Monday, September 1, 2014

Rethinking Reward

As I said in my last post, a young man's sermon got me to thinking about some things, specifically about whether we are good people and whether God is too loving to punish us.

I must say this to preface it all: WITHOUT JESUS humans are not good. Not even close!! And WITHOUT JESUS God will punish humans because He provided the Way and they have rejected it (even if they've put off the decision until "later.") Therefore, their sin has not been covered and they are lost. Though it will break His heart, He will punish those without Christ. He cannot do otherwise and remain holy and just. 

Now. Since most of my readers are Christians, let me tell you that the "lies" are actually "true." 

Because of Jesus, we ARE good people. "He [God] has made Him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21) "He chose us in Him [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." (Eph. 1:4) "Yet now has He reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault." (Col. 1:22). 

Because of Jesus, God will NOT punish us for our sin (past, present or future sin!) (See the above verses, as well as the following ones). Hear the words of Jesus Himself: "Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me [already] has eternal life, and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24)  "And this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes on Him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:20). "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, ... and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand. My Father, who gave them to Me, is greater than all, and no-one shall be able to pluck them out of My Father's hand." (John 10:27, 28) "Of those whom You have given Me (see Eph 1:4) I have lost none, except the son of perdition, [and only] that the Scriptures may be fulfilled." (John 17:12). 

But ... I hear you say ... what about heavenly rewards and stars in our crown and all that good stuff? 

If there's one thing I know with all my heart, it's that I don't know all that Heaven will be; nobody can fully describe its wonders. The beloved disciple John tried and was not able to ... and the apostle Paul saw such wonders that it wasn't permitted for him to speak them!! 

However, we do have a few clues about those rewards. 

A few things from the Scriptures come to mind. The first are all the parables Jesus told about what the Kingdom of Heaven was like. (Keep in mind that these are mere facets, viewpoints from different angles, and that understanding one doesn't necessarily give the full picture!) There is the parable of the labourers in the field that the master hired in the morning and throughout the day. This is the story that flies in the face of our human nature that thinks that we can "earn" anything from God. The reward is the same whether we have known Jesus all our lives or only a few seconds. Heaven is the place where God is, the place where we were created for. The ultimate reward is to be with Him where He is! That reward is the same. No doubt about that! We will know perfect peace, perfect happiness, perfect purpose in Heaven regardless of anything we do or don't do.

Another story Jesus told about Heaven and/or judgment rises in sharp contrast - the one about how many will say to Him "on that day" (the Day He's referring to is the Great White Throne judgment, which takes place after the 1,000-year reign and the last battle with the enemy of our souls, after He has cast the devil and His angels into the lake of fire!) ... they will say, "Lord, Lord..." And He will say, "Depart from Me; I never knew you." (Matt 7:21-23) Ah yes. Quite the somber sentence. 

I have talked about this one before. When Jesus says to these people, "I never knew you," it is a keen warning to those who would think that anything that they can DO is reason for admission to Heaven. They have missed the whole point of why Jesus came. It wasn't to give us power over demons, to heal the sick or to raise the dead. It was to make us His children, to lavish His love on us. Moreover, the "I never knew you" statement is also a clue as to what DOES matter - knowing Him, letting ourselves BE known by Him (there's that intimacy thing again...) If we don't GET this, we were never His in the first place. That's why Jesus said "never." I could talk at length about this, but I think that for now, it's enough to say what I've said.

And finally, to finish my talk about rewards, there's that passage in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. It talks about what has been called "the Judgment Seat of Christ" or what others have called "the Bema seat" - (bema meaning the platform that was used in Roman culture to examine a person's deeds or to put someone on trial.) 

Photo "Mason Hand Spreading Concrete"
courtesy of luckypic at
Here's what it says: "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus ChristNow if anyone builds on this 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." 

I bolded the first sentence because it is crucial to our understanding of what the important things are. What is important is the finished work of Jesus for us, and the importance of that for us, every single day. This is because any building that we do (and by saying "we do" I mean that HE does it through us, see Psalm 127:1) MUST be on that ... or it will all have been for nothing. 

I am assuming here that those reading this post will have already placed their entire trust on that foundation of "none but Jesus", because anything less won't withstand the test of God's purity...for "our God is a consuming fire." (Heb 12: 29)

Now I feel that I need to tell one of my famous (if slightly bizarre) stories. Our kids absolutely LOVED a certain cartoon show that was on television back in the 1990s. It was called "The Magic Schoolbus." They never missed an episode. (And therefore, neither did I.) Miss Frizzell and her class went on such adventures (field trips) in a schoolbus that was at times a rocket ship, a submarine shrunk to microscopic size, or whatever it needed to be to teach the lesson of the day. On one of the episodes, (Season 2, episode 8) they visit a "haunted" house which, of course, really isn't. [The show was on the topic of Sound. (Bear with me, there IS a point.)] One of the class members, Carlos, was building a musical instrument to enter into a instrument invention competition. But he was having trouble with the design. When he tried to play his invented instrument, the sound came out all "ploopy." 

