Christian Works & Rewards
An Awakening and Challenging Truth
Of all topics regarding the Christian life, this may be the toughest to address. It is largely uncomfortable because it deals with the prospect of Christians who, after their earthly sojourn, will stand before the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Jesus Christ to have their lives as Christians reviewed and adjudicated. Of course it can be comforting and assuring to the Christian who remains in God’s will throughout his life. That person will avoid shame and be the recipient of favorable recognition and rewards at the Bema Seat, resulting in a reigning position with Christ during the Millennial Kingdom.
This study will endeavor to offer a position of reconciliation between the seemingly divergent scriptures that fuel the conflict between those who hold to the eternal security of the believer (“once saved always saved”) and those who believe a saved person (Christian) can “fall from grace” to become “lost” once again.
The debate between these two points-of-view (interpretations) historically rose from what many assumed was an “abuse of grace” (also known as “free grace”—living in sin after the salvation experience) and the interpretative conflicts between various theologians (John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, John Wesley, Martin Luther, etc.) of the Reformation.
It should also assist in providing a rebuttal to the heretical “gospel” popularly entitled “lordship salvation;” a view (1) that denies salvation is only by faith alone in Christ alone and (2) includes the notion of submission to the lordship of Christ as part of the salvation “formula” and as the antidote to a defective view of faith.
Front loading the gospel means attaching various works of submission and obedience on the front end and including them in the condition for salvation. These works are supposedly created in the heart by God. This is commonly done among those who maintain that submission to the lordship of Christ is a condition of salvation. Faith is redefined to include submission, and a man becomes a Christian not by “hearing” and “believing” but by believing and promising God he will submit his life to Christ. This is not to deny that true faith certainly involves a disposition of openness to God and cannot coexist with an attitude of determination to continue in sin. But that is not what those who teach so-called “lordship salvation” mean. Rather, their view is that a man must resolve to turn from all known sin and follow Christ absolutely. It seems that works enter through the front door, and another gospel is taught. But surely this God-created submission to lordship is a work, and works in the human heart whether from God or man do not save! (The Reign of the Servant Kings by Joseph C. Dillow, Th.D, Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992)
Often intertwined with the necessity of accepting Christ as both Savior and Lord is a false presentation of biblical repentance; requiring that a lost person must first in a penitent mood resolve to forsake and/or confess all sin. In regards to repentance, Joseph C. Dillow in his book, The Reign of the Servant Kings, has this to say:
Now it is clear that, in contexts where the meaning is “to change one’s mind about sin,” the word is not being used as a condition of final deliverance from hell. We know this must be true for two reasons: (1) in no passage where “repentance” is used in the sense of “to turn from sin” can it be demonstrated that it is a condition of salvation, and (2) it is impossible that it could be because the Bible everywhere attests that salvation is by faith alone, and without cost:
. . . I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely (without cost) to him who thirsts.—Revelation 21:6
. . . And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely (without cost).—Revelation 22:17
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.—Romans 4:5
This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of (with) faith?—Galatians 3:2
Lewis Sperry Chafer, D.D., Litt.D., Th.D., late President of Systematic Theology of the Dallas Theological Seminary, had this to say about repentance:
Another serious Arminian error respecting this doctrine occurs when repentance is added to faith or believing as a condition of salvation. It is true that repentance can very well be required a condition of salvation, but then only because the change of mind which it is has been involved when turning from every other confidence to the one needful trust in Christ. Such turning about, of course, cannot be achieved without a change of mind. This vital newness of mind is a part of believing, after all, and therefore it may be and is used as a synonym for “believing” at times (cf. Acts 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Romans 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Peter 3:9).
Repentance nevertheless cannot be added to believing as a condition of salvation, because upwards of 150 passages of Scripture condition salvation upon believing only (cf. John 3:16; Acts 16:31). Similarly, the Gospel by John, which was written that men might believe and believing have life through Christ’s name (John 20:31), does not once use the word “repentance.” In like manner, the Epistle to the Romans, written to formulate the complete statement of salvation by grace alone, does not use the term “repentance” in relation to salvation.
