“For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
No one will ever deserve to live with God in heaven! This is a magnificent gift which cannot be earned, but is appropriated to us by grace through our faith in His Son. In contrast, spiritual rewards only come to us through our personal surrender and sincere effort to do God’s will. Our good works (see Ephesians 2:10) take place naturally out of the overflow of our gifting and deep love for God. Authentic Christian devotion consistently motivates our willing obedience! Pause to quietly contemplate the meaning of the Lord’s statement, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)
Our Savior’s return draws nearer every day, and when He arrives, our decisions made in compliance with His leadership are promised to be – rewarded! We know this because Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming … and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.” (Revelation 22:12) Summarized, the Bible teaches us that in contrast to God’s free undeserved gift of salvation described in Ephesians chapter 2 – our heavenly rewards must be earned. They must therefore actually be deserved. In context, when the Bible speaks about us using the words, “…according to his deeds,” (Matthew 16:27) it is always referring to our rewards – never to our salvation!
Not surprisingly, our first experience with spiritual obedience has little to do with what the world would view as work. The Lord Jesus gave work a new and far deeper spiritual meaning. Consider what He explained, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) Faith is the only form of work that enables us to experience God’s salvation!
Expressed simply, the first order of spiritual business on our journey is to personally discover God’s existence and believe what He says about His Son. John amplifies this truth with an encouraging explanation, “Yet to all who received Him [Jesus Christ] to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
Fortunately for all of us, knowing the Lord Jesus has never depended on comprehending His holiness. Nor has experiencing His grace depended on understanding His sinless nature. We are not even expected to grasp how the Father “overshadowed” Mary by His Spirit at the time of the Christ-child’s virgin birth (see Luke 1:35). Salvation only requires that we personally rely on what our Savior intentionally did for us on the cross. This confession plays a central role in confirming our faith! The Bible says, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Through universally God-given faith, a humble youth and an Oxford scholar have exactly the same access to heaven. The Bible explains, “…God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3) Everyone enjoys the same opportunity to experience God’s forgiveness. It should therefore come as no surprise that all believers also share the same privilege of earning future heavenly – rewards. Jesus explained this saying, “…everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold…” (Matthew 19:29)
It is our personal reliance upon God’s written promises wonderfully fulfilled during the first advent of His Son – that opens the “doorway” to heaven! Across the centuries, our Father has graciously looked upon our faith as if it were our personal righteousness. The Apostle Paul explained this spiritual principal to the church in Rome when he wrote, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3) Today, that very same miracle occurs when anyone personally accepts what God says about His Son! The Bible says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:10-12)
As you prepare for today’s ministry, pause to quietly focus your thoughts on God’s kingdom. Avoid anxiously dwelling on life’s many frustrating issues. The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:6-8)
God’s rewards come from living with the preoccupation of seeking the Father’s righteousness. The Bible instructs us saying, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Let your daily meditation be on God’s revealed purpose and His promises. They are forever fully personal!
Everything God says is to be studied and personally applied. Through His life-giving grace, everyone can choose to have eternal salvation and enjoy His heavenly rewards! (See John 3:36).
“And this is the testimony: 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.” (1 John 5:11-12)
By Billie Hanks Jr.