Growing up in Churches of Christ and receiving instruction at two preaching schools affiliated with our brotherhood, I never heard any viable explanation regarding reward. Even as a full-time preacher, it was a muddled and confusing topic for me. I believed that salvation itself is the only reward we receive through obedient works, but the problems with this view became evident to me. Since salvation is already given at a point in time, what else could be received by “storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven”, and for what purpose? (Matt. 6:20). Furthermore, the Biblical concept of “degrees of reward” was foreign to me, and a number of passages proved difficult to reconcile with my theology. The Parables of the Ten Minas and the Talents made no sense at all (Lk. 19:11 – 27; Matt. 25:14 – 30). For example, what could it possibly mean to have “authority over ten cities”, or even “five cities”, if Jesus was speaking metaphorically about salvation? (Lk. 19:17, 19). Likewise, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager could not be aligned with my concept of reward (Lk. 16:1 – 13). What similarity could there be between the handling of worldly wealth and the handling of salvation? Such is an asinine comparison, if there ever was one. Reward is given “according to our labor” (1 Cor. 3:8), but having salvation is a matter of “life or death” – you either have it or you don’t! In contrast, Apostle John writes that a believer may miss out on his “full reward” (2 Jn. 8). The Bible’s teaching about reward is very clear. It is stored up incrementally throughout life, according to works. Salvation, on the other hand, is always given at a point in time (e.g. Lk. 19:9). It cannot be halved or quartered based on our works or lack thereof.
This issue is more serious than one might initially think, because confusing salvation with reward may lead to a feeble attempt at justifying one’s self by works. The idea that salvation is granted only to Christians who work heartily enough or suffer eagerly enough for their Lord, is completely at odds with salvation “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8a). If salvation is “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast”, then how can it also be a reward for faithful obedience? (Eph. 2:8b, 9, NASB). Reward is earned but salvation is not! I discovered that we do, in fact, have a “reward of inheritance” promised to us in Scripture, but this is something other than salvation (cf. Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:12 – 15; Col. 3:23, 24). Equating our reward of inheritance with the inheritance of eternal life robs us of any assurance, making salvation the product of nothing more than human works. Christ’s death on the cross becomes a superfluous feat, if we can achieve a salvation appropriated by our own faithfulness. Scripture provides us with a wholesale rejection of this dreadful conclusion (i.e. Rom. 3:24 – 26; 4:1 – 12). Salvation “depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed” (Rom. 4:16). It is not only received, but also guaranteed, purely by grace through faith, and not according to our works (cf. 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5). Surprisingly, this truth came to light through my own study of Bible prophecy.
The lie of a works-based salvation is one of the terrible consequences of amillennial theology, which also denies any future reign of Jesus Christ upon this earth. Likewise, it denies all the responsibilities, rights, privileges, and dominion he promises to his righteous overcomers on the basis of their works. To put it directly, Amillennialism must equate reward with salvation from sin because it claims there will be nothing left to accomplish after Christ’s return. Obviously, not all proponents of amillennial theology understand the implications of their doctrine. Inconsistently, many of them affirm salvation is by grace through faith, but the amillennial doctrine truly has its back up against the wall.
If heaven is all that awaits us, there will be no reason to store up treasures in that place. Where are we to make use of the tangible assets entrusted to us if this earth ceases to exist at the end of the age? There will be no earth to inherit and no nations to rule, if this claim is correct (cf. Matt. 5:5; 19:28; Rom. 4:13; 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 2:26). The amillennial doctrine needs an explanation for passages such as these and it attempts to supply one. Supposedly, Christians are already exercising authority because our reign is spiritual in nature. We judge the world metaphorically. This absurd claim makes the Bible’s promises into meaningless drivel, since we detect no real evidence of our present-day authority on earth. In fact, Paul stated exactly the opposite (1 Cor. 4:8). He acknowledged Roman authority over Christian subjects (cf. Acts 25:11; Rom. 13:1 – 7). Christians are hated, oppressed, derided, and viciously attacked, making it obvious we have not yet begun to reign (Rom. 8:36, 37).
We will conquer after the Lord brings us from heaven, having bestowed upon us the imperishable wreath of victory. The crown is presently “laid up” to be received at his appearing (2 Tim. 4:8). It is promised to believers who stand the test of the present hour (1 Cor. 9:25; Jas. 1:12). It will be awarded “at his coming” (1 Thess. 2:19). The promised crown does not represent eternal life, as some claim. It is a real reward for those who earn it through patient endurance and obedience to Christ as King. To claim otherwise necessitates a doctrine of salvation by works. The future awaiting righteous overcomers is glorious, but our salvation from death was already accomplished in the past and we have it in the present (cf. Jn. 11:26; 20:31; 1 Jn. 5:13). It was given freely, and we can do nothing that would add to that perfect gift of life. Let us never forget that salvation is just the beginning of our life in Christ. We have to perform good works, not to be saved, but to earn the right to reign with Jesus when he comes in glory. Let us also never “muddy the waters” by attempting to earn our own salvation. Jesus does not need our help to save us, but he does need our testimony and service in the kingdom. – MAH