God's Reward System

"In Him we also obtained an inheritance" 

Ephesians 1:11 

Under construction. Expected completion - October 2023

Click on a topic below to go straight to that item, or scroll past and start reading from Part 1

Part 1 - Everything We Do Has A Value

One of the biggest blessings while teaching at Angaza Bible College near Kamukuywa in Western Kenya was the presence of a good old fashioned blackboard, some chalk and a duster! I had forgotten how useful these devices are in explaining potentially tricky concepts.

Part of teaching “The Equality of Men and Women” involves teaching about God’s reward system, which comes into effect on Judgment Day.

We do this as an incentive to change behaviour now.

There’s a deeply ingrained belief in many parts of the world that God’s forgiveness cancels out wrong-doing permanently. Well, it does until death, anyway, but because there is no sin in Heaven there is no forgiveness there, either. Jesus pointed out that on Judgment Day we would have to answer for even the foolish words that we spoke on Earth. (Matthew 12:36)

In 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 Paul explains how God’s reward system plays out on Judgment Day.

This is on top of salvation!

He describes our works, the things of value that we do on Earth, as being equivalent to gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw. 

Everything good we do has a value according to this scale; handing a bottle of water to a thirsty person in a hot, dry place might have the value of wood, but in a moist, cool place that same act of kindness might have the value of straw.

I remember a brilliant, engaging young worship leader, a man, who told me some years ago that he was so far out of his comfort zone that he would vomit in fear in the toilet before he would go on stage. He would surely earn gold for the time that he served, whereas someone else to whom this was first nature might only receive wood for the same service. And so on.

In verse 13 Paul points out that each person’s work will be tested by fire on Judgment Day. Fire and sin go together, so the testing will pit our misdeeds against our good deeds and the fire, fueled by the things we have done wrong over the years, will consume the good works that were of lesser value (hay and straw), and perhaps, if the fire of misdeeds is big enough, even some of the wood-value good works will go as well.

While the verses have been there forever (well, nearly 2000 years!) this teaching is new in the areas of East Africa where I minister and, it seems, in much of the West as well. Mind you, at Bethel Church’s (Redding) Prophetic Conference in 2018 one of the speakers spoke of a church in Brazil which had grown from 5,000 to 25,000 in the space of 5 years by teaching God’s reward system.

My audience was not quite that big on Saturday morning - we had started with five students, and the number had doubled over the following hour. It was time to reveal Paul’s explanation to God’s reward system.

Part 2 - Can You Sin Your Way Out Of Eternal Life?

Paul sums up God’s reward system in 1 Corinthians 3 like this:

“This verse is an absolute,” I explained to the students, “it leaves no doubt that we cannot lose our salvation through what we do wrong. There are some people whose works, the things they did as ministry while alive, will not survive against the things they did wrong. They will lose everything that was meant to be their reward for Eternity, but Paul makes it very clear that no matter what, no matter how bad their actions were, they will not lose their salvation!

“This life,” I went on, “is a seed bed for Eternity. The sixty, seventy, ninety years that we live here on Earth are our one opportunity to set us up to do well In Eternity. There are people who have amazing ministries now, who are wealthy and have position, who will lose everything on Judgment Day because of the things they are doing wrong, but they won’t lose their salvation. Paul says that very clearly.

“There are others who have nothing in this lifetime, who are the poorest of the poor but who are doing the things God has set before them, who will be leaders in Eternity.”

One of the students at Aganza Bible College was a well dressed, precisely spoken man in his forties. Over time he had moved from the second row to the first row of chairs. To me that suggested that he was getting more interested and involved. He now spoke up.

“What about what Paul writes in Galatians 5:19-21?” And he read the verses:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Holy Spirit sets up these moments.

That phrase, ‘inherit the kingdom of God,’ has caused more strife, confusion and misunderstanding than almost any other concept in Scripture. Could I easily explain what it meant with some chalk and a blackboard?

Part 3 - Saved by Grace, but Unsaved by Bad Works??

