Robert Jeffress - Rewards In Heaven
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. As a pastor and Bible teacher, I often tell people that God never shows favoritism. Scripture says, "There is no partiality with God". We're relieved to serve a God who is both just and fair. However, you might be surprised to hear that every Christians experience in heaven will not be the same. Even though all Christians enter the same heaven after death, the rewards will vary greatly! So how does that work? We're talking about "Rewards in Heaven" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory!
My mentor, the late Howard Hendricks, used to tell the story about the downhill slalom racer who made it to the bottom of the ski course, and he was greeted by his ski coach. His ski coach said: I've got some good news and some bad news for you. The novice skier said: well, what's the good news? The coach said: the good news is you made it to the bottom of the hill in record time: in fact you may have set a world's record. The novice skier said: well, what's the bad news? And the coach said: the bad news is you missed every one of the flags and are therefore disqualified. To which the skier said: flags? What flags? An expert skier knows that the route he takes to get downhill is just as important as crossing the finish line. A good basketball player knows that even more important than making the goal, the basket is making sure you're aiming toward the right basket. Yet many Christians fail to understand a similar truth.
While it's true that every genuine believer in Christ is going to cross the finish line and be welcomed into heaven, the fact is some Christians are going to be surprised when their works are disqualified by the judge, and they end up forfeiting rewards. And the result of that forfeiture of rewards is going to be real loss, and eternal regret. "Wait a minute pastor, are you saying there is a possibility that I could make it to heaven, and actually experience loss and regret"? Absolutely. One of the greatest myths about eternity is that all Christians will experience the same heaven, and all non-christians will experience the same hell. That's a myth. Such a belief is neither logical, nor more importantly is it biblical. And we're going to see that truth in our passage today.
Today as we continue our series on Bible prophecy, perfect ending: why your eternal future matters today, we're going to talk about the truth of rewards in heaven. If you have your Bibles, turn to Acts 18. Acts 18. Now in our study of Bible prophecy, remember last time, we looked at the judgment that awaits all unbelievers. But what about Christians? Do we ever have to be concerned about God's evaluation of our lives? Do my words, my thoughts, my actions, my motivations count at all after I become a Christian? Does how I obey God in this life have any impact on the kind of eternal future I enjoy? The answer to all of those questions is: yes. And that's what we're going to talk about today as we talk about the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Look at Acts 18:12, and let's see what happened you may say: what does this have to do with rewards in heaven? You'll see in just a second. "But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and they brought him before the judgment seat". Underline that in your Bible - the judgment seat. The Greek word there is bema. It literally means "A raised platform". It was a place of judgment. It's a place that the government official would sit and issue his edict. And so Paul shackled in chains, standing before this judge, knowing that with one word he could extinguish your life.
Would you be tempted to back down, to waver a little bit in your commitment to the Gospel when facing death? Paul didn't waver one bit. You know why he didn't waver? Why he had no fear about standing before Gallio at the bema, the judgment seat? Because Paul understood that one day he was going to stand before another judge at another judgment seat: and this judge had the ability not just to extinguish his physical life, but his soul. And that's why Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, "Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent", that is whether with Christ or here on earth we have as our ambition, "to be pleasing to him". Why? Why is our one goal to please God? Verse 10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat (the bema) of Jesus Christ, that each one may be recompensed for what he has done in the body, whether it be good or whether it be bad". Literally that word fallon means "worthless". That is, every one of us who is a Christian is going to stand before God, and we're going to have our lives evaluated by God: our words, our thoughts, our actions, our motivations.
Now some people have difficulty with this idea of a Judgment Seat of Christ, but let me be very clear, this judgment, unlike the white throne judgment, is not a judgment of condemnation, it is a judgment of commendation and the evaluation of our lives. And there is a big difference. And yet the fact is many Christians have a difficult time accepting that truth. They say: doesn't becoming a Christian mean that God has forgiven me of all of the bad things in my life? And when God forgives, doesn't he forget? How can he dredge these things up? And aren't my good works actually worthless before Christ? Now I promise I'm going to answer each of these questions in just a moment, but I want to look at first is the reality, the certainty of this Judgment Seat of Christ.
Turn over to 1 Corinthians 3. Probably no passage in the New Testament explains this judgment better than 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. I want you to notice, for example, in 1 Corinthians 3:13 what Paul says. He says, "Each man's work will become evident: for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work". And then in 2 Corinthians 5:10 he says, "For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, whether good or worthless". What I want you to see is the completeness of this judgment. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:13 "It is for each man" that is for every Christian.
