Monday 14 October 2019

Salvation by Works vs. Works for Rewards?

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Rewarded for Our Works or Our Salvation
If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor,” John 12:26

In the Bible, the rewards for the believers are identified with five crowns in total:
  • the Everlasting Crown (Victory) (1 Cor 9:24-27) - overcoming man's sinful nature through our Lord Jesus
  • the Crown of the Soul Winner (Phil 4:1 and 1 Thess 2:19-20) - reaching out - sharing the gospel (Matt 28:19)
  • the Crown of Righteousness (2 Tim 4:8) - longing for Jesus return
  • the Crown of Life (James 1:12, Rev 2:10) - enduring through trials
  • the Crown of Glory (1 Peter 5:4) - ministering to God’s people

These crowns are awarded to us at the Bema Seat judgment which immediately followed the return of our Redeemer for the saints known as an event called the rapture. I know, some of you will stop reading right here, condemning and accusing me of heresies for believing in the rapture, therefore discrediting the rest of this commentary. Let me be very clear, "expecting the return of our Lord Jesus before, during or at the end of the time of Jacob’s trouble known as the great tribulation is not a cause of losing our salvation." We are saved by believing in our Lord and in His resurrection. We are not saved by believing in a certain time of His return.

Here is the description of one crown given by God’s righteous judgement:

The Crown of Righteousness
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing,” 2 Tim 4:8.

This special crown of righteousness that Paul is describing is for those who are anticipating Jesus’ return. They are the one who depends completely on the act of mercy and grace and understands that they will never measure up. Their desire is for the day when they would no longer sin, (John 12:25) and desire for the day when Jesus will return to take us out of this sinful world. 

The crown of righteousness is for those who are disgusted with their sinful nature and are disgusted toward a sinful world. Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). As for us, our overcoming happens with Christ through faith, (1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Peter 1:4).
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5
This group of believers is watchful for the signs of His return. They pray diligently for His soon return, “Let Thy Kingdom Come,” deliver us from evil (the lies and the deceptions). If you are not looking forward to the day that you will no longer sin, and don't desire His kingdom to come this crown will not be your reward. Additionally, if you are not watchful for His return, you will be caught by surprise at Jesus appearance;

“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief,” 1 Thess 5:4.

Salvation by Works vs. Works for Rewards

Salvation is available equally to every soul, no matter how sinful one might be as written in (Romans 3:23, and John 3:16). It is available to the whole world. Only one condition applies; you receive it by believing,  an act of faith alone, trusting in Jesus alone. Salvation is available to whoever believes in the Son of God whose name is Jesus and in His resurrection, (Romans 10:9) no matter when received in their lifetime.  

In the book of Matthew in chapter twenty verses one to sixteen, The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard talk about receiving the same reward, which is receiving salvation at any given time in someone's life, and that is when the landlord (the Father) called us to follow Jesus. The labourers agreed with the landowner for a denarius a day, which is a normal wage for a day’s work; the wage represents eternal life. The act of agreeing is represented by the act of faith. This parable has nothing to do with the doctrine of Lordship Salvation. Eternal life is a gift received by accomplishing only one single act of faith, which is believing, (John 6:29). Lordship Salvation adheres to the belief that fruit must be produced to prove someone's salvation be true. This logic makes no sense. Any kind of tree takes years to produce fruits, some more time than others. It must first grow and must take root deep into the soil for good nutrition. Good nutrition is God’s word. His words prepare us to produce fruits.  It is God the Father who draws us to Jesus and teaches preparing us to be a steward for Christ, (Jn 6:44- 45, 6:65)

Therefore, this parable represents working in the vineyard as going through life after receiving salvation as agreed. Those called early have to bear the responsibility of harvesting under the heat of the day, the life challenge of a Christian’s life, (2 Cor 4:8). Those called late received the same gift, eternal life and bear fewer burdens.

Verse 16, Jesus’ statement “So the last will be first, and the first last,” reflects Jesus’ righteous judgement toward those who received salvation at the end of their life. Take for instance the example of the criminal crucified adjacent to Jesus in the book of Luke chapter 23, verse 42, who confessed that Jesus is Lord and believed Jesus' testimony of the resurrection day, (Romans 10:9). It is Jesus' way of saying that it doesn’t matter when you believed and accepted Jesus as Lord in your life, you receive the same wage as anybody else who has believed whenever during their lifetime - which is eternal life, (Eph 2:8-9). If you think that Jesus is unfair as accused by the labourers called to work early in the vineyard, take the argument to our Lord. After all, He makes the rules, (1 Sam 3:18, and read the whole book of Job).

