Future Rewards, part 4

The Neglect and Opposition toward this Doctrine. The doctrine of greater and lesser reward has, nevertheless, been opposed or defused by many Protestants and evangelicals. George Elton Ladd says, “Faithfulness must never be exercised with a view to reward; the reward itself is utterly of grace. …The same reward is accorded to all who have been faithful regardless of the outcome of their labor. The reward is the kingdom of heaven itself.”[1] William Tyndale, back in the 16th century, wrote that we “may not seek our own profit, neither in this world nor in the world to come.”[2] Daniel Doriani, again, says that reward “turns the act of giving into a business investment: I give to God and he gives back, with interest. At worst, this is wholly selfish…At best, it pollutes an act of kindness by giving it a selfish turn at the end.” Philip Yancey says, “For years, all the New Testament talk about eternal rewards embarrassed me.”[3]

Why, with such biblical warrant, does the doctrine of future rewards produce such a response in evangelicals? I suggest six common reasons. First, we continue to think of grace and works in antithesis. Second, we have devalued human responsibility in sanctification. Third, we have accepted the Kantian notion that self-interest is sinful. Fourth, we believe that Christianity should be democratic. Fifth, our projection of the afterlife and of rewards fails to capture our interest and passion. And finally, we find it more comfortable to live with a theology that offers blessings without demands.[4] While many of these beliefs are interconnected, I will try to demonstrate the error of each in its turn.

Error 1: Grace vs. Works. While having rightly rejected the Roman Catholic system of condign and congruent merit, mortal and venial sins, temporal and eternal punishments, Protestants often remain unsure of how they ought to view the law and obedience to the law. We most often speak of “good works” in a negative tone, yet Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are saved by grace so that we might do good works. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that, for believers, good works are “the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” (16.2). Through good works we glorify God, advance the kingdom, make our calling and election sure, edify others, and “adorn the gospel.” Because believers are accepted in Christ, “their good works also are accepted in him,” and God is “pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere” (16.6).


[1] Ladd, 132.

[2] Ton, 410.

[3] Yancey, 112.

[4] Ton, 435.

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Posted on February 24, 2010, in Theological Studies. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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