(Systematic Theology, Volume 7, Kregel Publications, 1993)
Both acts, the submission to lordship and the forsaking of sin as the definition of “repentance,” are impossible acts (works) for an unsaved person; and, worse yet, to include them as part of the “formula” for apprehending one’s salvation is to denigrate true faith, which is the only non-meritorious requirement placed on the sinner in order to receive eternal life.
The Foundation—Eternal (Life) Salvation
Before delving into the major thesis of this study it would be well worth it to first review and firmly understand that eternal life is apprehended solely by faith alone in Christ alone. A person is saved or eternally justified (given the gift of eternal life) when by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit he becomes aware of his lost condition and its consequences, and upon realizing that Jesus Christ was and is in fact God incarnate who paid the penalty-price for all his sin upon the cross, he then makes a genuine (heart-felt) decision to place total faith (confidence and trust) only in Jesus Christ apart from any other confidence (works, religion, etc.) for his personal salvation. This turning only to Christ in faith from any other confidence is “biblical repentance.”
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. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved? So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."
(Acts 16:30, 31)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
For He made Him [Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And 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 5:10-13)
Salvation is a three-fold proposition. God’s Word clearly reveals that there are three aspects of salvation. They are (1) Justification, (2) Sanctification, and (3) Glorification. Often the Bible student becomes confused about the doctrine of salvation when he fails to distinguish which aspect of it is under consideration within the passage that he is examining. Such confusion leads to erroneous interpretations and doctrines. A careful study of the Bible, employing the principles of “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and contextual exegesis, will guard against any false conclusions and misunderstandings.
The aspect of justification is a finalized transaction that positions a person “in Christ” and thereby assures him eternal life, which is wholly dependant upon what took place on the cross of Calvary. On the cross, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, took upon Himself the sin of all mankind and in some unexplainable way became that sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). As such, He paid the penalty-price for that sin by means of spiritual death (separation from the Father) during the 3-hours of darkness between noon and three in the afternoon (Matthew 27:45, 46; John 19:28-30) on that the most important day of history.
At that moment and forever more the sin-debt owed by man to the Holy God of time and eternity was totally paid for by the vicarious (substitution) sacrifice of Christ, so that anyone by faith alone in Christ alone would be able to accept the grace-gift of eternal salvation from Him. After Christ voluntarily submitted His physical body to physical death on the cross, He was buried. After three days He rose from the grave, which act confirmed His deity and the efficacy of His sacrifice.
The sacrifice of Christ involved a number of specific transactions for each person who will genuinely trust in Christ for personal salvation, as follow:
Because Christ paid the penalty-price for all sin (past, present and future), upon the apprehension of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone all sins of the person relative to his eternal state have been forgiven.
In Him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:7)
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:14)
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses [sins].
The word, “redeem” means “to buy or to purchase.” Because of Adam’s sin, which resulted in the origin of the “sin nature” that has been passed on genetically to all mankind, resulting in every person’s spiritual death. Because of this every person is under sin’s “bondage” and is subject to pay a price in order to be released from this bondage. The payment price is “eternal damnation and separation from God.” The holiness and justice of God demands this full payment, but unfortunately it will take an eternity for the satisfaction of the debt.
But due to the grace of God, Christ paid the price in man’s place. The payment of the debt was transacted on the cross of Calvary with the spiritual death of Jesus Christ. It was a debt “paid-in-full” so that man through faith in Christ would be permanently released from the debt, which he never could have been able to pay otherwise.
Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)
In Him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:7)
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"). (Galatians 3:13)
Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (1 Peter 1:18, 19)
Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14)
Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12)
This term means “to reckon, to attribute, to ascribe, or to charge to one’s account.” It explains how Christ was able to pay once-and-for-all sin’s penalty-price for every person of the human race. While on the cross of Calvary, God the Father imputed to Christ all the sins of the human race.
Because of this, and the fact that Christ suffered spiritual death as a result of this imputation, God the Father is free to impute His perfect righteousness to the believer at the moment he places his faith in Christ.
For He [God the Father] made Him [God the Son] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. . . . (Romans 3:22)
The term “expiation” is a sister-term to “redemption.” It means the “canceling of a debt,” or “to atone for or to make amends for an offense.” A criminal makes such expiation for his offence by serving a prescribed sentence, which, upon completion, is full payment for his “debt to society.”