“This idea is widespread in many parts of Christianity around the world,” I started to respond, “and is based on not understanding the difference between two similar but completely different expressions in the New Testament.

“The two expressions are figures of speech, words used to represent an idea, a truth. If we do a study of where and how these two expressions are used, rather than just taking a verse out of context from here or there,” I said, “we will see that they refer to two quite different things.

“‘Enter the kingdom’ represents getting saved or being born again, while ‘inherit the kingdom’ refers to the reward we receive on Judgment Day based on the things we did, good and bad, while we were still ‘in the body’, to use another of Paul’s expressions.”

The chalk and blackboard made it so much easier to block out the matching concepts.

“But before we look at these two expressions let’s look at salvation, being saved or ‘getting’ born again.

“Ephesians 2:8-9 is an absolute, unconditional definition of salvation: ‘For by grace are you saved through faith…’ Grace is a totally free gift from God that we have not earned, that we have not worked for. Faith is the act of believing something that you cannot see or have not experienced, where 'believing' includes the idea that there is a matching action.”

I had demonstrated grace right at the beginning of the week by randomly handing out a water bottle or two to students.

“‘It is the gift of God’, there’s that grace again, ‘not of works’, it’s not earned, it’s not based on what we do, ‘so that no one can boast.’” (To demonstrate works as distinct from grace I had required one or two people to answer a question before they could receive a water bottle as a reward.)

“What did Jesus say about getting saved? 

“In John 6:37 Jesus says, ‘Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.’ In other words, once we are saved there is nothing we can do after the event to lose that salvation. This is an absolute, unconditional statement - other, conditional statements have to be understood in this light. He is not saying, ‘Whoever comes to Me I will not reject.’ To reject means to never accept someone in the first place, but Jesus shows that He accepts all who come to Him, and from that time on they will never be cast out, either. Not ever, no matter what.

“Or we can look at Romans 11:29, another unconditional statement:

‘For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." The Amplified Bible adds, ‘He never withdraws them once they have been given.’ That's what 'irrevocable' means - 

But what is this salvation thing, whereby Jesus said that we ‘enter the kingdom’?

And how is that different from ‘inherit the kingdom’?

Part 4 - ”Only Flesh And Blood Can Enter The Kingdom”

Jesus used parables for a good reason: since the physical world resembles the spiritual world, and vice versa, in order to understand the invisible, spirit world, we can view the visible, physical world around us.

“Jesus explained salvation to Nicodemus like this: ‘Unless one is born again he cannot see (or experience) the kingdom of God.’ 

“In answer, then, to Nicodemus’ question as to how this could be, Jesus explains by describing the first and second births. Once again, this part is misunderstood by many denominations who think that verse 5 is referring to baptism in water - it isn’t. Instead, Jesus is describing the first, natural, human birth and then the second, spiritual birth through Holy Spirit.

“Here is the literal reading from the original Greek text, as found in The Concordant Literal New Testament: 

“‘Unless one is born out of water (the first, natural human birth) and of spirit (the second birth, by Holy Spirit) he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ Notice how He didn’t say, ‘Unless one is born again (out) of water and of spirit.’

“If you have ever witnessed a human birth (unfortunately in East Africa men are not normally permitted at the birth of their child) you know that the baby lives in amniotic fluid (like water) inside the womb, and before the baby is born the fluid is released, hence the expression that Jesus used to describe the first birth, ‘out of water’.

“In contrast, the second birth is just described as ‘of spirit’.”

We had some men who farmed animals and they could certainly testify that they now understood the use of the expression ‘born out of water’. The women present also knew what it meant.

“Jesus confirmed this meaning in the next verse when, still referring to the topic of being born again, He said, “What is born from the flesh (or ‘out of water’) is flesh; and what is born of the spirit (being ‘born again’) is spirit.” John 3:6. In other words, while human birth affects our body, the new birth, being born again, is not performed on our body but in our spirit. There was no need to “go back into the womb’ to do this as Nicodemus suggested

“And so, for someone to enter the kingdom of God they must be ‘flesh and blood’; that is, they must be human and alive in order to enter the kingdom.”

