|WHAT WE CAN GAIN
Erwin W. Lutzer
I AM REVEALED
Dec 28 2011
Glance over my shoulder and read this letter that arrived in my mailbox:
worries that since these films are irretrievable and have been distributed all over the world, the harm they are
doing will continue even after she dies.
direct result of what she did on earth, others continue to sin? She feels that she is leaving a legacy of evil. Can
you offer any consolation?
her salvation. Christ died for sinners, even terrible sinners - yes, even pornographers and criminals. Our great-
grandfather Adam left a worse "legacy of evil" than this woman, but God covered him with the skin of animals to cover
his shame. These skins were symbolic of the coming of Christ, who would be killed so that we could be clothed in His
righteousness. Many people have ongoing consequences of sins committed in their preconversion days. Yet, we can
be secure in God's forgiveness even when the consequences of our sin continue. This forgiveness is a free gift given
to those who acknowledge their sinfulness and trust Christ alone for their salvation.
Second, yes, this lady can look forward to joy in heaven, for at the judgment seat of Christ she will only be judged for
what she did since she was saved, not what was done in her preconversion days. Having been forgiven much, she can
indeed love much, and therefore be rewarded much. In fact, quite possibly, this woman will get to sit alongside of Christ
and rule with Him forever.
The gift of salvation is not a reward for works, but a reward for faith, a faith which God has actually given to us! But
when we are rewarded at the Bema, it will be based on our works; it will be according to our loyalty. I don't mean to say
that we will receive what we deserve; as we will repeatedly emphasize, we will receive far more than we deserve, for God
abounds in loving-kindness. We will not be paid in the sense that we will receive a day's pay for a day's work, but we will
be paid in the sense that God will give us a hundred times more than we deserve. As Woodrow Kroll says, "Rewards
are a gracious wage."
If your employer handed you a check late Friday afternoon and said, "This is a gift," you might not be amused. The
implication would be that you don't deserve it; the check is simply an expression of compassion. But if you received a
certificate for a two-week vacation in Hawaii because you were top salesman for the month, you would have "earned"
the trip even though the reward would be far out of proportion to your effort. Christ, as we have already learned, did
not hesitate to say that the faithful would be "repaid" by the Father.
The prospect of being found worthy to rule with Christ is the subject of this chapter. What Christ enjoys by divine right.
He is willing to share with us by divine mercy! Today we are invited to catch a glimpse of the high honor to sit on
Christ's throne and participate with Him in ruling the universe. "And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall
not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall
reign forever and ever" (Revelation 22:5). The journey from here to there is a love story that begins in the past and will
end in this most glorious future.
Many Bible teachers simply take it for granted that everyone who enters heaven will get to rule with Christ. But many
other passages suggest that this reward will be given to those who proved to be trustworthy on earth; if everyone in
heaven does rule, some will be given greater positions of responsibility. I believe that there is much to gain at the
judgment seat of Christ; thus there is also much we can lose.
THE LOVE STORY
To explain the whys and hows, I must describe this drama in three scenes. The plot begins in the Garden of Eden and
ends in heaven. Stay with me as I summarize God's purpose for the human race in general and His own people in
particular. Step-by-step we shall better understand God's ultimate intentions for us all.
And now the story.
The past: Adam and Eve
The story begins in the Garden of Eden, where God chose to create mankind in His own image. "Let Us make man in
Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule" (Genesis 1:26).
Neither angels nor animals were created in the image of God; this was the privilege only of mankind. This means that
we share God's communicable attributes: personality, wisdom, love, truth, justice. Also, it means the we have an
amazing capacity for God-likeness. We can be more like God than any other creature.
Let us ponder the details.
God fashioned man from the dust of the ground and "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a
living being" (Genesis 2:7). Soon after, Adam began to name the animals and take charge of the earth, just as God
commanded. Yet in this idyllic paradise, something - or rather someone - was missing. God said, "It is not good for the
man to be alone" (verse 18). No matter how beautiful the creation, no matter how close the fellowship between the man
and God, Adam was incomplete. "There was not found a helper suitable for him" (verse 20). So God set out to find a
companion for him; more accurately, He set out to create the companion Adam needed.
