A Question to All: Grace vs. Reward


I have been trying to understand the relationship between grace (gift) and reward (merit) from a Biblical perspective. And this is not merely an intellectual pursuit; I have been trying to come to terms with it in my own life–how I see God, myself, and those around me. Whenever I have those “ahaa” moments in life, it is always with the realization that I can never do anything (“good” or “bad”) that would change my standing with God–grace.

This is what it is all about, “saved by grace through faith”, etc. But then how do we reconcile the idea of rewards with this idea of grace. A reward is in essence, a wage. And so the contrast, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” The writer didn’t say the wages of God. God doesn’t pay us with eternal life, it is purely a gift.

But then what about the concept of obtaining rewards based on our faith? Many try to argue that “salvation” (accepting Christ–and therefore “getting into” heaven/the Kingdom of God, etc.) is grace-based, but our standing/position in eternity is reward-based. Does the Bible refer to two different types of faith???
If not,
then isn’t God’s gift to all obtained as a reward? (saved by grace through faith)
Now I guess some argue that faith itself is a gift from God as well, but then doesn’t this make the whole concept of rewards nonsense? If faith is simply something that is given, then why would Jesus and Paul make such a big deal out of it, as if it depended on us? (need I quote the numerous examples?)

Now some would say that faith in its potential is a gift, and that we have to activate it (receive the gift) via our will. Well then, what is the difference!? Our will is the determining factor in the matter (or at least it “seals the deal”), not God’s grace. But maybe this is the both/and of grace and faith?

I realize this is probably one of those paradoxes that can’t be explained, but I still can hope…
Any thoughts anyone?



I don’t think the two categories are necessarily mutually exclusive.

The key point is that we shouldn’t think in terms of obligating God to do something as though we are appealing to some standard more fundamental and/or authoritative than He is.

Sure there’s reward; but the reward is graciously given, and is (as the scriptures also say) prepared for us ‘beforehand’. When we cooperate, then God grants reward, not based on some overarching moral standard, but because of Who He fundamentally is: a cooperative interpersonal unity. God is love.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as merely taking grace for granted, too; which we are even more strongly warned against in the scriptures (and for very good reason.) When we insist on sinning, we despise the gracious self-sacrifice of God by which we exist at all; every sin is an abuse of the grace of God.

(And yet not over-against God: for we could not even sin if God did not directly allow us to. In a critically real way, bad things happen because God loves sinners, too. The sinners, not the sin.)


Thanks Jason,
Grace (as I understand it) is unmerited favor, so how does one receive an unmerited reward in the context of the NT? Of course God isn’t obligated to give any reward to us; it is of His free will. Nonetheless, reward is in direct relation to what we do, and not irrespective of it. To me, this sounds like the language of merit, and not grace. Now the merit is of course faith, but it is still merited favor. This merited favor has nothing to do with conversion–God chose us not according to anything that we have done, hence universal salvation, but is seems to regard where we go from conversion. How we choose to live out our lives in regard to grace.


The relationship (as I suggested) isn’t mutually exclusive; the priority of grace is an ontological claim, and a very important one. What we do is already by the grace of God, even (as I noted) when we sin. Merit becomes poisonous only when we try to divorce and contrast it from grace; when we expect and demand and seek reward according to our goodness as though our quality is the standard by which God is obligated to act.

But God, Who (unlike any creature) is Love, does not divorce, much less contrast, merit from grace.

Have you never joyously rewarded someone you love when they did something good?! (Or grievously ‘rewarded’ someone you love when they did something bad?)

Salvation from sin is a special application of this nuanced principle: if we cannot (and we certainly cannot) ‘merit’ reward for our good achievements by appeal to ourselves as the standard which God is obligated to respect, how much less can we ‘merit’ God’s salvation from our sins by such an appeal! And while God may graciously save us from other things than from sin, on occasion, the primary thing we need saving from is from our own sin.

I assure you I speak from experience on this, for (especially today of all days in the year) I cannot help but pray for salvation from my pain. But there is no point to praying for this apart from salvation from my sinning; and much of my pain comes from my own selfishness. I don’t like the pain, but it does remind me that something remains maladjusted in my soul. If I was a righteous man, I wouldn’t suffer this pain from which I pray that God would just kill me and be done with it. God is rewarding me according to the selfish insistence of my soul, against which I am obligated to continually fight. I am supposed to be fighting against my sin, not against God’s punishment of me.

