In this sermon, Greg addresses the nature of the rewards that we receive from investing in spiritual disciplines. He then speaks to how generosity is rewarded.
In this passage, Jesus is saying that our motive is all-important. If we give alms to seek recognition, we have our reward. But if we do it in secret, which means that we have no ulterior motive, we will get a reward in heaven. However, this raises questions about whether God loves us because we behave a certain way or if we are simply loved by God. In addition, the teaching that we will be rewarded for our good deeds also seems to contradict the New Testament’s uniform message that we’re saved by grace through our faith, not by works.
The question of rewards for our efforts is a serious issue because the New Testament addresses it quite a lot. The payoff for sacrifice and loss in this life comes in the next age. However, because this apparent tension between grace and rewards is rarely addressed, let alone coherently answered, many tend to ignore teachings about rewards and losses. It causes people to think this way: If I’m going to be magically perfected upon death, why would l go to the trouble of disciplining myself like an Olympic athlete? Therefore, we end up with a “Christian” worldview in which your present behavior, and the character you’re forming with your behavior, simply doesn’t matter.
How should we think about this? First of all, we are saved by grace. The only reason anyone can recognize Jesus as Lord is because God graciously opens their heart by the power of his Spirit. The question is: What do you do with the salvation you’ve been graciously given?
Upon receiving salvation by grace, we must ask how much will we yield to the Spirit working in our hearts? To what degree will we allow our relationship with Christ, given us by grace, to transform us into Christ’s likeness? Paul put it this way:
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. — Philippians 2:12-13
One dimension of our gracious salvation is that God is at work in us, empowering us to want to do God’s good pleasure, which is to transform us into the image of Christ. Another dimension is the role we play in this transformation. It’s our job to work with the Spirit to manifest this grace in every area of our life.
This lays the groundwork for us to understand how we are rewarded for working out our salvation. Some rewards are external, while others are inherent or organic. For instance, having a deep capacity to give and receive love and to experience the joy of helping others is the reward for cultivating that kind of character day by day. The New Testament is not saying that God will give treats to all good boys and girls because they have worked out their salvation. Instead, striving to get every aspect of your life in line with the truth will deepen your capacity to experience God’s good and perfect will.
Jesus teaches that if we give alms to display false righteousness, we have our reward. If we intentionally keep it secret so there is no ulterior motive in giving, then we are storing up rewards in heaven. Jesus is challenging us to develop the kind of generous character that loves to give, not to get noticed but just because generosity reflects God’s character and it’s the best way to live. Someday we will come into the undiluted presence of the generous God, and the character we develop now will determine how much of that generosity we can participate in.
As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, what we reap is what we sow. Being generous with our money now forms our character in a Christ-like direction and there are inherent rewards that result from it. It will reward us throughout eternity.
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