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Your Eternal Reward

What We Might Gain

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 23, 1997

Selected highlights from this sermon

God initially made humanity to rule over Earth, but Adam and Eve disobeyed and the result was the Fall—sin entering into all of mankind. Yet the Father sent a “second Adam” —His Son, Jesus Christ, and unlike the first Adam, He didn’t fall.

God is working among His people right now, preparing us to be helpmates, co-rulers, and co-heirs with His Son., and our inheritance and rewards (not our salvation) will be based on deeds done in this life. 

This past week a letter arrived on my desk and I would like to simply read it to you. It says, “I know someone who has appeared in several X-rated films. Since then she has become a Christian, but she worries that since these films are irretrievable and have been distributed all over the world that the harm they are doing will continue even after she dies. Will this interfere with her salvation? In other words, how will she be able to share in the joy of heaven while, as a direct result of what she did on earth, others continue to sin? She feels that she will be leaving a legacy of evil. Can you offer her any words of consolation?”

And the answer is yes. Based on the promises of God I believe that I can offer her some words of consolation. First of all, it will not interfere with her salvation. Jesus Christ died for sinners. He died for big sinners, people who do terrible things. And now that she has become a Christian and believed in Christ, Christ’s sacrifice has been applied to her, and she has been reconciled to God no matter how terrible the things are that she did.

In fact, I know somebody who left a far worse legacy of evil, and I believe that he was saved, and that was Adam. Have you ever thought of that? I mean here Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree, and they left a whole legacy, a whole earth (a whole universe) of evil, and yet God sewed fig leafs for them so that they might recognize that there is clothing available, symbolic of Christ’s coming.

What about the second question? Can she have joy in heaven? Can she have rewards? That’s the implication. Can she be happy in heaven? And the answer is yes because when she gets to the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ she will be judged on the basis of what she did when she received Christ as Savior - since that time, what she did as a child of God. And therefore, it is possible (I’m not entirely sure) that this woman, with all of her sense of guilt and shame, may someday get to rule with Christ.

As you know, this is another message in a series on the Judgment Seat of Christ, sometimes referred to as the Bema because that is the Greek word that means judgment seat. And I need to remind you, as I have to from time to time during this series, that God is someday going to separate all of humanity into two large camps. There will be people coming from all the nations of the world and all the different religions of the world, from all the different parts of the globe, and they will be resurrected, and they will come to what is known as the Great White Throne Judgment. The issue will not be whether they go to heaven or hell. They will be in the lake of fire. The issue will be the judgment of what they did with what they knew so that their punishment will be commensurate with justice.

On the other hand, there will be another large company of those who fled to Christ and received His refuge and His forgiveness, and they will come to what is known as the Judgment Seat of Christ. And that’s the topic of this series of messages.

I must also distinguish between a reward and a gift. Salvation is absolutely free. Jesus Christ died for sinners and He offers us that gift freely. But if we wish to be rewarded, if we wish to have additional rewards other than the great reward of heaven, then, of course, we must be faithful here on earth. He who has been given few things and has been faithful will be given many things in the life to come. Faithfulness is therefore important and required.

Now there is a difference then between a gift and a reward. Let’s suppose that your employer came to you at the end of the week, handed you your check on Friday and said, “Now I want you to know that this is a gift.” You wouldn’t take that too kindly, would you? Now he might be saying that sarcastically because he’s saying in effect, “You didn’t do a thing all week. I’ll give it to you as a gift.” No, but if he comes to you and says, “We have an incentive and now you have a reward,” you have (quote) earned it. Now let me be very clear to say that when God rewards us it is not as if He owes us the reward because He gives us so much more. It is a gift of generosity and immeasurable grace, as we shall see today, but it is, nonetheless, compensation for faithfulness on earth.

The title of the message today is What Can We Gain? We’re going to begin on earth, and we’re going to end in heaven, and in effect I’m going to be telling you a love story that comes in three acts. And today I’m going to ask you to turn to a few passages of Scripture. Some of them I will quote because we are going to begin in the book of Genesis and we are going to end in the book of Revelation. I’m so glad that you decided that you had nothing to do this afternoon. (laughter)

A love story in three acts! The first story is that of Adam and Eve. Would you take your Bibles and turn to Genesis 1? This is important for you to see it in the text. God says beginning in verse 26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them (plural) have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea (and so forth).’”

