Paradox or Purpose? - Understanding the Grace vs Works Conundrum

  • 14 July 2019 |
  • Written by 

Have you ever been reading and come across Bible passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:10 which clearly state believers will be judged for their actions and felt confused? I know I have. I mean surely we are saved by grace, but there are all these passages referencing works, even in the New Testament. What are we to think or believe about this?

This is a follow-up to the article I published previously called What is Heaven Like? Does the Bible Provide Any Clues? You might also think of the title for this article as "Why is Heaven Important to Me Today?" 

Ambassadors to Earth 

To get started, read this modern-day parable about an ambassador. It's from Randy Alcorn's book In Light of Eternity: Perspectives on Heaven

Imagine an ambassador who leaves his country to live in another nation, a nation hostile to his own.  Naturally, he’ll want to learn the language, see the sights, eat the food, and become familiar with the people and culture.  But suppose he fails to draw the line.  Suppose he becomes so engrossed in this country’s customs and philosophies that he gradually assimilates into it.  He becomes sympathetic to its policies, buys into its values, and begins to regard it as his home. 

His allegiance wavers and he compromises his position as an ambassador.  He becomes increasingly ineffective in representing the best interests of his true country.  At best, he becomes incapable of serving this true country.  At worst, he may actually betray it.  He may defect. 

His fatal mistake was this:  just because he lived somewhere, he came to think of it as his home. 

What do you think? Where is our real home, Earth or Heaven? Sure seems like Heaven is our real, ultimate home and all this on Earth is temporary or at least temporal.  We'll get into this further in this article, but let me start you thinking with this question.

If Heaven is our real home and earth is our temporary residence, what is God’s purpose for your life on earth; why did God put you here; what does God want you to do before it is your time to go to Heaven? 

Consider these two passages. Both include words directly from Jesus. The first one is from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?’ or 'What shall we drink?’ or 'What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25-34 ESV

In the second, Jesus references the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which is one of the oldest and most important prayers in all of Judaism.

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions. Mark 12:28-34 ESV

My answer to the question "What is our purpose in this life?" I posted above is simply this:

To learn to know God, to learn to love God and to learn to serve God in everything I do. 

What is your answer to the question above? Regardless of whether your answer is similar to mine or not, do you live your life like this? If you answered the question honestly, this is your number 1 priority in life.

And yes, I consistently fail to live up to my answer above. I'm a sinful human, just like everyone else. I can only strive to live like this each day, one day at a time. If I fail today, I will try again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. 

Salvation and Accountability

So maybe you are saying to yourself: "Purpose of life, that sounds nice, but what does mean to me today? I thought that once I was saved that was all I needed to do?" Well, yes and no. Yes, salvation is the most important thing, but once we are saved we are called to live a life that honors Jesus with everything we do.  And, the Bible suggests that we are accountable for our actions. Let’s take a look at some scripture and see what it has to say about salvation, accountability and the relationship between the two. 

The sections below follow the same format as my previous article on Heaven.  Both were based on a Bible Study that I put together and I decided this question and answer format is the best way to represent that Bible Study in the articles.

1.  What do these verses say about the nature of salvation?

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV

5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  Titus 3:5 ESV

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23 ESV

We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  Isaiah 64:6 ESV

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,  2 Timothy 1:8-9 ESV

A:  Salvation is a free gift from God. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. 

2.  What was the Word that became flesh filled with? Which one is more important?

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14 ESV

A:  The Word was filled with both Grace and Truth and they are equally important.

3.  What do these verses say about our accountability as Christians?

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,
       "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
        and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.  Romans 14:10-12 ESV

18 The nations raged,
    but your wrath came,
    and the time for the dead to be judged,
    and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
    and those who fear your name,
    both small and great,
   and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”  Revelation 11:18

14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  Ecclesiastes 12:14 ESV

36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,  Matthew 12:36 ESV

10 "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?  Luke 16:10-12 ESV

A:  I think it is pretty clear from these verses that we will be held accountable for our actions. Does this mean that there are right and wrong actions in life?

4.  What does this passage about salvation as compared to accountability?

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.  1 Corinthians 3:11-15

A:  Our works will be shown for what they are. If any of our works survive the fire we will receive our reward. If all our works burn to ashes in the fire, we will still have our salvation but nothing else. It will be as if we escaped a burning house with nothing but our lives.

