The Rewards Christians Can Gain or Lose
I would like to begin with a story. I first saw this in a book by Stephen Covey. Imagine for a moment that it’s a beautiful day and you’re driving down a country road. You enter a small town and see a church by the side of the road. You park your car in the crowded parking lot and go up the steps and enter the church. Inside you see that it’s standing room only. You walk down the aisle looking for a place to sit. You can’t help but wonder, “Why are all these people here?” And then you notice that up at the front of the church there is a casket. It’s a funeral. You wonder, “Who died?” As you continue walking down the aisle looking for a place to sit, you realize you know some of the people in the audience. You see your boss from work and some of your coworkers. You notice your cousins are there. Then you’re surprised to see your brother, your sister; your mom and dad are present. As you reach the front of the church, you go by the coffin. Out of curiosity you look inside and you’re startled to find out YOU are in the coffin. It is your funeral. You stand off to the side and watch the proceedings. The minister asks some people to say a word about what your life meant to them. You watch as some of your coworkers come to the front and give a little speech. You listen carefully. Your boss gets up to say a word, and one by one, your neighbors, your relatives, your own brother and sister speak. Finally, your mom and dad talk about you. What would you hope to hear people say about you?
Stephen Covey says, “The things you want to hear them say about you are really the fundamental values that you hold to.” If someday you want people to say those things, then every day you ought to live in such a way that you are not violating your deepest values. In brief, you ought to live with the end in mind. According to the Bible, that’s true. Christians are to live with the end in mind. We are to see life from the perspective of our final accountability before God.
Another way of saying this would be to ask, “When your life is over, what do you hope to hear Jesus say about you?” That is what I want to talk with you about today. What will Jesus say about you at His Judgment Seat? The Apostle Paul wrote, “We make it our goal to please Him”—talking about Christ—”whether we are at home in the body or away from it”—that is, whether we are alive in the body or we have died and are away from it and with Christ, “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 Cor. 5:9,10). According to the Bible, the purpose of this Judgment will be to evaluate our lives as Christians so that we can be properly rewarded for the way we have faithfully or unfaithfully served Christ on earth. And it does matter. There are tremendous rewards the Christian can win or lose.
Look at 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 where we read that this Judgment will be like a fire which “will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss.” Notice, he will not lose Heaven, but what he will lose is reward. Paul says in verse 10 that a Christian “should be careful how he builds.” He compares our daily Christian living to building a house. As we live for Christ, our deeds of service to Christ are likened to valuable materials—such as gold, silver and costly stones. When we live selfishly and commit sins, the Bible likens these deeds to shoddy materials—such as wood, hay and straw.
The Apostle says someday our 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. In a moment we will examine more about what the Bible says about Christians losing eternal rewards and privileges.
But first, what are the rewards Christians can gain or lose at Christ’s Judgment Seat? Here are just a few. In Revelation 3:21 Jesus says, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” I’m not sure we can even fathom all that Jesus is implying with these words, but obviously He is saying that believers can in some marvelous sense reign with Him IF we overcome our problems. Do you have a problem you’re facing? Then rejoice, because you qualify for gaining the reward of ruling in some measure with Christ someday. You may be facing problems of sickness, finances, or temptations of various sorts. We all face problems. Jesus says if we overcome our problems with His strength, He will grant us the privilege of someday reigning with Him.
Paul teaches the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:12. He says, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” In Revelation 2:26 Jesus says, “He who overcomes and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.” So, if you overcome your problems, they can result in your being granted the privilege of reigning with Jesus in some capacity for all eternity.
The second reward the Bible teaches we can gain or lose is the reward of praise and honor that will come from God. Jesus says in John 12:26, “My Father will honor the one who serves Me.” What is this honor that is mentioned? I like to think of it in this manner. Picture yourself walking up to the Judgment Seat of Christ to meet Jesus. Behind Christ’s throne the Father’s presence is manifested in some spectacular way. As you approach Christ’s throne, walking in front of all the angels and people gathered around, suddenly the Father in a booming voice says, “This person faithfully served My Son. I want to honor him.” At that moment all of Heaven knows you have honored, you have faithfully served Christ. Maybe that is more imagination than fact, but in some fashion Jesus says “the Father WILL honor the one who serves Me.”
At the same time, Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them.” Unfortunately, many of us do exactly that. We do our acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them. Is that you? Well, if it is, notice what else Jesus says. “If you do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” What reward will you get? The only reward you will get is that you have been noticed by the people you were trying to impress—and you know how long that usually lasts. It is far better to serve the Lord who will not forget you and whose honors and privileges will last for all eternity.
The third category of rewards the Bible mentions are the honors and privileges that accompany the crowns that God will give out. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 encourages Christians to live in such a way as to get a crown and a full reward. He says, “Run in such a way as to get the prize. 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.” Here Paul uses the Olympic races of his own time to illustrate how we should live the Christian life. He says, if you’re going to run the race, that is, live the Christian life, run it in such a way as to get the prize, to win.