The creation of man is the first stage in this drama. God created man in His own image, and after His own likeness. He did not create angels that way, and He did not create animals that way, because the image of God means not only that God gave to man some communicable attributes such as personality and truth and justice. But also God gave to man a capacity for God-likeness that no other creature has (period). And when God created man, He created a unique being, and as a result of that we have what is known as family. We have aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters, and this is going to become very important when we understand God’s side of the love story.

And now let’s look very briefly at the creation of man himself. You know the story. I’ll just simply assume it. The Lord God took some mud. Adam was the first mud man apparently. Somebody has said somewhat unkindly that he was “the first dirty old man,” but that’s not really found in the text. And God took him and he created this mud man and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. God began to give him all of the animals. The animals came to him and he began to name them. But it says, “But there was no helpmeet found that was suitable for him.”

Despite the fact that angels were accessible, Adam walked with God in the cool of the day. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I shall find a helpmeet for him.” So God begins a search for a bride for Adam. And of course the bride could not be found among the animals or the angels, and God said, “If you are going to have one, Adam, I’m going to have to create her.” And so the Lord God caused Adam to sleep, and the Lord God took from Adam a rib, and femininity was separated out of masculinity and Eve was created, and she is now woman. And Adam said, “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman.”

What in the world were Adam and Eve supposed to do? And they were in the world, but what were they supposed to do? Well the answer is they were to rule. God said, “Adam, I want you to rule over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,” and what was Eve supposed to be doing? She was to be a co-ruler. Very important! I read the text a moment ago. Did you catch it? It says, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and let them rule.” God said, “Adam, I want you to have a wife. I want to find a bride for you. And she is going to be at your side as a co-ruler, as a joint heir, and you will have the opportunity of ruling over everything that I have created. It is yours.”

Well, you know the rest of the story, of course. Adam and Eve sinned. As a result the image of God was not erased but it was effaced, and as a result of that the human race was plunged into sin. The whole story of iniquity has been written throughout the centuries, and everyone who is born and grows up in the human family – all of us - have some of the features of those who are dysfunctional, because we have imperfect parents, we are imperfect parents, we give birth to imperfect children who look like us, and unfortunately often act like we do. End of drama! That’s stage one.

Let’s go on to stage two. God had a Son, and He is known in the Bible as the second Adam. Whereas the first Adam took the image of God and messed it up, this Son is the perfect image of the invisible God. In fact, He is not just a replica of God like Adam was. He is God. He is the visible image of God, a very God. And God says, “I’m going to begin a new race. Adam is still going to be the head of the human race, but I’m going to begin a new race with Christ as the head, the second Adam. And I’m going to seek a helpmeet suitable for Him. Just like I found Eve for Adam, I am going to find someone who can sit at His side, someone who can rule with Him, someone who can be a part of what He is doing, and who will be to Him an eternal companion.” And so what God says is, “I’m going to reach into the mire of sin and I’m going to redeem some of these people who fell, and I’m going to transform them into a bride for my Son.”

Now when you stop to think of it, because of the fact that you and I are born under Adam’s legacy, we’re all born sinners, as the Bible is very clear about. And we are born, the Scripture says, out of corruptible seed. We are not only sinners, but we decay and we die.

I marvel at all the religious people that I meet on airplanes, or friends in the neighborhood, who somehow think that they are going to get into the kingdom of heaven, and they have never been born again. It’s a marvel to me when Jesus said that no man can enter the kingdom of heaven unless he should be born again of the Spirit. But the Scripture says that when we are born again (and by the way, the Scripture says that unless we are born again we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven) we are now born of incorruptible, eternal seed. We have been made partakers of the divine nature. We have now been made one in Jesus Christ and we now constitute what is known as the bride – the church that is being trained to be an eternal companion for God, the Son, and a helpmeet that is suitable for Him that God is preparing for His Son, whom He loves so intensely. Now when you stop to think of it you realize that God has something in mind for us that is absolutely mind-boggling.

What is God doing today? We’ve talked about the past – Adam and Eve. We’re talking about the present – God creating this new person, this bride. You may say, “Yes, but there are millions of us who are redeemed.” Yes, but we will have, when we sit with the Son, a shared consciousness. Paul says, “As the body has many members, and yet it is one body, in the very same way, though there are many people who constitute the body of Jesus Christ, yet in effect there is only one body, and there is only one bride, and that is made up of believers – the church.

