Chapter 1


About twenty years ago on vacation with a few friends, I witnessed something that has helped me think deeply about heaven. Walking along, I noticed a government worker picking up trash around the public space. What captured my attention was the speed, or lack of it, at which he worked. It was like a child picking up his room in a state of protest, one dirty sock at a time. A ten–minute task, fastidiously rationed into a full–day’s work.

A few hundred yards from this scene was quite a different affair. We walked through an open–air market where merchants hawked snow globes of the Great Wall, battery–operated toys, jewelry with imitation gems, and all other sorts of things we didn’t need. This bazaar operated along the lines of the free market. Merchants got to keep their mark–up, and there, in contrast to Mr. State Rubbish Collector, I beheld a highly motivated workforce. As I walked past one booth a woman actually grabbed my coat and pulled me into her stall, which is why I own one of those battery–operated trinkets.

If this seems to be making a case for a free–market economy, it’s not, for the same motivational dearth can be observed in a privileged adolescent. The problem is an absence of extrinsic motivation coupled with the knowledge that any extra effort won’t get anything more. This dynamic also captures the motivational inertia and ambivalence evidenced in the lives of many believers. A steady diet of Eternal Security, Perseverance of the Saints, and other salvation–affirming doctrines, and the neglect of Scripture’s warning and promise of loss and reward has deprived modern believers of spiritual drive and ambition. Put bluntly, most Christians see little benefit in exerting themselves for a salvation that’s theirs no matter what kind of performance they turn in.

And yet our salvation is secure: a free gift of God’s grace, neither earned nor accomplished. Scripture is clear on this fact. So why do New Testament writers seem to be driven—propelled actually—by a free–market zeal to achieve, excel, and attain as well as a fear of possible bankruptcy, disqualification, and loss? Consider the following passages. They are industrious to say the least:


… the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:13–14 ESV)

I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV)

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? (1 Thessalonians 2:19 NIV)

Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. (2 John 1:8 ESV)

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day. (2 Timothy 4:8 NIV)


This way of thinking is foreign. As believers, we think about going to heaven and being with Jesus, not about rewards or “suffering loss.” Sure, it would be nice to hear “well done, good and faithful servant” but lacking that thirty–second commendation, how would eternity be any different? So why the disconnect? What were the apostles envisioning in these rewards and future judgment that catalyzed and compelled them and moved them to encourage others to follow suit? This is what we need to unravel if we hope to reclaim the motivation of reward. The best way forward is to go back. We must retrace our footsteps and try to figure out how we got into this motivational quagmire to begin with.