Now, in the Olympics in Greece, any athlete who won the race received a prize, acrown. The crown was actually a wreath made out of celery leaves. It only lasted for a few hours and then faded away. In comparison, Paul said Christians are seeking to get a crown that will last “forever.” Now, what is this crown all about? Athletes who won in the Olympics received a crown which entitled them to other ongoing rewards when they got home. Sometimes they would be given a new home, and their children’s education would be provided free. Sometimes, a home would be built for the athlete’s parents, and for the rest of his life and his family’s lives, none of them would pay taxes. So the crown symbolized continuing honors and rewards that continued for the rest of the athlete’s life.
I believe this is also true about the crowns God will give. Yes, we can throw our crowns at Christ’s feet, but the privileges they represent will continue to be ours even then, for all eternity. In the Bible there are five different crowns mentioned that Christians can receive for service to Christ. First, in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 we read about the crown of rejoicing. This crown is actually symbolic of the people we have led to the Lord. Paul says about these people, “You are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:20). Someday, someone in Heaven will thank you for bringing them the Gospel. You also will thank someone for leading you to the Lord. The Gospel message goes right back to Christ Himself who brought it to earth and made it possible.
Second, in 1 Peter 5:1-4 we are told about a crown of glory that will be given to church elders who have served well in the Church. Peter writes, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Third, in 2 Timothy 4:7, 8 we see the crown of righteousness that will be given to those who eagerly await for Christ’s appearing: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 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 4:7, 8).
Fourth, in James 1:12 we see the crown of life, which I believe is a heightened form of experiencing heaven and God, that will be given to those who endure the sufferings of temptation. James says, “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)
Fifth, in 1 Corinthians 9:25 we see the crown of mastery that will be given to those who have mastered the sins of the body. Paul says, “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 Cor. 9:25).
Well, if these are some of the rewards we as Christians can gain, what are some of the rewards the Bible says we can lose if we live undisciplined, faithless lives? First, we can lose the approval of our Lord and receive His rebuke instead. Remember, the unfaithful servant who hid his talent in the ground in Matthew 25? That man received a stinging rebuke from his master instead of approval. In that parable the lord said to his servant, “You wicked, lazy servant!” I wonder if the Lord will say that to any of us? In Colossians 3:23 we are told, “It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong and there is no favoritism.” Pastors, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, we will all be judged impartially; there will be no favorites who get by.
That’s why, when we sin, we should confess our sins as soon as the Lord reveals them to us. 1 Corinthians 11:31, 32 says, “But if we judged ourselves we would not come under judgment.” This means, if we judged ourselves and confessed our sin to the Lord, then we wouldn’t experience the Lord’s judgment and discipline on our lives. This is speaking of Christ’s discipline of us in this life and also when we stand before His Judgment Seat. Maybe you ask, What if I can’t remember every sin I’ve ever done? Don’t worry. Confess those you know. Then ask God if there is anything He sees in your life that needs His forgiveness. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. As He reveals things, confess them and turn away from whatever it is. If nothing comes to mind, then be at peace. Keep in mind God’s promise in 1 John 1:9 which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The Greek word translated “to cleanse” means “He WILL KEEP ON CLEANSING us” from all sin. That is, God graciously cleanses our lives from that which we know and that which we don’t remember or aren’t aware of. Just walk with Him daily and He promises to cleanse us from all sin.
The second reward we can lose at the Judgment Seat of Christ is, we risk seeing our reward given to another. In Matthew 25 the Lord said concerning the unfaithful servant, “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
In Revelation 3:11 Christians are warned by Jesus: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown.” Jesus isn’t talking about losing heaven here; He is talking about our rewards. He says, Hold on, continue faithfully serving Me or another will be given your reward. The Apostle John wrote to Christians and said, “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully” (2 John 1:8).
The third thing we can lose at the Judgment Seat of Christ is honor. The Bible says unfaithful Christians will be ashamed instead of honored. In 1 John 2:28 we read, “Abide in him that when he shall appear, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” Will there be tears in heaven? Yes, I believe there will be tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Many Christians will be ashamed before Christ. In Luke 9:26 Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory, in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Are you ashamed now to identify yourself with Jesus and with His words? If so, change now or Christ will be ashamed of you later. Someone might say, if this is what is going to happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ, Heaven sounds like a downer. That’s not true. We need to hold what the Bible teaches in balance. At the Judgment Seat of Christ there will be tears and regrets. But shortly after the Judgment Seat of Christ the Bible says “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Also, everyone’s cup will be full; it’s just that the size cups will be different. Also, keep in mind that God will be very generous with His rewards. He promises to reward us a hundred times more than we deserve (Matt. 19).
In light of all that the Bible teaches about eternal rewards, how are you living your life for Christ now? If you really believe what the Bible teaches, it would be foolish to do anything else but say, “Lord, help me live for you.” He will and it will be worth it.