Erwin W. Lutzer

B. Childress
Dec 29 2011

The more honest we are, the more tempted we will be to conclude that we will not receive any rewards. Most of us see
ourselves, at least to some degree, as represented in the attitude of the unfaithful servant who buried his talent and
was reprimanded by his master. As we ask God to search our hearts, we see little that is good and much that is tainted.
Is there any hope that we will hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant"?

The thought of a thorough judgment that even exposes our hidden motives and private thoughts is more frightening
than comforting. We had hoped that we could slip into heaven, sit in a back row, and not have to face our dismal
performance on earth. Now that we know that everything we have thought, done, or said since our conversion will have
input into the outcome, we are not sure whether we want to die to be with Christ. We hope that there will be nuggets of
gold amid the wood, hay, and stubble, but they probably will be few and far between. At least that is how all honest
Christians feel.

How can anyone of us expect to receive anything at all?  Let us honestly affirm that not a one of us has all of the works
that the Bible presents as being worthy of a reward. Our opportunities are limited our lives too short, and our hearts too
sinful. Some Christians are confined to a wheelchair; or they might be in prison, where the opportunities to serve are

Our motives are seldom as pure as we would like them to be; if our inner lives were exposed for all to see we would want
to live alone on a deserted island.

It is time for some encouragement.

First, let us keep in mind that the value of a deed depends upon the attitude of the heart. If we wanted to do more for
Christ but could not because of human limitations, God will take our desires into account. We will be judged on the basis
of faithfulness to the opportunities presented to us.

For example, when it comes to giving, Paul stresses the attitude of the heart. "For if the readiness is present, it is
acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have" (II Corinthians 8:12).  If you give ten
dollars but would give more if you had it, you will be rewarded for more than the amount you gave. If you intended to
give a dollar you will be rewarded for a dollar even if you inadvertently placed a twenty-dollar bill on the plate! The
widow's two mites were almost worthless when we consider the huge budget needed to finance the temple worship. Yet
Christ said, "This poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury," for she "cast in all that
she had, even all her living" (Mark 12:43-44, KJV). Her gift was especially precious because she gave from her heart,
unaware that Christ was watching. Her generous character counted.

We should notice in passing that a good motive does not mean that we enjoy doing a particular deed. Surely the slaves
in Paul's time did not delight in treating their masters (often cruel) as they would treat Christ.  God often asks us to do
hard things, to suffer unjustly, and to endure suffering of every sort.  The test of a motive is whether it is done for Christ,
quite apart from whether the experience was pleasant or not.

Second, keep in mind that Christ takes our deeds, if done in His name, and makes them acceptable to the Father.  
Truth is, even when we serve with a motive that is as selfless as humanly possible, our deeds are still tainted with sin.
We help a woman across a street, but often it is to make ourselves feel good because we all want to be needed.  And
perhaps that evening we can tell our family that we did our good deed for the day. We give money to the work of the
church and secretly hope that the word will get out that we are among the generous.

One day a young woman abandoned her car and was walking along the street in obvious distress. I stopped and
learned that her car had run out of gas. So I drove to a gas station, purchased a can filled with gas, and drove back to
her car. As I was pouring gas into her car while standing in the ditch dressed in my business suit, the thought came to
I wish that all the people of Moody Church could see me now!

Mixed motives.

How can these works become acceptable to God? Can we be rewarded for deeds done with motives that are not
entirely loving, free of all self-interest?  Yes, here again our Savior prepares us for the day when He will be our judge.
We are not to work for Christ as an employee for an employer; we are to work for Him as sons and daughters within a
loving family.  
Christ works in us and for us to please the Father!

Christ takes our acts done with our good intentions and cleanses them so that they might be acceptable to God. Peter
wrote, "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual
sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:5).  
Sacrifices acceptable through Christ!

We've learned that good deeds done before our conversion are of no merit whatsoever, but the reason that good
deeds after our conversion have merit is because they are presented to the Father through Christ! Because we are
joined to Christ, we might say that He sees Christ as having done them!

Paul said that we should approve the things that are excellent "in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of
Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of
God" (Philippians 1:10b-11). Through Jesus Christ our deeds of righteousness are "to the glory and praise of God."
The Reformers were right: Before our salvation our deeds have no merit whatever in God's sight.  But they shall also
have stressed that after our conversion we can present ourselves to God, and this offering becomes "a living and holy
sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1b).

God is especially pleased when He sees His Son in us. Thus after our conversion, our deeds should no longer originate
in the flesh but in the work of the Spirit.  Christ taught, "Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of
itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me....for apart from Me you can do nothing"
(John 15:4-5).  Obviously, apart from Christ we can do many things: but we can do nothing that will last.

