Judgment and Eternal Rewards

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2 Corinthians 5:10

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Real Answers about Heaven, and today we are looking at the subject of judgment and eternal rewards. The Bible says: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) So what does that judgment look like?

We hear a lot about judgment day and what that means for people who do not know Christ, but we are talking about heaven, so we especially want to focus on what does judgment look like for the believer in Christ? And what we will discover is that when you know Christ, judgment day is not about eternal punishment but rather eternal reward. And that is very good news! (Read 2 Corinthians 5:10 and pray.)

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Judgment Day. That’s usually a scary term for us, so we’re not used to thinking about it in positive terms. And if you don’t know Christ as Savior, it should be a scary term. It means you will have to stand before God someday, and God will judge all the sin and rebellion in your life. We are all guilty as charged, so you won’t have a single thing to say in your defense. It’s no wonder we don’t like the term Judgment Day.

And yet throughout the Bible God’s judgment is overwhelmingly presented as something positive, good and just. We even long for it ourselves at times. We look at all the evil and injustice in the world, and we say, “Why doesn’t God do something about this?” And the Bible’s answer is, “He has, and he will.” The “has” part is he has sent Jesus into the world to be our Savior. The “will” part is “he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.” (Acts 17:31) Every wrong will be made right, and every right will be rewarded. And that’s a good thing.

So that’s what we are going to be looking at today. What does the Bible say about judgment and eternal rewards, especially for the believer in heaven? We are going to answer three questions in our message this morning. 1) What will happen on the Day of Judgment? 2) What kind of rewards will God give his people? 3) What will we do with our rewards? So let’s get started.

I. What will happen on the Day of Judgment?

First of all, what will happen on the Day of Judgment? The Bible tells us a number of things are going to take place.

   A. Everyone will appear before the Lord for judgment
      – Romans 14:12; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-15

First of all, everyone will appear before the Lord for judgment. Now I meet a lot of people who seem to think that they are the one exception, but there are no exceptions to this rule. Hebrews 9:27 says: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Romans 14:12 says: “Each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12)

We get a more detailed description of this all in Revelation 20 which is rightly one of the most frightening passages in the Bible. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15)

Please don’t think that you are the exception to the rule. The Bible is clear. Everyone will appear before the Lord for judgment.

   B. God will judge your salvation according to your faith in Christ
      – Ephesians 2:8-10; Revelation 21:27

What will happen when you appear before the Lord for judgment? Two things. First of all, God will judge your salvation according to your faith in Christ. We read in Ephesians 2:8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

This is important because most people get this part of God’s judgment completely wrong. They think God will judge their salvation according to their works. So you ask them, “If you died today and God asked you why should I let you into my heaven, what would you say?” And they answer, “Because I’m a good person. I went to church, I got baptized, I loved my family. I never murdered anyone.”

And I always answer, “I’m really glad you never murdered anyone, but that’s not how you get into heaven.” It’s not according to your works but rather according to your faith in Christ. Do you believe Jesus is God’s Son? Do you believe he died on the cross for your sins? Are you trusting him daily as your Lord and Savior?

Revelation 21:27 says this about heaven: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27) You see it’s not a matter of whether you’ve been good or bad. What matters is whether your name is in the book.

It’s not your good works that save you. It’s Christ’s work that saves you. It’s not what you’ve done. It’s what Jesus has done. And it’s not your bad works that keep you out. Every person who goes to heaven is a sinner saved by grace. Salvation is by grace through faith alone. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life, and that’s the only thing that will count when it comes to your salvation on judgment day. God will judge your salvation according to your faith in Christ.

   C. God will judge your works according to what you have done
      – 2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 6:8; Revelation 22:12

And then secondly, God will judge your works according to what you have done. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) Or as Jesus says in Revelation 22:12: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12) The word that is translated “reward” in this verse is a word that can mean either “reward” or “punishment” depending on context. Here it can go either way, simply meaning that Christ will repay each person according to their works.

So here’s the thing. If you’re not trusting Christ as your Savior, then you will need to pay for every bad thing you’ve ever done. The Bible tells us the price for even one sin against God is eternal punishment in hell. God is an infinitely holy God, and so sin has an infinite price attached to it. You will never finish paying for all your sins. That’s the bad news.

But here’s the good news. Because Jesus is God’s Son, his sacrifice on the cross has infinite value. So if you’re trusting in Jesus as your Savior, then Christ has already paid the price for the bad things you’ve done. And that means when you get to judgment day, you will only receive what is due you for the good things you’ve done. That’s why verses like Ephesians 6:8 focus on the positive when it comes to believers: “You know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does.” (Ephesians 6:8)

Now God will still judge your life. Remember, everyone will appear before the Lord for judgment. God will evaluate everything you have done in the light of his word. It’s still going to be uncomfortable. But if you are a believer, the price has already been paid and you do not need to fear punishment. As Billy Graham writes: “Believers will not be judged for their sin, for Christ dealt with our sin on the cross at Calvary. Instead, at the judgment seat, our work on earth for Christ’s Kingdom will be evaluated and rewarded according to God’s perfect righteousness and justice.” (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, Kindle location 940)

So what will happen on the Day of Judgment? The Bible tells us that everyone will appear before the Lord for judgment. There are no exceptions. God will judge your salvation according to your faith in Christ. God will judge your works according to what you have done.

