Rejecting Our Ultimate Reward

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Thumbs downIn keeping with yesterday’s post on joy and having our names written in heaven, I’d like to reference a post over at Swap Blog (HT: Milton @ Transforming Sermons.) At issue there is the ferocity with which some world-class athletes—cyclists Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton in this case—will fight to preserve their reputations and legacies, and how that compares to Christians:

We are asking how personally committed Christians are to defending God, His ways, His teachings, His word, and His people and comparing that commitment to the commitment of the world to defend their way, their word, their reputation, their families, and their future. Would we, as Christians, go this far, willing to give ALL our money and time, to defend Christ, the word of God, God’s lessons or a brother / sister in the body. So many times we as Christians are all rah rah for God, the things of God, and the people of God when there are no problems, but as soon as possible conflict between God and the world arises we go quiet and disappear.

The answer I offer is a disturbing one.

People of the world see their reward in money, sex, fame, and power. They will do anything to get those and to keep them once they’ve been received. Innate in all Mankind, Christian or not, is the desire for reward. We Christians are only as committed as we understand our reward to be.

What then is the Christian’s reward? At the most granular level, three rewards come to the fore:

  • Knowing Jesus Christ
  • Hearing Jesus Himself say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
  • Heaven

I would suspect that if we scratched the typical American Christian and truly got under his or her spiritual facade, we’d see the following thought processes:

  • About knowing Jesus Christ—”Hey, as long as I’m not going to hell, so what?”
  • Upon hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”—”That’s nice.”
  • Upon entering Heaven—”Are we really going to have to praise God for eternity? Isn’t there anything else to do around here?”

Sacrilege?Definitely! But how did we end up in this sorry state?

I will submit here that these three rewards comprise the least preached messages in today’s American Church. And that is the answer to the frustrating question posed at Swap Blog. Because no one preaches on the glory of those rewards anymore, they’ve lost all meaning. When Paul writes in Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” I can sometimes see the wheels turning in people’s heads and the thought bubble rising up saying, “Is that all that great a thing?”

Honestly, how many people can you say you know right now who absolutely without any uncertainty know Jesus Christ? They may know some tidbits about Him. They may even have memorized great swaths of Scripture about Him. But do they really know Him down deep in their inner man? Pull aside any dozen people in your church and ask them what it means to know Christ. The answers will both shock and dishearten you, I can promise that now.

That your average pastors doesn’t realize how off the answers are to this basic question is even more shocking. If he can’t share from his own life how knowing Christ is its own reward, how will his congregants know? And that’s another problem in itself. Somehow we’ve put far too many folks who don’t really know Christ into our pulpits preaching a message that proves their own ignorance in this regard. You can’t get blood from a turnip, nor can you have a firm finger pointed to Jesus from people who don’t know where to point.

I can belabor this point on Christ’s blessing on faithful servants and the great reward of heaven, but I’m tired of it all. A hundred and fifty years ago, I would suspect that 75% of the messages on Sunday were about knowing Christ, living to hear the “Well done…,” and the hope of Heaven. That’s how the greatest missionary thrust the world has ever known got started and swelled into Africa and Asia. American and British Christians heard those three messages we never hear anymore in today’s churches and they went out with joy to preach the Gospel despite fire, dungeon, and sword.

To the Church of 1855, those truths behind those messages were enough of a reward that nothing else was sought, yet today’s Christians are pissed off if our iPod doesn’t show up overnight like Amazon promised. We spend more time debating the finer points of the TV show Lost then actually ministering Christ to the lost. We’ve become pitiful people because we know longer care to truly know Christ, to hear His blessing on our faithful service, and to live the joy of having a place reserved for us in Heaven. We hear so little of those three rewards anyway that they’re readily obscured by the background moans of a society in its death throes. In the end, we look to the world for our reward just like the hell-bound do, joining along in the moaning.

Pastors, step down if you can’t help people know Christ. Let someone who knows where to point do the job. To the people in the seats, let’s hold our pastor’s feet to the fire if he never preaches on those three truths. And when we’re done roasting him, we better put on the sackcloth and get a fine rain of ashes pouring on our own heads because we’re not exempt from rebuke here.

