A Christian’s Salvation, Works, and Reward

True Salvation

For a Christian salvation comes through faith alone, in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone (Eph. 2:8). Everyone that does this is a disciple of Christ.

Helping the poor, simply attending church, serving at a church, or even serving on church committees, or giving money to missions/missionaries, as good as they all are, have no value for salvation.

It is not through a regurgitated prayer or by mere intellectual agreement, but by a person giving their heart and their life to Jesus Christ and making Him Lord of their life as well as Savior and trusting Him for life now, as well as their eternal life.

Jesus, when asked what the most important commandment was, restated what is known as the Schema from Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:29, 30; Deut. 6:4-5

False Believers

There are those who don’t really put their trust in Jesus. They are “false christians.” Jesus Himself declared:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. Mt. 7: 21-23

Paul in his letter to Titus wrote:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. Titus 1:15-16

These are pointing out the non-believers.

How good or poor a person follows Christ as a disciple is also determined by his works. He cannot lose his salvation, but the rewards Christ gives him in heaven are determined by those works.

Remember the words spoken back and forth by the criminals dying on the crosses next to Jesus:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying,

“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23: 39-41

Then the words between the repentant criminal and Jesus:

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” vv. 42, 43.

Jesus told this man his spirit would be with Him in heaven that very day.[1] But clearly this criminal had no time or opportunity “to any do good works.” His trust in the Messiah saved him, but he accrued no rewards.

In the context of our day that would mean we should be witnessing, telling others about Jesus, learning how to defend and contend for the Christian faith (Peter 3:15; Jude 1:3), and discipling other Christians.

Judging for Christians Temporal & Eternal

While it is true only God can know a person’s heart, scripture also tells us that we should judge people by their fruit and be especially discerning about our teachers/preachers (i.e. false teachers) and others that say they are Christians.

Going back to Matthew Chapter Seven Jesus talks about this, but starts out “Judge not, that you be not judged . . . “. This confuses a lot of people, especially in our politically correct culture, so they think we shouldn’t judge anybody or their actions. But we must always keep Scripture in context. The key verse in this segment is vv. 4, 5:

Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Jesus is not saying “don’t use judgment (discernment)” he is saying that you can’t help your brother to stop lying when you are a liar yourself. If you are an adulterer how can you admonish someone living in adultery?

In verses 13 & 14 Jesus talks about the narrow gate vs the wide gate then in verse 15 he talks about false prophets or teachers—those not teaching what the Bible really says. Jesus proclaims that we must:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. . . every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Mt. 7:15-20 (See also the Mt. 13).

When Christ comes for his Church this will be the first Resurrection; known also as the Rapture.[2] At that instant all who have trusted in Jesus Christ will be resurrected from the grave and receive their glorified bodies. This happens a split-second before believers who are still alive are “raptured” and both the “dead in Christ” and we who are still alive meet Jesus “in the clouds”:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.1 Thss. 4:16-18

It is after the rapture Christ judges Christians based on their works for their rewards—whether what they did in His name was really for Christ or for their own reasons (see 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 1 Peter 1:6-12). Again this is not for salvation, but for their crowns.

The lost, those that reject Jesus Christ, are not resurrected until after the seven years of tribulation and the battle of Armageddon at Christ’s Second Coming. This is the judgment of the nations (Mt. 25:31-46).

Good Works for Reward

As we saw in Ephesians 2:8 we cannot work our way into heaven.

But our works are warranted for allowing God to work through us while we are on earth and we are rewarded for our faithfulness in heaven.

This is what the much misunderstood verses in James 2 are talking about.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[a] is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! vv. 14-19  (Also see Mt. 5:16).

The key phrase here is “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Our works demonstrate to the world not only that we are Christians, but also that we are examples of how to live righteous lives.

Again, there is no salvific value in works alone, but doing God’s work garners rewards for us in the Kingdom.

James 1:12 tells us:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

In 1 Peter 5:4, Peter while explaining to the Elders and Shepherds (teachers and preachers) is instructive because though we may not be an Elder or Pastor it is true of all disciples of Christ “. . . when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

Revelation 3:11 speaks of our reward as the faithful Church. “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”

Revelation 4:4—these are elders, not angels.

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.

The paradigmatic verses are 9-11 in chapter 4. This is what we will do with the rewards God has given to us for doing His works as part of the Elect in Christ:

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

This is what we will do with the crowns we have earned by our works as Christians and we will be in the presence of God the Father and Jesus for all eternity. We will see friends and family that have put their faith in Christ and there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth and a New Jerusalem and Israel will finally be in the Promised Land in peace Revelation. 21: 1-3.


Foot Notes:

[1] The spirit can live without the body so at death our spirit goes to heaven immediately. We are fully cognitive, indeed the spirit is the real person; the real you. However at the rapture (see footnote 2), when the Church is raptured, it is then we get our glorified, eternal bodies.

[2] While the word rapture is not used in the Bible in the original Greek Harpazō in this context means to “snatch away” or “take to oneself.” The spirits of believers who have not died yet are snatched away to be with Christ and instantly receive their glorified bodies.

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