Copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson. All Rights Reserved

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

It is natural for people to be inspired by the hope of a substantial reward. They will exert themselves with this hope in mind. People also react to the threat of punishment. Some years ago my wife and I crossed the state line into Connecticut. We noticed how much slower the traffic moved, compared with New York. We found out later that a strict law had been passed concerning speeding in Connecticut. I forget what the penalty was, but it was unusually severe for one violation. I understand that some psychologists maintain that strict punishment will not prevent unlawful actions. I believe they are mistaken. Rewards and punishments motivate people.

The New Testament reveals the most fantastic rewards for living a victorious life in Christ.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)

Can you think of a greater reward than that?

The New Testament also reveals the most horrible of all destinies for the individual whose name is not written in the Book of Life.

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Can you think of a more dreadful destiny than this?

It would seem to me that any intelligent person would examine the promises to the righteous, and desire to please God, understanding that there is a reward for serving the Lord. Also, any intelligent person would consider the Lake of Fire, and do whatever is necessary to avoid spending eternity there. The problem with the Lake of Fire is that all that is righteous, all that is loving, all that is joyous, all that is peaceful, is absent. Instead there are Satan and his angels, and the worst people of history, for one’s associates.

Being with Christ results in one being transformed into Christ’s likeness. Likewise, being with Satan results in one being transformed into Satan’s likeness.

There are people who speculate that people, and perhaps Satan himself, will one day be released from the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This is not true. The reason is, the Lake of Fire is not redemptive. While tribulation, if accepted in the right manner, produces holiness in the believer, Divine wrath is not redemptive. It does not change people for the better but for the worse. It may be noticed that Satan, immediately upon being released from the Bottomless Pit, went forth to deceive the people on the earth. His punishment was not corrective. How much more would this be true of incarceration in the Lake of Fire? Satan, angels, demons, and people confined in the Lake of Fire do not improve. It is not a purifying fire. It is a tormenting fire that causes the inhabitants to curse God without ceasing.

Though Hades is hellish, it is not the same as the Lake of Fire (Gehenna in the Greek, usually translated Hell). Because the rich man in Hades wanted a message sent to his five brothers so they would avoid Hades, we speculate that Hades possibly could be redemptive for some. But not so with the Lake of Fire. It is the termination of all love, peace, and joy forever. Worst of all, the person incarcerated there will never again experience the love of his or her Creator.

Right here is the problem with the “grace” message. The grace message teaches that all receive the same reward. Thus there is no incentive to press forward in Christ each day. The grace message in some instances declares that once a person “accepts” Christ, he can never be lost. Thus the believer becomes careless in his discipleship. And why not? Even though he lives an ungodly life, continually yielding to his sinful nature, he will go to Heaven to live in a mansion when he dies. So why make the effort to be a victorious Christian?

Any psychologist who is not a Christian would tell us that if you assure a person that (1) once he accepts Christ he never can be lost, and (2) there is no reward for exerting himself to be a victorious Christian, he is going to drift along, pursuing his own goals, conducting his life as he sees fit.

The Apostle Paul spent his life pressing forward in Christ with all his might, and then died as a martyr. If Paul will receive the same reward as the casual church-attender who “accepts Christ”, then the average person probably will never be more than a casual Christian church member. The teaching of salvation by grace has resulted in millions of baby Christians who do not grow spiritually because they have been taught there is no reward for righteous living. They believe all Christians are saved by God’s grace independently of any effort they might make to attain to the image of Christ. Can you imagine how many passages of the New Testament this teaching violates?

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. (Matthew 16:27)
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. (Revelation 22:12)

And then the other side of the coin—the punishments for not obeying Christ and His Apostles.

The current teaching of “grace” often insists that once a person “accepts Christ”, (1) he will go to Heaven when he dies, and (2) he cannot possibly suffer any loss from sinful living, because he is “saved by grace.”

When Paul used the word “grace”, he meant that the believer is no longer obligated to obey the Law of Moses, so he can serve Christ without the Mosaic statutes hanging over his head. To suggest that Paul meant there is no need for a person to live a godly live because he has observed a religious formula (accepting Christ), and that there is no penalty for continually yielding to the sinful nature because we are “saved by grace,” is to misunderstand the Apostle. Paul always emphasized keeping ourselves, through Christ, from sinful behavior.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1,2)

It appears to me that Paul’s teaching of grace has been transformed into an excuse for sin. I marvel that today’s Christian leaders, who obviously are intelligent, devout people, can misunderstand the New Testament so completely!

I will list two or three passages to prove that Paul’s teaching is quite different from what is presented today, in terms of the consequences for a Christian if he or she lives a sinful life:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5)
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 5:6,7)

Please remember that Paul is exhorting and warning Christians, not the unsaved citizens of Galatia and Ephesus. I could have included many other passages; but if these are not plain enough, I do not suppose adding fifteen or twenty more would help. Notice the severity of the penalties for not living so as to please the Spirit of God:

  • Not inheriting the Kingdom of God.
  • Reaping destruction.

This brings up another current misunderstanding. Our goal is not to go to Heaven to live forever. Our goal is to inherit the Kingdom of God. Heaven is a place where God, Christ, the saints, and the holy angels reside. The Kingdom of God is not a place. It operates equally well in Heaven and on the earth. The Kingdom of God is the rule of God within us. In its finest sense it is Christ Himself. Christ is the Word made flesh. We are the flesh being made the Word. That is the new covenant.

The Word of God is the law of God, the rule of God. When Christ is conceived in us and then formed in us, the rule of God, the eternal moral law of God, the Kingdom of God is conceived and formed in us.

God was not pleased with the way the Israelites responded to the Law of Moses, so God, under the new covenant, is writing His law in our mind and heart. Therefore, to make a profession of faith in Christ and then live our usual life, not becoming a new creation of righteous and holy living, is entirely unscriptural and inappropriate. It is to completely misunderstand the Apostle Paul. Such a person will not inherit the Kingdom of God, the development of the rule of God in his or her personality.

If Paul were alive on the earth in the present hour, he would not understand most of today’s preaching.

There are the most marvelous rewards for living a victorious life in Christ, overcoming through Him our love of the world, our sinful nature, and our self-will. The greatest reward of all is to hear His “well done,” and to know that the Father is pleased with us and that we have given God pleasure in the manner in which we have responded to His call on our life.

Another great reward for being called, chosen, and faithful, is to be raised from the dead and caught up to meet the Lord Jesus in the air, and then to descend with Him and work alongside Him at the task of establishing the will of God on the earth. I get all excited just thinking about being always with the Lord. Does it affect you that way?

The supreme punishment is loss of the Kingdom of God and eternal residence in the Lake of Fire. One time when I was preaching in Iceland and holding forth on the terrors of the Lake of Fire, Einar Gislason, the Pastor, a burly ex-fisherman, began to cry. I asked him what the problem was. He said, “I was thinking about being put into the Lake of Fire.” There simply are no words in any language spoken on the earth that could begin to picture one-tenth of the unimaginable horror, the terror, the agony, the hopelessness, of being incarcerated with Satan and the wicked people of the earth. It is a nightmare beyond all nightmares.

God’s rewards to those who serve Christ faithfully far exceed any other rewards we can imagine. God’s punishments for disobeying Christ far exceed any other punishments we can imagine.

Since every Christian can observe that I have followed the New Testament closely in this essay, not exaggerating the splendor of the rewards or the terror of the punishments, all of us who are wise will redouble our efforts to please the Lord by our daily life.

(“Rewards and Punishments”, 3341-1, proofed 20190303)

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