This passage is key to understanding the difference between salvation and accountability. Does it make sense? I struggled with this passage for a long time until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to understand the concept of eternal rewards. Without considering eternal rewards, many passages in the Bible are confusing. They seem to suggest that salvation is earned. That’s one of the reasons it is important to understand the concept of eternal rewards. (If you still have questions about this critical passage, be sure to read John Wesley's explanatory notes on these verses that I have included in the Extra Credit section at the bottom of this article.)

Keep reading and we'll get into more detail!

What Does the Bible Say About Eternal Rewards?

Now that we've cleared up the difference between salvation and accountability, let's see what the Bible says about eternal rewards.

1.  What are we supposed to store up and why?

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:19-21

A:  In these verses, Jesus instructed each of us to store up for treasures in Heaven. Remember, you can't take anything with you to Heaven.  However, as Randy Alcorn likes to point out, you can send it ahead! Think back to 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, the treasures we are to store up are those that will survive the test of fire.

2.  Do we have to do something big to earn an eternal reward?

41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.  Mark 9:41 ESV

A:  No, we can be rewarded for something as small as giving a child a cup of cold water. It's not hard. We just need to be aware of the many opportunities in our lives to serve Jesus in ways that are either big or small.

3.  What does this verse say about being successful?

2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.  1 Corinthians 4:2 ESV

A:  Nothing. Yes, it's a bit of a trick question, but it's important to remember the key point. As Christians, we are called to be faithful in our daily service to Jesus. However, being faithful does not mean we will always be successful in our efforts to help others accept the Gospel, overcome their afflictions, or to make a difference in whatever else we are called to do. God is responsible for success. We are responsible for serving faithfully.

4.  When will we be rewarded for our acts of faith and service?

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.  Luke 6:22-23 ESV

13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  Luke 14:13-14 ESV

A:  We may or may not be rewarded on earth.  However, if we are faithful, God will definitely reward us in Heaven for our service. Most Christians also find joy or at least great satisfaction, doing the work we are called to on Earth. So we receive joy for the service we are called to provide on Earth and eternal rewards. We have a really amazing God, don't you think? 

5.  What does this say about the quantity and equality of our rewards in heaven?

12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’  Luke 19:12-19 ESV

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.  Matthew 19:29 ESV

A:  Our rewards will be based on the quality and quantity of our service. They will not be equal, but we will be reward 100 times more than we give. Maybe you are asking yourself, how can everyone be fulfilled if some have less than others? Wouldn't they feel "less full"? If that's your question, let me suggest the following analogy. When you go to the grocery store to buy milk, you can buy a ½ gallon or a 1-gallon milk container. When you buy either one they are both full. So, what's the difference? Easy, one holds more than the other. So perhaps those who have spent years in faithful service have grown their ability to receive more when they get to Heaven that someone who finds salvation at the end of their life. Both are completely fulfilled in Heaven, but one has the ability to hold more than the other. Does this make sense?

6.  What is the source of our ability to earn rewards?  Where does the power come from?

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.  Colossians 1:28-29 ESV

A:  Even our reward-earning works are powered by the Holy Spirit. There is nothing that we do for Him that we do apart from God. He is both the source of our desire and strength to earn rewards and He is the creator and giver of those eternal rewards. What do you think about that?

7.  What does this say we should do?  How do we win the prize?

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13-14 ESV

A:  We must forget our past failures and always be seeking to grow as Christians in faith, knowledge, and service. The verse here is written by Paul. Remember in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 when Paul said he was the worst (foremost) of sinners? He goes on to say that he received mercy in order that he might be an example to other believers. An example of what? I believe that Paul was proclaiming that if Jesus can use the worst of sinners like him, he can use anyone. So stop worrying about the past! Paul murdered and persecuted Christians before he was saved. Do you think you can't be forgiven? Get over whatever you did. It's done, move on. Repent of your sins and then press on towards the goal to win the prize!

Can We Lose Rewards?

Can we lose rewards? Doesn't God forgive us? What does the Bible say? 

1.  Who will bring something to light and what will that be?

5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.  1 Corinthians 4:5 ESV

A:  God will bring light to what is darkness and because of His omniscience he will "disclose the purposes of the heart". Don't think you can fool Him. He knows you better than you know yourself. Everyone will receive their appropriate commendation from God based on their acts of faith and service in this life.

2.  What does this say about how God will reward our acts of faith and service?

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  Matthew 6:1-5 ESV

A:  Do not attempt to impress others with your service.  God knows our hearts.  Jesus was very clear about this in the verses above when we seek rewards from humans we forfeit rewards in Heaven.