Now when God created Eve, He did not create her from the dust of the ground. Right from the beginning He wanted to
show the organic unity of the human race, the solidarity that exists between the members of the human family. He
especially wanted to demonstrate the oneness of a man and his wife. So God formed Eve from Adam's rib so that he
could say, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (verse 23).
The helper - the bride - was "found." She would meet her husband's needs but also get to rule with him over the
creation. Notice the plural pronouns. The Lord said, "Let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the
sky and over the cattle and over all the earth" (Genesis 1:26, italics added). The woman was to be a co-ruler with
Adam, exercising with him the dominion over all creation. She was to enjoy full partnership in the divinely ordered plan.
Whatever Adam and Eve did, they were to do together.
Only humans have the concept of family. Angels were created individually; they were never babies who eventually grew
up and became adults. Angels don't have cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles; they have no brothers or sisters.
They have only a functional unity; that is, they exist for the common purpose of serving God. But there is no organic
unity between them.
In contrast, Adam and Eve would beget children in their likeness. Cain would marry one of his sisters and have brothers
and cousins. This solidarity is exactly what God needed to fulfill His eternal purpose. Stay with me on this.
To recap: Adam was the first man, and from him a bride was created who would be able to exercise dominion with him.
God was intent on finding a helpmate suitable for him.
Sin ruined all of this. Adam and Eve fell into the devil's trap, and their right to rule was forfeited. Satan picked up the
scepter and asserted himself as ruler of the world. But Adam did not lose his place as the head of the human family.
Although we, as his descendants, would, I'm sorry to say, be dysfunctional in varying degrees. Adam would still be the
representative of the human race. The image of God would be effaced but not erased.
The love story between Adam, Eve, and God was in difficulty. Instead of ruling the world, we as humans would now be
ruled by the world. Disease, destruction, and death would be the legacy bequeathed to this planet. We would sow, but
not be sure that we would reap; we would establish friendships, but would be overcome by jealousy, mistrust, and
Thankfully, this is only the first chapter in the story. God will intervene to dispel the darkness and keep the romance
The Present: Christ and the Church
The Almighty was not content with the fellowship of the Trinity in eternity past. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was in
eternal harmony in purpose and action; their relationship was beautiful and perfect. Yet apparently there was
something missing - the fellowship of creatures would better display God's attributes. Mankind's plunge into sin would
give God a gracious opportunity to showcase His love and intentions.
So the Almighty chose to clean up the mess Adam and Eve had created. Specifically, He had a Son named Christ, who
would stand at the head of a whole new race of humanity. This Son is known as the "second Adam," for He will succeed
where the first Adam failed. Adam was only a replica of God, but Christ is the perfect "image of the invisible God"
(Colossians 1:15). Such a perfect image that He is, in fact, God.
Long before the Fall, God the Father promised a gift of redeemed humanity to His Son. The Son would purchase these
people and they would be united as one body to share in His love and honor. And because this bride would be
purchased at high cost by the Bridegroom, the intensity of the love would be evident for all to see.
Think this through. Just as God sought a bride for Adam, so God sought a bride for His Son, Jesus Christ. He chose to
prepare a companion who would be able to share His Son's rule over the universe, someone who would enjoy His
dominion. This bride would be loved, honored, and invited to join Christ on the throne of the universe.
Thanks to God, millions of people will belong to the number of the redeemed, united in one consciousness, one
purpose, and one love. Just as the body is one and has many members, so also is the body of Christ: Many members
all unified in one body; one bride for God's most beloved Son.