Christ calls us to bear fruit that endures.  Although fruit perishes quickly, there is a kind of fruit that will last forever.  
This is the fruit of the Spirit, the supernatural work of the Holy spirit in our lives.
The works that are most acceptable are
those done with the conviction that there is no merit in us but in Christ.

The good deeds Christ will be looking for have common characteristics: a willingness to sacrifice, a joyous faith, and a
commitment to persevere as did Moses. "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must
believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). And, of course, at the root is a love
for God, a willingness to serve, knowing that whatever the Father gives us is good for us.  Yes, it is true that
God looks
for the works that He Himself has wrought in us!  

Here are the deeds that are especially highlighted, the deeds that bring the promise of "great reward" (Hebrews 10:35).


The Joyful Acceptance of Injustice

Christ was straightforward about the reward connected with bearing insults for His sake.  "Blessed are you when men
cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.  Rejoice, and be
glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).  
If you are fired from a job because of your faith in Christ, if you are ostracized from the company perks, if you are
bypassed in the pay scale because your convictions will not allow you to be dishonest - rejoice, for your reward is great
in heaven!

A doctor friend of mine says that he is considered a troublemaker because he keeps calling his hospital administration
to embrace integrity.  Even fellow Christians think he should not rock the boat because everyone is affected.  But he is
a Christian with clear convictions, and he cannot be satisfied until he has done what he can to get the hospital to own
up to its procedures and practices.

The author of Hebrews warned his readers that if they did not suffer for Christ successfully, they would be losers.
"Therefore, do not throwaway your confidence, which has a great reward" (10:35).  The deep conviction that God was
testing them in their distress would give them the courage to remain loyal even though their property was being seized
and they were being ostracized for their faith.  The knowledge of a "great reward" would give them the motivation they

Peter wrote, "For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when
suffering unjustly" (I Peter 2:19).
 Our cross is simply the trouble we wouldn't have if we were not Christians.  
Let us accept such trouble in the name of Christ and rejoice!  God is watching.

Financial Generosity

Christ repeatedly spoke about money as being a test of our loyalties.  He said, in fact, that if we cannot be entrusted
with the mammon of unrighteousness, we should not think that we will be given more important spiritual responsibilities.
He chided the Pharisees for their love of money and then said, "For that which is highly esteemed among men is
detestable in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15).

Here is His familiar promise:

    Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves break in and
    steal.  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do
    not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

In our churches we are very careful not to reveal how much people give; gifts are strictly confidential.  There are two
reasons for this.  One is that we might give in secret so as to be rewarded openly.  The other is that we might not be
tempted to treat the large donors with greater respect.  But the real reason might be because we give so little we would
be embarrassed if everyone knew how much we gave.  But if that which is secret will be revealed, the day is coming
when our checkbook will be carefully examined.

However, it would be a mistake to think that we will be judged solely on the basis of what we gave to the church, the
poor, and missions.  Let us never forget that all of our money belongs to God.  This means that whatever we spend to
live on, whatever we invest or inherit - we shall be accountable for all of it. Blessed is the child who looks into the face of
his heavenly Father and asks for wisdom to use all his resources for the glory of God.  (Since the subject of money was
so frequently discussed by Christ, we shall consider investment strategies in the next chapter.)


Suppose Christ was scheduled to pay a visit to your church, and the pastor was looking for a home in which He could
stay.  Imagine the lineup of anxious Christians, all insisting that He come home with them!

Indeed someday Christ will invite people into His kingdom and say, "For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to
eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick,
and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me" (Matthew 25:35-36).

And when His people are startled because they do not remember having personally done this, Christ responds, "Truly I
say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (verse
40).  We can sign up to have Christ visit us! We can take Him home with us any night of the week.

And what do we get in return? That depends, of course, on the attitude with which we exercised our hospitality. Christ
describes the kindness that will not escape His notice.

    When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich
    neighbors lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you.  But when you give a reception, invite
    the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay
    you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:12-14).

Christ did not shy away from calling rewards "repayment."  If you want to please Christ, find the poor, the physically
challenged, and the lonely and throw a feast for them.  You will be "repaid" in the day of resurrection.

If you are tempted to envy a prophet because your own gifts are so small in comparison, you can receive a "prophet's

    He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  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. (Matthew 10:40-41).

