What do you think you will receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ?
At the age of 16, C. T. Studd was already an expert cricket player and at 19 was made captain of his team at Eton, England. Soon he became a world-famous sports personality. The Lord, however, had different plans for him. While attending Cambridge University, he heard D. L. Moody preach and he was wondrously converted. He soon dedicated his life and his inherited wealth to Christ and spent hours seeking to convert his teammates. Sensing God’s leading to full-time service, he offered himself to Hudson Taylor for missionary work in China.
While in that foreign country, he inherited a large sum of money. Within 24-hours, he had given the entire inheritance away, investing it in the things of the Lord. Later he was forced to go back to England, because his health was failing. On top of that, his wife was an invalid. But God called him again—this time to the heart of Africa. He was informed that if he went, he would not live long. His only answer was that he had been looking for a chance to die for Jesus. “Faithful unto death,” he accepted God’s call and labored until the Savior took him home.
What made C. T. Studd so committed to the Lord? Will Jesus treat Mr. Studd differently than he treats you or me when we appear before the Bema Seat of Christ? What should we expect?
The Bible teaches that faithful believers will receive rewards for their work. Before we examine these rewards, build some background regarding rewards.
Eternal life is not a reward
Eternal life is not a reward because it is not earned. Eternal life is a “gift of God” (John 4:10). Jesus promised, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (NKJV). Though this is a profound promise, Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who trust Him. Once a person trusts in Christ, he has eternal life…at that very instant. At that point, the believer has the opportunity to obey Him and to lay up treasure in heaven. You see, our justification salvation is not a reward.
God doesn’t want you to have doubts about your eternal destiny; rather he wants you to know that you have eternal life. You can be certain without even a shadow of doubt. The Bible says, “…this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13).
If you lack assurance, it is because you lack the understanding that eternal life is a gift. Now might be a good time to pray that God would show you the truth and to make His Word understandable to you. Then you can be assured of your eternal life…remember, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16–17, NKJV)
The point is that eternal life is free, but rewards are not.
Wages aren’t gifts
The Greek word translated “rewards” is misthos—it occurs 29 times in the New Testament. When a labor worked for the day, he was paid his wages or misthos (Matt 20:1-16). To earn a wage, work must be done. Thus, rewards (wages) are more than the gift of eternal life. Believers receive eternal life when they trust in Jesus—they receive rewards when they accomplish something for the Master. Therefore, rewards are earned. Eternal rewards are not freely given by God.
We reap what we sow
Galatians 6:6-10 says,
“Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (NKJV)
All believers have the potential to live an abundant Christian life (John 10:10). However, many Christians fail to live up to that potential. As a result, many Christians will not receive the rewards that God could provide them. Many people think that rewards-based thinking leads people to live a life that is inconsistent with the holiness demanded by God. But the opposite is actually the case. Because we know that we will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, we should live to please our Master. If we live otherwise, we will lose the rewards that we could have had.
We see from the verse above, that God is not mocked. No man can snub God. God’s rule is that a man reaps what he sows. If a person sows to please his sinful nature, he will reap a harvest that will fade into oblivion. If a person works for the Spirit then he will reap a harvest that will last forever (Rom 6:8).
Receiving eternal life at the time of placing our faith in Christ is the start of a new life in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). From that point onward, believers have the opportunity to earn eternal rewards. This means that effort is involved. While all believers will live in the Messianic Kingdom, only believers who persist in good words will enjoy the rewards that come from a dedicated spiritual life.
Crowns as rewards
Perhaps we can best understand Christ’s expectations for us by examining the rewards He gives at His Judgment Seat. These rewards can come in the form of crowns. The crown is a victors crown given to an overcomer—one who has won a race. The scriptures speak of five crowns (there may be more, but God has not revealed that to us):
- The imperishable crown (“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown…” (1 Cor 9:24–25)). The prize for Paul was not the temporary crown presented by men (in the biennial games near Corinth the “crown” was a pine wreath) but the eternal crown bequeathed by Christ (1 Cor 3:13–14; 2 Cor 5:10). This crown is given to those who exercise self-control and gain mastery and victory in the spiritual life. They have gained victory over the old sin nature.
- The crown of rejoicing (“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thess 2:19, NKJV)). Here Paul considered what would be the greatest blessing he could possibly receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In his opinion, the new Christians in Thessalonica were. They were his hope and his joy. They were the symbol of God’s blessing on his life and ministry. This crown is given to those who win souls for Jesus the Lord. This crown is available to all those who do the work of evangelism and the fruits of their labors are seen in people coming to the Lord through them.
- The crown of righteousness (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid 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 who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7–8, NKJV)). The “crown of righteousness” seems to be the reward one receives for living a life of righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). Paul expected to receive his reward at the Judgment Seat…and he expects others to stand side-by-side with him. This crown is for those who have kept the faith both doctrinally and morally in spite of adverse circumstances. It is a crown given to those “who have loved his appearing,” those who look longingly for the return of the Messiah (Phil 3:20-21; Titus 2:13).
- The crown of life (“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12; see Rev 2:10). The crown is a measure of the Christians steadfastness to remain faithful when undergoing various trials. It refers to rewards gained at the Judgment Seat of Christ rather than receiving a full life now. This crown is for all true believers who do in fact love God (1 John 4:8) and who endure trials. It is given particularly for those who suffer martyrdom for their faith (Rev 2:10).
- The crown of glory (“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords 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 does not fade away.” (1 Peter 5:2–4, NKJV)). Some are called to tend to the sheep, i.e. the people in the Church. This includes feeding, caring, leading, guiding, and protecting His flock. The shepherd is one who serves as an Elder for Christ’s Church and it involves spiritual and physical guardianship. When Christ returns, His faithful under-shepherds will share in His glory (1 Pet 5:1) and receive unfading crowns. This is the crown for faithfully feeding the flock of God. It is available to those pastors, elders, and others who feed the sheep with the milk and meat of the Word of God.
Other aspects of rewards
There are other aspects of the reward system of God.
- Heavenly treasures are imperishable and they will stay with the servant of God for the rest of eternity. We are commanded to “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt 6:20)
- Our greatest reward will the privilege to rule with Christ in His Millennial Kingdom. Christians are called to work heartily for the Lord now in order to earn the inheritance of ruling with Christ—“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.” (Col 3:23–25). I can think of nothing more wonderful than to be in partnership with Jesus, the Christ during His reign in the Millennial Kingdom (Heb 1:9; 3:1, 14). Imagine being a co-heir with Christ…and that forever we will reign with Him.
The idea of rewards is not the idea of man, but God set up this system. By believing in Christ, we receive entry into the Millennial Kingdom and into heaven with God. Each of us are to perform the good works “which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). The degree to which we complete these good works determines the inheritance we will receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ. These rewards will determine our role in the Millennial Kingdom and perhaps even play out for all eternity in Heaven.
There is a difference between entry into the Kingdom and receiving an inheritance in the Kingdom. That means it is important to live the life God has planned for us. This takes effort!
Are you ready to do the hard work that God has planned out for you?