The pain hurts less when I manage to remember that. :neutral_face: :slight_smile:

And when I manage to remember many other things, having to do with the blessing of other people in disregard for my self and my selfishness. And also when I manage to remember that my chief prayer in tandem with salvation from my sin, ought to be: “Lord, what would you have me to do?” And then going and doing that, and trusting God with my life or my death, or rather with both.

For sake of reward? No: for sake of love. And not primarily for sake of love to me. Let God reward me, or not, as He chooses; that isn’t supposed to be my business, but rather thinking and doing righteously in regard to fulfilling justice for other people.

Whenever and however God does reward me, though, it is not primarily because of any merit of mine, but primarily because God is Love.

And that makes all the difference in the world. :slight_smile:


Reward has nothing to do with our inherent goodness (this is not my argument), but everything to do with our faith in God’s. Faith does not trust in our own merit, it trusts in God’s; this trust is “credited as righteousness”. Now what I am still trying to process–and maybe a more fundamental way of putting it, is the relationship between grace and faith. The idea of reward (whether good or bad) is determined by our faith (or lack thereof).

Now of course we can say in some overarching general sense that everything is based on God’s grace, however, this only addresses the fact that God has given us free will and allows us to act accordingly; it does not address God’s response to our choices. Yes, both blessing and cursing are based in God’s love for us, and in the end all will be transformed into the glorious new creation of God–God will be all in all; but in the meantime faith plays a crucial role. Our choices have some kind of consequence for the unknown future (the age to come–the Kingdom of God before it is handed over to the Father by the Son?).

My point, is that we either believe that it is impossible to lose a potential (good) reward, or that it is–our choices in this life have consequences for the future–we have the last word regarding our obedience in this life. These ideas are mutually exclusive and I can’t see them as a both/and. It is kind of a Calv. vs. Armin. argument, but not in regards to eternal salvation. Yes, God’s will and purpose will prevail either way in the end, but what about now; does now affect the age to come? What is the point of all the exhortation in the NT if rejecting God (a lack of faith) has no bearing on my future? Not my eternal future, but my temporary future. Yes, the only thing we can point to regarding any kind of future (good) reward is the goodness and grace of God, but can we say the same thing about a lack of good reward? Haven’t we no one to give the credit to other than ourselves?

However, an obvious problem arises from this viewpoint. This system of belief assumes that everyone has an “equal opportunity” regarding the future Kingdom. Not in the sense that we all start with the same level of faith/love and go from there; obviously there are many factors that shape our ability to trust God, and He takes that into account (we all start with our own number of talents). But what about the millions of people over the millenia who’s lives were cut short? Those who didn’t have a chance to “fight the good fight” or to not to. Abortions, disease, war, car crashes, other fatal accidents, murders, etc. etc. How do these fit into the picture?


free will ?

For the creature was made subject to vanity/futility, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Rom 8:20

how futile is the creature?

Paul wrote that when we are weak Christ is strong.

How weak are we?

I believe he who walks deeply in God come to the realization his “futility and weakness” is total.
Such a realization is the result of much tribulation.

In His Sweet Lord Jesus,



If the believer by God’s Spirit is not now free–a new creature in God–free to walk according to the Spirit (and free not to), then we believe in nothing more than Christian fatalism. And if it is the fatalism of grace, then no true believer should sin (unless we say that sin is God’s will). Or it is simply a dual fatalism of good and evil. But since we are free (and we don’t blame God for our disobedience), we are free to obey as well as to disobey. Formerly we were slaves to sin; now we are slaves to righteousness, but with the ever-present possibility of serving two masters.

If we do not have free choice (as those in Christ) then how could Paul speak of his own possible disqualification? Disqualification (whatever we interpret it to mean) surely wasn’t God’s will for Paul! Either Paul was talking nonsense or we have to take him seriously–that there is such a thing as free choice, and responsibility regarding those choices.