3.  What might this imply about some Christians at the second coming?

28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.  1 John 2:28

A:  Many will be ashamed at Jesus' second coming. Probably even many Christians will be ashamed because they did not live their lives in the ways they were called to do so by the Holy Spirit. Don't be someone who is ashamed when Jesus returns. Do you want can today, tomorrow and every day after that to serve Him with all your heart. 

Lost Rewards Theoretical Model

In the section above we discussed how someone might lose rewards, but how does that work in practice? Here's an idea for your consideration. The key concept is time, as in potential rewards are time-bound. By that I mean any potential rewards you can earn have an expiration time before which they must be earned. After the expiration, a specific reward can no longer be earned.

Let's use some very simple math and the analogy of a 10 AM airline flight from New York to Los Angeles on January 1, 2020. The plane being used has 100 seats and each seat costs $1000 for the trip. Unsold seats obviously generate $0 in revenue.

SeatsSoldout FlightSoldout Flight Revenue1/1/20 10 AM Flight10 AM Flight Revenue
Seats Sold 100 $100,000 90 $90,000
Unsold Seats 0 0 10 0
Total Revenue   $100,000   $90,000
Lost Revenue   $0    $10,000

When you look at the table above, remember this. Once the flight leaves the gate at 10 AM on January 1, 2020, the total amount of revenue the airline can earn from this specific flight is capped at $90,000.  Because they flew with 10 unsold seats they lost $10,000 in potential revenue that they could have earned. However, the opportunity to earn this $10,000 is gone and it will never come again for this specific flight at this specific point in time.  Yes, they can fill every other flight from now until the end of time, but they will never again get a chance to earn this $10,000.  It is time-bound and the time has expired.

To summarize:

Rewards that have been earned are not taken away. What is lost are potential rewards that could have been earned.

Another analogy would be taking a test in school.  If you get 8 of 10 questions correct, you receive a score of 80. Teachers don't get a score of -20. You are given points for what you did right, not deduced points for the questions you missed. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking our rewards score starts at 100% and God deducts from us every time He catches us doing something wrong. It's actually the opposite. We all start with a rewards score of 0 and God rewards us every time He catches us doing something rightRewards are positive, not punitive!

Every day we have opportunities and choices to do the things that the Lord commands. Whether we are interacting with others or doing something by ourselves, we can and should be serving God in everything we do. If we do that with a gracious and loving heart we are moving closer to God and also potentially earning rewards that will be given to us in Heaven.

Crowns in Heaven

What kind of reward can we earn? Likely there are many different types, but one type of reward that is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible is a crown.  There are five different crowns that can be earned for specific reasons. Let's see what they are.

The Crown of Life

The Crown of Life is given for faithfulness to Christ while suffering persecution or martyrdom.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.  Revelation 2:10

The Incorruptible Crown

The Incorruptible Crown is given for determination, discipline, and victory in the Christian life.

4 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  1 Corinthians 9:24-25

The Crown of Glory

The Crown of Glory is given for faithfully representing Christ in a position of spiritual leadership. 

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  1 Peter 5:1-4)

The Crown of Righteousness

The Crown of Righteousness is given for purifying and readying ourselves to meet Christ at his return.

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.  2 Timothy 4:6-8)

The Crown of Rejoicing

The Crown of Rejoicing is given for pouring ourselves into others in evangelism and discipleship. 

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  1 Thessalonians 2:19

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.  Philippians 4:1

What will we do with these crowns in  Heaven? It is likely that at one or more worship services in Heaven we will cast these crowns to the feet of Jesus to publically acknowledge that He deserves all credit for the crowns and we could have accomplished nothing except through him.

9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11 "Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
      to receive glory and honor and power,
      for you created all things,   
      and by your will they existed and were created."  Revelation 4:9-11

Sound interesting? Let's keeps going, we're almost done.

Eternal Rewards Are Motivation, But Not The Most Important Reason

At this point, I want to specifically state that I am NOT suggesting that eternal rewards are the most important thing to live for in life. When it comes to a list of reasons for why we should live our lives in a way that honors Jesus, eternal rewards are probably the LEAST important reason to do so. Here's a non-exhaustive list from Randy Alcorn regarding why we should live for Him: 

  1. Love for God
  2. Gratefulness to God
  3. Desire to please God
  4. Love for our fellow humans
  5. Fear for the destination humans without Christ
  6. Hope for unbelievers' salvation
  7. Hope new believers service to God's glory
  8. Fear of our disobedience
  9. Hope for our eternal reward.  