With a child standing beside Him, Christ said, "And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me" (Matthew

The Spiritual Disciplines

The Jews had three spiritual disciplines they habitually practiced: the giving of alms, prayer, and fasting.  Christ warned
that these should not be exercised publicly to be seen of men.  Indeed, those who do these things to look good "have
their reward in full" (Matthew 6:5).

  •    "But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in
    secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you" (verses 3-4).

  •    "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who
    is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you" (verse 6).

  •    "But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men,
    but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you" (verses 17-18).

Christ taught that it is possible to succeed in the eyes of men and fail in the eyes of God.  If we serve to be seen of men,
we will be rewarded by them.  To quote Christ, we will "have [our] reward in full."  We will not be rewarded twice.  If we
get all of our strokes in this life, we should expect no repayment in the life to come.
We are rewarded by the person
whose praise we seek

In fact, when we are overlooked or taken for granted, and when the credit for what we do goes to someone else, we can
rejoice, for God will give us a greater reward.  Secret deeds often have purer motives than public ones.  Blessed are
those who have many secrets with God.

Of course, we will be judged not only by whether we practiced the disciplines of the Christian life.  We will also be held
accountable for the way in which we lived the whole of life.   All of our time, talent, and treasure belongs to God.

Faithfulness in Our Vocation

The painful fact is that many people simply never find the right job/gift mix.  Multitudes - perhaps the majority of the work
force - dislike what they are doing.  But the need for money forces them into jobs that ignite boredom, frustration, and
conflict.  Many are underpaid.

Put yourself in a time machine and go back two thousand years and imagine that you are one of the 60 million slaves in
the Roman Empire.  You have no rights, no chance for a promotion, nor court of appeals.  To such, Paul wrote that they
should serve their masters as they would serve Christ.

    Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely
    please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord
    rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ
    whom you serve. (Colossians 3:22-24)

Paul is not insensitive to their plight.   He urges their masters to be fair, and he knew that the only way he could fight
slavery in those days was by preaching the gospel.  This would transform both slave and master that there might be
mutual respect and fairness.   But even in the absence of such circumstances, Paul could exhort slaves to serve their
masters as if serving Christ because they would be recompensed by Him.  The Lord will make up for the wages they
didn't receive and the mistreatment they endured -and then some!

In the world, greatness is determined by the number of people you rule; power is the name of the game.  In the
kingdom, greatness is determined by the number of people you serve.  Humility is the badge of highest honor.  Indeed,
Christ Himself was exalted because He came not to be served, but to serve and give His life for us.  "He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  
Therefore also God highly exalted Him" (Philippians
2:8-9, italics added).

Ironically, if you want to have the possibility of ruling at Christ's right hand, don't seek it by trying to find a lofty position
and use it as a stepping-stone to something greater.  Find the most lowly position, and perhaps God will grant you an
exalted position. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper
time" (I Peter 5:6).

Blessed are those who change masters without changing jobs!   If we visualize receiving our paychecks from  Christ and
not our employer, we will view our work very differently.   And someday we will be generously compensated.  God will not
only judge you for how you taught your Sunday school class but for how you did your job on Monday morning.

Servanthood, as we shall learn in a future chapter, is the stepping-stone to greatness.   Even better, servanthood

Loving the Unlovable

Christ taught that there was a difference between divine love and human love.  Human love depends upon the one who
is loved.  If you meet my needs, if I find you attractive, and if our personalities are compatible, I will love you.  
Understandably, human love changes.  "You're not the woman I married!" a man shouts, giving his rationale for a

In contrast, divine love depends upon the lover; divine love says I can go on loving you even if you have stopped loving
me.   Divine love is based on a decision that continues even if the one who is loved changes.  Divine love says, "You
cannot make me stop loving you."

In this context, read Christ's words: "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless
those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28). This kind of love even loves enemies.   And if we
want to know whether such tough love will really be worth the cost, Christ continues, "But love your enemies, and do
good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He
Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men" (verse 35).   
Your reward will be great!

So often we pray, "O God, make me godly." We want to be like God. Then God sends a difficult person into our life -
perhaps a quarrelsome co-worker - and we complain, insisting that He remove the "thorn" from us.   But these trials are
given to us that we might become "godly."

You have it from Christ Himself. "Your reward shall be great!"

Doctrinal Integrity

In a letter written by the apostle John to a church that evidently was known as "the chosen lady" (II John 1), he warned
the believers that there were many false teachers who could do a great deal of damage within the assembly.   There
were, he said, many deceivers, who denied that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  They were, in effect, antichrists.

The believers were to watch out for the disastrous spiritual effects that might result from any compromise with their
ideas.  If they did not do so, they might lose some of their reward. "Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we
have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward" (verse 8).   Notice that if they did fail, they might not lose
their entire reward, but would lose their "full reward."