Once Carlos learns what sound really is, he sees that putting all the streamers and decorations on his instrument (which he thought were "cool") has actually detracted from the sound it could have made. When he removes all his own stuff and lets the instrument be what it is, when it sings the song it was intended to sing, it sounds wonderful! 

In a sense, this is what the Bema seat does. Only ... it happens after we are in Heaven and we don't have the opportunity to get rid of all the fluff and stuff we think makes our Christian walk more "cool." So ... He does it for us. 

Many will think that their works will survive the fire ...and they / we will be surprised. What the Bema seat will do is to reveal what works Jesus did through us (gold, precious stones, silver) and which ones we did in our own strength (wood, hay and stubble.) It IN NO WAY will determine our eternal destiny. It will simply show us what will remain, and it will allow our instrument (our essence) to sing the way it was meant to. 

Many have talked about "losing rewards" and used this passage as a justification for that kind of thinking. However, I don't believe that's the point. If we are truly in love with Jesus, the rewards won't matter. (I'll touch on this part after I am done with the "so as by fire" stuff.)

So you want a picture of what "he himself will be saved, yet so as by fire" looks like? I can think of one, although it isn't original; it is only one person's (brilliant) imagination. So here, I need to cite a Paramount Pictures classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, by Lucasfilm Ltd. (1981). At the climax, the bad guys have the audacity to try to open the Ark of the Covenant, and Indiana Jones tells his girlfriend Marian, "Don't look Marian! No matter what, keep your eyes SHUT!" All around them the fire of God swirls. Here is the picture I mentioned. Focus not on the destruction (although in the movie, it is extremely. well. done.) Focus instead on the two people, tied back to back, with their eyes tightly shut, rescued by the skin of their teeth, "yet so as by fire." When the destruction ends and the blazing flame has returned to God, their enemies are gone and they are safe. Even the ropes that bound them together have been burned off their wrists - but they are untouched. And grateful. THAT is the burning - and the purpose - of the Bema seat.

Keep in mind that the fire spoken about in 1 Corinthians 3 will test everyone's work - but the foundation remains. Nothing can touch that. It is Rock solid. "He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor 5:21) This is not in question.

At the Bema or Judgment seat of Christ, the things we have done in the flesh (i.e., in our own human effort, or [God forbid] for the motivation of reward!) will disappear. Only what He did in us and through us will remain. These are the precious jewels and the gold and silver that quite possibly represent any reward that we might receive. And the Bible does say that there is a reward, though it doesn't say exactly what. If we stay with the standard reward scenario, we will receive a crown and perhaps the jewels that survive the fire will be used to decorate it. 

But it won't matter. It WON'T!! Look at an example of what eventually happens to crowns (and that is even IF this passage refers to us): «The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and worship Him that lives for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 'You, O Lord, are worthy to receive glory and honour and power, for You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are created.'» (Revelation 4:10-11) 

We won't WANT the reward. Jesus will be enough. He has always been enough and He always WILL be enough. Heaven IS His pure and holy presence for all eternity.

It is God who is ultimately glorified. We are left breathless, grateful, reward or no reward, realizing that only in Jesus are we able to stand in the presence of God at all. 

Yes, we press onward, and we aim for the prize. But the real prize (according to Paul) is knowing Him. (for more on that kind of knowing, see my previous post.)  Paul said, in his "forgetting those things which are behind" passage (Phil 3:13-14) "...I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:14) Just in case you were wondering, exactly how do I know that what this call is, is knowing Jesus? Paul has just talked about it in the previous few verses... "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish [the KJV says DUNG] so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him..." (Phil 3:8-10)

Can you see it? Can you see how simple it is?

I close with a quote I often use from General William Booth, which he said just prior to his death. One of his commanders in the Salvation Army was by his bedside and tried to comfort him (or was it himself?) by saying, "Well, General Booth, you will soon be going on to receive your reward."  

At this statement, the old man gave him a piercing glare and said, "NO. I go NOT to receive a reward. I go ... to receive MERCY."


  1. Judy. . I have never thought of the Bema seat in that way -- of the getting rid of the frills that we think we need but we don't really need at all. . . .thank you for stretching my mind, once again! I will continue to think on this!!! :-)

  2. Another thing that I didn't quite stress was that it is the WORKS that will be tested or put on trial or passed through the fire. NOT the people. :)