The Christian’s reward outstrips all others. It’s time we believed that to be true.

9 thoughts on “Rejecting Our Ultimate Reward

  1. Gayla

    I guess I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into the reward aspect. Points to ponder….

    I would submit that, possibly an underlying issue is the fact that people don’t want to face their depravity. In general, we numb ourselves with every other thing in life – as you mentioned money, sex, fame, power. And when the fulfillment still isn’t attained, we just go after more of the same.

    And thus, we’re stuck in the loop.

    Until we come to grips with our complete depravity and need for a savior, I believe we’ll just continue in the loop, seeking the ever-illusive rewards and satisfaction in the temporal.

  2. Dan: “I would suspect that if we scratched the typical American Christian and truly got under his or her spiritual facade, we’d see the following thought processes�”

    Dan. I don’t know who you are hanging around with, but it has been years since I’ve even seen anything that betrays anything close to the callous attitudes you’re describing. The last time was in a baptist college back in the raging-lefty, drug-addled, sexually-runamuck early 1970s, and even then it wasn’t all that pervasive. Back then, I knew some really creepy people, but they were out-numbered by those who were genuine inspirations for me, as well as examples of genuine love. Besides, the “typical American christian” is a extremely broad category to be making such vast and sweeping generalizations, isn’t it? Are you starting to fall for the typical MSM stereotypes of xtians as being nothing but stupid, ignorant, racist, foul-mouthed, beer-swilling, wife-beating, child-abusing, pornography-reading hypocrites?

    I am not saying where I am is veritably Mount Zion with glorious golden shields hanging upon its battlements. And maybe I am a complete nitwit and dunce, and haven’t doted on the writings of A.W. Pink enough, but, hey, were you expecting absolutely perfect people with faces that glow like Moses’s just after he came down the mountain? I am glad that Jesus saves botched-up people (like me), who take a while to comprehend the height and depth and length and breadth.

    I mostly enjoy your writing, but sometimes you get just a little teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsy, heavy handed.

  3. webmaster@team-swap.com

    Thanks for the great analysis of our question and post Dan. Always a honor to get a link, analysis and a real answer a great blog like Cerulean Sanctum. Its always appreciated.

    Keep up the great work and again thanks for the link, the answer, and the analysis.

    Stay strong, be courageous and serve God in all things.

  4. Oengus,

    We’ll have to disagree on this. Your experience is different than mine. I see a lot of chasing after faddish “spirituality.” There are people I’ve known for years who have been rock-solid and they’re showing evidence of following paths that will put them in a ditch.

    I’m always watching. I’ve seen too many churches where the three rewards I discussed are almost never mentioned. I’ve been in a few churches where you could pull ten people at random from the congregation and not one of them could give you a clear presentation of the Gospel. I can only go by my experience.

    Are there churches where things are better? Sure. But from where I am, they are getting progressively smaller in number. I knew a lot of strong Christians when I first became a believer. But I don’t see that older generation being replaced by people who are just as strong. That’s disheartening to me.

  5. One last thing…

    Quote: * About knowing Jesus Christ—”Hey, as long as I’m not going to hell, so what?”
    * Upon hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”—”That’s nice.”
    * Upon entering Heaven—”Are we really going to have to praise God for eternity? Isn’t there anything else to do around here?”

    I actually heard the first and third comments out of the lips of established believers in just the last month. Yes, I made them a bit hyperbolic to make my point, but still. It’s upsetting, but again it’s hard to fault people 100% when so few pastors are preaching or teaching on these things.

  6. Gayla,
    If I haven’t already said thanks in the last two months for being a new reader, I’m saying it now.

    Milton,
    Glad to hear it. I like being fodder—as long as it’s not cannon fodder!

  7. Anonymous


    “I would suspect that if we scratched the typical American Christian and truly got under his or her spiritual facade, we’d see the following thought processes�”

    I’d translate this as, “If we take a moment to stand and openly judge those around us against our arrogant measure of worth, we’d see them failing our measure thusly . . .”

    This entire dialogue is a wonderful example of religion’s marvelous power of justifying its incessant practice of indoctrination and its relentless exercise of peer pressure.

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