I grew up in the church. My dad was a pastor since before I was even a zygote. My life growing up was marked by the rhythms of worship services, Sunday school, flannel graphs, church potlucks, and Vacation Bible School. Over the course of my life, I’m sure I have sat through more than a couple thousand sermons. And, of course, after so many, you’re guaranteed to hear at least a few repeat messages. And that’s okay, especially because I tend to be a slow learner. Over the course of time, these “reruns” have linked together to influence my thoughts and views and ways of life. God has used the apparent redundancy in order to establish and mature me over the years and give me a clearer understanding of Him and His ways.
As I think back, one of the messages that seemed to be repeated more often than some of the others was the one taken from Matthew 25. It’s here where Jesus talks about the end of the age and the kingdom of heaven and what the implications and expectations will be for us at that time. The passage contains a familiar phrase from Jesus Himself – one that every follower of Christ longs to hear someday: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
HEARING THOSE WORDS IN HEAVEN
I’m not sure why, but for some reason I grew up with the assumption that every Christian would hear Jesus speak those words to them one day. Perhaps I was so “familiar” with the words of the message that I became deaf to its meaning. It wasn’t until years later – and probably after a few more repeat messages – that some thoughts finally started to bubble up inside my brain:
Why would Jesus say those words to someone (even a Christian ‘someone’) who didn’t live a life worthy of them? That doesn’t make sense…
Is it possible to receive Jesus’ great gift of salvation and not respond to it appropriately with our lives? Yes, I believe it is…
If I were die today, would the life I lived translate into one that was wisely invested in the eternal things of Christ and His Kingdom? I sure hope so…
Hmmm… [stomach drops]
Matt, are you living a life worthy of all you’ve been given by God?
Will you get to hear Jesus say “well done” to you?
Will He reward the life you lived for Him?
After looking deeper into the Bible, I came to the sobering conclusion that not all Christians would hear Jesus say “well done” to them in heaven. This thought gave me chills, especially as I wondered if I might be one of them. After all, going to church and hearing lots of sermons and doing religious things doesn’t translate into “job well done”; actually living for Christ and His purposes does! Sometimes the most likely candidates are in the end the least likely ones. And I don’t want to be one of these!
We’ve been given a billion-dollar salvation. Sadly, many of us give a one-buck response.
COMING TO TERMS WITH REALITY
Though we may not realize the full weight of this now, we will eventually. But better sooner than later! For when we transition from this life to the next, it will be a mere blink (1 Cor. 15:52). Leaving one life and entering into another will happen simultaneously. In an instant, we will immediately be confronted by God’s awesome holiness, while at the same time embraced by His overwhelming love. And perhaps one of the reasons it will be so overwhelming for us is because we will in that moment realize how meager our response was to God’s abundant goodness and how little it reflected His glory. I’m sure there will be feelings of regret, wishing we had done more to honor Christ with the little 5-second lives we had been given. And despite what Eric Clapton said, I do think there will be some tears of sorrow in heaven, at least initially.
“CAN I REALLY EXPERIENCE LOSS IN HEAVEN?”
Some may wonder if this could really be true. Does the Bible really support this? Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15:
“10…each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
By the grace of God, the foundation of salvation has been laid for us through the work of Jesus Christ – his death as a payment for our sins on the cross, proven sufficient by his resurrection from the dead. This is His free gift extended to us – the result of which is eternal life and joy in the beauty of His presence (Ps. 16:11; 27:4)! Upon accepting all this through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), the Bible says that we now become builders. Do you remember “Zack, Zack, the Lego Maniac”? The mid-80’s Legos™ poster kid who wore hot pink sunglasses and cool sixth-grader clothes and was in all the commercials? Well, it’s kind of like that (and I’m sure I’m dating myself).
After accepting the gift of salvation, our life mission is this: to build wisely upon the foundation that He laid for us. The Apostle Paul gives us some examples of different types of building materials – some that represent eternal investments (gold, silver, costly stones), and others that don’t (wood, hay, straw). All of it will be tested with fire at the end of our earthly lives. Some stuff will survive the test, other stuff won’t. The passage goes on to say that if our building materials survive this test of fire, we will receive a reward. Part of this reward is the joy of having Jesus put his hands on our shoulders, look us in the eyes, and say, “Well done! You are a good and faithful builder!” All I can say is that if I get to hear this, it’s going to be an experience like none other! This alone is great motivation for living the life that God has called us to live (Eph. 4:1).
Unfortunately, there’s that proverbial “other hand”. If our building materials burn up with the test of fire, the Bible says that we will “suffer loss” – ouch. What exactly does this mean? First off, we can’t confuse the prize with the gift. The passage assures us that our salvation (the gift) is not at risk here (v. 15), but if we do not build wisely upon the foundation, there will be no reward (the prize). No “well done”, no crowns. And if crowns are not given, then crowns cannot be cast at the feet of Jesus on that Day of worship. We will be left empty-handed with nothing to give back to the One who gave us everything. What a startling and sobering thought! May that not be any one of us!
The fire does not lie – what survives the test is what we will have to show for ourselves. Will we be considered a faithful steward of all that we were given? The most incredible thing about all this is that, even if we lack in faithfulness, the door to heaven still flings wide open. Amazing…
“He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (v. 15)
“If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13)
May this by no means serve as an excuse for us to not build! Rather, let it serve as motivation to build like crazy as we anticipate that face to face encounter. And may we do it out of joy because we love God!
THE LIFE GOD REWARDS
Salvation is the consequence of what we believe on earth (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:9-10; John 3:16). Rewards are the consequence of how we behave on earth. The first is simply a matter of putting our trust in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. The second has to do with living a life worthy of what we’ve been given (building wisely on the foundation). This is the life that God wants to reward!
In Ephesians 4:1, Paul writes, “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Paul knew the importance of this because he knew that there would be a day of testing, and along with it a day of rewarding!
So what does a life rewarded by God look like? Jesus said that we will “bear much fruit” when we abide in him (John 15). This means that our lives will depend on him for sustenance and growth. It means that we will feed on his Word. It means that we will seek to understand what he calls us to do and then actually do it. It means that we will model our lives after his. When we study the teachings of Jesus as well as the rest of the New Testament, we see a portrait emerge that we can model our lives after. Bruce Wilkinson, in his book, A Life God Rewards, helps us visualize this portrait that God rewards:
- God will reward you for seeking Him through spiritual acts such as fasting and praying (Matt. 6:6; Heb. 11:6).
- God will reward you for submitting to your employer as a faithful steward (Matt. 24:45-47; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:22-24).
- God will reward you for self-denial in His service (Matt. 16:24-27).
- God will reward you for serving those in need in His name (Mark 9:41).
- God will reward you for suffering for His name and reputation (Luke 6:22-23).
- God will reward you for sacrifices you make for Him (Luke 6:35). In fact, Jesus said that every person who sacrifices to follow Him will be rewarded a hundredfold (Matt. 19:29)!
- God will reward you for sharing of your time, talent, and treasure to further His kingdom (Matt. 6:3-4; 1 Tim. 6:18-19).
As we abide in Christ, God will prompt and enable us to build wisely upon the foundation that has been laid for us. We will be rewarded, and God will be glorified. Faithful builders are people who understand all that they’ve been given by God. We’ve been given more than we can imagine. And to whom much is given, much is required. So be encouraged. Don’t lose heart. Run the race. Receive the prize. Give praise to God!