But it is impossible for mankind to meet God’s standard of perfect righteousness and thereby repay the debt to God. Only God’s grace can provide this payment. When Christ paid with His substitution-sacrifice the total price for the sins of mankind on the cross of Calvary, God automatically made available to everyone, on a personal basis and upon the appropriation of Jesus Christ by faith, the “cancellation” of his sin-debt.
Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)
Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
From an etymological standpoint the word “reconciliation” strictly means “change.” But the usage within the Bible always includes the “bringing together of two or more parties by the removal of the grounds or causes of their disharmony.” Its focus is on what man has done to separate himself from God, which is the sin-barrier.
Jesus Christ removed this barrier once and for all by His substitution-sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. When a person by faith accepts Christ alone for his personal salvation, the sin-barrier is permanently removed and his fellowship with God is restored.
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10)
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, (2 Corinthians 5:18)
And that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:16)
And by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled. (Colossians 1:20, 21)
The Greek word for “regeneration,” palingenesia, connotes “spiritual renovation or rebirth.” The word is used only in two places in the New Testament, (1) by Christ in Matthew 19:28 when he refers to the “renewal” of “all things,” e.g., the new heaven and the new earth, upon the launch of His eternal kingdom; and, (2) by the Apostle Paul in Titus 3:5 in referring to spiritual salvation. The doctrine of spiritual regeneration is mentioned throughout the Bible.
Whereas “justification” removes the verdict of guilt from the individual at salvation, “regeneration” removes the spiritual atrophy (state of death) from the individual by means of spiritual rebirth. At birth man’s spirit is dead. Upon accepting Christ, his spirit is regenerated forever more.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)
Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever. (1 Peter 1:3, 23)
Even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ephesians 2:5)
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Colossians 2:13)
But as many as received Him [Jesus Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12, 13)
This doctrine refers to the God-side of salvation, whereby God’s offended holiness, His justice and righteousness, is satisfied by Jesus Christ’s payment for the sins of mankind on the cross. The Greek word, hilasterion, means “satisfaction,” resulting in the “turning away of God’s wrath.” The holiness of God, His justice and righteousness, demands His wrath be executed against sin. Without salvation, this is all that man can and will eternally experience. But once a person accepts Christ by faith (His person and vicarious sacrifice), God’s offended holiness is satisfied and His wrath is forever turned aside.
Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed. (Romans 3:25)
And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
The Greek word, dikaiosis, translated “justification,” is a legal term used in the courts of the day. It did not mean to make upright or holy, but referred to a verdict of vindication and/or acquittal. Based on several of the “harmonious elements” of salvation previously addressed, e.g., redemption, expiation and propitiation, which are all centered on the substitution-sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, God has pronounced a “verdict of righteousness” for anyone who will appropriate it by faith in Christ. Once a person accepts by faith the person and work of Jesus Christ for his personal salvation, his sentence of condemnation is forever changed to a sentence of justification (righteousness).
And by Him [Jesus Christ] everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the Law of Moses. (Acts 13:39)
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)
For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:17-19)
The Greek word, qadash, translated “sanctify” essentially means to “to be set apart” and implies “purification.” It consists of three phases. From a doctrinal standpoint, it is instantaneous and permanent as to its positional phase. Its experiential phase is a “work in progress,” whereby God continues to influence the believer toward a life of practical (inward and outward) holiness. And its final phase is one of glorification when the Christian passes on into eternity and is freed from the power and presence of sin.
Positional sanctification, like all previous aspects of salvation covered in this study, is obtained instantaneously and permanently by faith alone in Christ alone. All who are saved are seen as totally sanctified in Christ, because of their “position” in Him. This is why the Apostle Paul still considered the Corinthian believers, whom he called “carnal” as “sanctified in Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 5:1; 6:1-8; cf. Acts 20:32; Hebrews 10:10; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 1). The book of Hebrews bridges positional sanctification with experiential and final sanctification (Hebrews 2:17; 9:13; 12:14).
Prior to physical death or the Rapture the believer is exhorted to be holy (1 Peter 1:15). In the believer’s progression toward a holy life, he counts on his positional sanctification in Christ as evident in Romans 6:2-10 and Colossians 2:9-13 (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2).
