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?