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This Chapter comes from Lucas’ book Eternal Rewards. Get your copy here.
Everyone needs motivation. It’s an essential function of the human brain. Everyone needs to see what the payout will be for their trouble. You work for a paycheck, not for free. You work out at the gym for a purpose, to lose weight. You take a shower every once in a while because it benefits your social life. There is a motive for everything. Every beat of your heart and breath in your chest has a motive.
God designed you. You know that, right? He designed you to be motivated by incentives. He encoded your elaborate DNA to expect a payout, a consequence, an equal and opposite reaction. He built nature such that those without motivation can never win. Winners are motivated. Champions have passion. Victors have incentives.
Take away the incentives, and the winners will find another sport. Give everyone a trophy just for being present, and the talent will dry up. But if you make the reward a million bucks, everyone will want to play. And they’ll play hard. Action and motivation are married, and it’s not one of those awkward marriages where you know they don’t even like each other. Action and motivation are so closely related, you can’t pry them apart.
If you’ve believed in Jesus for salvation, then congratulations. Your eternal home is guaranteed, but your success as a disciple is not. You will either be a winner or a loser concerning the Christian life. Being a loser at the sport of discipleship won’t jeopardize your salvation; but it has its consequences, and they’re a real kick in the gut.
What’s the difference between Christian winners and losers? Motivation. Those who understand what’s at stake are a quadrillion times more likely to be Christian winners. No, the word quadrillion is not in the Bible, not even in the message, though the concept I’m talking about is.
You will either be a Christian success because you have the motivation to fight for the win or you will be Christian failure. If you wind up as a Christian failure, you will enter Heaven as such. You’ll have to explain why you wasted your life. Jesus will acknowledge that you really “smooched the pooch” on this one. You’ll then have to live out your eternal existence in Heaven knowing that you failed at the first task of eternity, your mortal life. Motivation is paramount to your spiritual success.
God offers incentives for anyone who wants to attempt being a good disciple. I’m not talking about eternal life or salvation here. That’s a free gift. I’m talking about benefits above and beyond salvation. I’m talking about some real bankroll. This isn’t some E for effort nonsense. This is the big leagues, and they play for keeps. The trophy for this sport is Grade A eternal. You have before you either shame or glory. You choose by every step you take, every move you make.
Before we examine rewards that we will experience in eternity, let’s talk about the here-and-now rewards which are available for those who live out their faith.
There are lots of physicalconsequences for abandoning and rewards for living out your faith. For instance, porn addiction will wreck your sex life (with your spouse). Having a sex life without a spouse can give you SDIs. Gluttony will destroy your health. Violence will land you in jail. Slander will get you punched. I’m sure you get the idea. Sin damages lives. Living a godly life is rewarding. There is a better quality of life now waiting for those who abandon sin and live for Christ.
There are also mental rewards which come with living a life of discipleship. God included a moral compass with our mental map. We have an innate sense of right and wrong. When we leave the path marked out on that mental map, it causes internal tension, dissatisfaction, frustration, and mental fog. That’s why living an ethical life is mentally rewarding. Personal and moral satisfaction is a here-and-now reward that a committed disciple can experience. Those who fight to live out their faith can experience a powerful internal gratification and ease that mental turmoil.
Socialrewards are probably the most potent present incentive for Christian living for believers. Maybe it’s because you’re afraid the church ladies will look down their powdered noses from their upholstered pew at you. Perhaps it’s because you love the Christian camaraderie you get from your congregation. Whatever the reason, we are designed to find community comforting and rewarding. The social benefit that comes from living a life of faith is enormous.
Spiritual rewards are all about your relationship with God. Many people report that what motivates them to keep the faith is a desire to please God. Others say that they are driven to live out the Christian life because of gratitude to God for salvation. These are some spiritual motivations for godly action.
We’ve talked about physical, mental, social, and spiritual rewards that committed disciples can experience here-and-now. Many believers find these present rewards of a Christian life enough to stay on the straight and narrow. That is plenty for some, but I have to be honest. These motivations have their limits. They are not bad or wrong, but if we rely only on these here-and-now motivations, we will likely hit a wall. There’s only so much you will be willing to sacrifice if the only motivation you are aware of is in the here-and-now. Let’s consider the limitations of these present rewards.
Present physical rewards have worked to keep me from hard drink, promiscuous sex, and other life-ruining sins. However, in my twenties I didn’t think that porn could possibly wreck my life so, game on! I found it physically rewarding to avoid the so-called “big” sins. I didn’t smoke crack because it would fry my brain, and I didn’t do meth because it would rot my teeth— I’m very fond of my teeth. However, I developed quite a potty mouth and talked badly about people behind their backs. Present physical rewards can help us stay away from the dangerous habits, but they are often too weak a motivator to fine-tune our Christian life.
