rewards
Rewards in heaven. I hope to have some, but the idea of rewards in heaven is difficult to fit into my theology. My mother used to say, “As long as I make it, I don’t care if I am riding a tricycle.”

Christ taught that there will be rewards in heaven. Each person will receive a certain “bonus” according to his deeds. Listen to this:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21 19)

What do we do with this? Had I been with Jesus as he preached this, I would have asked him some questions:

1. “How do we get these rewards?”

2. “I thought redemption—everlasting life—was the reward. Are you saying we are going to have rewards on top of this reward? A ‘heavenly bonus’?”

3. “Does everyone receive the same rewards?”

Finally, assuming I know the answer to these first three (which I think I do), I would ask one final question:

4. “Which is the cause of these rewards:  our works or your grace?”

If it is of grace then it is not of works; otherwise, grace is no longer grace (Rom. 11:6). Therefore, the answer to the first question would have to be “good deeds.”

The context to the statement in Matt. 6 is not seeking the rewards of men by pridefully praying or putting on a long face while fasting in public to be seen as holy. Do all things in secret “and your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (v. 18). This implies that there will be rewards in addition to eternal life. That takes care of question two.

The answer to question three is easy. That everyone does not get the same amount of rewards is evident. Not only does the passage above necessarily imply this, Luke 19 and the parable of the minas teaches us as much also. As well, Paul instructs the Corinthians that there will be a time of reckoning for our rewards. At this time, some believers’ works will be tested and found wanting. Though their salvation is secure, some believers’ rewards will be lost (i.e., they will not get much of a bonus).

“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:12-15)

This would include those people who fast and pray for the praise of men. Their heavenly reward will be burned up, though their eternal life is secure in God.

How do I fit this into my theology?

It is the fourth question (”Which is the decisive cause of these rewards: our works or your grace?”) that causes me some confusion. Since my salvation is by grace alone without any reference to works (Rom. 11:6), then are we saying that the added bonus we receive after the resurrection is by works?

This is very difficult, but I do believe our effort produces these rewards. I also believe that, in some mysterious way, it is really God’s grace that is the ultimate cause. While works are necessary for these rewards, in the end we will see that it was the grace of God alone that fueled our works. Therefore, God is the one who ultimately receives the glory. This is why when we are in the presence of Christ, we will cast our crowns at his feet, in recognition that he was responsible for all our rewards (Rev. 4:10). Put it this way:

Salvation=God’s grace alone without the aid of human effort. (Monergistic)

Rewards=God’s grace alone with human effort. (Synergistic)

However, this presents significant problems, especially for us Protestants. Isn’t this just the same thing Catholics do with the relationship of grace and works with regard to salvation? And we don’t like that. We cry foul. They say that justification is by faith plus works, but that these works are ultimately the result of God’s grace. Why can’t they say the same thing about salvation that we are saying about rewards — that both are of grace alone? Do you see the problem?

In other words, if you are going to go this direction with rewards and define “grace alone” in a synergistic way, why would we have problems with Catholic theology that does the same thing with the issue of justification? “Grace alone” cannot mean two different things, can it?

I am not sure I have an answer right now. But it is an intriguing question. Nevertheless, I believe that justification is by grace alone without any regards to human effort. If human effort did play a part, grace is not grace. However, I believe that a theology of rewards must recognize that human effort plays a decisive role in the rewards we receive. To use my mother’s language, some of us will be riding tricycles in heaven while others will be in Ferraris; the determining factor will be our efforts to serve Christ here on the earth. Or to use Christ’s language, “‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities. The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.'” (Luke 19:17-19). Service produces “cities” (i.e., authority, responsibilities, rewards).

What does this mean? It means that we have an opportunity beyond anything we could ever imagine. When Christ said to store up your treasures in heaven . . . he was serious! Christians should not cop-out on this issue, saying, “As long as I have my salvation, I am happy. I don’t care about rewards.” This is to deny Christ’s right to use rewards to push us toward good deeds. And that is what he is doing, isn’t it? Using rewards as a motivation for our service? If you say you don’t care about rewards, are you not claiming to be “above” Christ’s motivation?