Second Corinthians 5:10 says it encompasses all of our works. Now a lot of Christians, again, reject this idea because they have been erroneously taught that once we've become a Christian neither our sins, nor our good works make any difference to God. God doesn't care about our works once we become a Christian. But that's not true. I want to be very clear here that this Judgment Seat of Christ in no way invalidates God's forgiveness of our sins. But that does not negate the truth of God's evaluation of our life. Listen, when we become a Christian we're exempted from God's future condemnation of our life. We are not exempted from God's evaluation of our life. The fact is you can look all throughout the Bible and see instances where God evaluates the life of his own children with consequences in this life, and those consequences extend to the next life as well.
I think it's important to make a distinction between works before we're a Christian, and works after we are a Christian. You know, before we trust in Christ as our Savior, our works are only sufficient to condemn us. That's all that matter before God. Our works condemn us. But after we become a Christian our works mean a great deal to God. Remember our passage in Ephesians 2:8-10? "For by grace you have been saved through faith: and that not of yourselves it is a gift of God, not of works: lest any man should boast". But then in verse 10 Paul says, "For we are his workmanship created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we might walk in them". We are not saved by good works, but we have been saved for good works. Another way to say it is: our works cannot secure our place in heaven, but they do secure our rank in heaven. How we behave after we become a Christian has a great impact on the kind of eternity we experience: the reality of the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Notice here, though, in 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 Paul tells us about the basis for the Judgment Seat of Christ. "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is in Christ Jesus. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident: for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work". He said when we become a Christian we enter the family of God, and nothing will change that. Romans 11:29 says: for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. When we become a Christian we are adopted into God's family, and we all are given the same foundation - the foundation of Jesus Christ. That's 1 Corinthians 3:11, we all had the same foundation, the foundation of Jesus Christ. But you and I decide what kind of life we're going to build on that foundation. What are we going to do with the time, the gifts, the resources that God has given to us?
Now Paul mentions in these passages in 1 Corinthians two different criteria by which God is going to do that evaluation, not of our homes, but of our lives. The first criterion is the durability of our life. Have we constructed our life with gold, silver, precious stones, or is our life constructed with wood, hay, and straw. If you build your life around career, building a financial portfolio, sensual pleasures - that is a life that is built around wood, hay, and straw. If you invest your life in advancing the Kingdom of God, of sharing his message with others, of developing a godly character in your life - that is building your life with gold, silver, and precious stones.
Let me stop here and ask you the question: what's the focus of your life? Is your focus that which is temporal or is it that which is eternal? Paul says that's one criterion, the durability of our life: but there's a second criterion, and that is the motives of our life. That is, sometimes why we do something is just as important as what we end up doing. In 1 Corinthians 4:5 Paul talks about that. He says, "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will bring both to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts: and then each man's praise will come to him from God". If I share the Gospel with somebody because of my general and real concern for his well-being, that's rendered as gold. If I share the Gospel with somebody so I can brag about it to another person, that's wood. God does care about our motives, Proverbs 16:2 says, "All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives".
Now one word of caution here folks, don't use motives as a copout for disobedience. Some people will say: well, my heart's really not in it so maybe I shouldn't do it at all. Did you know one of the purest motivations for obeying God is faith? That is, the faith that God is going to reward me for my obedience to him. I may not feel like giving my money to the church this month, but I'm going to give it because I believe God's going to reward me someday for it. I may not feel like coming to church today, I might feel like I'd rather be at the lake, but I come and I teach my second grade Sunday school class because I believe somewhere there is going to be a commendation, a reward for that.
The most important thing that God looks for in each of our lives is faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to believe God, for he who comes to God must believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him". There is no better demonstration of faith, God-pleasing faith, than making temporary sacrifices in this life built on the assurance, the promise that God is going to reward you in the next life. God honors that kind of faith. Now what are the results of a Judgment Seat of Christ? That is, if I make it into heaven isn't that enough? Won't I be totally satisfied if I just make it into heaven? Paul doesn't hesitate in answering those questions. He says there are going to be real, lasting, felt consequences depending upon how we do at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Look at first Corinthians 3:14-15. Here are the results, "If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he shall receive a reward. But if any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, so as through fire". Paul says there are two possible outcomes that await us at the Judgment Seat of Christ. One possible outcome is rewards. Verse 14 says the one who does well, he shall receive a reward. What are these rewards?