But since the believer still has a “sin nature,” the process of experiential sanctification depends upon his daily acknowledgment (confession) of “known sin” (1 John 1:9) and his exercise of the “principle of faith” (Colossians 2:6) to live in accordance with his new, “regenerated” nature (Ephesians 4:22-24). This is done by his exercise of faith and his ability to surrender to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:3, 4; Ephesians 5:18; Philippians 2:12, 13), which is also known as being “filled with” (influenced by) the Holy Spirit. This process is strengthened proportionately to his assimilation of Bible doctrine (John 17:17; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; Proverbs 23:7) and the spiritual exercise of making decisions in accordance with Bible doctrine (Ephesians 4:22-32).
Eventual or final sanctification, otherwise known as “glorification,” for the believer occurs when he is with Christ after all matters have been settled as a result of his judgment at the Bema (Judgment) seat of Christ. This will establish his standing during the Millennial Kingdom and possibly afterwards (Romans 8:29, 30; Jude 24; Revelation 21:1-27; 22:1-5).
Joseph C. Dillow in his book, The Reign of the Servant Kings, Schoettle Publishing Co., Hayesville, NC, 1993, describes the aspects of salvation in the following manner:
The concept and meaning of salvation in the Scriptures is multi-dimensional. For example, when we look at salvation with respect to deliverance from sin, there is a past aspect—justification, deliverance from the penalty of sin, and a present aspect—sanctification, deliverance from the power of sin, and a future aspect—glorification, deliverance from the presence of sin.
The final thought regarding the foundation (grace-gift) of eternal life through Jesus Christ is that once received by faith, it is a permanent resident within the soul and spirit of the recipient. To express it in a more traditional way, “once saved always saved”—an expression that means that no one, God or man, can go back on the transaction (John 5:24; 6:8-40; 10:24-30; 11:25-27; Romans 8:1-4, 35-39; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; 5:5-10; Ephesians 1:13, 14; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Jude 1).
There are numerous passages throughout the Bible (particularly in the New Testament) that materially and compellingly argue that once a person is born-again, his inclusion in the family of God and his possession of an eternal state in heaven can never be retracted by either himself or God. Yet, it must also be admitted that there are a host of passages throughout the New Testament that appear to indicate that at worst a person may lose his eternal salvation or at best should suffer some type of “loss” should he not continue strong in the faith and good works until the end of his physical life. Several of these passages follow:
. . . But he who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22; see also 24:13)
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:6)
But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness--indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish . . . . (Romans 2:5-9)
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12, 13)
Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22)
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (1 Corinthians 9:27)
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2)
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. (Galatians 6:8)
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel . . . . (Colossians 1:21-23)
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:10, 11)
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation . . . . (Hebrews 2:1-3)
But Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. . . For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end. (Hebrews 3:6; 14)
Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. (Hebrews 4:1)
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. . . . Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? . . . . Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. (Hebrews 10:26, 27, 29, 35, 36)
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God . . . . (Hebrews 12:14, 15)
And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write these things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Because there are ample passages of Scripture that appear to indicate contradictory meanings regarding the “security of the believer,” the struggle between the Calvinistic and Arminian theologies has continued through the centuries. The “once saved always saved” position of Calvin is diametrically opposed to the Arminian position that a person who is genuinely born again can and may lose his salvation through a “falling away” into unbelief and thereby become once again a child of perdition.
The answer to the deplorable state of lethargy and waywardness into which Christianity has fallen throughout the past 2,000 years is (1) by the Calvinistic theology, that many were never saved to begin with, since anyone saved will persevere to the end (i.e., true salvation guarantees a life of holiness), and (2) by the Arminian theology, that although many may have never been truly saved in the first place, there are many who have been truly saved but who have fallen away and have lost their salvation.
It is unfortunate that adherents to these two systems of theological interpretation fail to see that there is a more viable third possibility, which is contextually and exegetically correct regarding salvation, particularly in view of its multi-dimensionality, and which takes into account not only the theology of the apostles as outlined in the epistles but also conforms to the direct teachings of Jesus Christ as outlined in the Gospels.
