Are rewards in heaven based on “works” in life?
It is interesting that rewards are already “on the eternal shelf” and waiting for us to secure them. Paul states in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” The phrase, “has blessed us” grammatically occurs before the action of the main verb, which is found in Ephesians 1:4, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” The main verb occurred in eternity past as God’s sovereign choice of the believer. Therefore, the blessings were set aside on the eternal shelf BEFORE God chose the person. Those blessings are just waiting to be given to the believer who accomplishes divine works.
There are two kinds of works. There are human and divine works. Human works may be good for humanity, but are worthless for eternity sake. Divine works are always good for earthly and eternal value. What is the difference between human and divine works and how do these relate to eternal rewards?
Paul makes it clear that we are not saved by works, but after salvation, God designed us for works,
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)
Paul clearly states that salvation is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8), which is not based on works or what man can become related to goodness or character. On the one hand, because of the sin nature inherited at physical birth (Rom. 5:12), man can never be good enough to be accepted by God on his own merits. On the other hand, man can never do enough good works in order to please God. There are not enough good works a man can do to offset the sin he inherits at physical birth and the sins which are seen in his experience. God will allow no boasting in heaven. Only Jesus is righteous before God.
There are only two kinds of religions in the world. One that is based on “do,” that is, what man must “do.” All the religions of the world fit into this category from Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, Animism, etc. The other religion is based on “done,” that is, what Jesus has “done” for us on the cross. Salvation is a gift received by faith alone in Christ alone. God accepts no human works for salvation – only faith.
Yet, after salvation God designed believers for good works. Paul uses the word “workmanship,” which literally is a word from which we get “poem.” God wrote the poem of our lives such that we are prepared from eternity past to walk in good works.
Paul makes the distinction between human and divine works in Scripture. He writes,
11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:11-16)
The foundation is the basis upon what a believer builds for the sake of the kingdom. The foundation is Jesus Christ. Then Paul distinguishes between two kinds of works. One category is “gold, silver, precious stones”and the other is “wood, hay, straw.” Both are produced in man. What is the difference? Paul explains that in the passage. They will be “revealed by fire.” How does fire distinguish between the two types of works? The first category is purified and remains through the fire, while the second category burns up and results in ashes. The first category is divine works, while the second category is human works. What is the difference?
The first category of divine works is work that God works through the believer by means of the Holy Spirit. Just like there is intrinsic value in gold and silver, there is intrinsic value of the work, because it is done by the Holy Spirit. The second category is work that the believer does on his own power, independent of the Holy Spirit. There is no intrinsic value. In fact, Scripture calls this kind of work “filthy rags” as in Isaiah 64:6, “And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” The best of what we can do, on our own, is filthy rags, or literally “menstrual rags,” which means there is a deadness to the works.
The divine work has intrinsic value because it is work done by the power of the Holy Spirit under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) Paul further states this power is unleashed in the Christian under the direction of Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, “and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.” (Eph. 1:19) His mighty power is unleashed by means of the Holy Spirit.
Paul uses the description of the Holy Spirit’s power in the spiritual consequences of trusting the Lord in hope, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13) Titus (Titus 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14) exhorts believers to good works and the word for good is kalos, which means “good of intrinsic value.” That can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
Works of the Holy Spirit are rewarded as blessing in time and rewards in eternity. Time on earth is the only time to establish rewards for eternity. Let us depend on the Holy Spirit and let Him move through us to accomplish His good work!