“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.” 2 Corinthians 5:10
Ask anyone of a certain age and that person will tell you getting old really stinks. It’s true on so many levels. Take my mom for example. She’s facing some health issues because of her age, and it’s taken away her ability to do many things she used to do very easily. I’m sure you can imagine her frustration. One problem these issues have caused is her inability to spread the Gospel. It’s hard to shout the Good News when it’s hard to get out of bed some days.
She and I were talking not long ago about her situation, and Mom brought up some good questions: If she’s largely homebound, will she lose her heavenly rewards? Will God make a kind of withdraw from her heavenly savings account? Is she still eligible for any crowns? Does it even matter? These are good questions for all of us to ask ourselves even if we’re not homebound.
But let’s back up. What exactly are the crowns and rewards the Bible talks about? How do we earn them, and what can we do to keep them?
Running the Race
The apostle Paul talked about crowns and rewards extensively in the New Testament, and Jesus mentioned it several times as well. The most notable verse is 1 Corinthians 9:24-25:
“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 [disciplined] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”
Paul wrote this verse in reference to the Olympic and Isthmian games that were common for the time. The games always included a running race. The first man to cross the finish line would head to a table called a bema where the authority of the area would place a garland or wreath of leaves on the winner’s head like a crown as a reward.
Like a runner in a race, Christians are also running a race, and the prize is heaven. The choices we make now determine which prizes we receive when we get there.
Of course, we don’t make good choices just so we get a prize. That’s selfish and not godly in any way. It won’t earn you a thing, least of all any crowns. No, we behave righteously and obey God’s commands in response to our love for Him and in service to Him.
The Five Crowns
The Bible tells us of five specific crowns we can receive in heaven. You’ll notice they tend to overlap.
The Crown of Glory- given to those who long for Jesus’ reappearance. His glory refers to His nature, the praise and honor He deserves, and the blessing of finally being in His presence.
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” 1 Peter 5:4
The Crown of Righteousness- given to us through Jesus’ righteousness only. He shares it with only those who faithfully serve Him and others, and who long to see Him.
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8
The Crown of Rejoicing- given to those who long to be in Jesus’ presence and are always thankful for His blessings. This crown likely includes God’s promise of no tears, sorrow, death, crying, or pain in heaven (Revelation 21:4).
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” 1 Thessalonians 2:19
The Imperishable Crown- a special crown given to those who endured through every circumstance and remained faithful to the Lord. Because the Lord is everlasting, so is the crown we receive if we finish our race well.
“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 [disciplined] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
The Crown of Life- for all believers who withstood suffering and bravely defended the faith. It does not refer to the gift of eternal life which comes through Jesus Christ alone.
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10
Beside crowns, we will receive other rewards when we stand before the Lord one day. The Bible presents these as promises from God for those who endure to the end.
Overcoming. God has special blessings for those who endure special tests and trials. That person will be allowed to eat from the tree of life, not suffer the second death, and given secret manna and a white stone with your new heavenly name written on it (Rev. 2:7; 2:11, 17, 26).
Heavenly Treasure. In Matthew 6:20, Jesus encourages us to lay up our treasures in heaven “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Peter reiterates Jesus’ words in 1 Peter 1:4: “…that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you….”
Acknowledgments. In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, Jesus tells of the master who richly rewards his faithful servant with those words we all long to hear when we see Him:
“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things. I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
This promise is also given in Luke 19:17.
“So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5
Authority. The books of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation all talk about faithful believers receiving the gift of authority over nations and cities and to judge the twelve tribes of Israel on our own thrones (Matt. 19:28; 24:45-47; 25:21, 23; Lk. 19:17-19; 22:29-30; Rev. 2:26).
How Do We Earn Crowns and Rewards?
Earning rewards can be relatively simple if we are serious about our faith. But be careful—we don’t run our race to earn them for selfish reasons but rather because of our humble service to the Lord. So, how do we do that?
