There are plenty of bible verses that talk about getting eternal reward in heaven for our good deeds. One such example is:
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew, chapter 5, verse 12).
Some people talk about the doctrine of eternal reward as if meritorious rewards were some kind of motivation for a believer. I doubt that any true Christian, who has genuinely experienced grace, would be motivated by a mere reward.
If someone has truly experienced grace and they realize that not only is their faith a gift, but that every good deed they ever performed was actually out of God’s grace and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, how can they ever expect to receive a gift at all?
Of course, God does give us eternal rewards in heaven, that is undeniable as it is quite clear in scripture. However, we must remember that God Himself is our ultimate reward (Genesis chapter 15, verse 1), that we get to see our God face to face and fully enjoy him forever in eternity.
The eternal rewards we will receive is incomparable to the ultimate reward: God.
I do believe there will be actual varying degrees of meritorious rewards in heaven which is not God Himself, meaning that God does actually award us according to our good deeds.
However, even if God does reward us with varying degrees of reward, it won’t matter as when they are compared to the supreme reward of God Himself, all the different rewards will seem insignificant and unimportant.
It says in Philippians chapter 3, verse 8 “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency 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”.
A PhD degree in Harvard Medical School will not be a “dung” necessarily as it does have attributable value to it, but when placed side by side and compared to the excellency of Christ Jesus, due to Christ’s magnificence, it will really only seem to be a dung indeed.
In such a way, yes Apostle Paul will have much higher reward than I, but it doesn’t really bother me as the marvellous beauty of Christ will so enchant me that I probably won’t even pay any attention to the differing degrees of “mere rewards”.
If nobody can take credit for our good deeds, how can varying degrees of reward be fair?
Somebody might still complain and say that it is still unfair and it makes no sense that people will get varying degrees of reward when nobody has technically “worked” for their reward, nobody! That is true and I think it is a good point, but I think it works in the same manner as election and reprobation.
It says in Romans chapter 9, verse 15 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”. Mercy, by definition, is voluntary. God is not obligated to provide us with mercy, He will not be ripping other men off if He decides to only elect only few.
There are two types of non-justice: grace and injustice. Non-justice is not evil, only injustice is. A lot of people synonymously equate non-justice with injustice, which is simply false. It is such fallacious logical deduction that leads to people to believe that election and reprobation is unfair.
In the same way, God is not ripping off those men who get less rewards even though all good deeds ever performed by anyone were only done by the grace of God. This reward is grace, and grace again is voluntary, not obligated on the part of God.
The Parable of the workers in the Vineyard (Matthew chapter 20, verses 1-16) demonstrates this logic very clearly. The reward of wages that the master decides to give, he will give to whomever He pleases and the amount He is pleased to give.
In summary, it will be preposterous to call varying degrees of rewards unfair.
He takes no credit but gives us the credit reflecting his love, mercy and kindnesses.
If a true believer won’t be motivated by reward, then what is the purpose of eternal rewards according to works? I think it is simply there to demonstrate God’s character of love, mercy and kindness.
I know I will be in heaven saying “Lord but these deeds, they were only possible because of you. I can never claim them as my deeds at all, I am merely an unworthy servant of yours!”, but the Lord will reply in His great kindness and love “Well done you faithful servant, you have done much things for me”.
He literally did all the job, but takes no credit, but gives that credit to us as if those deeds were truly our deeds. What a wonderful master we serve indeed.
Richard Kwon is from Auckland, a regular lay person who just loves the Lord.