Is reward a right incentive for a Christian?

Notice with Adam and Eve that God never offered them any reward if they did what he said? Did God say to Eve, “If you stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you get to live forever in this Paradise and never have any troubles again”? No, he didn’t. All he said was, “Don’t eat off that Tree or you will die.”

The one offering rewards for their actions was the serpent. That was his tactic. He won over Eve by telling her what she’d gain for herself if she ate the forbidden fruit, Genesis 3:5: “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And how easily Eve was hooked. The promise of some gain to herself had huge appeal, verse 6: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Self-interest, self-worth and self-gratification easily tempted Eve into doing what the serpent said.

And how many Christians preach Heaven and Hell as an incentive to do what God says, too? “Become a Christian and you won’t go to hell,” is what so many Christians say. But what’s the difference between Christians saying that and the serpent telling Eve, “You will not surely die”? It’s the same thing being said, and the same tactic being used. It’s using gain to oneself as an incentive to act. Eat the fruit and you won’t die. Become a Christian and you won’t go to hell.

What it does, though, is make people become Christians for selfish reasons. They’re into Christianity for what they can get. But we learn from the story of Israel that offering the most amazing incentives – as God did to Israel – doesn’t work. “Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession,” he told the Israelites in Exodus 19:5, and they liked the sound of that, enough to reply, “We will do everything the Lord has said,” verse 8. But did they? No, they didn’t. Even with God himself providing everything they needed and protecting them from every danger, it was never enough to make them obey him, as any parent finds out using rewards to get their children to obey too.

But doesn’t Scripture offer rewards as incentive to Christians to trust and obey? Never – because Christians realize that all the rewards we could ever want have already been won for us by Jesus Christ. They’re already ours, 2 Peter 1:3-4. There’s no appeal to self necessary, therefore, to get them. Appeal to self is, and always has been, the serpent’s incentive.

Advertisements

Rewarded according to our works? (part 9)

It’s not surprising, living in a culture that lives and breathes the idea that “Life is what you make it,” that religions live and breathe the idea that “Eternal life is what you make it,” too. Not only is it up to us to make this life happen, it’s up to us to make the next life happen, too.

No it isn’t, the Bible says, because “the mind of sinful man is death,” Romans 8:6, so the only thing we’re capable of making of life is death. Our bodies are “dead because of sin,” verse 10, and the Bible includes everybody in that, Romans 3:23, because we’ve “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We had our chance at eternal life but we blew it. One sin, game over. And now sin has made us “hostile to God,” Romans 8:7, and it’s stuck us with a mind that “does not submit to God’s law, NOR can it do so.” We are powerless, therefore, to do anything of eternal benefit. Even God’s law is not powerful enough to override our hostility toward God because it’s “weakened by our sinful nature,” verse 3. So now we’re really stuck: we can greatly want eternal life, and be willing to do anything to get it, but we’re already dead and helpless because of our sinful nature, and dead people can’t do anything.

So what do we do now? Read verse 13, where Paul says “by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” We’ve got some powerful help. We have the Holy Spirit on our side to kill off what’s killing us. Our sinful nature is no match for the Spirit, which is great to know because “if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Life, therefore, is what the Spirit makes it. It’s the Spirit that makes things happen, not us.

Typical worldly religion, however, insists that if we obey all its rules, regulations and rituals, that’s how we make our eternal life happen. No, says Paul, that’s a crock; it’s only by the Spirit living in us that our eternal life happens. Any religion, therefore, that tells us we are the ones who make our eternity happen, or that eternal life is what WE make it, can be utterly dismissed, because it’s denying us poor humans the only source of help we’ve got in dealing with what’s killing our chances at eternal life – our awful sinful nature…(no part 10 – yet!)


Rewarded according to our works? (part 8)

An updated version of “Rewarded according to our works” nowadays is “Life if what you make it.” And our culture feeds on that statement too. No wonder religion follows suit.

But isn’t it true that life is what we make it? Surely if we work hard we’re more likely to succeed, right? Or if you hit each day with enthusiasm you’re more likely to be happy; or if you’re nice to people you’re more likely to have lots of friends – because that’s how life works, isn’t it? It’s up to us to make things happen; we determine our destiny, and we only have ourselves to blame if life is a crock, because all the goodies in life we seek are within the grasp of human effort and initiative.