The Bible talks about crowns in heaven, there is the crown of glory, 1 Peter 5:4, for those who serve in church leadership. There is the crown of joy in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, which is associated with evangelism. There's the crown of life, James 1:12, which is reserved for those who endure the trials of life. There's the crown of righteousness, Paul talked about that in 2 Timothy 2:4, that is bestowed on those who lived their lives in anticipation of the Lord's returns. The Bible says there are real, tangible rewards awaiting those who serve Christ obediently. What are those rewards? Let me mention three of them that the scripture talks about. First of all, there are going to be special privileges in heaven for the faithful.
When our girls were little, we made several treks to Disney World. But if you've ever been to Disney World you know that for a single price you can enjoy all the attractions in the theme park. And yet if you're willing to pay just a little more, you can get some special perks. I mean for a little bit more money you can go into the park early, or you can stay in nicer accommodations, or best of all you can have breakfast with Mickey and Minnie, you know. I mean those extra perks are nice for those who are willing to pay a little bit more.
Did you know there are going to be extra privileges in heaven for those who do well at the Judgment Seat of Christ? For example, 2 Peter 1:11 says there's going to be a special entrance into the kingdom not of Mickey, but of God. There's going to be a special gate, an access to the Kingdom of God. Revelation 2:7 says there's going to special access to the tree of life. Even Luke 12:37 says there's going to be special treatment by Christ to those who are faithful. Now look, I don't pretend to understand what all these perks mean, but the Bible says they are real, and they're really worth working for. They're worth sacrificing for in this life, special privileges from heaven.
Secondly, there's going to be special praise from the Lord for those who are faithful. Can you remember ever a time when either your mom or dad said to you: I am so proud of you. It's an honor to be your mom, your dad. Can you ever recall a time when your employer brought you into his office and said: I want you to know how much I appreciate what you're doing for our organization. We couldn't make it if it weren't for you. Those who serve faithfully in this life will hear that kind of praise from the Lord. Well done, good and faithful servant.
Thirdly, there are going to be positions of authority for those who do well at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Matthew 25:21, "His master said to him, 'well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things: enter into the joy of your master'". And those who do well at the Judgment Seat of Christ one day will rule over planets, over the angels, over other believers. Special positions of authority.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: you've got to be kidding. More work in heaven? That sounds like hell to me. I mean, last thing I want to do is have responsibility. I just want to float around on my cloud up there. Well think again. You know Genesis tells us that we were created in God's image. God is a worker. He created us to be workers. He wanted us to find satisfaction in our work. He wanted us to be exhilarated, not debilitated by our work. The only reason work became painful is because of sin that entered into the world.
But one day that sin is going to be gone. We'll no longer have bodies that get tired. We'll no longer have soured relationships that characterize many workplaces. We'll never have any more government regulations. We'll be able to work as God intended us to work and it will be satisfying. And those who do well at the Judgment Seat of Christ are going to have these extra positions of authority. There's one possibility, one outcome is reward: but there's another possible outcome he speaks of in verse 15, and that is loss. If any man's work is burned up, verse 15, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet as through fire. Or another way we would say it: he'll be saved by the skin of his teeth, but he will suffer loss.
I want you to notice what Paul says, not what Robert says, what Paul says. Some Christians are going to experience real, tangible, measurable loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ when they realize what could have been theirs had they been more faithful to Christ. Now I can hear the howls of protest. People say: wait a minute pastor, what you're describing is horrible. The idea that there would be real and lasting regret in heaven, how does that square with the fact that heaven is going to be a place inexplicable joy, and yet you're saying it's also going to be a place of regret? Well the fact is joy and regret can coexist with one another. One doesn't necessarily extinguish the other. Joy, eternal joy that we have escaped the flames of hell because of what Christ has done for us, but for some there'll be a sadness, a regret, a loss as we realize what could have been ours had we been more faithful to Christ.
Now I realize we need to be balanced here. As somebody said: to overdo the sorrow aspect of heaven is to turn heaven into hell. But to ignore the reality of regret in heaven is to make obedience to Christ in this life inconsequential. Bible says what we do now does make an eternal difference. Ladies and gentlemen, there are real, measurable rewards awaiting those who are obedient to Christ. And it's the reality of those rewards that caused Paul to write these words, "Therefore, therefore we have as our ambition whether at home or absent to be pleasing to God". Why? "For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ that each man may be recompensed for deeds in the body according to what he has done: whether they be good or worthless".