noting expressions of these attitudes, and contrasts and comparisons with the Biblical view.

• The need for ‘instant’ rewards
• The need for the praise of men
• The need for physical rewards
• Self-focused rather than Christ-focused
• Self-worth based on the presence of human praise
• Expectation of financial reward determines choices
• Christ followed for self-serving reasons

 

H. THE CHALLENGE
 
To have a Biblical attitude to rewards requires a Biblical attitude to God and to self. The godly, God-honouring perspective is expressed in Frederick William Faber’s hymn:

My God, how wonderful Thou art, Thy majesty how bright!
How beautiful Thy mercy-seat, In depths of burning light!

How dread are Thine eternal years, O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night incessantly adored!

How beautiful, how beautiful, The sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power, And awful purity!

O how I fear Thee, living God, With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship Thee with trembling hope And penitential tears!

Yet I may love Thee too, O Lord, Almighty as Thou art,
For Thou has stooped to ask of me The love of my poor heart.

No earthly Father loves like Thee; No mother e’er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou has done With me, Thy sinful child.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward, What rapture will it be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie, And gaze and gaze on Thee.

We see in the last stanza, that God himself is the reward. Out of his awe-filled awareness of God’s power and holiness, his realistic understanding of his own sinfulness, and his amazement at the sheer grace of God in desiring his love, this man knows that to see and to know God is the sum of all rewards and the only reward worth having. That is all that needs to be said. May this be our goal, our reward, as we commit ourselves to live as his disciples.