Each of these motivations is legitimate, and each compliments the other. In God's universe, what is right is always smart. Sometimes we need the combined persuasiveness of all these incentives to do what is pleasing to the Lord. In his book The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn suggests that humans are specifically designed by God to be motivated by rewards, thus we are designed to be motivated to earn rewards in Heaven.  To receive rewards in Heaven means we must be accountable for our thoughts and actions on Earth. Is this true?  Let’s consider human nature. 

In the non-spiritual elements of life, humans are clearly most successful when they both desire to achieve a goal and they are held accountable to that goal.  If they either desire to achieve the goal, but are not held accountable or if they are held accountable but do not desire to achieve the goal, most humans are less successful in achieving that goal.  If they neither desire to achieve a goal nor are they held accountable to that goal, then most humans will fail to achieve a given goal.  When considering the issue, it is clear that both desire and accountability are reasons to motivate success and that maximum success is achieved when the two work together. 

So, is it reasonable to suggest that in our spiritual lives we are to reject half of what motivates us to be successful in the non-spiritual elements of our life?  This seems to be a lot to ask of most humans.  Surely some humans are successful Christians without a sense of accountability.  However, it seems that success without accountability is beyond the grasp of most humans.  And if it is beyond the grasp of any humans to be successful Christians based on desires alone, then the concept must be incorrect.  Whatever is true from God must be true for all humans, not just some humans. 

What do you think? Do the idea of eternal rewards motivate you? Are you okay with being held accountable for your actions here on Earth? Does it make a difference to you if you are held accountable?  All questions to consider.

This is the end of my article, however, there's more to read below for you overachievers or for those of you whole are unsure about what I have suggested here. Don't just take my word for it. Consider what some others have to say about the same issue.

Thanks for reading!

Extra Credit Reading Below!

Looking for more opinions on the concept of eternal rewards? Read the comments below by these renowned theologians.  Where possible I have provided a link to a site on the Internet where you can find the original quote.

John Wesley - Explanatory notes on Revelation 7:9

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  Revelation 7:9 ESV

"A great multitude - Of those who had happily finished their course, such multitudes are afterward described, and still higher degrees of glory which they attain after a sharp fight and magnificent victory, Rev. 14:1; 15:2; 19:1; 20:4. There is an inconceivable variety in the degrees of reward in the other world. Let not any slothful one say, ‘If I get to heaven at all, I will be content!’ Such a one may let heaven go altogether. In worldly things, men are ambitious to get as high as they can. Christians have a far more noble ambition. The difference between the very highest and the lowest state in the world is nothing to the smallest difference between the degrees of glory." 

John Wesley - Explanatory notes on Romans 2:11

11 For God shows no partiality.  Romans 2:11 ESV

"For there is no respect of persons with God - He will reward everyone according to his works. But this is well consistent with his distributing advantages and opportunities of improvement, according to His own good pleasure." 

John Wesley - Explanatory notes on Luke 17:10

10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'  Luke 17:10 ESV

"When ye have done all, say, We are unprofitable servants - For a man cannot profit God. Happy is he who judges himself an unprofitable servant: miserable is he whom God pronounces such. But though we are unprofitable to him, our serving him is not unprofitable to us. For he is pleased to give by his grace a value to our good works, which in consequence of his promise entitles us to an eternal reward."

Martin Luther – Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Trinity paragraph 19

"Now when Christ says: make to yourselves friends, lay up for yourselves treasures, and the like, you see that he means: do good, and it will follow of itself without your seeking, that you will have friends, find treasures in heaven, and receive a reward. But your eyes must simply be directed to a good life, and care nothing about the reward, but be satisfied to know and be assured that it will follow, and let God see to that. For those who look for a reward, become lazy and unwilling laborers, and love the reward more than the work, yea, they become enemies of work. In this way, God’s Will also becomes hateful, who has commanded us to work, and hence God’s command and will must finally become burdensome to such a heart.”

Billy Graham - Death and the Life After 

"The believer has his foundation in Jesus Christ. Now we are to build upon this foundation, and the work we have done must stand the ultimate test; final exams come at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we receive our rewards."

