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2 Corinthians 5:9–10

“Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Eschatology—the doctrine of the last things—is one of the core areas of Christian theology. Christian eschatology seeks to understand what the Bible has to say about the afterlife, the new creation, and other related matters. Much of what we have been considering thus far in 2 Corinthians 5 concerns eschatology, particularly the future hope of the resurrection and the intermediate state where people go between their deaths and the resurrection of their bodies (vv. 1–8). Today’s passage addresses another eschatological issue: final judgment and the rewards God will give for our works.

Paul’s discussion of the resurrection to come in verses 1–8 leads naturally into considering the final judgment and rewards because in biblical teaching, the resurrection and evaluation of our lives go hand in hand (e.g., Luke 14:12–14). The Apostle notes in 2 Corinthians 5:9 that believers make pleasing the Lord the goal of their existence. As Jesus says in John 14:15, those who love Him will keep His commandments.

One of the motivations for pleasing the Lord is the fact that we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and receive what we are due for what we have done in the body—that is, in our lives. Simply put, God will reward the works of His people, and the greater our good works, the greater our reward will be. Those who invest their gifts in faithful service will be blessed accordingly with more of a reward in heaven (Matt. 25:14–30).

This raises the question as to how we can be rewarded for our good works. After all, we cannot merit eternal life by our good works, and even our best deeds are tainted by sin (Eph. 2:8–10; 1 John 1:8–10). Here we distinguish between what grants us eternal life and the rewards of the last judgment. Only the righteousness of Christ secures eternal life for us, and we have this righteousness credited to us through faith in Him alone (Rom. 4; 2 Cor. 5:21). Yet while our works in no way make us righteous before God, the Lord is so gracious that He gives us additional rewards on top of eternal life for serving Him. Westminster Confession of Faith 16.6 explains, “The persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin comments, “There is . . . no inconsistency in saying, that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously.” We are not declared righteous by our good works, and our good works do not grant us heavenly citizenship. Still, God does reward the good works of His people, so let us be zealous to do good in order to receive a great reward.

For Further Study
  • Proverbs 11:18; 13:13; 22:4
  • Romans 6:23
  • Revelation 20:11–15

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