This third approach holds to the Calvinistic conviction of the eternal security of the believer but, like the Arminians, understands that the warning passages in the New Testament apply to true Christians. Although salvation is absolutely secured through faith alone in Christ alone, one’s success (or lack of it) in sanctification (not being intrinsically connected to justification) will have a major affect on one’s glorification, particularly as it relates to the coming Millennial Kingdom upon earth.
There are ample scriptures defining the grace-gift of salvation as non-meritorious, a gift from God that may only be apprehended by non-meritorious faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But there are also ample passages of Scripture that indicate that there will be a sure reckoning that Christian’s must eventually face at the Judgment (Gk. Bema) Seat of Jesus Christ for the life they have led subsequent to their salvation. Man cannot work to achieve eternal salvation in any way, shape, or form.
But if eternal life is by faith alone, the means by which the recipient of eternal life (the Christian) may receive recognition (positive or negative) from God, both now and in the Kingdom, is by or through appropriate works. In fact, there are ample passages of Scripture that clearly indicate that “rewards” and/or negative responses from God are a consequent of a Christian’s works. Indeed, a primary purpose of (and charge to) a saved person is to walk in the good works that God has prepared for him.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14)
The Bible presents eternal salvation as a grace-gift from God, but it also frequently mentions that there will be consequences for a believer’s actions, good or bad. For instance, the believer is likened to an athlete who is competing for a prize; in fact, the apostle Paul admitted that he took great pains to keep his body in check so that in the end he would not become “disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:23-27). When writing to the believers in Philippi, Paul admits to not as yet having achieved the “prize,” but is always pressing ahead to obtain it (Philippians 3:12-14).
In these accounts the apostle is not speaking of eternal salvation, which in other passages he presents as a completed action. He is speaking of some future prize or reward that will be contingent upon the quality of his Christian life. And this recompense for works and/or service of which he speaks—good or bad—will be administered according to truth and without partiality.
But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. (Romans 2:2)
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. (Colossians 3:23-25)
And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear. (1 Peter 1:17)
It is of certainty that Jesus Christ is soon coming back to earth, and one of His priorities is to grant appropriate rewards to those who have labored in the vineyard of life.
Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:8)
Rewards are earned; they are not a gift such as is eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone; although, it should be mentioned here that even the works that merit rewards are ultimately a product of God’s expression via the Holy Spirit through the believer and therefore are also a grace-gift from God. Jesus had much to say pertaining to rewards. Note the following:
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:1-6)
He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:41, 42)
Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22, 23)
Christians are instructed by the apostle John to look to themselves “that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.” (2 John 8)
Although there are distinct benefits for faithful service during one’s physical life, the Bible indicates that there are crowns to be won for such service in life after physical death. The Bible records five crowns that are available to the believer. They are presented here along with a description taken mostly from the article “The Judgment Seat of Christ” by Tom Stewart, 112398.
This is the worker's crown. “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” (1Corinthians 9:25). We can be certain that this imperishable crown is not a reference to salvation, because salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
faithfulness is always praiseworthy. “And
let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do
not lose heart”
We labor not for the reward, but because of love for our Master. “Remembering
without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in
our LORD Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father”
Saint who faithfully and honestly labors to supply his own temporal needs—and
that of his family—does the Lord's work. “Study
to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands”
Also, “. . . if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of
his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”
This is the soul winner's crown. “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 Thessalonians 2:19). The Apostle Paul understood the necessity of bringing men to Christ. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men”
(2 Corinthians 5:11).
speech and example of life is to be our vehicle to win souls for the Lord Jesus
Christ, for “he that wins
souls is wise”
We may have labored and others have “watered;
but God gave the increase”
This is the watcher's crown. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Not all Christians have been properly taught to watch and wait for the soon coming of Jesus Christ, but “unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
(2 Peter 3:11).
This is the shepherd's crown. “And
when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that
will not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).
Pastors are to be shepherds to God's people. “And
I will give you pastors according to Mine heart, which shall feed you with
knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah
3:15). The Apostle Peter was especially taught by the Lord the need
for the shepherd to feed the saints. “So when
they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do
you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love
You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ He said to him again a second time,
‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that
I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ He said to him the third time,
‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him
the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all
things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep’”
This is the martyr's crown. “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Not all of the saints die a martyr's death, but all are required to live a crucified life. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
suffering sanctifies (sets apart or refines) us, we all may have ample
opportunity to win this crown. “For
to you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to
suffer for His sake”
“Yea doubtless, and I
count all things but loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my
Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but
dung, that I may win Christ. . . . That I may know Him, and the power of His
resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto
(Philippians 3:8, 10).