So Christ stands at the head of new humanity, a new family. When we are born into this world, we are born of the seed
of Adam, which is called "corruptible seed" (I Peter 1:23, KJV; "perishable," NASB). We share the nature of our fallen
parents and grandparents. When we are "born again" (John 3:3,7), we receive God's seed that we might be replicas of
His Son. We are begotten of "incorruptible" seed, God's seed (I Peter 1:23, KJV; "imperishable," NASB), so that we can
be "partakers of the divine nature," members of God's own family (II Peter 1:4). We are to be like Christ to the extent
that the finite can be like the infinite; we are as much like Him as the creature can be like the Creator.
What is God's purpose for us here and now? We, as God's chosen bride, are being prepared for future
responsibilities. In the words of one writer, God's intention "is the production and preparation of an Eternal Companion
for the Son, called the Bride, the Lamb's Wife." We are being tested to see whether we are worthy of such
Intimacy between a husband and wife should mirror this divine agenda. As husbands, we are to showcase the beauty of
our wives, just as God is going to put the church on display in "all her glory" (Ephesians 5:27). We are to recognize our
wives as co-heirs, fulfilling the role Eve was to have over the earth. Read these familiar words with new appreciation:
sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the
church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
a time of purification, a time of testing and training. We are being primed for the coming marriage along with the rights
and privileges that accompany it. Just as the bride is to enjoy the same honors as her husband, even so, the church
inherits the honors of God's eternal Son.
And a greater chapter has yet to be written.
The Future: The Bride is Enthroned
We cannot have the honor of being a joint-heir with Christ unless we are His relatives. To participate in His title deed to
the universe we must be members of His family.
We qualify because Christ is our brother. He came to Bethlehem not as an angel, but in the form of mankind. "For
assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham" (Hebrews 2:16). Christ
had to become one of our relatives in order for God to shower us with the honors reserved for members of His family.
Unless we were God's sons and daughters we could not legally receive the family inheritance.
God had one "only begotten Son" (John 3:16), but He longed for more sons, specifically sons who would be, at least in
some respects, like His own.
to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies [Christ] and those who are
sanctified [those whom Christ redeemed] are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them
brethren. (Hebrews 2:10-11)
embarrassing a wayward brother can be to the rest of the family. One woman I know disowned her brother because he
was a reprobate! We might think that Christ would be chagrined to be called our brother, but He is not. No matter how
badly we reflect on the family, He does not disown us. We share family privileges, and He loans us the family name. He
loves His brothers and sisters. He delighted in bringing "many sons into glory."
In our earthly existence when a father dies, the brothers and sisters share the family fortune. Of course, our Father in
heaven does not die, but we do. And when we get to heaven, we are "heirs." When the title deed is read, we are
partners; we share the Son's estate. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if
children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be
glorified with Him" (Romans 8:16-17).
If you are a believer, expect to hear your name when God's last will and testament is opened. Since we are joint-heirs,
the will cannot be dispensed unless we receive our inheritance. As it turns out, Christ is "heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:
2), and as His brothers and sisters we are fellow heirs in an eternal, heavenly existence. We do not know all that this
Certainly every believer will have an eternal, indestructible body, just as Christ has; we will not be limited by distance or
endurance. Also, every believer will have proximity to the Father, the ability to behold Him in all of His beauty, to spend
an eternity studying the wonders of His attributes and purposes.
If we want to know more about our future existence, we must only look at Christ after the Resurrection. He had a
beautiful and powerful body that masked radiant glory. All of His brothers and sisters will be like Him.
we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we
shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. (I John 3:1-2)
everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (verse 3). Far from giving us license to sin,
the grace of Christ should drive us to holiness. We should want to be like our Savior and brother.
Our famous brother does not keep us at a distance. He invites us to share His throne in the coming kingdom and
beyond. We will be His bona fide partner, His judicial equal. We who are a gift from the Father to the Son, we who are
the bride and eternal companion for the Son might well be startled by this promise, "To him that overcometh will I grant
to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Revelation 3:21,
Let's take this slowly. As a reward for the Son's faithfulness, He was invited to sit on the throne of the Father. If we are
overcomers, we are invited to sit with Christ on the Father's throne He rightfully inherited. So if the Son sits on the
Father's throne and we sit on the Son's throne, are we not sitting on the throne of God?