Although by grace alone and by faith alone we are saved, by believing in the work of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, we will be judged according to our works accomplished for Him, (Eph 2:10, 2 Tim 2:20). We will receive either praise for the good work done for Jesus or disapproval for the work that we assumed was for Jesus but was not:

“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God, which was given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.  If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward,” 1 Cor 3:9-14.

Paul explained that once saved on the foundation of Jesus, we would be given accountability for the type of work, in which we added to His foundation. It should be easy to understand now why the younger son, in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11), had not been reinstated at the same level of stewardship as his older brother. His works were tested and destroyed by fire, yet he is still part of the family. Our works are also being tested. In (1 Cor 3:9-14), Paul wrote about receiving rewards for the works accomplished for Jesus. In our lifetime, works assumed for our Lord Jesus are destroyed by fire. We will be part of the family of God, but we will not be receiving a crown, or a level of governance as a reward. You won’t be able to blame your minister for not receiving your reward. That was a choice - you refused to believe and to follow Jesus's instructions. Ministers do not have authority over you, (Matt 20:25-26). Ministers, pastors, and priests are teachers, (James 3:1, 2 Tim 4:3), and everybody will be accountable for his/her work and will be rewarded accordingly. Take the analogy of my college teacher who prepared me for my career - I am responsible for applying what I was taught.

“This is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself,” 2 Tim 2:11-13
“So, then each of us shall give account of himself to God,” Rom 14:12.

In (Rom 14:12), Paul is addressing believers in Rome; therefore, Paul is not teaching about salvation, but about receiving rewards. It is so important that you test all things, by questioning all that is being taught to you, (1 Thess 5:21, 1 John 4:1). There is no excuse. We have the Bible resources available to cross-reference any minister’s teaching. We do not live in the Dark Ages when a single church had control over their population by teaching a doctrine of man as a substitute, (1 Tim 1:5-72, Tim 3:10-11). You will be given accountability with no one to represent you. Jesus warned us not to be deceived, (Matt 24:5). There are so many who chose to stay with the traditional church of their youth without questioning.  Test all doctrines and principalities taught, (1 Thess 5:21, 1 John 4:1). Judgement is worst when we’re told and don’t heed His instructions just because it is not popular to do so.

All denominations live by a specific Statement of Belief, a creed anchored, and unmovable, which most of them have not been reviewed for decades.  Do you not understand that we are called to grow in knowledge (2 Pet 3:18, Col 2:19) and that understanding never ceases to increase (Prov 1:5)? These unchallenged and unrevised Statements of Belief only cause division and stir up mistrust between Christians who accuse each other of a false teacher. We make Satan's job so easy by creating discord among ourselves isn’t … go figure.   Personally, I view these various Statements of Belief as similar to grade school standards, from grade one to the level of a university master's degree, - from milk to solid food, (Heb 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2).

Let me use the analogy of an old-fashioned 1st-century classroom format. There were 12 grades in one building/one room. The teacher had the responsibility to teach all grades in one day. When the teacher instructs grade 12 students, the subject taught goes over the heads of the lower-grade students. When the teacher instructs grade one level students, the students of grade 12 were bored to death. That is what preachers or ministers are facing today, many attendees are stuck in grade one, satisfied with the gospel of God’s grace preached every Sunday and refuse to move on to the next level, hindering the minister and student with a higher interest in progress in knowledge and understanding. Blessed are those denominations who offer Bible study after regular worship hours and blessed are those who live in this present era of the internet where anyone interested in advancing in knowledge has the opportunity to do so.

Paul used the Olympics as an analogy and explained to the Corinthians that once they qualified to run, they ran to win a medal. Jesus is the one who qualified us to take part in the race through believing in His death and resurrection; therefore, we do not run to keep our salvation; we run for rewards, medals, and crowns.
“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.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown," 1 Cor 9:24-25.

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown,” Rev 3:11.