Turn to another passage, and that is Ephesians 5. We use this in weddings all the time, but maybe it will take on now a new meaning. Beginning in verse 25 the Apostle Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives (and by the way, the rustle of leaves as you are turning to this passage is music to my ears), as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her (Oh, that’s what He’s doing. Yeah, he’s sanctifying us.), having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (He is purifying her.), so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

That’s what God is doing. He is purifying the church because actually, even though we are spoken of as the bride, we are now really only engaged to the Lord Jesus Christ, and some day we shall be married to Him. There is a marriage ceremony that is coming. There is a marriage supper to which we have been invited.

But now as a parenthesis, just think about this. The relationship that I have with my wife is to mirror the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church. What is Christ doing to the church? He is loving her. He gave himself up for her. He redeemed her. He is washing her. He is cleansing her, and he is making her pure and clean, and that’s the responsibility that we as husbands have toward our wives. We are to honor her as Christ is honoring us. That’s why Peter said, “Husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, that you may honor her as a fellow heir of the grace of life that your prayers will not be hindered.”

What a picture they are supposed to be in the world. And that’s why marriage is so important. That’s why our relationships with our wives are so important. It’s because God says, “On earth I want a visible representation of what is going to take place some day in heaven as I am preparing the bride to rule with Me.”

Alright! We’ve looked at the past – Adam and Eve, and they blew it. We’ve looked at the present – the church and Jesus Christ. What about the future, and how does this tie in with rewards? Well, let’s just realize now that because of what Jesus Christ did for us, this gives us an incredibly high honor. Don’t be confused about the fact that there are many different images, and many different relationships that are spoken of, all of them conveying an understanding as to what kind of a relationship we have with God. For example, we are the bride, but we are also Christ’s brother.

Now let’s think this through very carefully. When Jesus Christ came to Bethlehem, He did not take upon Himself the nature of angels. He did not take upon Himself the nature of an animal. He took upon Himself the nature of man. He became one with us.

Take your Bibles now and turn to the book of Hebrews, another very important passage for us to look at, because it will help us put all the pieces together. And I know that there are different pieces to this message, but it is all coming together. Just hang on. You’ll notice it says in Hebrews 2:10, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” You notice that God had one Son, namely Christ, and He said, “I want many sons who are going to be just like Him.” Like him to the extent that a creature can be like the creator! Like him to the extent that the finite can be like the infinite!

And so Christ comes, and God gets many sons. Verse 11 says: “For he who sanctifies (that is Christ) and those who are sanctified (that is us), all have one source.” That’s what makes us brothers. And you see someone and you say, “You know, I’m the brother of So-and-So.” Well, how can you claim that? Well, you’ve got a common father.

We have the same Father for which reason Christ is not ashamed to call us brothers. Wow! Do you realize that? We may be ashamed of Christ, and if we are, He says He will be ashamed of us. That’s going to be mentioned in another message in which I’m going to be speaking on this topic. But for now let’s concentrate on this. There are many families that have a renegade brother, and they don’t want to even know that he exists. “We’ve written him off. He doesn’t exist. When somebody brings his name to our attention, we just deny him. We say we’ve never met the guy because he’s such an embarrassment to the family.” Well aren’t we an embarrassment to God’s family? Oftentimes we are.

Jesus said, “I’m not going to deny you, and I’m not ashamed of you because you were purchased at high cost. We have the same Father. I am a Son. You are a son.” That makes us brothers – brothers of Christ.

Now let’s take this just a little bit further along the way. If we are really brothers of Christ, what does that mean for the future? Well, it says that we are heirs of God’s fortune. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. I mean, it only makes sense. When a father dies and the will is read, the brothers share equally. Now in this case the father doesn’t die, but the kids die. We die. And after we go to heaven the will is read and Jesus is the heir of all things, and that includes quite a bit, come to think of it. The heir of all things! And we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Him. What a thought!

Well you say, “What does that all mean? Okay, I’m getting this inheritance. If I unpack it what’s in the box?” I don’t know everything that is in the box. I know a few things that are in the box, but not everything that is in the box because we only know so much in this life. But let me tell you about a few things. First of all, you get an indestructible body, one that is no longer subject to pain and illness and heartache and grief, and one that no longer succumbs to cancer and all those other awful things. You get an indestructible body and you are guaranteed immediate access and living in the very presence of God.

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him.” After all we are brothers. “We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” That’s part of what you see when you open the box, when the will is read, and when we get our heir-ship and our inheritance.

What else is in this box? Well, now we have to tread carefully because now we’re soaring all the way to heaven. And now we need to be able to ask God to help us to try to understand this, because words are one thing but revelation and understanding are another because here all words begin to fade away in light of what God has revealed.

