The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 1

All true Christians must surely rejoice at the thought of God’s wonderful promise and provision that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

But how does this divine provision relate to Christ’s confrontation with His church, His body and bride, at the judgment throne? Does participation in the marvelous promise of 1 John 1:9 eliminate the threat of possibly losing a reward or a crown on that great day? This is a very confusing issue for many of God’s people today.

The Purpose of the Judgment Seat Confrontation

One point must be settled immediately—the issue is the gain or loss of rewards, not of salvation. Thank God, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2).

Also, “he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). And amazingly, our Lord said this concerning all believers: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish…no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:28-30).

On the other hand, the provision of awards for faithfulness is intended by our Lord to provide tremendous motivation for His people. As a matter of fact, all human beings have been programmed by God with this perspective. How would a military unit function efficiently and effectively if there were no rewards for self-discipline, diligence and courage?

Both my father and my grandfather attained high rank in the United States Army, deeply involved in the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. As a child, I heard much about promotions to higher rank, medals, awards and special recognition. No army in the world could function without this! And what about governments, industries and schools? Would a student do his very best if there were no grades or honors at the end?

Prizes, Crowns and Rewards

The Apostle Paul was well aware of the prizes offered to athletes who competed at the Olympics and the Isthmian Games of his day. “These Games, held every two years under the patronage of Corinth and second only to the Olympics, were extravagant festivals of religion, athletics, and the arts, attracting thousands of competitors and visitors from all over the empire…Paul would have been in Corinth during the games of A.D. 51 (in the spring)” (Fee, 433).

It was to the church at Corinth that Paul wrote: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Sadly, a very popular version of the Bible mistranslated that word “disqualified” [adokimos] as “castaway,” implying loss of salvation.

Lewis Sperry Chafer helpfully explained that, “It is the negative form, and its positive is rightly translated in 2 Timothy 2:15, ‘Study to show thyself approved [dokimos] unto God.’ The disapproval which the Apostle dreaded is none other than the burning of unworthy works of service (cf. 2 Cor. 5:11)” (Chafer, 406).

Paul also warned the church at Colossae: “Let no one cheat you of your reward” (Col. 2:18). But was Paul the only New Testament writer who expressed concern about our qualifications for receiving rewards?

Works Cited

Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1987.

Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology. Vol. IV. Grand Rapids: Kregel Pub., 1993.

Dr. John C. Whitcomb has been a professor of Old Testament and theology for more than 50 years and is widely recognized as a leading biblical scholar. He taught at Grace Theological Seminary (Winona Lake, IN) from 1951-1990 and gained much recognition for his work on [amazon 0875523382] (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company), which he co-authored with Dr. Henry Morris in 1961. That book has been credited as one of the major catalysts for the modern Biblical creationism movement. His ministry homepage is Whitcomb Ministries, and his sermons are available at

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J. D. Coleman's picture

I appreciate the article. I just wrote a similar article: [URL= ]What happens at the Judgment Seat of Christ?[/URL ]

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Charlie's picture

Sadly, a very popular version of the Bible mistranslated that word “disqualified” [adokimos ] as “castaway,” implying loss of salvation.

I think it is at least worth considering that every other mention of αδοκιμος in the NT is clearly in reference to the unregenerate (Romans 1:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5-7; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:16; Hebrews 6:8). A statistical argument isn't airtight, but it merits more attention than a swift dismissal. Another word in this passage, crown (στεφανος, v. 25) is also used in a context of eternal loss. The letter to the church of Smyrna says, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown (στεφανος) of life" (Revelation 2:10). The very next verse says, "The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death." The parallelism of "crown of life" with "not be hurt by the second death" indicates that the crown is life, not an additional reward to be merited by superior service.

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Paul J. Scharf's picture


I agree that "context is king." However, it would be very odd for the phrase "crown of life" to have a different meaning in Rev. 2:10 than it does in James 1:12, as I take this to be a "technical term" (carrying the same meaning in various contexts) as one of the five crowns distinctly held out to believers as "additional reward(s) to be merited by superior service" -- which will be distributed at the Bema.

Rev. 2:11 also appears to me to be further comfort to a suffering church, not a warning passage.

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Charlie's picture

Paul, I interpret the James passage the same way. After we have come through our earthly temptations, holding fast our faith, we will enter (the fullness of) eternal life. Those who do not endure temptations, who instead surrender the faith, will not see life. The Rev. 2 passage is a similar exhortation to keeping the faith even through persecution. I agree that it is designed to be a comfort, but in the Bible comfort also comes with exhortation and warning.

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Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture


Maybe Dr. W will elaborate more in future installments on the nature of the crowns themselves. I'm not convinced myself that the crown of life is anything more than "the crown that is life," but the fact that it is a stephanos means that the idea of reward is still not intended to be entirely absent.

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Bob T.'s picture

Yes, the Greek word adokimos is used eight times in the N.T. and seven of those are of the unsaved by context. At 1 Cor. 9:27 Paul uses it of himself. The broader context, beginning at 9:1 is of Paul's self denial with regard to his ministry as an Apostle and in serving others. The subject is his ministry and the immediate context is the striving and denial in ministry as illustrated by the athletic contest. The word itself had a wide range of meaning In Classical Greek it was incompetent, unqualified or proved worthless as a result of testing. The Koine narrowed its meaning but so little that context defined it. It had the idea of to fail the test, disqualified, or rejected. It is best translated by keeping the meaning within the range allowed by context. So at 1 Cor. 9:27 it is best seen as perhaps disqualifies for the prize of ministry reward. That may be a crown.

James is obviously writing to believers. At 1:12 the Crown of life is mentioned in the context of God's testing and our endurance. Since we all know that God's salvation is not gained by our enduring His testing, but on the basis of His grace, we should assume that the Crown of life here is a reward that is other than the gift of eternal life already given and possessed as a gift without regard to our works, ministry, or passing a test.

At Rev. 2:10, the context indicates the Crown of life is the victory wreath given to the martyr who passes that test. They are believers tested like James mentions and are therefore overcomers. Both at James and here at Revelation, this appears to be a reward for those already saved by grace. The difficulty here is with regard to overcomers and that they "shall not be hurt by the second death." There are three views generally offered. There are 7 passages referring to overcomers in the NT. The best view may be that which best interprets all seven. That may be that overcomers are faithful believers who gain reward. Here these are martyrs who therefore are assured that they will not be touched by second death. Death is a victory to all but especially to them. However, in the context the broader group at Smyrna are seen as believers. They are contrasted to the unbelievers and false believers. Their fidelity to truth and works already evidence their salvation to others. So in this promise, we have all believers given the promise of a Crown reward for overcomers, many of whom will become martyrs.

Randy Alcorn's book "Heaven" is very good and has a good section on rewards.

I love the Hymn "Crown Him with many Crowns." Those who get Crowns will not be prancing in heaven showing their Crowns but will cast them at the Lord Jesus Christ's throne (Rev. 4:9-11).

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