Certainly those who refuse to guard the doctrine of the faith are liable to discipline and loss of reward.  Sound doctrine,
on the other hand, will merit a more complete reward in the day of judgment.

Investment in People

Only people span the gap between time and eternity.   Paul writes: "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation?  
Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? (I Thessalonians 2:19).  God's people are His most
highly prized possession. To love those who are His, to invest in their spiritual well-being, is to attract special
consideration.  Exercising our gifts for the benefit of the body merits eternal reward.

Our investment in the lives of others varies in accordance with our gifts and opportunities.  Some will sow, others water,
still others reap; yet each shall be properly rewarded.  These words, quoted before, deserve to be repeated:

    I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who
    waters, but God who gives the increase.  Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will
    receive his own reward according to his own labor.  (I Corinthians 3:6-8, NKJV)

Please do not overlook the last line.  "Each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor."  There is a
specific connection between the opportunities I accept and the rewards I receive.  

Watching for Christ's Return

Christ has always insisted that wise servants look out for their master's arrival.  He says:

    Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he
    returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.
    Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will
    gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes
    in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. (Luke 12:35-38)

We admire the apostle Paul for his endurance in preaching the gospel.  We wish we had his revelations and
opportunities. Yet we have the opportunity to be rewarded just as he was.  When he was about to die, he looked back
and could say: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith"  (II Timothy 4:7).  He
expected to receive "the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and
not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (verse 8).

Whatever interpretation we give to the "crown of righteousness," we can have it too!  To love the appearing of Christ is
to receive a special welcome into heaven.

When the soloist George Beverley Shea was asked what he would like to be when Christ returned, he said,  "On pitch!"
Let us all be ready to praise the Lamb when He returns.

Acceptance of Suffering

While speaking on the West Coast, I met a man whose wife had a rare, debilitating disease.  He had to give her
constant care, for she was confined to a wheelchair.  Worse than the physical limitations, however, were her mental and
emotional states of anger and continual discontent.  If they went to church, she would appear pleasant, but on the way
home she would berate him for everything from his own conversations with people to his driving.  "I receive no thanks,
no kind words, no sense of teamwork," he told me.

I was so moved by his story that I told him, "I don't expect to see you in heaven!"  He was shocked, of course, but then I
continued.  "You will be so close to the throne, and I will be so far back, I will not see you!"  And I meant every word.  
There are some people whom God calls to a special kind of suffering.  Their faithfulness is of great reward.

When Christ returns, all of us would like to have something to present to Him.  Peter wrote, "That the proof of your faith,
being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and
glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7).  Trials are given to us that we might be able to develop
the faith that is precious to Christ.  This faith, although a gift of God to us, nevertheless will be found to the praise and
honor of Christ.

Of course, if I am faithful, I will have the same opportunity to be "close to the throne," as I put it.  We've already listed
more deeds than anyone of us could consistently do.  We will not be chided for the deeds we could not perform, though
we undoubtedly will be shown what our lives could have been like had we lived them faithfully for Christ.  We can rejoice:
"For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having
ministered and in still ministering to the saints" (Hebrews 6:10).

We do not know everything we would like to know about rewards.  We simply do not understand how Christ will balance
our good deeds with those that are worthless.  We must be content to know that Christ will be fair and generous.
Whatever He does will be acceptable; no one will question His judgment.  He will meticulously separate the perishable
from the imperishable.

Upon hearing of the assassination of John and Betty Stamm in China in 1934, Will Houghton, former president of Moody
Bible Institute, wrote these words:

    So this is life.  This world with its pleasure, struggles and tears, a smile, a frown, a sigh, a friendship so true and
    love of kin and neighbor?  Sometimes it is hard to live - always to die!

    The world moves on so rapidly for the living; the forms of those who disappear are replaced, and each one
    dreams that he will be enduring.  How soon that one becomes the missing face!

    Help me to know the value of these hours.  Help me the folly of all waste to see.  Help me to trust the Christ who
    bore my sorrows and thus to yield for life or death to Thee.

If we could catch a glimpse of heaven, we would strain to make the best use of the opportunities presented to us.  Our
lives, said James, are "just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (4:14).  There is much that
awaits us on the other side.

And now we turn to the one matter Christ referred to repeatedly, a sensitive subject that gives us the potential of great
failure or great reward.

Don't stop now.


YOUR ETERNAL REWARD, by Erwin W. Lutzer, Copyright 1998, Moody Publishers.