There’s the possibility of ruling with Christ – right next to Him. Listen to this verse: “He who overcomes,” says Christ, “to him I will grant to sit on my throne, even as I overcame and sat on my father’s throne.” Wow! Now let’s run through that a little more slowly, Lord. You’ve said it, but we are humans and we can’t grasp it. “He who overcomes, to him I will grant to sit on my throne, just as I overcame and I’m sitting on my father’s throne.”

Oh Lord Jesus, if you are sitting on the throne of your Father because you are an overcomer, does that then mean that if we are overcomers we will sit on the throne of God? Is that what it really means? Have we come finally to the limits of our understanding regarding God’s incredible matchless grace? Now don’t tell me that I’m drifting into the New Age here. I don’t need any more letters than I’m already getting, and most of the letters are good by the way. But I don’t need anymore.

Listen! Let me say it to you again. We are going to be as much like Christ as it is possible for the finite to be like the infinite, and the creature to be like the creator. The gap between Christ and us will always be infinite because we are always undeserving creatures, but still this is what God’s Word says is granted to overcomers. That’s the possibility if we are faithful.

Interestingly, ruling with Christ in the Bible is usually (maybe not always, but usually) tied to faithfulness. Listen to this passage taken from 2 Timothy 2:11-13. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” If we deny Him, He will deny us. As I mentioned, I’m going to be discussing those kinds of passages in another message. But just for a moment, focus on this phrase. “If we endure we shall also reign with Him.”

Oh, how do we boil all this down in a manageable package? I’d like to draw three conclusions. First of all, all believers will have some inheritance. They will be in heaven with a glorified body. They will have proximity to God the Father. They will enjoy and they will inherit God. All believers will have that. That’s what comes with going to heaven. That’s part of the package of heaven.

But then a second observation is this: God’s present agenda is to train the bride to be a companion for the Son. That’s what the whole agenda is. You know, what is God doing in this world with His people? What does it say in Ephesians? He is cleansing. He is washing. He is sanctifying. He is putting the church through trials. He is purifying. Why? It’s because he says, “I want somebody to sit on the throne with My Son who is a companion to Him,” and in order to do that you have to be an overcomer, and overcomer means training. And that’s God’s agenda.

And I don’t think that all will get to rule with Christ, or at least we can say that not all will get to rule over a large area. Some will have small areas of rule. This can be shown in other parables that Jesus Christ taught. Why? It’s because this is the training ground. This is the college entrance exam so that God will know where to slot us in the Kingdom, and where we will sit when Jesus Christ sits on His throne.

Now I told you that the church has been engaged to Christ. We are engaged. The marriage hasn’t really yet happened but we are going to be at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where it’s going to get nailed down. And whenever you think of weddings, what do you think about? Well, I know what the bride thinks about in addition to that guy that she’s going to marry. She always thinks of what she’s going to be wearing.

Now you take your Bibles, and this is the last passage I’ll ask you to turn to. Turn to Revelation 19 where we get to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and here we find out what we can be doing today to prepare for eternity. Chapter 19, verses 7-8 say, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Is this the righteousness of Christ? No! The righteousness of Christ is given to us freely when we believe in Christ. In order to make it to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb you need two suits of clothes. The first is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is given to us as a free gift, and even at this moment some people listening to this message have never grasped that and received Christ as their own. I urge you to do that. That is the first garment that you must have, or else you won’t even appear here. You will be at The Great White Throne Judgment.

But there’s a second garment, and that is the righteous acts of the saints – plural. What is it that we are doing in this life? Why all the hassle? Well, we are sewing a dress so that we have something to wear at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. You say, “Well, are there some Christians who are going to show up and they’re going to be embarrassed because they are scantily clad?” Yes, maybe, because John said you should live in such a way that you are not ashamed at His coming.

I can’t believe that throughout all of eternity those who have been faithful and have loved God and have been sowing so faithfully and making this garment of righteous acts will be looked at differently than selfish Christians who lived their whole lives just for themselves with a ticket to heaven but have really no real righteous acts to speak of to hand to the Savior, with which cloth may be made by which they may be clothed.

Last night I called my mother. She said, “You know, it’s been so long since we’ve heard from you, I wanted to call the church and see if you are still living.” Isn’t that embarrassing? I won’t let that happen again. I said, “Mom, we’re still living.” She told me about a woman who died at the age of 91. And I have only one clear memory of this woman. I didn’t know her well but I have just one clear memory, and that was when I was in college I knew some of her children. And I went over to her place to pick something up, and I’ve long since forgotten what it was, but she came to the door and her whole face was just flushed with tears. And she apologized and she said, “I am so sorry that I’m crying, but you just caught me in the middle of my morning prayers for my family.” Oh wow!

