Russell and Duenes

Should Christians Be Explicitly Motivated by Spiritual Rewards?

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I’d like to talk about being motivated by spiritual rewards as a Christian. I am ultimately indebted to John Piper for all of these reflections. His teachings on “Christian Hedonism” have laid the foundations for my Christian faith. I cannot recommend his book, Desiring God, more highly.

The main reward of being a Christian is being in fellowship and relationship with the Triune God in all His glory and fullness. And every reward has this as a part of it. I do not think there is the reward of knowing God and then some kind of other rewards separate from that. All rewards follow from knowing God and have that as an encompassing reality, in my view. But the Scripture is quite clear about some of the rewards.

Revelation 1:6 says that Jesus has made Christians “to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” So one reward is a priestly function believers will fulfill. Another reward is that believers who overcome will get to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God. (Rev. 2:7). I’m not sure what this looks like exactly, but it is clearly a spiritual reward that is not precisely the same as every other reward, otherwise it would not be listed separately.

Jesus says: “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10). Other believers who overcome will receive “the hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17), “a white stone, and a new name written on the stone, which no one knows be he who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17), “authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26), “rulership of the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 2:26), “the morning star” (Rev. 2:28), “clothed in white garments” (Rev. 3:5), be made “a pillar in the temple of God” (Rev. 3:12), granted to “sit down with [Jesus] on [His] throne” (Rev. 3:21).

The author of Hebrews says that some Christians who were being tortured did not accept their release. Why not? “So that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35). That is, they were explicitly motivated by the reward of a “better resurrection.” What is encompassed by a “better resurrection?” It’s not spelled out. But what is spelled out is that it’s something these believers wanted and it spurred them on. The apostle Paul says that he forgets “what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14). Thus, Paul is clearly looking ahead, to a prize, and that is what motivates him. Hebrews 11 says explicitly that Moses endured what he did “for he was looking to the reward.” Revelation 22:5 (and other places) say that believers will reign with Christ “forever and ever.”

I do think Christians will have tasks and responsibilities in heaven. Isaiah speaks of a banquet feast of aged wine and meat fat full of marrow (Isa. 25:6). Jesus talks about rewards like inheriting the earth, being filled or satisfied, and reclining at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus says that we should be glad and rejoice when we are persecuted “because your reward is great in heaven.” Reward in heaven should motivate us to endure persecution joyfully.

But should rewards be the motivating factor?

The Bible certainly teaches that Christ should be our reward, and other rewards, in all their fullness and varied manifestations, should also be the explicit motivation for our Christian lives. Our entire Christian life, as John Piper says over and over in his book, Future Grace (another tremendous book), should be lived by banking on God’s promises to do us good, tomorrow, the next day, and on into eternity.

Now, when I say “rewards,” I mean everything good that comes to us as a result of our salvation, absolutely everything as it reflects and leads us to greater fellowship with Jesus. It is all rewards. Salvation is a gift, but there is no NT evidence for saying it is not a reward. Should we look back to Jesus’ sacrificial death with gratitude? Absolutely. But we are motivated by what Jesus’ death secures for us, namely, every good spiritual gift and reward we receive from tomorrow on into eternity.

And let us not think we are earning anything with this forward-looking faith. We are not. The rewards are the fruit of a life trusting and banking on Jesus and His promises to do us good.

But we may be cautious about being motivated by rewards. Why? Do we suspect that our “personal gain” is somehow at odds with “the love of God” or “love of neighbor?” I would ask why we think these are at odds? Where do we see the explicitly pursuit of personal spiritual rewards at odds with loving God and neighbor in the NT? Are there NT texts that put these things at odds?

Perhaps this is not why we are cautious, but again, why are we, if not for these reasons? The fact that Jesus does not put an explicit reward at the end of the greatest commandment does not mean there is no reward held out to us for obeying that commandment. The assumption is that this commandment is to be motivated by all the rewards laid out elsewhere in the NT. When it says that Moses was “looking to the reward,” we can assume that the reward was ultimately for obeying the great commandment, which is what Moses sought to do (as did Abraham, etc).

More to come.



Written by Michael Duenes

October 11, 2016 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology

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