Bible Answer

How are eternal rewards conditional?

Please explain how Christ will judge us for eternal rewards?

(This article is part of our series on eternal rewards.)

As discussed in Are eternal rewards biblical? our rewards are conditional based upon our works done in service to Christ according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Consider the following passage: 

1 Cor. 3:10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 
1 Cor. 3:11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 
1 Cor. 3:12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 
1 Cor. 3:13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 
1 Cor. 3:14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 
1 Cor. 3:15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

Our opportunity to receive reward is dependent on the Gospel – Jesus is our foundation upon which to build. Thus, we receive reward only for the works we perform by faith for the glory of Christ, yet this still presents a wide array of possible ways we could receive reward.

Paul explains using an analogy of a construction project in which we may build using different types of materials. In his analogy, the construction project is comparable to our life of serving Christ, while the types of construction materials represent the various kinds of works we perform in service to Christ.

Some works are truly valuable to Christ (i.e., gold, silver etc.), because they were ordained by Him and lead by the Spirit. such works are worthy of reward, as pictured in the analogy by precious metals surviving a fire that tests their quality. Other so-called "works" were of no value, however, because they were done in the flesh and for our own gain. Such works were comparable to worthless materials like hay or wood, which could not withstand the testing fire.  Paul says that in such a circumstance, the person “suffers loss” because they have lost an opportunity to be rewarded, nevertheless Paul goes on to state explicitly that this does not adversely impact the person's relationship with Christ: such a person will still be saved by their faith alone.

The “testing” in Paul's analogy refers to the judgment seat of Christ, when the Lord evaluates believers' works for the purpose of assigning individual reward. The Greek word for test is dokimazo, which means "to test, examine, prove, scrutinize, (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), deem worthy." Paul explains this moment in 2 Corinthians 5:

2Cor. 5:9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
2Cor. 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

This moment will determine how we are rewarded, and every believer will stand before Christ in this way.

What does Paul mean when he refers to our “bad” works in 2 Cor 5:10? The Greek word for bad here is phaulos, meaning worthless, of no account. Therefore, Paul is not speaking of sins, but rather worthless deeds done in the flesh and of no value and without reward.

To get up to speed on this important area of Biblical truth, please read the following series of articles:

1. Are eternal rewards biblical?

2. What does God base our eternal rewards on?

3. How are eternal rewards conditional?

4. How will God judge our works?

5. When will we receive our eternal rewards?

6. What are the "crowns" given to believers as reward?

7. What will our rewards in the Kingdom be?