Are There Degrees of Reward in Heaven?

Degrees of reward in heaven are not often the subject of contemporary sermons. They were, however, a constant theme in the sermons of Christ. He explicitly pointed to degrees of reward that will be given for faithful service, self-sacrifice, and suffering. Indeed, the canon of Scripture is replete with references to rewards. While we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, what we do now counts for all eternity. First, it is significant to note that in His most famous Sermon, Christ repeatedly referred to rewards. In concluding the Beatitudes He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12). Christ continued His message by warning the crowd that if they did their acts of righteousness to be seen by men, they would not receive a reward in heaven (Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18). Jesus Christ’s message is crystal clear. Jesus exhorted His followers to store up “treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Moreover, Jesus made essentially the same point in His parables. Furthermore, the canon of Scripture communicates about degrees of reward given in the resurrection. Hank Hanegraaff, the host of the 𝘉𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘈𝘯𝘴𝘸𝘦𝘳 𝘔𝘢𝘯 broadcast and the 𝘏𝘢𝘯𝘬 𝘜𝘯𝘱𝘭𝘶𝘨𝘨𝘦𝘥 podcast, notes that the basis of our salvation is the finished work of Christ, but Christians can erect a building of rewards upon that foundation. As Paul put it, “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his 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. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11–15). Paul here illustrated the sober reality that some Christians will be resurrected with precious little to show for the time they spent on earth: they “will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” This will be the lot of even the most visible Christian leaders whose motives were selfish rather than selfless. Conversely, those who build selflessly upon the foundation of Christ using “gold, silver, [and] costly stones” will receive enduring rewards. Indeed, a selfless Christian layman who labors in virtual obscurity will hear the words he has longed for throughout his life: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21). While deeds are our duty, not even the smallest act of kindness will go without its reward. Finally, degrees of reward in eternity involve both enlarged responsibilities as well as enhanced spiritual capacities. That is precisely the point Paul was driving at in one of his letters to the Corinthians. Using the analogy of athletics, he wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24–25). Thus, said Paul, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (vv. 26–27).






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