"He worketh all things"—absolutely all things, without any exceptions—“after the counsel of his own will.” Eph. 1:11

Justin, here is an excerpt from what I consider the old standard on God’s sovereignty


"Now I hold that the following proposition is self-evident. Given a God of infinite power, wisdom and goodness, He is responsible for ALL things that exist. And this also follows from the wisdom and goodness of God: All things that exist are for an intelligent and benevolent end. These conclusions are inevitable from the premises; they cannot be modified except by modifying the premises. For instance, if you say that some things exist contrary to God’s will, then it follows that God is not all-powerful; and you cannot escape this conclusion by bringing in the orthodox doctrine of man’s free moral agency, for whatever a free moral agent may do, He is responsible for it who made him a free moral agent. If God made man a free moral agent, He knew beforehand what the result would be, and hence is just as responsible for the consequences of the acts of that free moral agent as He would be for the act of an irresponsible machine that He had made.

Man’s free moral agency, even if it were true, would by no means clear God from the responsibility of His acts since God is His creator and has made him in the first place just what he is, well knowing what the result would be. If God’s will is EVER thwarted, then He is not almighty. If His will is thwarted, then His plans must be changed, and hence He is not all-wise and immutable. If His will is NEVER thwarted, then all things are in ACCORDANCE with His will and He is responsible for all things as they exist. If He is all-wise and all-good, then all things, existing according to His will, must be tending to some wise and benevolent end. Thus we come back to my proposition again: If God is infinite in power, wisdom and goodness, then He is responsible for ALL things that exist, and all existing things are tending toward some wise and good end. He who cannot see that this proposition is absolutely inevitable, as much so as a mathematical axiom, must be very deficient in logic and reason, and it would be useless to argue with him …

The whole of A P Adams’ article can be found here:



As your excerpt from Adams’ article agrees, human free will can exist concurrently with God’s responsibility for what happens. Consequently, there is no point arguing against human free will as though doing so would somehow obviate God’s sovereignty (through His responsibility) for what happens–which is what the rest of the excerpt you presented is trying to argue. An argument against human free will would have to proceed on other grounds; and would have to be more particular about what notion (or notions) of ‘free will’ is being argued against. An argument against humans existing with the freedom of ontological self-existence, for example, wouldn’t necessarily be an argument against humans existing with the derivative ability to introduce actions into a system (instead of only reacting automatically to stimuli and/or only randomly behaving in some automatic fashion.)


Lets keep it simple my friend.
What ever choice you and I should make, was foreknown and predetermined by God.

Maybe a lesson can be found in this simple fable of the elephant and the mouse.

There once was an elephant crossing a crude, rickety bridge with a mouse riding upon his back. When the elephant stepped on to the firm ground on the other side of the bridge the mouse crawled into the elephant’s ear and exclaimed with elation, "Man, we sure made that bridge shake, didn’t we!"

Bless you,



I agree with the first part of your statement, but not the second. Yes, our choices don’t surprise God, but this doesn’t mean that He also determined them. Yes, the ultimate end is determined–God becoming all in all; thus the purpose of God is not thwarted. However, what about before the end? Once again I ask, if Paul thought he could potentially be disqualified (by his own actions), then does not this speak of something other than pure determinism?


The Race in First Corinthians Nine
Justin,Paul more than any, knew that man could do only that which God ordained. His epistles are full of revelations of God’s sovereignty and man’s predetermined path. The race in 1Cor 9 is won by only One. Can you guess the One? And to top the race off, the reward is the same One, Christ Jesus. May we ever be found in Christ Jesus! And yes, it is the Spirit of Christ that animates Paul to run. Pull the Spirit and Paul beats the air! He speaks of disqualification as “the attaining to the first resurrection.” Qualification and disqualification are God’s choice and thus Paul brings His flesh into subjection by the graceful gift of the Holy Spirit of God. And doesn’t Paul tell us, when the natural man is weak the Spirit man is strong. Paul certainly understand the futility of natural man, having penned one of the most telling scriptures of man’s state in Romans 8:20.

Oh no my friend, Paul knows above all that “He(God) worketh all things”—absolutely all things, without any exceptions—“after the counsel of His own will.” Eph. 1:11

Martin Zender wrote a succinct message dealing with those that hold to the idea they have free will. I believe it holds truth.

Brother Justin, it seems you desire to help God save you, when salvation is a free gift. My friend, you cannot work for your salvation, for it is God’s work. In closing I would like to leave a smile on your face by sharing another thought by Zender.

