I’m struggling with the concept of degrees of glory in heaven as a reward for good works. Doesn’t this concept promote work-righteousness?
The concept of degrees of glory in heaven as a reward for good works is a scriptural one but must be explained correctly.
Note: These are rewards of grace, not rewards of merit
The Bible clearly teaches that we are not saved by our good works. “It is by grace you have been saved . . . not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9, emphasis added). In fact, the Bible teaches that our good works on their own are “like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, we cannot expect a reward because we earned it.
Instead, all we have, all we are, and all we do are by God’s grace from start to finish. God gives us faith in his forgiveness won for us by Jesus—grace (Ephesians 2:8,9). God gives us the abilities and opportunities to respond to serve him with good works—grace (Ephesians 2:10). In addition to all of that, he gives us the will to want to accomplish those good works—grace (Philippians 2:13). God deserves the glory, and yet grace beyond grace, he rewards us for his work in our lives. Amazing!
These rewards of grace are for this life and the life to come. Numerous passages illustrate this truth but consider these two: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). Again, it is a reward of grace, not merit.
Remember: We will be perfect in heaven
Our motivation to do good works ought never to come from selfish motives that desire greater glory and blessings than others. The blessedness of all the believers in heaven will be perfect. No one will have less joy in heaven than another.
Yet God will give greater honor to some. Consider what the apostle Paul or the prophet Isaiah have done for the Lord and how we have all been blessed by what God had done through them. It would be natural for God to accord them greater honor in heaven; we would all agree, even in our experience, that some have done so much for the kingdom of God. They will enjoy the same bliss, joy, and perfection as all the saints in heaven, and God will grant greater honor to some by his grace.
But won’t we be jealous of those who have greater honor? One of the great blessings of heaven is that jealousy and envy will not diminish our joy. Sadly, those sins plague us regularly while we are here on earth, but they will be gone in the perfect bliss of heaven. In earthly terms, a weak picture of the concept is when parents genuinely rejoice when their child is honored for an achievement. If you have greater honor in heaven, I will praise God for his work in your life.
Realize: The purpose of this teaching
The purpose of this teaching is to encourage us as we carry out our Christian callings in this sin-darkened world and look forward to the perfect joy of heaven. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
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Author: David Scharf
Volume 108, Number 10
Issue: October 2021