One of the effects of different believers and churches teaching different things is that they will be rewarded differently. If what we believe is true, then we will be rewarded accordingly. But if not, then all of our works will be for naught, or worse, work against us. And all of this is because of heavenly treasures, eternal rewards, promised to those who follow Jesus. The apostles were trained by Jesus who taught them about eternal rewards and we read verses about it in places like Matthew chapter six:
“Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:19-21 WEB)
Jesus says right there to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” That’s what we mean by eternal rewards.
Now, it’s not that we’re saved by works. We are saved by faith, but we are saved so that we can do good works:
for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10 WEB)
There is some awesome truth in these verses. We aren’t saved by anything we do, it is the gift of God accomplished by what Jesus accomplished on the cross. So there is no bragging, not even saying that I am a good person. No one deserves what Jesus made available, and I and many of you are extremely grateful for what Jesus made available. And notice that it says God prepared the good works that we should do! God planned for us to do things! It’s about God, and what he wants, and not only that what he planned for us beforehand!
But, by the same token, we are created to do things for the Lord! And, as we do those, we are storing treasures in heaven.
This is part of the Apostles’ tradition. Paul not only addresses it verses like above, but he charges Timothy as a minister of the gospel to teach this.
Charge those who are rich in this present world that they not be arrogant, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on the living God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to share; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life. (1Ti 6:17-19 WEB)
Heavenly rewards will not be the same for everyone! The Bible does not teach that it’s enough to claim Jesus as Lord and thus to gain access to the same heavenly rewards as everyone else. In the above verses, we see that sharing your material wealth with the right heart is one way to lay up eternal rewards. Each believer will be rewarded according to their labor that survives the purification by fire. That means that things we did or taught thinking they were godly but weren’t will not be rewarded.:
Now he who plants and he who waters are the same, but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1Co 3:8 WEB)
with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatever good thing each one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is bound or free. (Eph 6:7-8 WEB)
“Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does, so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Mat 6:1-4 WEB)
There it is, we are rewarded according to the labor we put in, as long as our hearts are right! But we need to be careful, too, because it is available to lose some of our rewards:
Watch yourselves, that we don’t lose the things which we have accomplished, but that we receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and doesn’t remain in the teaching of Christ, doesn’t have God. He who remains in the teaching, the same has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you, and doesn’t bring this teaching, don’t receive him into your house, and don’t welcome him, (2Jn 1:8-10 WEB)
The above verses are the carrot as to why we need to piece back the fragments of the true church. If someone believes, for example, that God wants them and all other Christians to be materially wealthy because it says in Deuteronomy:
But you shall remember Yahweh your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may establish his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as it is today. (Deu 8:18 WEB)
There are people who take verses like this as a charge to pursue wealth. They dedicate prayer and their faith to pursue wealth. But Scripture is full of admonitions against the temptations and traps that come with wealth:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon. (Mat 6:24 WEB)
Mammon means the accumulation of wealth. This verse specifically says that you can’t serve the accumulation of wealth. This is just one example of a doctrine that some follow that could be leading in a path with no eternal rewards.
So, who gets to decide what things we get rewarded for? It’s God. We may think that some cause is right, but only if it is in line with God’s plan will it be something that we will be rewarded for. Otherwise, in the final reckoning, it will just get burned up like chaff.
Therefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing to him. For we must all be revealed before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2Co 5:9-10 WEB)
This verse says that there will be a time before the judgment seat of Christ. We will be judged. What will be judged on? It’s our works. Our works will be judged and we will be rewarded accordingly:
Now he who plants and he who waters are the same, but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s farming, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another builds on it. But let each man be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or stubble; each man’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself will test what sort of work each man’s work is. If any man’s work remains which he built on it, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire. Don’t you know that you are a temple of God, and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (1Co 3:8-16 WEB)
So, at the end of this age, we will be judged and everything we do will be be “revealed in fire”, which is a term representing the purification process. This is representing the spiritual refining process in similar term to the metal refining process which started in Old Testament times. According to Brittanica.com, “Iron, copper, and lead are fire-refined by selective oxidation. In this process, oxygen or air is added to the impure liquid metal; the impurities oxidize before the metal and are removed as an oxide slag or a volatile oxide gas.”1
In other words, fire purifies the metals and that is the analogy here. The metal refining process is similar to the spiritual refining process we will go through at the judgment seat. At the end of the age all of our works will be judged in fire and only those that survive the fire will gain us rewards in the ages to come.
Does the Bible give specific things that will be rewarded? Yes, it does. For example, believers will be rewarded for enduring persecution:
“Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat 5:11-12 WEB)
Some of the rewards are crowns. The Epistles say there are five crowns that believers are capable of earning:
Not to be confused with eternal life, the crown of life is a reward for those who endure:
Blessed is a person who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him. (Jas 1:12 WEB)
Those who have witnessed to people and built them up will receive the crown of rejoicing:
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Isn’t it even you, before our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our glory and our joy. (1Th 2:19-20 WEB)
Next look at this crown talked about in 1 Corinthians:
Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win. Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run like that, not aimlessly. I fight like that, not beating the air, but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected. (1Co 9:24-27 WEB)
There is an incorruptible crown that will be given for running to win the race. Achieving this crown requires discipline, bringing our body into submission.
Or how about the crown of righteousness? Paul talks about that here:
I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. From now on, there is stored up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day; and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved his appearing. (2Ti 4:7-8 WEB)
And last, but not least, Peter talks about receiving the crown of glory:
Therefore I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and who will also share in the glory that will be revealed. Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, not for dishonest gain, but willingly; neither as lording it over those entrusted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock. When the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the crown of glory that doesn’t fade away. (1Pe 5:1-4 WEB)
The crowns of life, rejoicing, running to win, righteousness, and glory are eternal rewards set as carrots for all of us to run our race as hard as we can.
So, there we see that the Apostles tradition includes teaching about eternal rewards. We will all come before the judgment seat and it won’t matter how well we argue our works will be judged and anything that isn’t truly of God will be burned away no matter how much we want to believe in it. What’s left is what we will be judged on and given rewards that will be with us through eternity. With that in mind, we need to be sure that what we believe and practice is really what God wants.
Now, the same Apostles that told us about eternal rewards told us to stick to their traditions, their beliefs, and practices. Part of the Apostles’ tradition is teaching us about eternal rewards and following the Apostles’ tradition is how we are going to get the best rewards:
So then, brothers, stand firm, and hold the traditions which you were taught by us, whether by word, or by letter. (2Th 2:15 WEB)