In HIs Sweet Lord Jesus,



Exactly! :smiley:

So that means I am free to play with whichever one I choose (or even the fluffy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror) surely?




nyuck, nyuck, nyuck … :laughing:



Most put the blame on Adam because he disobeyed God. Most also put the blame on man for disobedience. Every religion has a scapegoat. To blame Adam or man is but another religion.

If the truth be known, God becomes the scapegoat and says once and for all, “blame Me!” Such was the demonstration of God in Christ.

How often I have suffered tribulation at the hands of man and when I became angry, God said, “blame me.”

In His Sweet Lord Jesus,



Except, reality isn’t that simple; including in the scriptures.

Yes, trusting in one’s “faith” for salvation is an attempt at salvation by works; as I myself have said before (including on this forum). Strictly speaking, it is gnosticism (as I have also said before, including on this forum), and so should be rejected. Yes, God takes responsibility for human sin and pays for it Himself (as I have also said before, including on this forum).

Nevertheless, the scriptures routinely exhort us to repent and to personally cooperate with God instead of rebelling against God. That includes St. Paul in his epistles, though he may not do so as often as Christ in the Gospels. Even so, the first thing Christ says to Saul on the road to Damascus, is “Why are you persecuting Me? How hard it is, for you to kick against the goads”.

If all our behaviors are ‘simply’ determined by God, without any personal input of our own, then there is exactly no point for one person (even God) to make an appeal to another person (“Be reconciled to God!”, for example, as St. Paul says we are to be exhorting as ambassadors, in 2 Cor 5:20); for that appeal necessarily presumes the other person can make a choice to behave according to the appeal or not. The tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of appearances of personal interaction in the scriptures would all be completely illusionary; and (taken to its logical end) there would not even be anyone among the readers of scripture for those appearances to be merely illusions to.

It is true that the first two chapters of Ephesians, for example, are focused (even solely) on God’s preeminent role in our salvation from sin, without much (or any?) reference to any contribution from us at all. It would be wrong and incomplete for a theology to ignore or deny the sovereign preeminence of God in our salvation from sin and indeed in our righteousness with one another; a preeminence testified to all throughout the scriptures.

But it is also wrong and incomplete for a theology to ignore or deny the subordinate role of the derivative person, as a person (made and gifted by God but not God Himself), in choosing with derivative freedom to love or to hate, whether the object of our action is God or another person such as ourselves: a role, and a freedom (derivative though that freedom is), also testified to throughout the scriptures. To give the most immediate of exceedingly many examples: such a denial would make nonsense of St. Paul’s declaration in Eph 3 that the nations are to be joint enjoyers of the allotment, and a joint body, and joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. If only God is making any choices in that, then there is no joining of a plural unity at all. God is only doing what God does, period, and this scriptural talk of other persons existing to join in cooperation with one another is even less than fictional. God will have not even created; and cannot therefore be in any sense a Father, either (or even a Lord, King, Judge, etc.)


This is undoubtedly a poor analogy but I walk my dog on an extending leash. She is free to investigate, sniff leave pee-mails in any of umpteen different directions. I may even stand by while she investigates something really stinky and choose to wash it off her lovingly after the walk is over; or I may yank her hard as she starts towards said stinky thing.

Does the dog have or not have free will choices that she can make within the confines of my overall control (I decide where we walk and for how long)? :smiley:


Jeff, if you foreknew and predetermined every move your dog would make on his or her walk you wouldn’t need that darn leash. :mrgreen:


I have been reading that the scientist are discovering new data that seems to contrast the concept of man having free will. Some years ago, there was a physiologist at UCSF that did some pretty nifty experiments that seemed to support an external force influencing our choices.

“Dr. Libet demonstrated that the brain starts responding to an external command before a person makes a conscious decision, suggesting that free will is a rationalization produced by the mind after the fact to explain its actions.
This introduces certain constraints on the potentiality for conscious initiation and control of voluntary acts.”

Boys surpassing wonder of wonders, might it be that we choose only as God would have us, because we are one with the heavenly Potter Himself.


**Free Will


S: (n) free will, discretion (the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies)**

I personally think that the question of human free will ultimately comes down to what the definition of free will is. The above is what I found as the definition of free will.

As finite beings, we do not have the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies, as this would give us a power equal to or greater than God’s (by way of us being able to ultimately trump His will).

Do we have a will? Yes.

Do we and can we make choices? Within certain parameters, Yes.

Do we have free will? By definition, no.