But there was one more aspect of being ‘born’ that we still had to cover.

Part 5 - Can A Person Get ‘Unborn’?

“Even if a baby only survives for a day or an hour in the womb, from the moment that the sperm fertilises the egg a new life is created and nothing, not even death, can undo that new creation - it exists before God. Just like the first creation in Eden, when God breathed into that first person and they became a living being, so that tiny, fertilised egg becomes a living being before God.

“If we have a child who doesn’t perform the way we would like or expect, can we send it back or ‘unbirth’ that child? 

“No, of course not. It exists, and if we don’t like the way it performs in life the only thing we can do is disown or disinherit that child. That means to cut it off and not pass on any inheritance that we might have for it, but it still always remains our child and a part of our family.

“No matter what actions we take against that unruly or wayward child there is no way for us to break the genetic connection that permanently joins us to them through human conception and birth. It’s the same with the new, spiritual birth - there are instructions for how we can enter the kingdom through being born again, but there are no instructions on how to exit the kingdom. It simply isn’t possible. 

“God Himself has said, ‘I will not, not, not leave you or forsake you,’ as recounted in Hebrews 13:5 (see The Amplified Bible, pre 1987).

“The act of being born again means that we are permanently adopted into the family of God (see Ephesians 1:5), and we actually become an entirely new creation in that process.That’s 2 Corinthians 5:17.”

Ephesians 1 shows the pattern of God’s salvation:

Before we could deal with ‘inheritance’, though, I had to cover ‘holy’.

Part 6 - What Is ‘Holy’, And How Do We Get There?

Ephesians 1 points out what God has done for us; it is not a recipe for what we have to do to earn salvation.

It would be great if we could be blameless before God (see verse 4b) in our own right, but no one in a human body except Jesus has achieved that. Instead, God has made us to be effectively blameless because we have chosen to be set apart (‘holy’) to Him. Thus ‘holy’, meaning to be ‘set apart’, is referring to our attitude rather than our behaviour.

Just like Abraham, who “believed God, and this was credited as righteousness with God,” we make many mistakes, but instead of having righteousness credited to us, we who first put our hope in Jesus (Ephesians 1:12) have now actually been made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Instead of having to work to be set apart and flawless in the sight of God, those two things are applied to us by God because of our relationship with Jesus.

I started to explain to the students.

“‘Holy’ is a word, much like  ‘grace’ and ‘righteousness’, which has had a lot of extra meaning attached to it over the years. A lot of people think that ‘holy’ is a word or concept that refers to our actions or the way we live, or perhaps it means ‘the presence of God’ or ‘the absence of sin’, but does it?

“Instead, ‘holy’, in both the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and in our Scriptures, the New Testament, basically means ‘set apart’. It refers to the fact that a person, place or object has been ‘set apart’ for some special purpose. ‘Holy’ also refers to our attitude, rather than our behaviour.

“This water bottle that I am using is ‘holy’ or set apart to me by removing the label. That makes it easier for me to find because while I am teaching I could put it down anywhere. Please don’t remove the label from your water bottle!”

(At one conference a pastor in the fourth row saw me remove the label from my water bottle and did the same to his. I guess he thought there was some spiritual significance in the action and wanted ‘my’ blessing for himself.  ;-)  It gave me a chance to explain ‘holy’ to the people there.)

“I want to take you now to the side of a mountain to the south of modern day Israel and east of Egypt. Here the man Moses, who had fled the royal household of Egypt 40 years earlier, was minding his father-in-law’s sheep.

“As he travelled along he noticed something unusual; off to one side a bush appeared to be on fire, but without being consumed. Moses decided to approach and investigate ‘this great sight’. 

“As he turned he heard the voice of God say, “Moses, Moses, do not come near; put your shoes off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is ‘set apart’. Note that all translations use the word ‘holy’ where I have used ‘set apart’.

More to come during October