- Confess and repent of your sins regularly
- Read the Bible every day so you fully know its truth
- Resist culture telling you that Jesus isn’t enough
- Practice the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5: 22)
- Stay in daily communication with the Lord, i.e. pray
- Control your actions and words so they always reflect God’s glory
- Share the Good News of Jesus whenever possible
- Use your time, talent, and treasure in service to the Lord
- Anticipate Jesus’ return and be ready for it
Can We Lose Our Crowns and Rewards?
Let’s finally answer the question I started with—can we lose our rewards? The unfortunate answer is yes.
But, let’s cover something super important first. I need to make this crystal clear: Losing your rewards does not mean you will lose your salvation.
Did you catch that? YOU WILL NOT LOSE YOUR SALVATION.
To say we lose our salvation would be denying the completed work Christ did on the cross. His grace is sufficient for you and it’s never taken away if you have accepted Him into your life. So, if you have accepted Jesus, the Bible says you’re going to heaven. Period.
But…you can still lose your rewards. The book of Revelation illustrates how one day we will stand at God’s bema where He will give us the rewards we are due. Some of them we will keep, but others will be taken away according to our actions and choices here on earth.
Paul makes the analogy of someone losing their heavenly rewards as someone surviving a fire. Yes, you made it, you’re alive, but you lost everything except for the singed shirt on your back.
“If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:14-15
The fire test also applies to your rewards. If you obeyed His commands for His glory’s sake, your rewards will burn like “gold, silver, and precious stones” (1 Corinthians 3:12). If you didn’t, then your rewards will burn like wood or hay.
Turning your back on the Lord, not sharing your faith, not behaving in a godly manner and reflecting Christ, not fully running your race or finishing well, acting selfishly…all these will cause you to lose your rewards very quickly.
Loss and Shame
To make matters worse, Paul implies a kind of shame once you “suffer loss,” but not shame as humans tend to think of it.
I read an article explaining this shame by equating it with taking a school exam. You took the exam, the teacher graded it, and you got a D. After your initial shock, you look over the test and your eyes suddenly open. You see what you did wrong and why you got the grade you deserved. It’s not exactly a feeling of shame but more like a realization. It’s the same in heaven. You forfeit your rewards when you make poor choices.
Thankfully, the shame quickly fades due to God’s promise in Revelation 21:4 that there is no sorrow in heaven. There’s only fullness of joy in His presence, both for you and for Him.
Sidenote: Casting Our Crowns
Just a quick note here about what the Bible means by casting our crowns in Revelation 4:10-11. Whatever crowns you earned, each one belongs solely to Jesus. He alone is worthy and deserving since it is only through Him we do anything.
It is only by His grace and will we receive anything at all. Casting our crowns, giving them back to Jesus, is a beautiful form of worship.
Hold onto Your Rewards
How do we hold onto our rewards until we get to heaven? What can we do? Jesus gives us the clear answer in Revelation 3:11:
“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”
We are to “hold fast” and abide in Jesus. Abiding is the key to the whole issue. If you’re abiding, you’re obeying.
“Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him. And by this, we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” 1 John 3:24
“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” 1 John 2:28
Are you abiding in God? Are you reading the Word and praying regularly? Are you daily surrendering to Him? Are you leaning on His power and infinite resources to help you overcome sin and temptation? Are you allowing Him to work through you and in you? Are you sharing His blessings with others?
Abide in the Lord. Hold fast to Him. Keep fighting the good fight and finish your race well. Remember that walking in faith isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. So, hang in there until you cross the finish line and the Lord says to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Have you ever wondered if you will receive any rewards in heaven? What do you do to make sure you continually abide in the Lord? How are you serving Him and others in your community? Please leave your comments and ideas below. I’d love to hear all about it!
Dr. Richard L. Strauss gave a great sermon back in 1992 about holding onto our rewards. You can read the transcript in its entirety on the Spiritual Gold website right here.
Bible.org explains the doctrine of heavenly rewards if you’re looking for a more theological explanation. Check it out here.