Consider this. I am coming soon. And my reward is with Me,
to render to each one according to his work.
This is a verse that has become somewhat controversial within mainstream Christianity. It is accepted teaching that our salvation is by God's grace, alone, and there is nothing we can do -- no works -- that can earn us eternal life in Heaven. It is true that Salvation is a gift from God, period, in return for our belief and trust that He sent His Son to die as payment for our sins. Therefore, this Scripture that, in Jesus's own words, tells us that we can expect rewards "according to our works", is often confusing to Christians.
So here is what we need to understand ... Salvation is the means by which we enter into eternal life. And while our works here on earth have nothing to do with our entry to heaven, they have everything to do with our rewards once we get there.
And before I get to the meat of this observation about our rewards, I don't want to leave the subject of Salvation until I make this comment ... Too many Christians rely on their salvation from eternal damnation as the ultimate goal of their Christian experience. There is far more Scriptural evidence that it is just the beginning; that what we do in this life for the Kingdom of God on earth -- after receiving this unmerited gift from God -- matters to Jesus! Put in simple terms ... Salvation is not the result of our works here on earth, but rewards in Heaven are. Therefore, Salvation and Rewards are not the same, but our Rewards rely on what we do for the Kingdom of God after we have received Salvation.
I know that there will still be Christians who are uncomfortable with the idea that we should seek rewards, perhaps feeling that this is self-serving and glorifying ourselves rather than Jesus. Granted, we are told not to practice our righteousness before other people to be seen by them; in other words, we are not to boast of our good deeds for Christ. But, the Bible makes it very clear that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body [his rewards], whether good or evil". Obviously, we want to be commended for our work for God's kingdom, and that comes in the form of Crowns. (See this post and this post for descriptions of what those crowns are, and why they are awarded).
Before I continue, I feel I must address another concept that I believe is not supported by Scripture, and that is the idea that all saints will experience Heaven equally. True, everyone will receive the best gift of all [eternal life] in equal measure. But Jesus talks a lot about those who will receive their reward "in full", or those whose reward will be "greater"; indicating degrees of reward -- which has nothing to do with their salvation. He also says that those who will be first (greatest) will be last (the least), and vice versa -- all pointing to rankings, or levels; pointing to something being given in recognition of one's service, effort, or achievement.
And there is even Scripture that points to the possibility of losing "a portion" of your reward. In fact, the Apostle John warns, "Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward", indicating that it is possible to receive less than the maximum reward; or to lose a portion of your reward. And Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Talents that we will also earn greater responsibilities as the result of our efforts here on earth (“I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master”). In this story, each servant is entrusted with a certain number of talents, each according to his ability. In the end, each is rewarded by the master on the basis of how he has invested the talents. In the same way, each of us will be rewarded on the basis of how we used the gift of salvation to advance the kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. So, it appears God enjoys rewarding His Children with increased and valuable roles of responsibility as a reward for our faithfulness as servants in this life.
So, in conclusion, all who trust in Jesus as their Savior will spend eternity in Heaven with Him. We will experience the joy of His presence and for some that is enough reward. But I can't help but discern that as we stand before His judgment seat in Heaven, we will want Him to say to us, those He left in charge to take possession of and care for His Kingdom on earth, "Well done, good and faithful Servant. You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little [of what I left you]; I will put you in charge of many things; share in the joy of your master." I want to rule and reign with Him, and I don't want to have any regrets!
Although most Christians probably feel they are honoring the Lord in their lives, each of us will probably look back on our earthly lives and wish we had done more to advance the Kingdom of God. We will simply realize that we could have done more for Him... not to glorify ourselves with more rewards than others, but because we will realize that the rewards He gives us amount to just a fraction of what could have been done in His Name. He is coming soon, as His Word proclaims ... His reward for each of us is with Him. He has told us that when He returns He "will reap [the harvest] where He did not sow and gather where He did not scatter seed." The sowing and scattering is our job! What kind of harvest will He gather from the work we have done for His kingdom? Will He even notice? I pray that my life has given abundant glory to Jesus; that the harvest of my efforts is pleasing to Him. And I will happily receive whatever rewards He deems fitting!