And all day every day this idea is being peddled – in bookstores piled high with self-help books, in radio talk shows, TV reality shows, magazines by the nauseous boatload, and by religion – all of them offering “expert” advice and admonition on how to make our lives better, now and forever, and all based on life depending on what we make it to be.

But if life is decided by us, why would Paul tell us in Romans 8 that we need the Spirit? Because, verse 10, “your body is dead because of sin,” and it’s only by “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” living in us that we have “life in our mortal bodies” at all, verse 11. So, how can we keep on telling ourselves “life is what we make it” when, of and by ourselves, we haven’t even got a life to make anything of?!

We only get a life, Paul writes, when “by the Spirit” we “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” because it’s these misdeeds caused by our sinful nature that rip the life out of us, verse 13. Like it or not, therefore, we are entirely dependent on God for life, because it’s only by his Spirit living in us that we can put a stop to what’s killing us and start to get a life at all.

In other words, life isn’t what we make it, life is what the Spirit makes it. But that’s wonderful, because the Spirit can do a lot better job of our lives than we can, and we can also save a bundle of money not having to buy all those self-help books telling us we’re not doing enough, or not doing all we can do to make our lives better. We can also dump any works-based religion peddling the same idea, too….(continued in Part 9..)

Rewarded according to our works? (part 7)

The staggering thing about being rewarded according to our works, is that we’re rewarded for believing Jesus did all our works for us! It’s in Romans 4:24-25. God raised Jesus for our justification, and when we believe that, that’s when the righteousness we need for our eternal reward is credited to us.

All God needs, then, is our belief. He then translates our belief into righteousness. This is the amazing ability God has. Here we are, dead in the water, but here’s God “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were,” verse 17. God can take what’s dead and call it righteous! He can take a dead, useless sinner whose works amount to nothing, who falls far short of contributing anything toward his eternal future, and credit him with righteousness for nothing but belief.

Belief in what, though? Belief “in him, who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,” verse 24. And what did raising Jesus from the dead accomplish? He “was raised to life for our justification,” verse 25. It isn’t our works that justify us or make us righteous and acceptable to God, it’s his works. God did all the works we’d ever need for our reward in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Why would anyone think their works are necessary, then, when God’s already done all that’s needed for us? He didn’t need our works anyway, because he’s able to love us while we’re yet sinners (Romans 5:8).

What does one make of that, then? Well, hopefully, the same thing Paul made of it: “Therefore,” Romans 5:1, “since we have been justified (notice that’s past tense?) through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We can relax. We are at peace with God. Why? Because we’re already justified. How? By faith. By simply believing that all the righteousness we need for our eternal reward has already been done for us. It doesn’t depend on anything we do whatsoever. Why not? Because, Romans 4:16, “the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring.”

God wanted to give us our eternal reward, he didn’t want us working for it. He wanted it to be his promise to us, and a promise he could guarantee purely by his grace and not on any works from us. And all God asks of us is to believe that. You could say, then, that rather than rewarding us according to our works, he rewards us according to our belief, because once we believe him that’s when the doors to eternity swing open, Romans 5:2…(continued in Part 8..)

Rewarded according to our works? (part 6)

It still stands that we are rewarded according to our works but, Romans 4:13, “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”

God promised Abraham he would inherit the world. That was his reward. And to get that reward Abraham had to be righteous. But there wasn’t a law, or set of laws, or a system of rules, rituals and religious duties in the Bible or anywhere else that would give Abraham the righteousness he needed. That righteousness could only come by faith.

Paul explains how this works. God made this amazing promise to Abraham, that one day the whole world would belong to him and his offspring. But Abraham didn’t have any offspring! He and his wife were way beyond their child-bearing years so the chances of having any kids by natural means were zero. But, verses 20-21, Abraham “did not waver through unbelief…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” And because he didn’t waver it was “credited to him as righteousness,” verse 22. All the righteousness Abraham needed to receive his reward was placed in his account, payment in full, and all he did for it was simply believe in God’s power to pull off what he promised.