Often, I am very uncomfortable thinking as I do. It can seem self-serving. In a way, what we are saying about rewards is very similar to what Catholics say about salvation. It is God’s grace that gives us the opportunity, but my effort is ultimately determinative. But if God has commanded us and motived us in such a way, don’t you think we need to be more comfortable with this?

What say you? What is your theology of rewards?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    116 replies to "Are Rewards in Heaven Based on Our Effort or God's Grace?"

    • “antihetical”… hum, and also perhaps a dialectic? Indeed Christian works are given or produced by grace in God, again I like Paul’s Eph. 2: 8-10!

      “For of Him we are a product, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, previously prepared by God in order that in them we might walk.” (verse 10)

    • Rick

      Maybe some of you folks should read “Reign of the Sevant Kings” by Jody Dillow. It will answer your questions intellectually with all deference to Zane Hodges. You can read it free on-line here: http://www.bibleone.net/RSK.html

      Or an old pamphlet from Back to the Bible broadcast titled “Present Labor, Future Rewards” will be very helpful.

    • […] Read the rest here. […]

    • […] discussion about works and rewards. I do think many evangelicals are afraid of rewards because it sound too self serving. But […]

    • […] Some Thoughts about Rewards in Heaven […]

    • Charo

      Excellent article and discussion. Is it possible that Catholics might actually be on the right track after all? There could be a rhyme to go along with their reason, if only more would try to understand their reasoning w/o dismissing them altogether because of misbeliefs and assumptions about their faith.

    • Brother

      What’s MY theology of rewards? Here ya go:
      “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, HOW SHALL HE NOT WITH HIM ALSO FREELY GIVE US ALL THINGS?” (Romans 8:32)

    • P Adams

      Interesting.

      I know we separate things into categories to discuss them, but all these things go together. I think one of our big problems is our need to categorize things and force them into neat little boxes.

      Anyway, how about the parable of the day workers….some worked all day, some not until the last hour, but they all received the same wage. It was about God’s generosity, and not what the workers thought should be their reward or pay. The workers focused on the wrong thing.

      My theology about ‘rewards’…I have a problem with folks who say that Heaven is a reward (I have heard this statement or teaching several times throughout my life). Heaven is not a REWARD…we cannot be good enough to EARN it. We have sinned, therefore Heaven is not a reward…it is God’s mercy that let’s us come inside. Our goodness is in response to God’s grace and mercy and justice.

      I think the problem is that people want to limit the Kingdom of God to either this realm or the afterlife.

      Who is to say our ‘reward’ can only be given when we get to Heaven? Or that we are given part of our reward here and part of it there?

      The Kingdom of God is and/both….it is both here and in the afterlife. It is not either/or.

      As I stated, the good works I do, it is due to the fact that I am working with God’s grace. I am learning to die to self every single day, Any rewards I receive will be due to God’s grace AND my saying YES to that grace.

      Salvation and the Christian life is a race…there is a beginning, a course, and a finish line. It is a process. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling…as Paul declared.

    • Dale

      Im with John on this, surely if person a has less than person b there would be a conscious knowledge that person a wasn’t as good. Feelings of regret are surely inconsistent with a perfect heavenly bliss, rendering this concept of rewards meaningless! No hierarchy in heaven, otherwise it wouldn’t be heaven!

      Grace alone. Plus if we failed in our works it is surely due to sin, which has all been paid for so this concept of rewards becomes incoherent. Peace x

