In a race many compete but only the top few receive awards. Is the Christian life of obedience similar? How much does your obedience as a Christian matter and why?
The Bible is clear that “...we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10). As believers, the good or evil we have done will be the basis of our judgment. The Lord who is perfectly just says, “...I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve” (Revelation 2:23).
This judgment is not about entrance into heaven; heaven is not a believer’s reward for doing good things. Our belief in Christ settles entrance into heaven. Romans 8:1 says “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Our behaviour as Christians determines our heavenly rewards. We’ll be judged for our stewardship of the gifts, talents, opportunities, and responsibilities given in this life.
Paul spells this out in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Every believer must build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, but the reward depends on how one builds. The builder whose work survives the test of fire will receive a reward. The one whose work fails the test will suffer the loss of a reward. In other words, rewards reflect the quality of a believer’s life.
The Bible outlines different rewards for different things including doing good works (Ephesians 6:8), denying yourself (Matthew 16:24-27), showing compassion to the needy (Luke 14:13-14), and treating your enemies with compassion (Luke 6:35). God also grants rewards for sacrificial and generous giving (Matthew 19:21).
What are the rewards? The Bible indicates that some people will be rewarded with rulership over the world (Revelation 20:6) or over angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). Some will be given “many more responsibilities” (Matthew 25:21-23).
Although all believers will be with Christ not all will reign with Him, at least not with equal responsibility and authority. There are stated conditions for reigning, “If we endure hardship, we will reign with him...” (2 Timothy 2:12). Christ promises, “Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
This means not everyone’s experience in heaven will be the same. While all will experience the joy of heaven and the presence of the Lord, not all will have the same capacity to experience it.
And here is where rubber meets the golden street. We will have differing rewards in heaven (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) depending on our actions and choices here on earth. Not all Christians will hear the master say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). Not all of us will have treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Not all of us will have the same position of authority in heaven (Luke 19:17, 19, 26). Scripture even suggests that some Christians will be ashamed at Christ’s coming (1 John 2:28).
An even more sobering warning is this: “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully” (2 John 8, NIV). Salvation can’t be lost because it is Christ’s work (John 5:24), but our rewards can be lost because they are our work and based on our behaviour. When we commit sins or neglect doing righteous acts we should have done, we are not doing what we could to lay up precious stones on the foundation of Christ.
Therefore, these sins contribute to our suffering loss of rewards. We can be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27), lose them (1 Corinthians 3:15), have them taken (Matthew 25:28-29), or forfeit them (Matthew 6:5-6). We will simply be receiving our due for our works, whether good or bad. What we do as believers in this life has eternal consequences.
Let this sink in: our obedience in this life matters now and counts forever. Life in heaven will echo with the consequences of the lives we lived on earth.
One final concern, what if we’ve messed up and wasted many years? Where there is life there is hope. It’s never too late to start doing the right thing and laying up treasures in heaven.
Start running today for the prize.