Gift or Reward?
This topic is well-known to Christians and expected to be well-understood. Yet, these terms have conflated and many sorely missed to see where they differ, converge and aligned as they relate to salvation. What in the process of salvation is gifted and what is rewarded? And how is salvation both a gift and a reward? Does the time of when the plan was hatched, when the promise was expressed and when actually given or realized differentiate the gift and reward? Do “works” and “fruits” play a role and whose “works” or “fruits”.
To begin with, in a Biblical parlance, a gift is given by someone to another who has not yet done anything to deserve it, nor is it based on something good done by anyone, but given nevertheless. On the other hand, a reward is a promise given by someone to another who did something good to deserve it. Notice that in both gift or reward, someone did something to or for another.
Paul, explained this principle in:
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Notice that, not before, but the actual death of Jesus was the reality that materialized to reconcile us to God. And, this death and reconciliation occurred while “we were yet enemies”. Moreover, that we have to be reconciled first by the death of Jesus, before being saved by him after his resurrection, i.e., “by his life”. He could not save us while still in the tomb, dead. Because of sin, we were God’s enemies, “driven from the garden of Eden“, so to speak, and not deserving of a gift. Yet, the Father gifted us with his Son, as in:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.(NIV)
The giving of his Son was because of love and that when we “believe in him” we “…shall not perish but have eternal life”. And not only giving his Son, out of the Father’s love, as an undeserved gift to us for reconciliation with the Father. But even more importantly as promised from the foundation of the world to resurrected Jesus, another undeserved gift to us, which is the Holy Spirit of power, for our salvation. And these free gifts,i.e., death of his Son and reconciliation plus the Holy Spirit, to all of us(undeserved who sinned), were planned and hatched even before anyone sinned, i.e., before the foundation of the world, before the creation of man.
Reconciliation and justification came to fruition because of what Jesus did, i.e., his death. But, this was reckoned not because Jesus followed thereby substituting his death for mankind; not by his “works” or obedience. Rather, as Paul explained in Rom 3:22-23:
“..,by the righteousness of faith (even of Jesus), so no man (even Jesus) can boast. Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”.
Notice, “righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all them that believe”, meaning that while these gifts are for all, still one has to “believe“(had to do something), for these to be “activated” on any specific person. Much like a “link for temporary password” given freely to a person by a website app, it has to be activated or authenticated for I.D. security; it is specific and secure, but we need to do something. To believe on something material that is heard or seen by our physical senses is one thing. But, spiritual things are discerned only by “spiritual ears and eyes” empowered only by the gift of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 2:14). Meaning, to believe is something we ourselves do, but we could not have “heard or seen” spiritual things without the spirit-power given to us; therefore, this power tool (Holy Spirit) is also a gift.
Eph. 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, (even of Jesus’) so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Similarly, the Holy Spirit was given not because of Jesus’ works but on Jesus’ trust and belief (based on faith) in the Father that what he promised for mankind (which is the Holy Spirit) He would give. And this receipt of the Holy Spirit occurred after Jesus had been resurrected to receive it for mankind.
In both gift and reward, we did something:
1. We sinned (did something and were enemies to God), yet before YHVH CREATOR incarnated to man-Jesus, it was already planned to subsequently give this free gift of his Son. This was because of the Father’s love (John 3:16), and Jesus’ death accounted (on his faith, not his works) for reconciliation. Similarly, the Holy Spirit of power was a gift given freely “for our ears to hear and eyes to see” spiritual truth towards our salvation. These gifts led to our belief, thereafter to trust, based on “faith of Jesus”(not his works) that the Father will fulfill his promises to “the seed“(Jesus, Gal. 3:16), “not seeds”. This belief leading to trust is faith-based, evidence-based and substantive. As the path is “Jesus believed”, so should we also believe.
2. We believed (did something) because we were empowered to hear and see spiritual things by this free gift of Holy Spirit at our time or era of dispensation. No “good works” yet from us, except belief. This ability and power tool to believe spiritual things came as a gift of the Holy Spirit of power, given by the Father to resurrected Jesus to us-ward, as promised and founded on Jesus’ trust and belief which is faith-based(evidence-based/substantive), not works.
3. We obeyed (did something) and followed the guidance and direction of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit, to ‘bear fruits” (Gal 5:22-23) worthy of God’s reward, which is “glory, honor, immortality, eternal life“, being Sons and Daughters of the God-Kingdom, the family of God. While these “fruits” occurred because of our action/work, these fruits are “fruits of the Holy Spirit” in-dwelling in the mind of the believer. These fruits did not come “from ourselves”(Eph. 2:8), i.e., our “flesh” with every good work(even the best” defined as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6-8) by God.
4. As man-Jesus’ reward of having a “glorious spirit-composed body” was based on following God’s will (his works), so is our reward to have “spiritual-composed” bodies based on following (our works) the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
5. Gift is given out of love, unmerited and initiated, hatched, planned, promised and realized that led to belief then developed into trust that is faith-based, not work-related, nor work-based. It comes from faith of Jesus leading to belief/trust of Jesus and similarly our belief and trust that are “faith-based”(evidence-based, substantive(Heb.11:1). Whereas, reward is given based on following and therefore”works-based”.
Generally, salvation can be understood to mean both a gift as well as a reward. But, specifically in the process towards salvation, what are gifted are the Son who died for our reconciliation and justification plus the Holy Spirit that empowered our “weak self”(Luke 22:40-46; Matt: 26:36-46). By overcoming (Rev. 2:7;v-11;v-17; v-26-28; 3:5; v-12; v-21) and persevering/enduring (Heb. 10:36;Romans 2:7) through following the wisdom and guidance that come with the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, then fruits of the Holy Spirit result and we are rewarded with a “new garment/ new body/temple” (2 Cor. 5:1) spirit-composed body, immortal and eternal.
Original post: 4/11/2017
Revised post: 5/3/17
Revised for clarity and reposted: 8/6/18