Saturday, February 14, 2009

What Is The Reward For Good Works?

“…he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

A basic belief held by the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) under Herbert Armstrong is that our status in the Kingdom of God will be determined by our works. Mr. Armstrong taught that we cannot earn eternal life, but that we will be rewarded for our good works.

“Nowhere does the Bible teach earning your salvation by your own ‘WORKS.’ But what most do NOT understand is that the Bible DOES teach, over and over again, that we shall be REWARDED according to our WORKS!” (Herbert Armstrong, What Will You Be Doing In The Next Life?)

According to this belief system, the reward for good works is a higher position in the Kingdom.

“We are SAVED by GRACE, through Christ's FAITH — given as God's GIFT. But whatever ‘REWARD’ — status, rank, position, degree of GLORY — is conferred, once we are changed to immortality IN God's Kingdom, will be according to our ‘works’ in this present mortal life.” (Herbert Armstrong, What Will You Be Doing In The Next Life?)

As support for this belief – a belief still commonly held by those who fled the apostasy of the post-Armstrong WCG -- Mr. Armstrong quoted Matthew 16:27.

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

There is no question that when Jesus Christ returns He will reward us according to our works. The principle of “whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap” is confirmed throughout the Scriptures. The question is… WHAT is the reward? Is it a higher position in the Kingdom? Or is it something else?

He Shall Reward Every Man

It should be self evident that there is not only a reward for good works, but also a reward for evil works. Notice Matthew 16:27 again. When Jesus returns, He “shall reward every man according to his works.” Not just the righteous, but EVERY man. So the unrighteous will receive a reward, too.

And what is the reward of the unrighteous? Romans 6:23.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So the wages –the reward – for unrighteousness is death. Logically we might then expect the converse to be true. That is, we might expect the reward for righteousness to be life. And that is exactly what Paul was inspired to write in Romans 2:5-7.

…the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, ETERNAL LIFE.

The word render -- translated from the Greek, apodidomi -- is used here in the sense of recompense, or payment. This same Greek word, apodidomi, is translated elsewhere repay (Luke 10:35), payment (Matthew 18:25), recompense (Romans 12:17) and REWARD (Matthew 16:27).

That’s right -- the remarkable similarity of the passages in Romans 2:6 and Matthew 16:27 is made even more striking by the use of the same Greek word, apodidomi, in both passages. God will render (apodidomi) to every man according to his deeds (Romans 2:6); and Christ will reward (apodidomi) every man according to his works (Matthew 16:27).

But the similarity doesn’t stop there. The word deeds in Romans 2:6 is ergon in the Greek, elsewhere translated as works. So in both passages, we find that God will REWARD every man according to his WORKS.

And what is the reward? Well according to Romans 2: 7 the REWARD for patient continuance in GOOD WORKS (“well doing” = agathos ergon = good works) is ETERNAL LIFE!

That seems plain enough. But what about Paul's statement in the book of Romans -- "the gift of God is eternal life" (Romans 6:23)?

Eternal Life Is Conditional

"The gift of God is eternal life" -- but what does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that God will hand out eternal life to anyone and everyone? Does it mean that there are NO requirements AT ALL for being given eternal life? Not even the most liberal of theologians would suggest such a thing.

Not even the pop theology of so-called Christianity allows everyone to get into the Kingdom. According to that school of thought one must first come to Jesus and believe on Him and accept Him as Savior. And plenty of people have lived and died without ever doing that. So even by the most liberal standards the gift of eternal life is CONDITIONAL. One must meet certain conditions.

Now it’s true that there are conditions to being given eternal life, but they are not what most people think. The requirement is MORE than just professing a belief in, and an acceptance of Jesus. Jesus made that quite clear when He said:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).

So being given eternal life in the kingdom of heaven is CONDITIONAL upon DOING the will of God.

Can there be any doubt that DOING the will of God is the same as OBEYING Him? If so, Jesus removes all doubt, as He continues in verses 22 and 23:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:22-23).

Jesus will reject those who WORK iniquity. Iniquity – SIN – is the transgression of God’s Law (1 John 3:4). The unrighteous – SINNERS -- shall not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). The wrath of God comes upon the children of DISOBEDIENCE (Ephesians 5:6).

Thus the will of God is that we OBEY His Commandments. DOING the will of God is required for eternal life! As Paul wrote, God will REWARD with ETERNAL LIFE those who patiently continue in DOING GOOD WORKS – that is, DOING HIS WILL.

[NOTE: The “good works” required for eternal life are the works of the Spirit and can ONLY come from Christ dwelling and working in us. Jesus said, “There is none good but one, that is, God.” Herbert Armstrong was correct when he said, “Nowhere does the Bible teach earning your salvation by your OWN works (emphasis mine)." We do not have the ability to produce the kind of works required for salvation on our own. But that’s a subject for another blog.]

Where’s the Logic?

Aside from the fact that the Bible names eternal life as the reward for good works, the position-and-prestige-as-reward-for-works doctrine faces yet another challenge from Scripture. The problem is that it doesn’t fit with what we know about the timing of Jesus’ famous promise to His disciples.

It is well known that Jesus promised the twelve disciples that they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). But WHEN did Jesus make that promise? Was it at the end of their lives, when all their good works and all their overcoming could be toted up? NO! It was before they were even converted. It was before they had received the Holy Spirit.

Is it logical then to conclude that the twelve disciples were promised positions in the Kingdom based upon them having outperformed tens of thousands of other ambitious saints who also aspire to greatness? The answer is: obviously not. Their roles in the Kingdom of God were determined BEFORE their performances were even BEGUN.

So why should we think that OUR roles in the Kingdom will be determined according to the outcome of some sort of spiritual competition to see who can overcome the most?

Herbert Armstrong speculated about the roles that the great men of faith might fill. He taught that God’s government is a hierarchical organization in which men such as Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Daniel had, by their superior works, qualified for positions of great importance, perhaps just under Christ Himself.

At the same time, the WCG taught that OUR position in the Kingdom will be determined by how much WE overcome. The more we overcome, the higher our position. Herman Hoeh, a prominent minister of the WCG, wrote:

“The more we overcome in this life, the more honorable will be our places in the New Jerusalem and the greater will be our offices of responsibility in the kingdom.”

Most who attended the WCG probably never even noticed the inconsistency, but logic dictates that the two teachings cannot both be true. If God is going to hand out jobs in his Kingdom based on who overcomes the most, then He cannot have already filled ANY positions yet. He must wait to see who will accomplish the most. Who’s to say that a later convert might not outdo Abraham, Moses, Elijah or Daniel, et cetera?

So if the position-and-prestige-as-reward-for-works doctrine stands up neither to Scripture, nor to logic, where DID the idea that our good works will be rewarded with “status, rank, position, degree of GLORY” in the Kingdom come from?

He That Is Greatest Among You

It’s human nature to seek status, rank and position. The world is full of people who are competing to get ahead of other people. The ambition to climb the human ladder -- the desire to be regarded as superior to others -- is virtually universal. It’s in politics, in business, in sports, in personal relationships. It’s in our nature.

But where does this nature come from?

Actually what we call human nature is really satanic nature. Satan is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is also called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now work[s] in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Satan’s spirit permeates the atmosphere of this world, and through it he imparts his nature to human beings.

And what is Satan’s nature? It is a nature of competition, of ambition to be superior to others. He wanted the highest position of all for himself! Isaiah tells us that Satan desired to knock God off His throne and take over the number one spot in the universe.

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High (Isaiah 14:12-14).

Lucifer’s name was then changed to Satan, which means adversary. He opposes God. He opposes God’s way of life. Satan’s way is the way of competition, the way of getting and taking the best for one’s self. And he broadcasts his competitive way of thinking to the whole world.

Even Jesus’ disciples were not immune to the influence of Satan. On more than one occasion the twelve bickered over who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom. When they pictured the kingdom that they thought Jesus was going to establish, they imagined a kingdom like the governments of this world.

But Jesus painted a picture for them of a very different kind of Kingdom. He said:

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve (Luke 22:26).

The Kingdom of God is not like the governments of this world. It’s not about getting a higher position; nor is it about getting greater status and more glory than the next person. It’s about serving. Those who will serve in God’s government do not vie for these things. They live to serve others.

A Different Paradigm

The WCG position-and-prestige-as-reward-for-works doctrine was harmful in more ways than one might expect. Predictably, it contributed to an atmosphere of competition within the church, but it also had the less obvious effect of fostering an attitude of complacency.

Implied in the statement, “The more we overcome in this life, the greater will be our positions in the Kingdom,” is the idea that you don’t have to overcome every sin in your life. It sends the subtle message that it’s okay to coexist with some sin in your life. As long as you overcome at least a little you’ll be in the Kingdom. You might only be a doorkeeper or a janitor, but you’ll be there.

But what if the WCG paradigm was all wrong? What if God isn’t going to be satisfied with us doing a half-way job of overcoming? What if our role in the Kingdom of God isn’t based upon the outcome of a spiritual competition where no one reaches the finish line, but the best jobs are handed out to those who get the closest?

Maybe it’s time for the churches of God to wake up from their complacency and to consider a different paradigm.

Consider the possibility that God isn’t holding auditions. Consider the possibility that God chooses people for his Kingdom with a very specific role in mind for that person, and for that person alone. Consider the possibility that God then works with that person to PERFECT his or her character, and to prepare that person for the job He had in mind for them from the beginning.

There are many passages in Scripture that support this possibility. But I will leave it to you, the reader, to search them out, and to prove all things for yourself.


LiPs said...

What a great message this is and makes so much sense. This message needs to be heard in a huge way, especially right now. Thanks very much for your effort, I will pass it on.

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