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you: But rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:12, 13; 4:16).
Eternal life itself is never called a “crown.” It is a gift from God based solely upon faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the apostle Paul suggests that, as in athletics, one must compete lawfully for the crown (2 Timothy 2:5). And Christ warns the angel (minister) at the church of Philadelphia, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:11). But even when such crowns are given, there is evidence that they will be cast at the feet of Jesus Christ as a demonstration of praise and adoration (Revelation 4:10).
The Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ
The Bible speaks of at least three judgments. One is of the nations (Gentiles) for their actions during the Tribulation Period and it takes place at the end of this period of time (Matthew 25:31-46). Another is the Great White Throne Judgment of all disbelievers throughout all of time, which takes place after the Millennial Kingdom and before the new heaven and earth. This one is also a judgment of works, all of which will prove deficient for eternal life; therefore, all will be cast into the lake of fire because no one’s name will be found “written in the book of life” (Revelation 20:11-14). But the judgment applicable to Christians is of primary concern here.
It is believed that the Bema (Judgment) seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), at which the life of the Christian will be examined and adjudicated, takes place sometime after the rapture of the Church from the earth and prior to the establishment of the 1,000 year (millennial) reign of Christ upon earth, in other words it will take place in heaven during the tribulation period upon earth; although, the notion has been advanced that it could be an on-going (continuous) process, each saint being judged for his works immediately when he passes from this life to be with the Lord (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
It is at the Judgment or Bema Seat of Jesus Christ where all rewards or negative consequences will be administered to Christians for their life’s work. The most pungent and revealing passages in God’s Word to this end are as follows:
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
(2 Corinthians 5:9, 10)
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: "As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10-12)
And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)
The apostle Paul leaves little doubt that believers will eventually have to answer to Jesus Christ for the life they chose to live subsequent to their salvation experience.
In Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians he clearly differentiates the foundation of the Christian life, which is eternal life apprehended by faith in Jesus Christ, from the superstructure which the believer then proceeds to build upon this foundation and which may be constructed with a variety of good or bad materials (works). For certain a house of works rises around each believer’s life.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 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. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
(1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
The only foundation upon which a holy life may be built is that of faith alone in Christ alone. There can be no other. But the selection of the material for the superstructure, which may or may not be holy, lies within the choice of the believer. The only material (works) that will stand the test from the eyes of penetrating fire belonging to Christ (Revelation 1:14) must be taken from the quarries of Scripture. Those works that are of the quality of “gold, silver, and precious stones” will endure and will warrant rewards; but, those that are of the quality of “wood, hay, and straw” will be consumed in a conflagration and earn nothing but disapproval and shame. Yet, even should the believer have no worthy works stemming from his sojourn upon earth and all be consumed by fire, he will still be saved.
Since the saints are to reign with Christ and some will be appointed rulers of five and some of ten cities in His millennial kingdom, this judgment must occur prior to the return of the saints’ rule with Christ (Zechariah 14:5; Jude 14; Revelation 20:4). The fact that some, if not many, saints will have no accrued sufficiency of divine (as opposed to “human”) good works during their lives upon earth in order to justify any rewards at the Bema seat, and thereby be disqualified from reigning with Christ in His millennial kingdom, is a distinct possibility. In fact, a contextual and exegetical examination of all the scriptures that are commonly used by those engrossed in the Arminian viewpoint that salvation gained can also be lost, many of which are quoted above under the heading “The Dilemma,” actually apply not to the loss of one’s salvation, but to the loss of one’s rewards and inheritance, i.e., one’s rulership during the Millennial Kingdom.
A comprehensive study of all such scriptures along this line may be found in the book, The Reign of the Servant Kings, by Joseph C. Dillow, Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992. The reader is advised to pursue this study with the book, since a presentation of such a vast work is inadvisable within this presentation. But the reader may be assured that there are either wondrous rewards or severe costs as a result of his or her life as a Christian upon earth.