Eternal rewards. It’s a fascinating doctrinal topic with real-life and fictitious-speculative applications.
But on the surface it sounds strange: if Christians are all equal and saved by grace, why believe that some believers will have greater “rewards” in eternity based on what we do here?
Doesn’t this amount to a kind of “salvation by works” belief — if not for the Christian “job” itself, then for Christian-job bonuses?
Since my salvation is by grace alone without any reference to works (Rom. 11:6), then are we saying that the added bonus we receive after the resurrection is by works?
This is very difficult, but I do believe our effort produces these rewards. I also believe that, in some mysterious way, it is really God’s grace that is the ultimate cause. While works are necessary for these rewards, in the end we will see that it was the grace of God alone that fueled our works. Therefore, God is the one who ultimately receives the glory. This is why when we are in the presence of Christ, we will cast our crowns at his feet, in recognition that he was responsible for all our rewards (Rev. 4:10).
After all, saying “some people will have more rewards on New Earth” is just another way of saying “people will be different on New Earth.” And unless we’ve bought into a New-Age notion that redeemed people will lose their individuality and become amorphous spiritoid “blobs” in eternity, who would deny that people will still be who they are, in all their God-given uniqueness, for the rest of physical eternal existence?
To add some speculation by considering literal imagery about eternity, consider this.
If the New Earth is indeed a physical realm resurrected from spiritual death and cleansed of all sin — and it will be1 — then who would deny these possibilities:
- The Apostle Paul, because of the significant mission and sufferings to which God called him, would be the first to take a crack at, say, supervising a city for the glory of God?
- That I, not being a martyred missionary, might also rule a city, but only years later?
- That by such a time, while I’m ruling a city, the Apostle Paul could govern a state?
- And that when I get to govern a state, the Apostle Paul has his own planetary colony?
If nothing else, Biblical eternal rewards assure us that in all the limitless, joy-filled eons we await in the redeemed universe, those with more rewards will always be the pioneers.
And that is a wild hope to which every fantastic-imagination-minded Christian saint should aspire.
- For more on the physical nature of New Earth and why this matters to Christians, see the nonfiction book Heaven by speculative/nonfiction author Randy Alcorn. Personal note: this is one of the pivotal nonfiction works that set me free to delight in fantasy fiction. Alcorn himself is also a fantasy/sci-fi fan and this clearly shows in Heaven. ↩