“They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God.  And indeed, there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last,” Luke 13:29-30

How many of you have ever run in a long-distance race either in a provincial or state competition or even a nation Olympic? Athletes come from the east, the west, from the north and the south within a nation.  In a 10,000-metre race, all runners line up evenly at the starting line. At the starting pistol sound, the race is on its way. All take a strategic position to minimize energy to maximize endurance. The one with less endurance will fall back giving way not necessarily to the stronger but to the one that can endure the pain of burning muscles. As the finish line approaches, the leading runners will give a final sprint, an all-out dash – all focus on the finishing line. Lungs on fire, dry throat accompanied by excruciating muscle pain…  the body crying out to stop…

“And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise, Heb 6:15

“If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward, 1 Cor 3:14

“…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” 1 Cor 13:7

“But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry,” 2 Tim 4:5

Minister, elders, teachers, students of God’s word, and Christians from the four corners of the world, Paul admonished us to run in such a way that we may obtain the prize, the reward, an imperishable crown. Run with endurance. It will happen that some will not endure and will slow down… it’s OK! Even the best athlete such as The Apostle Paul had his moment of weakness.

“For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.  For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain,” 1 Thess 3:4-5

These moments of weakness in our lives are only a reminder that it is through Christ that we can do all things, (Phil 4:13).

I experienced such a moment of enduring excruciating muscle pain by participating in a race. I was in fifth grade. God started to teach me a life lesson at a very young age. Our school didn’t have a track & field. The race track was two times around the schoolyard. A shed was at the outer limit of the field that runners needed to go around before heading back to the starting/finishing line. For an unknown reason then, but revealed later, God made His presence known at that event. I was not interested in participating. My intent was just to go along, and paste myself to the finishing line, not interested to win. I could hear God motivated me to give my all. I respond back with all kinds of excuses not to. Coming around the shed on the last laps, I remember making a riposte saying to God that the two runners ahead of me had too much of a lead and besides I was tired. That when I perceived hearing in my heart Him saying… “Go for it… you can do it…” I complied and gave my all without understanding what was happening, (Phil 2:12-13).  I ran and ran with all I had - approaching the second runner who picked up speed as I gained on him. He gave his all, and from head to head I gradually took the lead fast approaching the leading runner. At my sight, the runner took off with powerful leaps… side by side the finishing line on-site… aching muscle, and lungs on fire, I could no longer endure, I was ready to quit... and just as I was about to, … the adjacent runner slowed down giving me the final drive to run to the finishing line. My teacher and fellow students were stunned by my accomplishment, but frankly, not as stunned as I was. Now, I’ve learned that with God all things are possible,” (Matthew 19:26), yet I kept it as a secret for a long time. Never in my mind, I would be using this lesson as an analogy to God’s coaching lesson. When the going got tough in my life and felt like quitting, this lesson came to mind.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Phil 4:13

Salvation vs. Rewards

Earning crowns has nothing to do with keeping our salvation. You could lose your crown but never your salvation. Have no fear of losing your salvation as some do. That is very unfortunate, that so many fears of losing it. Backsliding, Lordship Salvation is false theologies.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand,” John 10:27-29.

“they shall never perish” means “never”. If you do not believe that Jesus and the Father are responsible for keeping you from losing your salvation even though struggling in your old sinful habits, you are making a liar out of Jesus. Either you’re saved, or you are not. However, once saved you’re always saved. If you have a problem letting go of your sinful habit, you are hindering God’s blessing and you will be under God’s loving correction - called tough love until you come to realize that your sinful ways were a total waste of time while you could have been bearing fruit instead. I know, didn’t I tell you that I shared what I needed to learn. The fear of losing your salvation and working to keep it is dead work. That is not good stewardship. If I were you, I would seriously question the gospel that you had received, (2 Tim 2:8). 

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore, everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life,” John 6:44-47

Not everyone comes to the Father and willingly learns from Him. Especially of those in the Christian religious authority. As it was with the Pharisees, Sadducees and priests who reject Jesus’ authority and so it is today from ministries who turn the inerrancy of God's words to hermeneutics for profit. Isn’t that what the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the priests were doing, adding to the law for profit (Matt 15:5) - for their personal gain, holding on to dear life their religious statues.

“And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” Luke 13:30

In this context, Jesus was answering a villager who asked, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” (Luke 13:23). This verse is different than the one in Matthew 20:16 where Jesus mentions “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Most of all the theologians will agree that when studying a verse, a student must take the verse within the context. In this case, the context of Luke 17:30 is not about receiving salvation which is equal pay received and agreed with the vineyard master. We recalled that the last workers called late in the day to work in the vineyard were first on the lineup to receive their wages, and the first workers called early in the day were the last to receive their agreed waves, which is salvation.

