SALVATION AND REWARD
We have seen that Revelation is a book on righteousness. If we want to understand the function of its righteous nature, we must differentiate between salvation and reward. The Bible as the Word of God has made a clear distinction between these two things; they are never mixed together. What God has separated, no man can put together by force. Let us now consider their distinctions a little:
Salvation is free; it is not obtained through man’s work. It is God who has graced us. We are not saved through any merit of our own. We can look at a few verses from the Bible:
"Ho! Everyone who thirsts [the sinners], / Come to the waters [God’s salvation], / And you who have no money [merits, righteous acts, etc.]; / Come, buy and eat [every sinner can believe and be saved]; / Yes, come, buy wine and milk [the joy of salvation] / Without money and without price [without righteous acts and without goodness in oneself]" (Isa. 55:1).
"The gift of God" (John 4:10).
"But the gift of God is eternal life" (Rom. 6:23).
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
"Not out of works in righteousness which we did but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5).
"Let him who wills take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17).
We should pay attention to the above verses. These verses, and many others which we have not quoted, prove that our salvation is free. It does not come about through our work or our righteous acts. We are saved through the grace of God. All there is for us to do is to believe in God’s gift of grace, that is, in God’s free gift. We must be very clear about this. The work of salvation is completely accomplished for us by the Lord Jesus. He died on the cross to accomplish our salvation. If we want to be saved and have eternal life now, we do not need to have any more work or to accumulate any merit. All that is needed is for us to believe and to receive. None of our good deeds are acceptable before God. In the whole New Testament, there are over one hundred fifty times where it says that we receive salvation by believing or that we receive eternal life by believing. God never lies to us. He says, "Believe, believe, believe." When we believe, we are saved, have eternal life, and are justified. This is free. "God gave to us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:11-12). According to the Word of God, everyone who receives the Lord Jesus as Savior by faith has eternal life. Truly, "He who believes into the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). The minute we believe, we have it!
But reward is different. It is different from gift. Reward is not given for free. It is obtained through good works. Reward is given according to the saints’ work. We can look at the following verses:
"My reward is with Me to render to each one as his work is" (Rev. 22:12). This is a word to the church (see v. 16).
"Each will receive his own reward according to his own labor" (1 Cor. 3:8).
"Whatever you do, work from the soul as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as recompense....For he who does unrighteously will receive what he unrighteously did" (Col. 3:23-25).
"Now to the one who works, his wages are not accounted according to grace, but according to what is due" (Rom. 4:4).
We can quote many other verses, but these few are sufficient to prove to us that reward does not come freely. According to the teaching of the Bible, we can see that reward is awarded according to the good works of the believers. Whether it be as small as a cup of cold water (Matt. 10:42), or as hidden as a counsel of the heart (1 Cor. 4:5), or a humble service (Mark 10:43), or a suffering for the Lord (Luke 6:22), all these are opportunities for reward.
Hence, according to the Bible, what is set before man is two goals. While we were sinners, our goal was to be saved. After we are saved and have become believers, our goal is to receive the reward. Salvation is prepared for the sinners. Reward is prepared for the believers. A man should first receive salvation and then seek after the reward. The perishing ones need salvation. The saved ones need the reward. After reading 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and Philippians 3:12-14, we see that some believers will not receive the reward. In those two passages, Paul was speaking of the question of reward rather than of salvation. Paul knew very well that he was saved. In his Epistles, he often expressed that he was a saved person, but in these two passages, he showed us what he was pursuing after he was saved. He was pursuing after the reward. At that time, he could not say for sure yet that he would receive the reward. He was still seeking after it. A sinner should seek for salvation, while a believer should seek for reward.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 03, The Christian (1), Chapter 9, by Watchman Nee)