This is how it worked for Abraham, and this is how it works for us too, because we’re now Abraham’s offspring and therefore heirs to the same promise God gave him (verses 16-17). What applied to Abraham applies equally to us – which is exactly what Paul says in verses 23-24 – “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone but also for us.” All the righteousness we would ever need to receive our reward is placed in our account, payment in full, too. When? When we too believe what God promised. And what did God promise? Verse 25, that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

You mean there’s nothing we do for our eternal reward because it’s all been done for us by Jesus? That’s what Paul is saying. But to ask “How can that be?” would be the same as Abraham asking “How can I have kids when I’m a hundred years old?” It all comes down to belief. God’s promise to us seems as impossible as the promise made to Abraham but “God calls things that are not as though they were,” verse 17. God can pull anything out of a hat. And because Abraham believed that, he was given the righteousness he needed for eternity. So are we…(continued in Part 7).

Rewarded according to our works? (part 5)

God deals a crushing blow to the pride and hypocrisy that plagues all religions in Romans 3:21 – “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

That’s great news because it does away with all the rules, rituals and religious duties we create that make hypocrites of us when we don’t live up to them – and it frees us from the pride that being good at religion creates, too. God does away with all of that for us by providing a righteousness “apart from law.” We don’t have to do anything to get it.

Why not? Because, verse 22, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” It comes through faith, not obedience. But faith and belief in what, though? Verse 24, that we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We are justified (made totally acceptable and righteous in God’s eyes) by what Jesus Christ did for us, not by what we do. Because of what Christ did, we have all we need for eternity, given to us freely by God’s grace, not our works. And if we believe that, then this righteousness from God is given to us. We don’t have to do anything to earn it or work for it, it’s a gift, given to us for simply believing it’s true.

And the first person to experience this was Abraham. In Romans 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” All Abraham had to do was believe God, and his belief was counted as righteousness. It’s an amazing deal: Simple belief equals total righteousness. How can you beat that? So what was it that Abraham believed? The same thing King David believed, verse 7, that “God credits righteousness apart from works.” And what did David understand “righteousness” to mean? Verses 8-9, our “transgressions are forgiven,” our “sins are covered,” and God will never count them against us, and all freely given to us for nothing but believing it’s true.

It’s all there in the Old Testament, too. Romans 4:7-8 is a direct quote from Psalm 32:1-2, and being “justified by faith” is in Habakkuk 2:4, too. It’s just as Paul said in Romans 3:21 that the “Law and the Prophets” talked of this righteousness from God apart from law. This has always been God’s plan, to give us everything we need for eternity without us ever having to work for it. So how, then, are we rewarded for our works, if our works aren’t even necessary?!…(continued in Part 6)

Rewarded according to our works? (part 4)

The gospel was never about God rewarding us according to our works, or about God giving us eternal life based on our efforts and obedience, because we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23. It’s still true, though, that eternal life depends on good works, Romans 2:6-7 – no good works, no eternal life – but it can’t be our good works because “there is no one who does good, not even one,” Romans 3:12, and “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” either, verse 20. Our goodness and our obedience will never be good enough for eternity.

So how are we going to produce the good works necessary for eternal life if we can’t produce them ourselves? Paul answers that in Romans 1:17 – “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.” The gospel isn’t about the righteousness God expects from us, it’s about the righteousness that comes from him. The righteousness required for eternal life doesn’t depend one bit on human effort or obedience to the law, Romans 3:21. Instead, “this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” verse 22.

But why did God do it that way? Why couldn’t we make ourselves good enough for eternal life or obey enough to be righteous? Because we’d boast that’s why, verse 27, just like the Jews did in Paul’s day. They bragged about their relationship with God (2:17), bragged about the law (23) and bragged about being circumcised. But that’s what religion based on human works does to people. It feeds our pride. It convinces us we’re guides for the blind and lights for those in darkness (19), that we’re instructors of the foolish and teachers of infants (20). It can even make us think we’re above our own laws and we don’t need to keep them ourselves (21-23) – which brings scorn upon God in the eyes of others (24), because they see us as blatant hypocrites.

Islam is a classic example. It boasts of its superiority as a religion of peace but it doesn’t practice peace. It condemns the rest of humanity as nothing but scum and infidels, justifying violence, intimidation and suicide bombers. Result? They bring scorn upon themselves and the name of Allah for their blatant hypocrisy. It’s tragic.

But that’s also what basing our reward according to our works does to Christians. It feeds pride and creates hypocrisy, which God clearly knew it would so he provided a better way of producing goodness that prevents both pride and hypocrisy….(continued in Part 5)