At this point we have reached the limits of our comprehension; we cannot grasp what the text means. We understand
the words, but the implications elude us. We can only listen with John, who heard these words from the throne: "He who
overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son" (Revelation 21:7). Surely we are in
awe of the generosity of God.
Of course, we should never think that we shall either become God or take His place. There is no room in the Bible for
the "potential divinity of man." No, God has picked us up from the pit of sin and lifted us to dizzy heights. We shall
forever be the creature and He the Creator. This is not proof of man's greatness and potential, but rather an example
of God's love and undeserved grace! It has nothing to do with what we have been able to make of ourselves, but
everything to do with what God has chosen to make of us!
Angels, bless them, are not qualified to reign with Christ. For one thing they are not brothers to Christ, and therefore
do not share in the family inheritance. For another, they were not chosen to be Christ's eternal companion. They do
the will of God with joy and holy obedience, but they are not participants in God's plan for the Son to purchase a bride
Let me say again: We shall be as much like Christ as it is possible for the creature to be like the Creator; as much as
the finite to be like the infinite. We shall be co-rulers with Christ, sitting on His throne, bought by Him, loved by Him, and
honored by Him.
A PROMISE TO THE FAITHFUL
Does the Bible teach that all believers will get to reign with Christ? Does it matter whether we train for heavenly rule?
Will everyone inherit the kingdom equally? Will all the saints share an equal honor at the marriage supper of the Lamb?
God has always reserved special rewards for those who are most faithful. When Israel left Egypt, the nation had been
redeemed by God. At least a remnant of those who died in the desert, as far as we know, will be in heaven. They were
redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; they experienced redemption from Egypt. And yet they died without entering into
the fullness of God's promise; they missed Canaan. The land was a promise of additional blessing for those who were
faithful. Of the older generation, only Joshua and Caleb qualified.
Even Moses was excluded from the land of Canaan because of his disobedience. He will be in heaven, but he forfeited
his earthly inheritance. In the Old Testament is was possible to be regenerate, belong to God, and still miss out on the
extra blessing of inheritance. Salvation was a gift through faith, but the added blessing was dependent on faithfulness.
Paul made it clear that slaves were to serve their masters as they would serve Christ. If they were devoted, the Lord
would give them the reward of the inheritance. Some would accept his challenge; possibly others did not.
receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive
the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. (Colossians 3:23-25)
course, if they could better their position, that would be acceptable, but they lived in a culture where there was no
opportunity to redress the wrongs. But if slaves served their masters as if they were Christ, Christ would reward them.
Their reward was dependent on their works.
All believers have God as their inheritance, but there is another inheritance, an additional one given to those who are
faithful. All believers will get to be heirs, but they will not inherit the same things.
Christ made the same point to His disciples.
throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left
houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive many
times as much, and shall inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:28-29)
eternal life." Obviously eternal life is a gift given to those who believe on Christ, but the expression "inherit eternal life"
apparently refers to an additional acquisition, something more than simply arriving in heaven. It refers to a richer
experience of being appointed by Christ to be in charge of the affairs of the cosmos as a ruler or judge. Salvation is
guaranteed to those who accept Christ by faith; rewards are not. Entering heaven is one thing; having a possession
there is quite another. One is the result of faith; the other, the reward for faith plus obedience.
The Bible is a realistic book. It does not assume that all believers will be faithful. Indeed, there are many examples of
unfaithfulness of believers. History itself proves that many true Christians have buckled under persecution and have
even denied Christ to save their lives or the lives of their families. In fact, many deny Christ just to save their jobs or
their reputations. Others are seduced by the temptations of this world.
The Bible nowhere expressly says that some believers will not reign with Christ. However, the promises of reigning with
Him are almost always explicitly tied to obedience, faithfulness, or being an overcomer. As Paul wrote in II Timothy 2:12,
"If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us." In the Revelation it says, "He who
overcomes, and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations" (2:26).