Her husband died years later. She’s been a widow for 25 or 30 years, and then about ten days ago she went on to glory. I know how faithful she was. I knew that she volunteered in the church. I knew the prayers. She had a wayward son and she prayed that boy back into the fold. And I couldn’t help but think yesterday, because this message was on my mind, that that lady is going to have lots to wear at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. She’ll do okay.

If you begin to probe and to say, “Now what is it really that Christ is going to be looking for?” and as I mentioned, hopefully that will be a separate message on what it is that really does merit the great reward except to say that generally obviously acts of generosity. Jesus said on one occasion that if you give to people who can’t give back to you that’s a big reward. And our attitude with which we serve one another, and the way in which we conduct ourselves when everything seems to be against us, that merits great reward.

Three weeks ago I called a family whom I knew back in Canada. You know, there are some people who just seem to be destined for trouble and trials. Here’s a man and his wife whom I’ve known for many years. They had two children whom I’ve known also. The boy died about two or three years ago after terrible, terrible suffering from cancer. And yet before he died, he died so victoriously that he did not want to be in a room alone. Whenever they wanted to put him in a room, he always said, “No, give me a roommate,” because he wanted to witness to the person who was next to him in the room.

But anyway, he died. In fact, I’ll never forget that he asked me to call him. And we spoke together, and his last words to me were, “I’ll see you in heaven.” And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

They had a daughter who suffered with cancer for easily 15 years. I visited her this summer. She was just totally out of it, just hardly connecting, and now this poor lady, after all those years of suffering, finally died about three weeks ago. And now the husband, the father, is down to 125 pounds and he’s in his last days. And that’s why I called him – to speak with him and to pray with him.

And then I talked to the wife who has endured all of this. What do you say? I didn’t say it this way because it sounds too flippant, so I couched it much more nicely. But in effect I said, “Ella, don’t you realize that this is intended to increase your eternal joy and happiness?” That’s what it’s all about. There is no other purpose but that God says, “This is the training because I am shaping a bride who is fit to rule with me.” And you can’t be an overcomer unless God dumps all these things on your plate that you have to overcome. And most of us spend all of our lives thinking of ways to make sure that there is nothing in life that we have to overcome, because we want to sail on through. And God says, “I’m not going to let you sail on through, because My purpose is an eternal one. I want a helpmeet suitable for My Son. And the bride needs training. The bride needs cleansing. The bride needs sanctification, and that can’t happen without trouble unfortunately. And so that’s what it’s all about. It’s about the eternal happiness of the saints and getting to rule with Christ. 

I conclude today by saying that the person I’m becoming today is preparing me for the person I will be throughout all of eternity. That’s the name of the game. There’s no evidence that in heaven you can work your way up. There might be, but it’s not been revealed to us. Only faithfulness on earth here will determine your reward, and once that reward has been granted, and your position in the Kingdom has been made clear, that is where you are going to be. And maybe there’s a way in which you can somehow change your status, but if there is, God has not seen fit to tell us that. All that He has said to us is this: All of us shall stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give account for the deeds done in the body to be recompensed, whether those deeds are good or bad, as we mentioned in the last message. And that’s it! And suddenly all the pretense is gone, and all the hassle is gone. All the people whom we honor that God doesn’t honor are gone. Finally everything comes and there’s just nothing but bare reality. Nothing more! And God says, “The whole purpose is that you might rule with my beloved Son.”

You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day, by the deeds that you do, by the words that you say. Men read what you write, whether faithless or true, saying, “What is the gospel according to you?”

Let us pray.

Our Father, we want to thank You today for the prospect (though we do not grasp it, we have just said it) of ruling with Christ forever. And to think that those who have been faithful, Your Word says, will be granted to sit with You on Your throne! We pray today, Father, that You might finally help us to see what it’s all about, and what You are trying to do. Many who are listening to this message have suffered greatly, and yet we read in Your Word that if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him. And we pray today, Lord, that You shall grant us the ability to see beyond all the superficial things to that which is eternal. To think that we can gain heaven is wonderful! To think that we could gain ruling with Christ is beyond our imagination! Work in our lives to bring us to the point where there are gold and silver and precious stones that will endure the flames. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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