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3 Rewards for Believers

Trophies

by Dennis Pollock

Many evangelical Christians are not very comfortable with the idea of us receiving rewards as a divine response to particular actions that we do or the notion that our obedience can bring heaven's rewards. They know that salvation is all of grace and is the result of God's unmerited favor, and they have come to understand that God's blessings are to be received and not earned. Jesus did all the earning for us, and our job is to receive the grace that comes pouring forth from the Father's heart as a result of Jesus' perfect obedience. However when we stretch this to the point that we assume there is never anything for us to do to position ourselves to receive God's favor and blessings, we go too far.

Even in the matter of salvation there are things for us to do. Most of us would never tell the sinner that, in order to be saved, he can only sit around and hope that he is one of God's elect. We would tell him, as Peter, Paul, and the other apostles did in their day, that he must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We would further tell him to be baptized, just as the Scriptures command, and as Peter insisted upon when 3,000 men gave their lives to Jesus on that amazing Day of Pentecost which set the church in motion. Telling sinners to do these things does not somehow nullify God's sovereignty in the mystery of salvation. We are simply saying what the Bible says and commanding what our Lord has commanded. Sitting passively in one's sins and selfishness, and waiting and hoping for some mystical feeling and experience has never been the means by which men and women become "heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

And after we have entered the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus, there are certain promises of rewards that come in response to particular behaviors. In the sixth chapter of Matthew Jesus describes three different activities which He expects of His followers, and promises rewards for each of them. The three activities are these: giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. We are told that when we do these things properly and with right motivation, our Heavenly Father will see from His throne in heaven, and reward us accordingly.

If – Then

If you are still bothered by the idea of being rewarded for your behavior, consider this: the Bible is absolutely filled with promises and declarations that take on the nature of "if – then." In both the Old and New Testaments God tells His people that if they do certain things (or perhaps stop doing certain things) then He will bless. Indeed there are so many examples of this that we can only consider a few of them in this study. One of the most famous Old Testament examples of this is found in 2 Chronicles, and says:

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The word reward is not used here, but clearly God is promising a great blessing to the people of Israel if they will only do certain things. If they will humble themselves, pray, and turn from their sins, God will forgive them and bring healing and blessing to their nation. In other words, "If you do thus, I will do this."

Jesus tells us, "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom…" (Luke 6:38). In Jeremiah God says, "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). The implication in these promises is that if God's people don't do these things, then the blessings will not be given. If Israel doesn’t pray and turn from their sins, then God will not forgive their sins and heal their land. If we don't seek God with all our hearts, then we will not find Him. So, in a sense, these "if – then" promises are both a promise and a warning. If we do, He will, and if we don't, He won't.

The Father's Rewards

In His magnificent teaching in what we call "The Sermon on the Mount" Jesus takes a little time to promise His disciples rewards for certain things. The first reward is promised to those who share their money and possessions with the poor. Jesus declares:

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:1-4)

Often, when we read this, the prohibition against pride stands out so prominently that we forget that there is a reward promised to those who get it right and give quietly, without fanfare. This is one of those "if – then" promises. If you give to the poor, making sure you are doing it out of obedience to God and by faith, God will see and He will respond with a reward. Blessings will flow your way, some in this life and no doubt many will be stored up for the next life. In the Old Testament, God made it clear again and again that He wants His people to look out for the poor with verses such as: "He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given" (Proverbs 19:17). Jesus, who was and is the perfect expression of God the Father, showed the same concern, and desired that His followers do so as well.

After dealing with how and how not to minister to the poor, Jesus took up the subject of prayer, stating:

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5,6)

Once again Jesus speaks out forcefully against doing our religious acts with an eye on the applause of men, and once again He tells us that if we do this thing properly, with our hearts focused on God alone, there will be a reward for us. Putting it in simple terms, what Jesus is saying is that, if we pray properly, in the hidden place where only God notices us, things will happen in our favor that would not have happened had we never prayed. We will be rewarded.

KnockingIf only we truly believed this! If Christians could ever get to that place of understanding which fully recognizes that askers become receivers, seekers become finders, and knockers will sooner or later have doors swing wide open for them, you couldn't stop God's people from praying. Perhaps the most prayer-killing thought that Satan has ever used against believers is the notion that God is not really noticing you. Sure, He knows you're around, but He's got so much bigger things on His mind. Do you really think that God has time to consider whether to help you find your lost keys, or send you some extra money to get your car's oil changed, or heal you of your stiff neck? The answer, of course, is yes! He has all the time in the world to consider your every request, and being God, He can deal with your prayers and needs as though you were the only person alive in the whole world. Jesus tells us that He "sees in the secret place." When you go into your room, when you turn off your television, when you kneel down beside your bed or start talking quietly to Him in your recliner, He sees, He hears, and He cares.

After speaking of prayer, Jesus then moves to a third behavior which elicits heaven's reward. He addresses the concept of fasting, saying:

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16-18)

Once again we have a warning about doing religious duties to gain the attention of men, and once again there is the promise of reward for those who do it with an eye toward God. In this case Jesus is speaking about the practice of fasting, the deliberate abstention from eating for a meal, a day, or several days, so that we might focus more fully upon God. Of the three practices Jesus addresses, this is perhaps the most painful and the least practiced. The deliberate, protracted abstaining from food is something that nobody really enjoys, and is usually only practiced by spiritual people, desperate people, or those who are both. If you should find yourself contemplating doing some fasting, you would do well to remember that Jesus promised that it will be followed by reward when you do it to gain God's attention and not man's.

What We Do

It is significant that Jesus not only promises rewards for these things, but makes it clear that He expects that each of these activities will be practiced by those who call themselves His disciples.  He says, "When you do a charitable deed…," "when you pray…," and "when you fast…" He does not say, "If you fast or pray or do charitable deeds." He takes it for granted that those who have been born again through faith in Him and have received the very nature of God will make these things part and parcel of who they are and what they do. Hunters hunt, fishermen fish, mechanics fix cars, divas preen, commentators opine, and evangelical Christians pray, fast, and give money to the poor. And when we do these things, grace will be poured out and the windows of heaven shall be opened for us.

Not Wages Earned

There is a danger that we will somehow feel that we are earning these blessings; that they are our rightful due. This must never become our attitude. Giving to the poor, praying, and fasting are simply means which God has attached to the grace gifts He longs to pour out in our lives. When we are blessed as a result of employing these means, we must still recognize that it is all of grace.

When a man receives his paycheck from his employer, he does not fall down before him and thank him over and over for his wonderful grace and bountiful mercy. He knows he has earned that money; it would be illegal for his employer to withhold it. Not so with the Christian. Every good gift God pours out upon us is a grace gift. We do not deserve it; we have not earned it. Still we must position ourselves under the fountain of His grace, so that we can receive all that He desires to give. Praying, fasting, and giving to the poor are three ways we position ourselves to receive all the wondrous gifts that flow out of our Creator's compassionate and generous heart. Mixed with these actions is that mysterious element called faith. We trust in the goodness of God. And we believe that when our Lord tells us that rewards will follow our giving, praying, and fasting, He knows exactly what He is talking about.

No, He doesn't reward us because we deserve it.  But to provide a little extra motivation for His people to pray, fast, and give to the poor, He has created an unbreakable association between these things and His divine rewards and blessings. And He is always faithful to keep His promises.

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