The Fall Festivals focus our attention on the time of Jesus Christ’s return and the wonderful events that follow! And the Bible teaches very plainly that there is a reward for our works, which Christ will bring to us at His return (Matthew 16:27). Yet we know that our works alone are insufficient to earn salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10). How can works be rewarded if eternal life is a gift and unearned (Romans 6:23)? Being well-versed in the basics of our faith is vital, especially concerning doctrines that “mainstream” Christianity often misunderstands. So, how would you explain this apparent dilemma? In this article, we will review what the Bible teaches about your reward and its relationship to your salvation.
Possessions That Are Yours Forever
Everybody says “You can’t take it with you” because, as they say in the funeral business, “The undertaker takes it all.” The Apostle Paul confirmed this in a letter to the evangelist Timothy: “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7). Paul was likely thinking of a similar comment in Ecclesiastes 5:15.
Paul was referring to physical things that can be carried out. You may have seen Egyptian kings’ burial chambers, filled with gold, trinkets, and personal items from their human lives. Those aren’t going anywhere. But are there, in fact, non-physical things we can take with us when we die? Yes! According to your Bible, there are several possessions that you have in this life that you will retain when you die—and that you will have in God’s Kingdom! They are possessions that will not just be beneficial in God’s Kingdom but will also enhance your life today.
God’s economics are different from man’s. People sometimes chuckle at “The Iron Law of Distribution,” which states, “Them that has, gets.” But Jesus Christ refuted and confounded that carnal perspective when He taught, in effect, “They that give, have.” Understanding Christ’s teachings about service to others is a key to understanding how God rewards the works of His children—and also to understanding how to take it with you.
Rewards are earned. So, why does God talk about unearned salvation through faith? Does the reward the Bible talks about come by unearned grace, or does it come by works?
These basics are important, and many outside God’s Church misunderstand what we teach about them. Let’s look at the doctrine of reward for works and see why we have a good reason to work diligently at our calling (2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 4:11; 2 Peter 1:10).
Distinguishing Justification from Salvation
Many mainstream Christians, confused by the non-biblical idea of an immortal soul, make the mistake of equating justification with salvation. In God’s Church, we believe in both—but, unlike most mainstream Christians, we understand that they are not the same thing. Mainstream Christianity typically teaches that when you “accept Jesus” your immortal soul enters a “saved” state within your body, which makes your soul eligible for heaven rather than hell when your body dies. This, of course, contradicts the Bible’s clear teaching that resurrection from the dead is our Christian hope for life after death.
By contrast, we in God’s Church understand that the gift of Christ’s sacrifice saves us now from our past sins, when we accept it through repentance and baptism and we receive the Holy Spirit. That is an unearned gift of justification and prepares us to put on immortality in the future at the resurrection of the just, when Christ returns at the end of this age. In order to put on that immortality, we must overcome and endure to the end. Many New Testament verses tell us that resurrection to eternal life is ours if we overcome to the end. You may want to do a brief Bible study on this topic on your own, reviewing the verses below, beginning with some strong admonitions by Paul from the book of Hebrews:
- Hebrews 3:6, 12, 14; 4:11; 6:4–8, 11; 10:35–39; 12:14–15
- Matthew 10:22
- John 15:1–6
- Romans 8:13
- 1 Corinthians 9:27; 10:12
- 2 Corinthians 6:1; 13:5
- Galatians 5:4; 6:7–10
- Colossians 1:20–23
- 1 Timothy 3:6–7
- 2 Peter 1:8–10; 2:20–22; 3:17
- Jude 24
- Revelation 2:5, 10, 16, 25–26; 3:5, 10–12, 16, 21; 17:14; 21:7
As you can see from the Bible’s plain explanations above, justification and salvation are not the same. If we willfully turn to the practice of sin, hardening our hearts, quenching the Holy Spirit, and repudiating God’s free gift, there is no more sacrifice for sin. We know this because, when writing to the Church, Paul warned in the book of Hebrews, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26–27).
No, we do not earn our salvation by obedience to God’s divine law, but we can lose our salvation by disobeying Him willfully. Yes, it is possible to fall away, as many scriptures state, and the popular doctrine of “Once saved, always saved” isn’t in the Bible. God tells us to live repentant lives and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—and we obey. Overcoming sin throughout our lives is very important, according to God’s word. And, happily, if we repent when we do sin, we have ongoing forgiveness, because “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9; 2:1–5).
Remember that when “mainstream” Christians use the words “saved” and “salvation,” they are usually thinking of their sins being covered by Christ’s sacrifice. We in God’s Church, however, recognize that Christ’s sacrifice has indeed saved us now from the penalty of our sins, but that in the ultimate sense our salvation from death will come in the future when we are resurrected at Christ’s return.
Eternal Life: The Unearned Gift
We must remember that it is always by grace—unmerited pardon—that we can be saved through faith from our sins and the penalty they earn. Although faith and works go hand in hand and we must have a living faith, not a dead one (James 2:14–26), this is not the same thing as earning our forgiveness or future salvation through keeping God’s law. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Yet the law does give us the knowledge of what sin is, which is why so many in mainstream Christianity do not understand God’s definition of sin. As a result, they have difficulty understanding repentance.
Christ’s sacrifice did not do away with God’s divine law. Always remember that God’s commandments define what is right and wrong, and therefore express His character. Transgression of God’s commandments is shown to be sin in both the Old and New Testaments (1 John 3:4, KJV). Therefore, Paul wrote that “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Yes, the law tells us what sin is, and when we know we are sinning, we know we are not repentant of that sin. If you are breaking God’s commandments, you aren’t repentant of those sins!
