Grace and Rewards
"Set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed." -1 Peter 1:13b
In the very last chapter of the very last book of the Bible, Jesus talks about heavenly rewards: “I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12)
In the Gospel of Matthew, He promises that He “will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:27)
The apostle Paul said the Lord “will reward everyone for whatever good he does.” (Ephesians 6:8)
But doesn’t the idea of rewards in heaven — for “what we have done” — contradict the idea of grace? You might be thinking, “Here I thought I was escaping performance-oriented religion with all this talk about grace — it’s supposedly not about what I deserve — and now, in heaven, God brings performance right back into the picture!”
Someone emailed me this exact question:
"I’ve heard there are degrees of reward in heaven based on one’s works on earth. I find this troubling. I could probably make an argument against it — it could lead to jealousy, greed, and prejudice in heaven! Plus I believe this could rob us of proper motivation for our works on earth, driven less by love and more by the cha–ching of the eternal scorecard."
But as Randy Alcorn explains in his extensive volume Heaven, rewards after death are simply another expression of God’s gracious nature. In heaven God can no longer save you from sin by His grace or sanctify you by His grace, since you will then be perfect. So how will He express His grace, the giving that is such an essential part of His character? By continuing to lavish His riches on you in the form of rewards! See, God didn’t have to save you. But He did. And He doesn’t have to rewardyou. But He does. Why? Because you’re so great? No. Because He’s so gracious!
Let me make this clear: Your good deeds won’t make God love you more. His love for you is already at full strength. But because He is generous, He loves to celebrate the smallest good deeds, like a father celebrates the smallest step his toddler takes.
And I mean the smallest steps. I used to think heavenly rewards would go only to the real ultra-saints. But look at what the Bible actually says about what God rewards: giving a cup of water to someone (Mark 9:41); giving to the needy, in any amount (Matthew 6:3–4); being mocked for your faith (Luke 6:22–23); inviting disabled people over (Luke 14:13–14); and Paul even says you’ll be rewarded for stuff you do at work — if you do it as if you’re working for the Lord (Colossians 3:22–24). That’s just a sample list, but I think the point is, just about everything you do can count for eternity. It’s like God is looking for excuses to hand out rewards! He just loves to be gracious.
Another way to look at it: God is a gentleman. He says thank you. Maybe you do something for which you never get thanked. You visit someone in a nursing home who may not be capable of fully expressing gratitude. Or you’re a faithful single parent, and you feel like no one has any idea how non-stop it all is. Well, God knows. And God can’t wait to tell you, “I really appreciated that!”
So don’t be discouraged. Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:13b)!
Have you ever given a cup of water to someone, or visited someone sick? Imagine Jesus joyfully rewarding you in heaven for that deed, as He said He would. What is your response to Jesus?
Explain in your own words how the idea of eternal reward does not contradict the idea of grace.
Express to God your thanks that His grace will extend even to rewarding you for the smallest good deed. Praise Him for His grace! Ask Him to help you see needs for you to meet in a gracious way.