Frequently I hear believers state that it is wrong to serve Christ with a view to earning a reward in heaven. They say working for reward is carnal. They insist that spiritual believers serve Christ for His glory alone. This teaching is wrong on several levels.
First of all, it contradicts straightforward commands in the Bible that insist on the opposite. For instance, Matthew 6:20 commands believers to lay up for themselves treasure in heaven. What is this treasure? Judging from the context, it is stuff—physical, tangible stuff whose Earthly counterparts are susceptible to rust, bugs, and thieves. This is in keeping with Hebrews 10:34 which states that we have “a better and enduring substance” laid up for us in heaven. And it is in keeping with the promise in John 14 that we have a mansion waiting for us in New Jerusalem. And saints…the mansion…the New Jerusalem…they are just the beginning….
Secondly, this teaching distorts the Bible teaching of what it means to be spiritual. It paints a contrast between spiritual and physical—-and insists that it is wrong for spiritual beings to seek physical things. This is an ancient gnostic error that still hinders the church. 1 Corinthians 15:44 obliterates this teaching. There we read that in the resurrection our current soulish body is replaced with a spiritual body, not a non-body. The physical body and the spirit will be wedded in perfect harmony.
So, if physical substance and physical bodies are not innately at odds with the the concept and reality of spiritual, what is the real contrast with spiritual? Sin! When the Bible uses such terms as “carnal,” “the flesh,” and “the body of sin,” it is referring to our sinful desires, not our physical body. And what is the definition of carnality or sinfulness? Departing from the revealed will of God—in particular his will revealed in the Bible.
Thirdly, this teaching puts tension between Jesus and the Bible. How can that not be wrong? There is zero conflict between them. Obeying the Bible and obeying Christ are the same cut of cloth. Honoring the Bible and honoring Christ can be distinguished, but not divided. It is never balking at Christ to take the teachings of the New Testament seriously.
Fourthly, the motives held out to man in the New Testament for believing the gospel are all personal gains—eternal life, escaping hell, rewards, the praise of God. Never once is the gospel preached with hyper-spiritual motives. God always appeals to what theologians refer to as base motives. God constantly appeals to man to seek his own good, his own blessing. Not what man thinks is best. What God says is best—and really is best. God really wants to bless us…as humans…with human stuff…stuff that appeals to us.
In conclusion, don’t be intimidated by believers who despise serving Christ for reward. They have erected their doctrine on the foundation of ancient heathen philosophy. And with this teaching they trample on the plain teaching of the New Testament. They are the ones that are carnal on this point. Isn’t it ironic that the position which prides itself on being deep spiritual truth is actually religious carnality that resists the plain statements of Christ?
May you set all your hope on the gift that shall be brought to you (1 Peter 1:13)…the glory that shall be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18)…a far more exceeding and infinite weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17).
“Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.”
Lee W. Brainard