Either some Christians will not get to rule with Christ or they will rule over a lesser territory. If we remember the parable
of the talents, we will keep in mind that one unfaithful servant had his talent taken from him and given to another. While
others reigned over cities, he did not. All that he could hope for was to be admitted into the kingdom; he could not
inherit its most prized positions.
Earlier I mentioned that we are engaged to Christ, but someday we will be married to Him. We have in the Bible a rather
detailed description of the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9), for which we must be properly dressed. At
every wedding in which I have participated, the attenders are always interested in what the bride is wearing. The style
of the dress and the choice of flowers and veil are all the focus of attention. We read:
herself ready." And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the
righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8)
God; we cannot stress too often that we did not work for the garments of righteousness that Christ gives us. These are
In order to attend the marriage supper of the Lamb, we need two different suits of clothes. The first is the
righteousness of Christ, the gift which admits us into heaven. This is a free set of clothes, the garments by which we
are ushered into heaven's courts. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the
righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21).
But the second suit of clothes is a wedding garment for the marriage supper. This suit is not the righteousness of
Christ, but rather the deeds we have done for Christ on earth. Christ has made us ready for heaven; we must make
ourselves ready for the wedding feast. We must distinguish between what only God can do and that which we can have
a part in doing.
What are we doing today? We are sewing the garments that we shall wear at the marriage supper of the Lamb. We are
making sure that we will not be so scantily clad that we shall be ashamed. John warns, "And now, little children, abide in
Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming" (I John 2:
If you ask how these garments became so "white and clean," I reply that many of our imperfect works are made perfect
in the sight of God through Christ. God takes what we do, and if it is done for Him, these deeds are made white and
clean. Just recently, a woman died who was faithful to Christ throughout her long life. Many years ago I stopped by her
house to run an errand, and as she came to the door, her face was flush with tears. She apologized for crying,
explaining, "You caught me in the middle of my prayer time for my family." I think she was sewing a garment for the
wedding; my suspicion is that she will be well clothed at the marriage supper.
The purpose of our trials and temptations is to train us for ruling with Christ. We are learning the laws of the kingdom,
responding in faithful obedience. We are given the opportunity of becoming overcomers so that we might inherit the
promises. "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (II
Corinthians 4:17). Place all of your trials on one end of a scale and the eternal weight of glory on the other, and it will
go "plunk"! It is the weight of a feather versus a cubic foot of gold!
A family I know lost both of their children to prolonged and severe battles with cancer. And now, as I write, the father
himself is down to 125 pounds, expected to die at any time of the same disease. What is God's purpose in all of this? It
is to increase the eternal joy of the saints. Not the present joy, to be sure, for the moment seems to be utterly
devastating, but we can only become overcomers when there is something that must be overcome!
We want life to be smooth, secure, uninterrupted. God has a different agenda. He is purifying us, testing us, training
us so that we might be presented to Him as a pure church, ready to take our place sitting next to Christ on His throne.
The English preacher Spurgeon wrote: "O blessed axe of sorrow that cuts a pathway to my God by chopping down the
tall trees of human comfort."
Our desire to pass our test and receive Christ's approval is not prideful; rather, it motivates us to worship a God who
would be so generous with His undeserving children. We can only wonder at Christ's gracious words: "Fear not, little
flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32, KJV). Let me repeat that the idea that
we should reign with God's Son is not ours, but His. God's desire is to display His wonder and grace throughout all of
eternity, "in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in
Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7).
In the next chapter we shall discuss in more detail what it means to "suffer loss." We will attempt to answer the question
of what it might be like to enter into heaven minus the rewards reserved for the faithful.
We shall learn that if we are unwilling to suffer loss for Christ in this life, we shall surely suffer loss in the life to come.
Let us examine our hearts lest we be among those who do not hear Christ's "Well done."
YOUR ETERNAL REWARD, by Erwin W. Lutzer, Copyright 1998, Moody Publishers.
|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES