Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 21, 1992
Purpose: To encourage us to hold on to our rewards and to teach us how to do that.
Picture an athlete preparing for the biggest event of his life--the Olympic games. He trains day and night, month after month, pushing his body to its limits in order to strengthen his muscles and sharpen his skills. And now the day of the competition has arrived. The gun sounds and he bursts out of the blocks, gives it everything he has, and WINS! He crosses the finish line just inches ahead of his closest rival. The gold is his to enjoy for life--to hang in his trophy room and admire, to show to his children and grand-children in years to come.
But wait just a minute. The post-race blood test reveals a trace of steroids in his system. He wanted that little extra speed which they would provide, and he never thought he would get caught. The officials deny him the medal and give it to the second place finisher. It happened, you know, in 1988 with Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. Lewis got the prize; he was the second finisher. Can you imagine the shame and sorrow that he will suffer, possibly for the rest of his life? He didn't abide by the rules, and he lost the prize.
Did you know the Bible talks about the possibility of losing our rewards in heaven? It describes it in similar terms to that Olympic story we just related.
Read 1 Corinthians 3:14-15. "If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
"Suffer Loss!" That obviously means loss of reward. And being "...saved yet so as through fire" doesn't sound like a very distinguished honor to me. It sounds more like shame and sorrow.
There is a similar thought in Christ's letter to the church in Philadelphia. Let's turn to Revelation and see it, just to get the flavor in the beginning here that it is possible to lose the rewards that we've earned.
Read Revelation 3:11. Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown."
Now Jesus wouldn't have said that if it wasn't possible for someone to take our crown. We can lose our reward. We are told to "hold fast."
In the context of verse 8, they were to hold fast their faithful testimony to the person of Christ and their obedience to His Word (Revelation 3:8), as well as their patient endurance through times of suffering (Revelation 3:10). Then no one would be able to take their crown away from them.
The Lord's words substantiate the awesome possibility that our rewards can be taken away from us, with all the humiliation which that implies. That sounds very much like Christ's parable of the minas where the nobleman said to the servant who failed to use what he was given, "Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas" (Luke 19:24). It will be possible for us to lose our rewards.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to lose anything that I've earned. So how can we hold on to our rewards?
One obvious way is simply to keep on doing what we know will earn us rewards until the day we see Jesus. I'm referring to the things we've been studying for the last twelve weeks of this series--things like patiently enduring through trials, graciously sharing our faith, steadfastly staying on course until God calls us home, faithfully shepherding God's sheep, generously investing our money in things of eternal value, unselfishly using our gifts and abilities to serve the Lord, maintaining an effective prayer life, doing our job well--even our secular jobs--loving our enemies, and growing in the likeness of Christ. Furthermore, we need to do these things for the glory of God rather than the praise of men and women, and we need to do them by the Spirit's power rather than the energy of the flesh. That will assure us of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
But I would like to look at several passages that specifically refer to the loss of reward and the shame that it will bring, in order to reinforce how we can hold on to our rewards.
We'll discover that there are at least three ways to hold on to our rewards. There are probably more, but let's look at three.
1. By Maintaining Sound Doctrine
The first way to hold on to our rewards is by maintaining sound doctrine, and particularly the doctrine of Christ. The person of Christ, and the sufficiency of Christ.
a. The Person of Christ, 2 John 1:7-9
Turn to the book of 2 John. You should be able to find it easily. Revelation is the last book. First John, Second John, Third John, Jude, and Revelation. Second John is just one small chapter. Let's turn there.
We are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. He is the object of our faith and devotion. And we need to be sure we don't let anyone confuse us about who He is--who this Lord and Master we serve really is.
Read 2 John 1:7. "For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist."
Some were saying that Jesus' body was not truly human; it only appeared to be human. Others were saying that some heavenly power (called the Christ) came upon Him temporarily, like the New Agers are saying today. Some heavenly power came upon a man named Jesus at His baptism and then left again before His crucifixion. In either case, they were denying that the eternal God actually took upon Himself human flesh, denying that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man.
There are people today who claim to be Christians who have fallen into this same heresy. Cultist who come to your door will deny that God the eternal Son actually became flesh. They deny the deity of Christ. Watch out for them. Don't let them influence you.
Read 2 John 1:8. "Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward."
You see, to detract from the Person of Jesus Christ is to lose your reward. To allow them to influence your thinking will result in losing some of those things you worked for and receiving, less than a full reward.
Worse still, to swallow their heresy--hook, line and sinker--may mean you never did have a personal relationship with God through His Son in the first place.
Read 2 John 1:9. "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son." (See also 1 John 2:19.)
That warning is clear, and most serious. But the very least we can expect for vacillating on this truth is a loss of reward. So maintain your confidence in the person of Jesus Christ as the eternal God who became a man in order to die on our place and pay for our sins, so you can hold on to those rewards.
b. The Sufficiency of Christ, Colossians 2:18-19
In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul also linked sound doctrine concerning Christ to rewards. He wrote that letter to combat a heresy that had invaded the church, which insisted that Christ alone was not enough to meet their needs. They needed something more. A very common teaching, even today. "Jesus alone isn't enough. You've gotta have something else."
Some said they needed a deeper philosophical knowledge (Colossians 2:8), but it was human wisdom they were promoting rather than the wisdom of God's Word.
Some said they needed to put themselves under the law of Moses and keep all of its rules and regulations (Colossians 2:16-17), but those things were only a shadow of the reality which is to be found in Christ. Some said they needed a special mystical spiritual experience apart from divine revelation (Colossians 2:18).
Some said they needed to become ascetics and deny themselves all natural pleasures (Colossians 2:20-23).
Paul insisted that all they needed was found in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Read Colossians 2:9-10. "For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power."
This is one of the greatest verses in the New Testament, helping us understand what the Christian life is all about and how it ought to be lived. You are complete in Him.
And to slip into the error of thinking He is not enough is to lose their reward.
Read Colossians 2:18. "Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind."
People who turn believers from the sufficiency of Christ rob them of their reward, disqualify them for the prize (as NIV puts it). Why? What's wrong with insisting we need something more than just the Lord Jesus?
Read Colossians 2:19. "And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God."
All genuine spiritual growth comes through the Head (God the Son) and what He supplies. Other things may be helpful, but nothing other than our relationship with Jesus Christ is essential. Nothing. To deny that is to diminish and detract from Him, and to defraud ourselves of our reward.
This same heresy has invaded the church today. Watch out for it. Don't let anyone rob you of your reward by convincing you that you can never be whole without submitting to some sort of human philosophy or human psychological procedure. Don't let anyone rob you of your reward by convincing you that you cannot please God unless you get back under the law of Moses, or unless you deny yourself some pleasure. You are complete in Him. Don't let anyone rob you of your reward by convincing you that you cannot enjoy the fullness of your walk with God without some special mystical experience, like being slain in the Spirit or speaking in tongues. You have all you need in Christ. You are complete in Him.
Maybe you heard the story of the poor man who wanted to go on a cruise all his life. He scrimped and saved for years and finally put together enough to pay for a ticket. He went to a travel agent, looked through the brochures and picked out a cruise. He knew he couldn't afford the luxurious meals pictured in the brochure, so he took along a week's supply of peanut butter and bread. He was half-way through the cruise when de decided that he had to have one of those wonderful meals he saw the porter serving to other guest. "How do I get one of those meals?" he finally asked. "Why, sir, don't you have a ticket for this cruise?" the porter asked. "Certainly," said the man. "But I spent everything I had for that ticket. I don't have anything left to buy food." "But sir," the porter answered, "didn't you realize? Meals are included with your passage. You may eat as much as you like!" (John MacArthur, Our Sufficiency in Christ, p. 241).
I'm afraid that's the way some Christians are living their lives--settling for the peanut butter sandwiches of human wisdom when they have the all-sufficiency of divine grace available to them in Jesus Christ. You are complete in Him. Oh, dear Christian, will you learn to draw all your resources from Him? You will be able to hold on to those rewards.
We hold onto rewards by maintaining sound doctrine. There is a second way to hold on to our rewards.
2. By Maintaining Holy Living
For this we go back to 1 John chapter 2. The Apostle John teaches us that when we stand before Christ we will have one of two attitudes: confidence or shame. You remember this passage; we've been here before.
Read 1 John 2:28. "And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming."
Confidence or shame. Now remember, he addresses them as "little children" (literally, "little born ones"), an indication that they are true believers--true believers who are standing before Christ when He appears. If you drop down to 1 John 3:2 you will see that when Christ returns and these true believers see Him, they will be transformed into His likeness.
Read 1 John 3:2. "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Now this is an amazing truth. It really does blow my mind. They are true believers who will have been made like Jesus in character, and yet it will be possible for them to experience shame, disgrace, embarrassment, and humiliation in His presence.
That shame is undoubtedly the same consequence Paul warned us about when he said, "...he will suffer loss." It is shame over the loss of reward. And why is there no reward? Maybe the next verse will shed some light on that question.
Read 1 John 3:3. "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."
Some believers do not focus on the glorious hope of seeing their Savior, and as a result they allow impurity to stain and soil their lives. They don't even think about the fact that He could come today and they could face Him. They feed their minds with impure images and impure thoughts, (such as TV soaps, lewd situation-comedies, sex saturated movie, music with immoral lyrics, or porn magazines) and as a result they begin to think and act in impure ways. And the consequence--if they're truly born again--will be the loss of reward and its attendant shame.
The shame cannot last forever in view of Revelation 21:4. There will be no sorrow in heaven. But the shame will be very real at the Judgment Seat of Christ. So how can we hold on to our rewards and avoid this shame?
For one thing, we need to go back to 2 John 1:9 and confess our sins to God. That means to say what God says about them, therefore, to acknowledge them to Him, take full responsibility for them, and turn from them. And then He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He washes them away--that's what "cleanse" means. And since they're washed away, they will never be remembered again. Sins that have been confessed and forsaken will not be the cause for lost reward.
So that's a good place to start right now. You know the impurity in your life. Confess it to God and turn from it. Don't let it linger on.
But that's not all. Go back and read 1 John 2:28.
Read 1 John 2:28. "And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming."
Abiding is the key to avoiding shame and having joyful boldness when we stand before the Savior. Abiding in Him. Making our daily home fellowship in Him. Living in Him. Constantly recognizing His presence and sharing all of life with Him, consciously depending on His power for victory over sin. Abiding cannot be divorced from obedience. Over in 1 John 3:24, John writes, "Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us."
So, are you abiding in Him? Are you filling your mind with His word? Are you spending time in prayer? Are you letting Him live his life through you? Are you drawing on His power to enable you to obey His Word? That's the way to hold on to those rewards.
Maintain sound doctrine. Maintain holy living. Let me show you one more way to hold on to our rewards.
3. By Maintaining Self-Discipline
For this we return one more time to the familiar passage on the Christian race.
Read 1 Corinthians 9:24. "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it."
Probably the question I've been asked most often since beginning this series on rewards is, "Isn't this a selfish motive: to obey God and please Him just to get a reward?" I have to acknowledge that I have said that the greatest motive is just to give glory to God. But it isn't wrong also to obey Him in order to earn a reward.
You see, I didn't happen to write this. You knew that, didn't you?! The apostle Paul wrote this by inspiration of God's Spirit. "So run in such a way that you may obtain it." That's a motivation, and a perfectly wholesome one. There are prizes available to the believer, and we are encouraged to live our lives in such a manner as to win them. We've seen it over and over again in this study.
Read 1 Corinthians 9:25. "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they [the Olympic athletes] do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown."
The requirements for competitors in the ancient Greek Olympic games were rigid and demanding. They had to certify that they had engaged in ten months of rigorous and grueling training, during which they kept every official training rule--including restricted diet and restricted daily habits. They exercised self-control in all things (NASB). They could not even enter the race without certifying that.
Then the last 30 days of training were even more regimented. The race was won or lost in those final weeks before it started, and it required long hours of training and strict discipline, sometimes agonizing and painful. The word translated in my New King James version as "competes for the prize" is the word agonizomai, from which we get our word agonize. To win the race demanded total self-control, even to the point of agony. And the winner was usually the best conditioned athlete, the one who had kept all the rules and then put out a little bit more, willing to bear the necessary pain.
That's the way the Apostle Paul lived his life. He was out to win the prize.
Read 1 Corinthians 9:26a. "Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty."
Uncertainty refers to a lack of purpose or aim. He knew he would never do it unless he set it as a goal in his life. It wouldn't happen by accident. He had to establish it as a certain and positive priority and be willing to make any sacrifice necessary to accomplish it. At that point he changes the figure to boxing. That bothers some people who don't like boxing, but Paul used boxing in this example.
Read 1 Corinthians 9:26b. "Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air."
He doesn't swing wildly. He knows where his opponent's nose is, and he's going to connect with it (spiritually speaking, of course!). But the point is that it will require purpose and discipline. You have to want it to happen. It won't happen by accident.
So he gets back to the subject of discipline in 1 Corinthians 9:27.
Read 1 Corinthians 9:27. "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified."
He actually says that he bruises his body (in a figurative sense), and he makes it his slave. He exercises total self-discipline, willing to make any personal sacrifice necessary, lest after calling others to the starting blocks and telling them the training rules, he himself is disqualified from receiving his reward.
We have seen previously that the context here is about witnessing. Paul is talking primarily about the crown of rejoicing that he will receive for introducing people to Christ. But the relevance of what he says reaches beyond that to every reward. If we don't want to lose our reward, it will require a life of self-control and self-discipline.
So many professing Christians are out of control in some area of their lives. Some spend money obsessively, running up bills on their credit cards that they cannot pay, and by that means bring reproach on the Lord's name. Some can't stop eating. They say they want to, but they keep going back to food to satisfy some inner craving instead of to the Lord. Others cannot control their anger. Whenever somebody crosses them, they explode in a rage and hurt people around them. Some are in bondage of lust. They just cannot seem to overcome sexual temptation. Some are slaves to television. They waste long hours--5 or 6 hours a day--mindlessly absorbing the trash and trivia that pours out of the tube. Addicts. Undisciplined. Some are addicted to alcohol or drugs, and it's ruining their lives. They are going to be disqualified when it's time for rewards to be given out--if, indeed, they know the Lord Jesus as their Savior at all.
Paul was not going to let that happen to him. He was going to yield himself to the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God who could bring every area of his life under control. As he taught us in Galatians 5:23, the fruit of the Spirit is self-control.
Some of you may remember back to the Boston marathon of 1980, when a young woman named Rosie Ruiz came in first and was clocked at the third fastest time in women's world track history. The problem was that she looked too fresh to have just finished running a grueling 26 mile course, and spectators along the way didn't remember seeing her. Seven days after the race, officials of the Boston Athletic Association disqualified her and awarded the victory to the woman who finished second. They had examined 10,000 photos taken by four high speed cameras along the course and couldn't find Rosie in any of them. They later learned that she had never trained adequately and they speculated that she had actually ridden the subway for 16 miles to get near the finish line. She wanted to win the gold without following the necessary discipline and without keeping the rules, and she was disqualified.
Paul had no intention of letting that happen to him. So he disciplined himself, lest he should be disqualified from receiving his reward. Are you willing to do the same? That's the question before us as we bring this series to its conclusion. Are you willing to yield your will to the Holy Spirit who lives in you and let Him bring your life under control? Are you willing to be filled by the Spirit, dominated by the things of the Spirit of God? Saturating your soul with the Word of God and spending time with the Lord through the day, every day? That's what earns rewards?
You do want to hold on to your rewards and have them to enjoy throughout eternity, don't you? It wouldn't make sense for you, as a Christian, to come to church week after week and subject yourselves to what I tell you if you really didn't want that.
So will you maintain sound doctrine in the Person of Christ and the sufficiency of Christ in your life? Will you maintain holy living, and count on the power of God's spirit to keep you pure, even as He is pure? Will you maintain self-discipline? Allow the Spirit of God to bring every area of your life under control? Then you will enjoy a full reward. That's the promise God's Word holds out to us.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now, of course, the question this morning is: Are you even in the race? Have you actually put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? You don't get in the race by being religious or by going to church. Not by being involved in church activities; not by being baptized. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that those things bring salvation.
So what gets you into the family of God? What gets you into the race? What brings about a new birth? What saves you from sin? It's your acknowledgement of sin, and your admission that there is nothing you can do to earn God's eternal favor, and your trust in the finished work of Jesus when He died on Calvary's cross in your place and paid the penalty of death that you deserved because of your sin. He then rose again to give you His eternal life and declare you to be righteous with Him. Have you done that?
That's how you get in the race. Then you can run it to earn the rewards: even greater joy in heaven's glory. But entrance comes by God's gracious gift, received by your simple faith in Him. If you've never exercised that faith, we invite you to do it right now. Let's bow prayerfully before God's presence.
If you are uncertain of your salvation, would you in these moments settle it in the quiet of your own heart, right where you sit?
"Lord, I'm a sinner." Admit it. It shouldn't be hard to do; we're all sinners. "I believe Jesus died in my place and paid for my sin. Lord Jesus, I want You to come into my heart and be my Savior right now. I turn from my sin to faith in You."
If you business with Him when you express that faith, you will be born anew, receive new life--eternal life--and the assurance of heaven.
Christian, you've already made that decision, but maybe you've kind of just been muddling along in your Christian life. It hasn't been real. You come in here and hear the sermons, and then you go out and forget to live what you hear. Is it possible? There are probably some in that category. Are you willing to take these truths and transform them--translate them--into daily living, and become a man or woman of God? Make that commitment right now, will you?
Father, hear our prayers. For holding out on You, apply some kind of holy pressure, I pray, until we're willing to submit to Your will and be the people You want us to be in the Godless world in which You've placed us to make an impact. In Jesus' name. Amen.