Charles Stanley - Biography on Charles Stanley 

"The kingdom of God will not be the same for all believers. Let me put it another way. Some believers will have rewards for their earthly faithfulness; others will not. Some will reign with Christ; others will not (see 2 Tim. 2:12). Some will be rich in the kingdom, of God; others will be poor (see Luke 12:21, 33). Some will be given true riches; others will not (see Luke 16:11). Some will be given heavenly treasures of their own; others will not (See Luke 16:12)."

R. C. Sproul - Now, That's a Good Question! on page 287

"There are degrees of reward that are given in heaven. I’m surprised that this answer surprises so many people. I’d say there are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament teaches rewards according to our works." 

R. C. Sproul - Information about R. C. Sproul

"Saint Augustine said that it’s only by the grace of God that we ever do anything even approximating a good work, and none of our works are good enough to demand that God reward them. The fact that God has decided to grant rewards on the basis of obedience or disobedience is what Augustine called God’s crowning his own works within us. If a person has been faithful in many things through many years, then he will be acknowledged by His Master, who will say to him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’ The one who squeaks in at the last minute has precious little good works for which he can expect a reward."

Rick Warren - The Purpose Driven Life on page 232

"The Bible says, "Each of us will have to give a personal account to God."  Think about the implications of that.  One day God will compare how much time and energy we spent on ourselves compared with how much time we invested in serving others... The Bible warns unbelievers, "he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves," but for Christians, it will mean a loss of eternal rewards."

Richard Baxter - The Saints Everlasting Rest - written in 1649

“If there be so certain and glorious a rest for the saints, why is there no more industrious seeking after it?  One would think, if a man did but once hear of such unspeakable glory to be obtained, and believed what he heard to be true, he should be transported with the vehemency of his desire after it, and should almost forget to eat and drink, and should care for nothing else, and speak of and inquire after nothing else, but how to get this treasure.  And yet people who hear of it daily, and profess to believe it as a fundamental article of their faith, do as little mind it, or labor for it, as if they had never heard of any such thing, or did not believe one word they hear.”

John Wesley comments on 1 Corinthians 3:11-15

Since John Wesley was good enough to make comments on just about every verse in the Bible, I wanted to share his comments here on this key passage that shows the difference between salvation and accountability.  Here's the scripture again and then below that his comments on each verse.

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.  1 Corinthians 3:11-15

3:11  For other foundation - On which the whole church: and all its doctrines, duties, and blessings may be built. Can no man lay than what is laid - In the counsels of divine wisdom, in the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, in the preaching of the apostles, St. Paul in particular. Which is Jesus Christ - Who, in his person and offices, is the firm, immovable Rock of Ages, every way sufficient to bear all the weight that God himself, or the sinner, when he believes, can lay upon him.3:11  For other foundation - On which the whole church: and all its doctrines, duties, and blessings may be built. Can no man lay than what is laid - In the counsels of divine wisdom, in the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, in the preaching of the apostles, St. Paul in particular. Which is Jesus Christ - Who, in his person and offices, is the firm, immovable Rock of Ages, every way sufficient to bear all the weight that God himself, or the sinner, when he believes, can lay upon him.

3:12  If anyone builds gold, silver, costly stones - Three sorts of materials which will bear the fire; true and solid doctrines. Wood, hay, stubble - Three which will not bear the fire. Such are all doctrines, ceremonies, and forms of human invention; all but the substantial, vital truths of Christianity.

3:13  The time is coming when everyone's work shall be made manifest: for the day of the Lord, that great and final day, shall declare it - To all the world. For it is revealed - What faith beholds as so certain and so near is spoken of as already present. By fire; yea, the fire shall try everyone's work, of what sort it is - The strict process of that day will try every man's doctrines, whether they come up to the scripture standard or not. Here is a plain allusion to the flaming light and consuming heat of the general conflagration. But the expression, when applied to the trying of doctrines, and consuming those that are wrong, is evidently figurative; because no material fire can have such an effect on what is of a moral nature. And therefore it is added, he who builds wood, hay, or stubble, shall be saved as through the fire - Or, as narrowly as a man escapes through the fire, when his house is all in flames about him. This text, then, is so far from establishing the Romishpurgatory, that it utterly overthrows it. For the fire here mentioned does not exist till the day of judgment: therefore, if this be the fire of purgatory, it follows that purgatory does not exist before the day of judgment.

3:14  He shall receive a reward - A peculiar degree of glory. Some degree even the other will receive, seeing he held the foundation; though through ignorance, he built thereon what would not abide the fire.

3:15 He shall suffer loss - The loss of that peculiar degree of glory.





Last modified on July 14, 2019
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