II. What kinds of rewards will God give his people?

And that raises the second question we will consider this morning. What kinds of rewards will God give his people? What do these rewards look like?

   A. The difference between your inheritance and your rewards
      – Romans 8:16-17; Colossians 3:24; 1 Peter 1:3-5

First of all, as a believer you should know the difference between your inheritance and your rewards. Your inheritance is based on your adoption into God’s family as his child. Your rewards are based on how you’ve lived your life here on earth.

For example, the book of Romans in the Bible connects your inheritance with your adoption as God’s child. We read in Romans 8: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16-17)

We read more about this inheritance in 1 Peter 1: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

So what is your inheritance? Your inheritance is your final salvation. It is based on faith, and it is waiting in heaven for every believer in Jesus Christ. As Elyse Fitzpatrick writes in her book, Home: Heaven & the New Earth: “The Lord has already signed you in. Your name is on the list. You’re registered in the book. It’s guaranteed…. God’s power is guarding your inheritance, and he’s guarding you, too. Forever. Why? Because your name is written where his is.” (Elyse Fitzpatrick, Home: Heaven & the New Earth, Kindle location 1466)

Now the Bible doesn’t always draw a sharp distinction between your inheritance and your rewards. For example, we read in Colossians 3: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” (Colossians 3:23-24) There your inheritance is described as a reward.

But overall I think this is a helpful distinction to make. Your inheritance is based on your adoption into God’s family as his child, whereas your rewards are based on how you’ve lived your life here on earth.

   B. Your rewards in heaven will correspond to your deeds on earth
      – 1 Corinthians 3:10-14; Revelation 14:13

In fact, and this is our next point, your rewards will actually correspond in some way to your deeds here on earth. For example we read in 1 Corinthians 3:10-14: “Each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-14)

In other words your reward will correspond to what you have been building in this life. If you have been living for God and Christ and his kingdom, then what you have built will survive into the next life. But if you are living for sin and for self, then nothing will survive. It will all be lost in the fire.

We read in Revelation 14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Revelation 14:13) Your deeds will follow you. In other words, the way you live now matters. It has a direct effect on how you will live in eternity. Your rewards in heaven will correspond to your deeds on earth.

I like what N.T. Wright says about this in his book, Surprised by Hope. He writes: “It isn’t a matter of calculation, of doing a difficult job in order to be paid a wage. It is much more like working at a friendship or a marriage in order to enjoy the other person’s company more fully.” He goes on to say it’s sort of like practicing golf. “The ‘reward’ is organically connected to the activity, not some kind of arbitrary pat on the back, otherwise unrelated to the work that was done. And it is always far in abundance beyond any sense of direct or equivalent payment…. The resurrection means that what you do in the present, in working hard for the gospel, is not wasted.” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, Kindle location 2638)

   C. Five different crowns mentioned in the Bible:

Now the Bible mentions at least five different crowns or rewards that various believers will receive in heaven. There may be more types of rewards, in fact there may be many more, but here are five that the Bible mentions by name. 1) There is the crown of victory for those who practice self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:25). 2) There is the crown of rejoicing for those who lead others to Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). 3) There is the crown of righteousness for those who long for Christ’s appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). 4) There is the crown of life for those who persevere through trials and persecution (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10). 5) There is the crown of glory for those who faithfully shepherd God’s people (1 Peter 5:4). Let’s look at each one of these briefly.

      1) the crown of victory – for those who practice self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:25)

First of all, there is the crown of victory. This is the reward for those who practice self-discipline. We read in 1 Corinthians 9:25: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25) Paul is comparing self-discipline in the Christian life to training for the Olympics or some other sporting event. Any athlete will tell you that all the training and discipline is worth it when you win the prize. It’s the same way with the Christian. All the training, all the discipline will be more than worth it when you receive the crown of victory as your eternal reward in heaven.

      2) the crown of rejoicing – for those who lead others to Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)

Secondly, there is the crown of rejoicing. This is the reward for those who lead others to Christ. We read these words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) Every person you have helped lead to Christ in this life will be a crown of rejoicing in the next. Just the fact that they are there will be a reward in itself. Every day you will rejoice that you were privileged to play a small part in their salvation.

      3) the crown of righteousness – for those who long for Christ’s appearing (2 Timothy 4:8)

Thirdly, there is the crown of righteousness. This is the reward for those who long for Christ’s appearing. We read in 2 Timothy 4:8: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) When will we be filled with perfect righteousness? When Christ returns. Who receives the crown of righteousness? Those who long for Christ’s appearing.

Do you long Christ’s appearing? Do you watch and pray and look for his return every day? Then you have a crown of righteousness awaiting you in heaven.