The wording in Luke 17:30 is very different, let me read it in context;

“And indeed there are last in the chain of command (in a position of authority) who will be first (in the kingdom of God), and there are first in the chain of command (position of authority) who will be the last (in the kingdom of God).”

In verse twenty-four Jesus made the most astounding revelation, the secret of how to receive eternal life; “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”  That was not a parable, that was an analogy representing the truth… it is Jesus' way of reminding us that there is only one way, one truth, one life and it is all directed to Jesus Son of God. No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

How do I know that Jesus was talking about the religious authority of His time and the one in the Church era to come, in Luke 13:30? Jesus explained it in verses twenty-five to twenty-seven;
“When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’  then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’  But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.”

Many will relate this comment to be meant toward the Jews at the end of the seven years of Judah's trouble who missed out on their salvation.  I view a different version… you be the judge of the accuracy.

In this context whether it took place in the time of Jesus' ministry or today’s ministry, it is all about religious authorities who are saying all the right things to those who have itching ears ( 2 Tim 4:3) for personal gain such as security of employment, yet lost the love of the truth and rejecting the power thereof it. The most prominent theology that is preached nowadays is the prosperity gospel. Ministers heal for money, prophesy for money, cast demons and do many wonders in Jesus' name for money. Many ministries produce entertainment with all kinds of music, and light shows for a profit.  Jesus explained in Matt 7:15-23 the same concept of Luke 13:30.  They are all a distraction from the truth.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits, you will know them."
 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” Matthew 7:15-23

Why are they not following the example of Peter who heals without asking in return:
“Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” Acts 3:6

What is the end result? Let Jesus explain in Luke 13:28;

“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”

Another word for thrust-out is obtruded, wish means to extrude without warrant or request. For many,  it will come as a big surprise. They will realize that they miss out on the rewards, and the consequence is that they will become last in the level of authority within the kingdom of God. Probably at the bottom of the pyramid with no authority. (Luke 13:30) describes Jesus warning to those in authority to teach according to His word.

Let us review what evidence is required to be saved. We all agree that it is through faith alone, by God’s grace alone and Christ alone that we receive salvation, not by works isn’t it?

Some will quote (James 2:17) “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” as evidence of not being saved, yet, omit to explain what kind of work James was talking about. Are the works defined as being a good steward in the calling of Jesus’ ministry?

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do because I go to My Father,” John 14:12

Isn’t faith that produces work and not the other way around, work that produces faith? Work is a by-product of our faith.  As pointed out in 1 Thess 1:3:

“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The works are defined as being light on the lampstand (Luke 11:33) and representing the salt of the earth,(Matt 5:13).  The evidence of good works is founded by the rules of good stewardship taught by Jesus.

Since the evidence of our salvation is faith alone, the evidence of our good works will be shown only at the Bema seat of judgment as rewards.

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name,” Rev 3:11-12.

Look at the BIG picture: we are to reign with Jesus for eternity. We read in (Ex 13:21-22), that a pillar is the symbol of God's righteous authority and leadership. God leads His people Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night and of clouds by day.  Those who are steadfast in obedience to God’s words and instructions, like Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, the prophets, all the disciples and much more show a good example of Godly leadership, (Ps 99). They were not born leaders, they were taught and prepared by God for His purpose. They became God’s leaders by many acts of obedience to His instructions. That is our destiny, and our inheritance, to become kings and priests. The Church is a pillar, (1 Tim 3:15). Salvation is only the beginning of a wonderful life of ruling the earth with Jesus for a thousand years followed by an eternal reign in the presence of our Father on a New Earth, (Rev 21:1-4)

As it is written:

“and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen,” Rev 1:6.
“And have made us kings and priests to our God, And we shall reign on the earth,” Rev 5:10.
“Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” James 2:5.

The one thousand years reign with Jesus, King of kings, on earth is only the beginning. Our destiny is to reign over God’s dominion for Eternity. That is the intent of the parable of the unjust steward in the Book of Luke chapter sixteen. It is to prepare our minds now for our inheritance. In Jesus' own words, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand,” which means setting your mind on what is coming.

You are already in the Kingdom of God;

"He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins," Colossians 1:13-14

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