Gift or Reward?

Last Sunday, June 5, we discussed the assurance of eternal rewards in our Sunday Bible Study. I shared to the group an e-mail which i sent to a friend. I pray that, like the group, you would be blessed also.
Dear Bro. *****,

Grace in the Lord! Just the other day, you sent me this query through text messaging: “Is eternal life a gift or a reward?” I just hope that my answers would not lead to more questions but rather would satisfy your quest for truth.

1. A gift is different from a reward.
You don’t work for a gift. It is freely given. It is due to the graciousness of the giver and not due to the merits of the recipient. In other words, it does not matter whether you deserved the gift or not. You just receive it. “The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev. 22:17) [1]

Dr. John MacArthur himself wrote in his commentary to Romans, “By definition, all gifts are free, but charisma (free gift) refers to something given with special graciousness and favor, and therefore could also be appropriately rendered “grace gift.” … when used of that which is given by God …it refers to that which is given completely apart from human merit.”

But you work for a reward. You have to earn it. “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.” (Romans 4:4) In the Greek, the word wages is misthos, which means “dues paid for work or hire or reward.” Thayer said it is “used of the fruit naturally resulting from toils and of the rewards which God bestows, or will bestow, upon good deeds and endeavours.” In the Young’s Literal Translation, it goes like this: “and to him who is working, the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt”. Thayer adds that “[misthos] in both senses, [refers to] rewards and punishments.” Rewards, like punishments, are meted to those who deserve it. That is why “to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. (NASB [2])

2. In the Bible, eternal life or salvation is called a gift, not a reward.
It’s very clear in Romans 6:23,
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

MacArthur wrote regarding this passage: “By definition, a gift is free, but lest anyone underestimate the magnitude of God’s grace, Paul speaks of God’s free gift. Salvation cannot be earned by works, by human goodness, by religious ritual, or by any other thing that man can do. …If a person wants what he deserves—eternal death—God will give that to him as his just wages. And if person wants what he does not deserve—eternal life—God offers that to him as well, but as a free gift, the only source of which is Christ Jesus our Lord.”

3. Salvation is through faith only. Rewards are based on works.
You don’t receive eternal life or salvation through works. You just receive it by trusting Christ alone. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Works won’t save us. Faith in Christ will save us. But the faith that saves is the faith that works. Thus, works will follow. “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Now, in the judgment seat of Christ, a believer’s works will go through the test of fire. And if his works pass the test, he will receive a reward. “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 [misthos].” (1 Corinthians 3:11-14)

And in 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul clearly states: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” In the NASB it states: “that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done”. Note that we get the reward due to us. In short, what we deserve. The Good News Bible goes like this:
“We will each receive what we deserve, according to everything we have done”.

Note that one’s salvation is not at stake here if his works do not pass the test. “If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:15) This brings me to my next point…

4. We are secure in our salvation. But we have to safeguard our rewards.
We are “kept [preserved, NKJV [3]]
by Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1. See also 1:24-25; John 10:27-30; Romans 8:31-39). Our salvation is secure.

But we can lose our rewards. “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 3:1415). The Apostle John warned us: “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.” (2 John 1:8)

Randy Alcorn wrote in his book, In Light of Eternity, “Salvation is about God’s work for us. Rewards are about our work for God. Salvation is dependent on God’s faithfulness to His promises and on His mercy. Rewards are conditional, dependent on our faithfulness. Works do not affect our redemption. Works do affect our reward. Just as there are eternal consequences to our faith, so there are eternal consequences to our works.”

Well, I hope this is worth the wait. Feel free to respond through e-mail or text. Thanks for this opportunity that I can clarify my stance.

God richly bless you!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Eyriche Cortez

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture references are from the New International Version. For emphasis, some words or phrases are in bold letters.
[2] New American Standard Bible.
[3] New King James Version.


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