    • Terry

      Rewards in Heaven
      First we must put Rewards in the right perspective
      Earthly Treasures
      Reward according to a carnal nature is a physical nature to please me, myself and I which are treasures on earth.
      Rewards to works of this nature exalt our achievements to our self and we like the Pharisee he thanks God for all he has done by the law so he sees God is so pleased what he has done by his carnal nature to please God so God will include him in the kingdom. These are treasures on earth because he is physically proving to God that he is worthy.
      Now Heavenly treasures or rewards pertain to:
      because of God Grace and Mercy we were chosen because He fore new we were not doing works by the law to tell our self we are holy by this but because God Saved us so by works we please Him by obeying Him not because we earn something and get a reward but because we are a new creation in Him. Rewards in Heaven are what we have done with the gift or gifts He has given us and regardless of how painful it was we obeyed Him. Thus we will receive a type of Glory for this in front of men and angels in Heaven and Kingdom. Of course when we receive this gift or crown we will return it at the feet of Jesus because He is worthy and we are not because He predestined and chose us first. We still will be honored in front of all by saying well done good and faithful servant. Even some will be saved that did not do what God gave them to do or have lost their rewards.
      So rewards will be honored in heaven because we were obedient to God our Lord Jesus Christ. Not for our gain but to please the Father and the Son through His Holy Spirit for if not for His Love all would perish.
      Rewards on earth get burned up so will those who trust in their good works to get then into heaven by other means.

    • Terry G

      God gives us grace to repent then we are saved by grace. This is free but without Faith that God provides will fail. When saved we receive a seed (the Word of God-Jesus & understanding) if we would take that seed and put it into our pocket it won’t grow. It has to be planted into soil then God will water it (give us the understanding of the Word)
      Rewards are what did we do with the seeds God has given us. Do we spread the Good News or do we accept it and put it into our pocket? He says what good is this GOOD NEWS if we don’t plant it? Plant it and because of the free gift of salvation God will give us something special in His Kingdom as a reward above all those there who did nothing with this free gift. He could throw you into the fire because you we trying to enter in by only your good works. Which means you did not repent and change.
      Remember: Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Jesus God.

    • Gahgi

      It’s confusing to mix grace and works. At least for me that’s when the trouble started and I became hard on myself. Then to begin to understand you can’t mix them I was very grateful and just overwhelmed. I mean before that I was trying to be like all the greats by praying tithing, etc. But that scripture says if it’s by grace then it’s not by works. That doesn’t mean I refuse to do anything but I think it’s different from God’s perspective like the woman who put in two mites in the offering but it was more than all the rest or the guys that didn’t begin to work until the eleventh hour but received the same wage as all the rest. So I have way more faith in what Christ has done for me than anything I have done myself and I think it’s not good to compare ourselves but to “let” Jesus be the star in this show. As you said we’ll cast our crowns before Him. Also I understand this idea about effort because as I mentioned above I tried to be like the greats but I think God looks at the heart and unfortunately in trying to be great myself my heart wasn’t in it. But if I were to give two mites (I mean all I have) my heart would totally be in it. In the end I pray I still don’t focus on my works. Sorry if this was lengthy but I believe a good starting question would be what kind of rewards does the thief on the cross get? He didn’t do “hardly anything” or did he?

    • simmy

      “Rewards=God’s grace alone with human effort. (Synergistic)”

      “alone” does not mean “alone” if it needs to be “with” something else. This is the problem with these theological conundrums. Perhaps we just have to accept that one or other argument is just plain wrong because it is a logical nonsense. When we try to tie ourselves in ever more complex logical knots in order to make scripture make unified sense, perhaps there comes a time when we might have to accept that it just doesn’t always do that? Perhaps there are, in fact, competing and mutually exclusive views expressed in scripture, and what we need to do is sift out the truth from among them?

    • Albert

      I’m confused. The Bible says we are saved by grace alone so that no man shall boast. Then there are works we must do & other things. ( According to what I just read ) That voids the grace alone thing . Doesn’t it ? Then I think the Bible says that God has unconditional love for us all. ( I have always heard this is in the Bible,but don’t truly know ) There’s at least 10 conditions. ( The 10 Commandments ) Right ? Then,what about repenting of all your sins ? How can anyone truly do that ? What about single people that may always be thinking about a sexual partner & don’t know how to get one or isn’t ready for a partner yet ? Will all single people go to hell for lusting for a companion ? That’s adultery , isn’t it ? How can someone control their strong sexual desires ? Even if I were married I probably still couldn’t fully control some of my thoughts or actions.Maybe if I could live to be 90 or 100 years old my mind would stop thinking of women & sex,or my certain body part would no longer work anymore.Then maybe I’d be saved. No hell for the old & senile for they can no longer sin & have repented . Like I said,I’m confused.

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