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong often said, “Repentance means change!” But repentance can only change what you are going to do—it can’t change what you already did. You can’t un-ring a bell. For instance, if you have been taking God’s name in vain all your life and you repent of it, your repentance will change what you are going to say. If it doesn’t, and you continue to take God’s name in vain, you haven’t repented. But, while you can repent and remove sin from your future, only one thing can remove the penalty of your past sins: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! That sacrifice—that gift you cannot earn—is given as generously as your repentance, and it opens the way to your eternal life in the resurrection!
Paul’s letter to the Romans presents Christians as being justified in the past and saved in the future.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:8–10).
He added in his first letter to the church in Corinth that we put on immortality in the future as a gift of God. “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. [We don’t have it now!] So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:53–54, KJV). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Paul gave this instruction to Titus:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us [past tense, from the penalty of our sins], through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace [in the past] we should become [in the future] heirs according to the hope of eternal life. [We are not immortal now.] This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men (Titus 3:5–8).
Good works are “good and profitable,” but they do not earn us grace or eternal life.
Receiving Your Reward
It’s important to remember that eternity in heaven is not our reward, despite what many mainstream Christians mistakenly assume. “For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9–10).
There is a reward for works when Christ comes: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). Christ will bring the reward with Him when He comes. “Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him” (Isaiah 40:10). “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).
Christ told His disciples that our reward will be offices of service in the Kingdom of God on the earth:
Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:24–30).
Jesus explicitly stated that the disciples’ reward would be offices of service. He also compared these future offices in His Kingdom to the offices that the priests occupied, located in various rooms of the temple.
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions [great rooms]; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know (John 14:1–4).
Christ is currently with our Father in heaven, at His right hand, having received all power in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). He is preparing many positions of authority and service for His Kingdom, and He said that His resurrected saints will sit with Him on His throne as He currently sits with His Father on His throne (Revelation 3:21). When Christ appears, He will bring our reward to the earth with Him. He will set up His Kingdom on the earth, where we will be kings and priests with Him—the King of kings.
How will our reward be determined? The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–29) illustrates a reward for works by the principle of faithful in little, faithful in much. Jesus said it explicitly: “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10; see also James 2:24). It is important to remember that God does not measure our works by mere size or visibility. Jesus praised the widow’s quiet gift of two mites as a greater work than the much larger gifts given ostentatiously by the rich (Mark 12:41–44; Luke 21:1–4).
Remember that Christ is watching what we are becoming—what fruits we bear in this age—in order to determine what our reward can be in the age to come.
Your Character Is Eternal
Your character is something else you can take with you. And it is closely associated with the reward of your office.
When we are resurrected or changed at Christ’s coming, God will change what we are, not who we are. We will “put on immortality” and will be clothed in a new “tent” (2 Corinthians 5:1–4).
In the Parable of the Talents, we see a principle acted out. Each faithful servant received an office—rulership—and its scope depended on the works and personal character of the one receiving the reward. Faithful in little, faithful in much. Character counts!
The Bible is clear that the resurrected saints will hold positions of ruling authority and priesthood in His Kingdom. “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5–6). In God’s Kingdom, we must choose as He would choose—forever. So, as we become more converted, God changes our nature and character. Our repentance, our love, and our obedience expressed in righteous actions change us inwardly, which enables us to receive greater roles as servants—kings and priests in God’s Kingdom. Paul emphasized the importance of this inward change: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
I like to say that we are being trained to be part of God’s family business—and He’s in the business of giving, the opposite of this world. How good are you at giving? He’s setting up offices, and He wants to know. Are you building character and developing the giving, outgoing spirit God wants you to have?
The greater our conversion, the more outgoing concern—godly love—becomes a permanent facet of our character. With this comes a greater ability to serve others in love. For Jesus Christ, living God’s way of life is self-expression—just “doing His own thing.” And we are commanded to grow in the stature of Christ.
How wonderful it will be—living God’s way of life in His family, according to His law and His government, and “doing our own thing” forever! But our own thing must also be God’s thing—that’s called conversion. Our human will is being changed to be like God’s divine will, so we will for eternity choose as He does.
In Luke 16:10, Jesus stated the principle of faithful in little, faithful in much. Then, He explained why: “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (vv. 11–12).
Loving Relationships Are Forever
We will also take with us our relationships. Jesus said that one of the two great commandments is to love others as ourselves. But He gave His Church a higher standard: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). The Apostle John exhorted us further, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).
As God is love, loving one another is the very spirit of the divine law that expresses His character.
Much of the Bible—in both the New and Old Testaments—teaches us about relationships. The biblical emphasis on relationships is vital for us and of utmost importance to God, because our relationships are meant to last forever.
In a Nutshell:
All the world’s gold, silver, money, pyramids, mountains, governments—it all will pass away. So will you, as a mortal human being. Your human life will come to an end. But, thanks to God’s plan, you will take some things with you when you finally go to sleep at death and wait to receive eternal life:
- Your works will determine the reward reserved for you in heaven. Christ will bring it with Him when He returns. God is a perfect accountant, and He misses nothing. Entering God’s Kingdom comes only by grace through living faith in Jesus Christ. That is an infinite gift and cannot be earned. How you serve in God’s Kingdom—your office and position for eternity—will be determined by your works which reflect your character.
- Your character is yours forever and determines your ability to hold office in a Kingdom ruled by love and outgoing concern for others. God says He is doing a good work in us. How you build His holy and righteous character in your life today demonstrates your spiritual aptitude for service and rulership in His Kingdom.
- Your relationships are meant to continue forever in God’s family. It is essential to learn now how to build good relationships, and to hold them as vitally important.
Your works, your character, and your relationships: You can take them with you!