This Sunday I’m preaching on the Revelation reading (but I’m including the less pleasant verses also – so the whole of 22:12-21), and especially on the verse “See I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work”. What captured my eye in this reading when I first looked at it last Tuesday was the mention of reward. In the last few days I’ve been looking at different Scriptural passages that deal with reward, and at the Lutheran Confessions on merit.
The Scriptural passages I’ve been looking at are: Matthew 6:1-34; Luke 6:20-26; Romans 2:6-11;;Romans 13:8-14; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:5-16; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Galatians 6:7-10; Ephesians 6:5-8 ; Ephesians 6:1-4.
What the confessions have to say is very interesting. Get a load of these quotes:
First, from the Athanasian Creed:
At his [the Lord Jesus’] coming all men shall rise with their own bodies and give an account of their own deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, and those who have done evil will go into everlasting fire. This is the true Christian faith. Unless a man believe this firmly and faithfully, he cannot be saved. The Athanasian Creed
Then there’s this from the Small Catechism:
God threatens to punish all who transgress these [ten] commandments. We should therefore fear his wrath and not disobey these [ten] commandments. On the other hand, he promises grace and every blessing to all who keep them. We should therefore love him, trust in him, and cheerfully do what he has commanded. SC 22
And these quotes from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession:
After justification works merit bodily and spiritual rewards because they please God through faith. There will be distinctions in the glory of the saints. AC IV 355
We also concede, and have often declared, that though justification and eternal life belong to faith, still good works merit other rewards, both bodily and spiritual, in various degrees AC IV 366
And this from the Formula of Concord:
We believe, teach, and confess further that all men, but especially those who are regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit, are obligated to do good works. FC Ep. 8
And this condemnation from the Formula:
We also reject and condemn that teaching that faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are not lost through malicious sin, but that the holy ones and the elect retain the Holy Spirit even though they fall into adultery and other sins and persist in them. FC Ep.19
The analogy that I’ve prepared to explain this teaching comes from the family, and it goes like this: It would be perverse for one of my children to think that they become my child by doing the things I reward. If one of my children thought and acted this way, it could destroy any chance of a good relationship between us. But it would also be perverse if one of my children thought that, since they are already my child, then it doesn’t matter how they behave. If one of my children thought and acted this way, it could also destroy any chance of a good relationship between us. The best possibility in my family would be for my children to trust that they really belong on the basis of their status as sons and daughters of the family, and that they would do things that please Margaret and me because we are their loving parents with authority over them to reward them or punish them. Well, so far the analogy.
I take the Scriptural testimony, and the Confessions, to say that we are children of God by God’s grace in Christ alone, and that as children we can behave in ways that merit the temporal and eternal rewards that God desires to give us
This also seems to the be the teaching of the Catholic Church – I just looked up their Catechism this (Saturday) morning, and found this:
2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions. (The italics are theirs, not mine)
So, there we have it. This is teaching that I have not given a lot of consideration to in my ministry so far, but which seem important and encouraging.