      4) the crown of life – for those who persevere through trials and persecution (Matthew 5:11-12; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10)

Fourthly, there is the crown of life. This is the reward for those who persevere through trials and persecution. We read in James 1:12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) Jesus says in Revelation 2:10: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

The Bible is clear about this. You are going to go through many trials as a believer. When you stand up for your faith, when you speak up for Christ, you are going to be persecuted. But take heart, because there is a reward waiting for you at the end of all this. Jesus said in Matthew 5: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

So don’t get discouraged in the difficult times. There is a crown of life waiting for believers who persevere through trials and persecution.

      5) the crown of glory – for those who faithfully shepherd God’s people (1 Peter 5:4)

Fifthly and finally, there is the crown of glory. This is the reward for those who faithfully shepherd God’s people. We read this word to pastors and other Christian leaders in 1 Peter 5:4: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:4)

I am a pastor. And when I read that verse I am overwhelmed, because I know that I do not deserve such a reward from the Lord. And yet in reality that is the way it is with all these crowns. They are rewards, and yet they are what we would call “gracious rewards.” They are rewards of God’s grace, as we will see now in the third and final section of our message.

III. What will we do with our rewards?

The third and final question I want us to address this morning is this. What will we do with our rewards? Will we put them on a shelf where everyone can see them? Will we put them behind glass in a trophy case with recessed lighting? What will we do with our rewards anyways?

   A. We will receive them with gladness
      – Matthew 25:23 (see also Luke 17:10; John 15:5)

First of all, we will receive them with gladness. For those who have served God well, you will hear these words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 25:23: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23)

We mentioned earlier that even though God rewards us for what we have done, all of these rewards are really further expressions of God’s grace to us. They are rewards of grace, not merit. First of all, we don’t deserve them, for in serving God we are only doing our duty. (Luke 17:10) Secondly, we couldn’t do them apart from God anyways. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. (John 15:5) And then thirdly, God’s rewards are way out of proportion to our deeds. They are far more than anything we could ever ask or expect.

We looked at Ephesians 2:10 earlier which says that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) So here’s what God does. First he prepares good works for us to do. Then he saves us in Christ and gives us the ability to do them. And then he rewards us for doing what he prepared and empowered us to do. That is astounding! As J.I. Packer writes: “When God rewards our works he is crowning his own gifts, for it was only by grace that those works were done.” (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 266)

What will we do with our rewards? First of all, we will receive them with gladness and gratitude, for they are rewards of grace, not merit.

   B. There will be no jealousy or pride
      – Romans 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:26

Secondly, something amazing will happen in heaven that could never take place here on earth. There will be no jealousy or pride.

Romans 12:10 says: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10) 1 Corinthians 12:26 says: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

These are commands that we constantly fail to obey here on earth. But in heaven we will be perfected. There will be no more jealousy over other people’s gifts or pride in your own gifts.

That means you won’t feel envious about the rewards that other Christians receive. Rather you will be devoted to each other in brotherly love, and honor one another above yourselves. In fact instead of being jealous, you will be glad they received the reward instead of you!

And you won’t feel pride about the rewards you receive. In fact instead of pride, the greater the reward the more you will be humbled – knowing that these are rewards of God’s grace far beyond anything that you could ever earn or deserve on your own.

There will be no jealousy or pride in heaven. We will be glad for each other, and each person’s reward will actually increase the joy in heaven for everyone else! That is amazing!

   C. We will give all the glory to God
      – Revelation 4:10-11

What will we do with our rewards? We will receive them with gladness. There will be no jealousy or pride. And then finally we will give all the glory to God as we should.

We read in Revelation 4:10-11: “The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’” (Revelation 4:10-11)

Now there are differing views on who exactly these twenty-four elders are in Revelation. Many believe they represent the church, the whole company of those who have been redeemed by Christ. But no matter who they are, what do they do with their crowns? The same thing we will do when we get to heaven. They cast their crowns before the throne of God, and they give him all the glory.

David Jeremiah writes: “At that glorious moment, we will have the opportunity to give to Christ the only thing we have to offer Him in heaven other than ourselves. And take my word for it – we won’t want to be empty-handed!” (David Jeremiah, Answers to Your Questions about Heaven, Kindle location 821) God in his grace will give you heavenly rewards, and you in your gratitude will lay your crowns before his throne.

What will we do with our rewards? We will receive them with gladness. There will be no jealousy or pride. We will give all the glory to God.

CONCLUSION: And so even though we often think of Judgment Day in negative terms, for the believer the Day of Judgment is actually a day we look forward to! God has eternal rewards waiting for you in heaven. The Bible promises it. God is a good and just God who rewards everyone who does good, even if we only do good because of his grace prompting us to do good.

God could have kept these rewards a secret. But he didn’t. He told us about them as a helpful motivation for us to live the Christian life. We shouldn’t do anything just to get a reward. We should do all things simply out of love for God and each other. But God knows we need all the help we can get, and so he gives us these glimpses of glory to help us along the way.

How you live now matters for all of eternity. My prayer for you today is that as you reflect on God’s judgment and eternal rewards, you will be motivated to serve God more faithfully and forsake sin in your life more fully in order that you may increase your heavenly reward – for the benefit of all believers and for the glory of God in heaven.

© Ray Fowler

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