Present mental rewards have their place as well. For a time after college, I distanced myself from other Christians. I had become complacent in my porn consumption and even had begun to justify it. That caused a lot of bitterness, frustration, and mental fog. The storm that was starting to blow in my mind was a red sky warning that I needed to course correct. The moral tension I felt was an internal pressure for me to move back to the light. The here-and-now consequence of mental dissatisfaction acted as a warning signal, but it was not powerful enough to motivate me to mount a serious battle against my sin. The reward of mental peace was something I wanted, but that desire wasn’t strong enough to make me leave porn behind.
Present social rewards have helped me live out my faith as long as I’ve stayed close with other godly Christians and been honest. However, there have been times when I just pretended like my heart was in it. At times, I found myself isolating from Christian friends, which dulled the social reward I got from being in a community of faith. That is one of the weaknesses of here-and-now social rewards: and they don’t always work if you’re not honest and they don’t work for those who are isolated.
Present spiritual rewards like closeness with God can work to keep us on the straight and narrow, sometimes. The problem for me at that point in my life was I liked pleasing myself. I mean I really liked it. I spent my money however I wanted. I watched any kind of X-rated garbage I liked. I cussed people out behind their backs. I had bursts of anger, which was negatively affecting my wife. When I was around Christians, I pretended to be a well-behaved believer, but I knew the truth. I would hear people talk about how rewarding it is to be in close fellowship with the Creator, but I found it rewarding enough to pursue my own desires and interests.
All of this led to dark waters and stormy skies. My boat was pitching in the gale, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I was living life my way, and my approach was getting more raunchy by the day. The here-and-now rewards I knew about weren’t powerful enough to overcome my private desires. Here-and-now consequences were enough to keep me from becoming a murderer or a rapist. They kept me from going off the deep end, but they weren’t enough to get me out of the shallow water. I was acting like none of it mattered, and I could feel my life taking on water fast.
Through those years what I kept running into was this:
“I know I’m saved, so why should I try to live like a saint? It’s tough.”
The answer eventually came, and things began to change. The change was not easy. It was and still is hard work. In the following years, I began and am still working on the areas that I mentioned before. I turned digital authority over to my wife. I had her put a passcode on all our devices so that I can’t watch anything rated R or worse, without her knowing. I continue to work on my language and how I talk about others. I’ve made progress in ways that would have surprised me a few years ago. I have to stay vigilant, but I’m excited about the changes.
So the question you should be asking is… Come on, you know it. What is the obvious question? The obvious question is, “What motivated the change.” The change came when I learned something. It was something pretty simple. It was something I should have known, but I didn’t. I learned about a fundamental truth that is woven throughout the Bible, but I had never heard discussed.
The motivation that I needed came when I was taught about eternal rewards. Eternal reward is not the same thing as salvation. (More on that in the next sections.) Eternal reward offers an incentive to do as Christ commands. If you accept the concept of here-and-now rewards, which we have been talking about, you can think of eternal reward as an extension which will stretch into eternity. I’m quite confident that once you understand this concept, it will provide you the motivation you need to pick up your weapon and fight. That’s not only because I’ve seen it work in my life, but because I’ve seen it work in others’ lives as well. Here is a chart. I like charts. I like this chart. You should too.
Eternal Physical Reward: If you stay committed to doing good works, you can experience a higher quality of eternal life than someone who is saved but lives like the devil. There are actual physical benefits in Heaven that not everyone will experience, only those who stay faithful.
Eternal Mental Reward: A fuller satisfaction available is available in Heaven for those who do the hard work of discipleship here. It’s a more complete joy that won’t be available for those who went dormant during their mortal life.
Eternal Social Reward: Those who work for Christ until the end of their lives will be given more opportunity in Heaven to serve others through leadership. The social aspects of Heaven are fantastic, especially for those who are trustworthy disciples now.
Eternal Spiritual Reward: The most significant incentive for godly living is a closer eternal relationship with God and Christ. Not everyone’s relationship with Jesus will be the same in Heaven. Some will sit at his right and left hand, while others will not have such a close interaction.
Maybe you feel beaten down. Perhaps you’re not excited about your faith. Maybe you’ve considered giving up altogether. I believe as we look at what the Bible has to say about eternal rewards, you will find the strength to step back into the ring and box like a champ until the final bell has rung. Stick with me; I’m going to teach you how to fight.