The Bible says that we will be rewarded for what we have done. Not what we have believed, but done-diddley-done-done. So what do we have to do? In this three-part series, we’re going to look at some of the rewarded-for-what-we’ve-done scriptures, beginning with this one:
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (Matt 16:27)
Forget the gospel of grace, you are rewarded for doing stuff! Better get busy for Jesus. But let scripture interpret scripture and you will see that Jesus is not promoting performance-based religion. (You knew that, right?) He’s quoting a psalm:
Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. (Psa 62:12)
Psalm 62 is a psalm of rest, not labor. “Truly my soul finds rest in God… Yes, my soul, find rest in God” (v.1,5). Underline the doing words in this psalm and you will see that it is exhorting us to trust the Lord:
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken… Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psa 62:6)
According to David, what do we need to do to be rewarded by God? Answer: trust him, rest in him, find refuge in him. Selah.
The work that is rewarded
Here’s a fun Bible fact. When David says “you will reward each person according to what he has done” in Psalm 62 he’s referring to something God said. (See Psalm 62:11.) So in Matthew 16, Jesus is quoting David who is quoting God. Talk about being on the same page!
And just to make things really interesting Jesus is also quoting Jeremiah, who was also quoting God:
I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve. (Jer 17:10)
What deeds has Jeremiah just described in this famous chapter? What are the activities that are rewarded?
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him” (Jer 17:7).
Put them together and you will see that the prophet and the psalm-writer both say we are rewarded for trusting the Lord. Resting is the work that is rewarded.
But what about Jesus? What specific deeds does Jesus refer to in Matthew 16?
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)
Jesus is not calling us to a life of self-sacrifice. He is calling us to follow him and trust in his finished work. When you were baptized into Christ, you were baptized into his death. The person you used to be no longer lives (Gal 2:20).
What does it mean to deny self?
We live in a world that rewards the bright and the beautiful, but in the kingdom of God we are not rewarded for anything we do on our own; we are rewarded on account of Jesus. David, Jeremiah and Jesus all say the same thing:
- David: Don’t trust in wealth or be envious of the rich; trust the Lord who rewards those who seek him. (Ps 62)
- Jeremiah: You’re cursed if you trust yourself and your labors, but you’ll be an evergreen tree if you trust the Lord. (Jer 17)
- Jesus: If you gain the whole world but lose your soul, you’ve lost everything. Follow me. (Matt 16)
To deny self is to quit trusting in your own efforts. It’s saying no to performance-based Christianity and the pitiful self-help messages of dead religion. It’s saying yes to Jesus who is your life and resting in his finished work.
And what is our reward?
Christ gives us nothing less than his very life. His abundant life – free from condemnation and the dog-eat-dog insecurities of worldly ambition – is the life we yearn for.
This world offers you one kind of reward – the fading, rusting kind – but Jesus offers you something better. So abandon the futile quest for self-improvement – it’s a dead-end street.
But receive Christ and his righteousness and you will reign in life like a king (Rom 5:17)!
Stay tuned for Part 2!