“I don’t care about getting rewards,” said my friend, “I’m just grateful to be going to heaven.” This wasn’t uttered in a showy, “spiritual” way, or as a condemnation to anyone else. It was put forth in a humble, grateful manner. I remember being impressed and intrigued by his perspective.
It is an odd thing, is it not, that God creates us, gives us our resources, enables us to use them, and then rewards us for doing so? It’s almost like rewarding a hammer for driving a nail. Furthermore, it’s common parlance in Scripture to say that all the glory belongs to God. Romans 11:36, says: “To him be the glory forever! Amen.” Should we seek the glory of rewards or does that just turn us into spiritual mercenaries – “I’ll serve you God, if you make it worth my while!”?
God certainly doesn’t owe us any rewards. He could, in fact, demand obedience with no payback. He’s our God and Creator. And salvation, by itself, is pure grace. If we serve Him, faithfully, without any further reward, we’d still be getting the deal of an eternity. Amen? Just being connected with His beautiful, perfect Being and involved with His glorious plans is reward enough in itself.
Yet the Bible is full of the reward motif. Israel was given tons of positive promises (Deut. 28:1-14). Jesus Himself tells us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . “(Matt. 6:20). And in 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul anticipates receiving God’s “crown of righteousness” along with all with “have longed for his appearing”. On and on it goes – so many “if . . . then” positive promises given. This leads to our first question:
Why does God reward us?
1. God rewards us because He likes doing it
Don’t you enjoy rewarding your own children? It’s fun and satisfying, and God loves to do it too. It makes us feel good and that makes Him feel good. He’s that kind of guy – the opposite of a heavenly Scrooge.
2. God rewards us because we’re made to respond positively to reward
This is just how we are. Pleasure, joy, happiness, approval, etc., draw us. The opposite – pain, misery, etc. repel us. We’re motivated by reward. God Himself created us this way; perhaps because He too gains joy when He rewards us.
This, of course, raises the question, “Isn’t God enough”? Why do we need “rewards” to motivate us? God certainly is enough reward in and of Himself, but this is how He’s chosen to do things. It’s His game and He made the rules.
3. God rewards us in order to differentiate between us
Read 1 Corinthians 3:14,15. Every believer makes it into heaven, but some will receive rich reward (“he will receive his reward”) while others, though in heaven, will only arrive as (“one escaping through the flames”). The first group chose to live godly lives of “gold, silver and precious jewels”, while the second group wallowed in the spiritual mediocrity of “wood, hay and straw”. Some believers make the most of their short earthly stay whilw others waste it. Rewards are one way to draw the distinction, and to say that God cares about the quality of our spiritual lives and that we ourselves have spiritual freedom to choose.
4. God rewards us to bring more glory to Himself
The more glory we receive, the more glory He receives. He rewards those who have honored and obeyed Him. Our rewards are, in the end, a tribute to Him. Without Him, we couldn’t have earned them. In fact, when all is said and done, somehow, (I can’t explain the free-will part), all the glory is ultimately His.
5. God rewards us to reinforce the contrast with disobedience
If our obedience went unnoticed, then our disobedience would also go unnoticed. It would become irrelevant, removing much of our incentive to obey. If God doesn’t pay much attention to how we live, why should we? On the other hand, the desire to please Him is a mighty motivator. This leads to a second question:
How does God reward us?
This is a difficult question, since, in some ways, the Bible is sketchy about what it means by “reward”. But let’s take a shot at it.
1. God rewards us by connecting us more closely to Him through obedience
Isn’t the greatest reward in life an intimate relationship with God? If that’s all that heaven was, wouldn’t it still be glorious; wouldn’t it still be enough? Next to knowing God, I mean really knowing God as Father, nothing else on earth even comes close. He is “beautiful beyond description”. He is life itself. The more we obey Him, the closer we’re able to draw to Him.
2. God rewards us by transforming our character; making us more like Christ
We too were made to be beautiful beings; strong and gorgeous in every way; shining with the light of His glory. Here on earth, as we actively seek to know and obey God, we begin to become “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom. 8:29. We experience only a start; just a hint of what we shall one day be, but even that is wonderful. Have you ever met a truly godly believer? God’s sweetness and glory shine from them. My mother was like that.
3. God rewards us by making our lives spiritually fruitful
When it’s all over, do you want your life to have mattered; not just in this world, but for eternity? When we seek God first, we can be assured that we will “bear much fruit (John 15:8). Whether we see it or not, through the Spirit, ripples of God’s power and goodness spread wherever we go. We send light waves throughout our world. People get saved. Believers become encouraged. Sin and Satan get whupped on. Unbelievers are nudged further along their spiritual journey toward the Savior.
4. God rewards us by making our lives more meaningful and joyful
Even though we’re not always “up”, in this sin-infested world, there’s something deep inside us, a sort of spiritual gyroscope that senses we’re going the right direction; that it will all be worth it. And as we grow, the things of this world, like money or success, enjoyable as they may be, diminish in importance to us while knowing and pleasing God become more dear.
5. God rewards us by protecting us from the ravages of sin
A vicious enemy called “sin” stalks our planet, led by its evil manipulator Satan. Although it often appears innocent or trivial, it’s destructive in every way. What a reward it is, through obedience to Christ, to learn how to avoid sin’s traps, and much of the damage it does. We still live in a sinful world, and still stuffer from this, but much of sin’s unnecessary damage can be side-stepped when we follow Christ
6. God rewards us in Heaven
This is probably the one you were waiting for. The Bible mentions heavenly rewards too on more than one occasion. Exactly what they are, it says little about. Crowns are mentioned. All I know is this – they will be fantastic beyond imagining. Just the joy of God’s approval will be reward enough, but they seem to go beyond that. Live for His reward. You’ll be super glad you did.