Are There Degrees of Glory in Heaven as a Reward for Good Works?

Started by racin_jason, February 15, 2024, 02:15:18 PM

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Tom Eckstein

Quote from: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on February 15, 2024, 10:17:16 PM
Quote from: John Mundinger on February 15, 2024, 09:42:10 PM
Quote from: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on February 15, 2024, 08:51:59 PMThen the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'

It is understandable that the unrighteous fail to see the face of Jesus in the faces of the less fortunate.  But, it is interesting that the righteous likewise fail to see Jesus even though they are tending to Jesus while tending to the less fortunate.

Two points can be drawn from Matthew 25 relative to the conversation about degrees of glory.  1) the deeds that matter or those performed in response to the commandment to love the neighbor; and, 2) if I am counting my good deeds, I can be fairly certain that God is not.

And, to reiterate, the "reward" that matters is the gift of eternal life, not the degrees of glory.

The reward, repay, recompense language in the New Testament all has to do with one's works/deeds. Salvation is kept distinct as gift. It's helpful to maintain this difference.

Ed, I agree.  However, in this world where the opinio legis is so strong even among Christains (not to mention the many who attend our funerals who are clueless about Christianity!), any talk of God rewarding us for our works will be understood as us "meriting our salvation" unless we clarify what we mean by helping them understand what "being rewarded for works" actually MEANS within the wider narrative of Scripture.

Also, I think that when Jesus talks about "the ones doing good rising to the resurrection of life" (John 5:29) He is not there talking about the saints being rewarded for good works but the saints being saved because they "did good," that is, they were repentant believers versus "those having done evil" who were unrepentant unbelievers.  The Athanasian Creed is likely alluding to these words of Jesus and, therefore, is NOT teaching salvation by works but that "doing good" is trusting in Christ alone for salvation.

Having said all that, I agree that Scripture ALSO teaches that those who are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone bear fruit in response to this salvation and are rewarded for this fruit even though God gets all the glory for it, as Paul says in 1st Corinthians 4:7, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?"

So, I agree with you and Will that God "rewards" us for the good works He has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10), but this side of heaven where the opinio legis is so prevalent, we better be darn sure we explain what we mean by this.
I'm an LCMS Pastor in Jamestown, ND.

Tom Eckstein

Quote from: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on February 16, 2024, 08:40:07 AMThen the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."

This is a classic text for this locus. There is also the division of the elders from the great multitude in Revelation 4ff.

The study I undertook with my people distinguished five crowns mentioned in Scripture that are awarded to believers for different accomplishments.

Ed, but we dare not forget that in Revelation 4 the elders take off their crowns and throw them down before the throne of God!
I'm an LCMS Pastor in Jamestown, ND.

Tom Eckstein

Even though I agree with Ed and Will about believers being rewarded for works done in faith, there's a reason Jesus told the parable He did in Matthew 20:1-16.  Simply put, Jesus is well aware of the opinio legis of our sinful nature that not only assumes we can merit salvation itself but also thinks that "works done in faith" somehow put God in our debt, as though He "owes us something" because our works are more glorious than others.

So, especially if you are a lifelong Christian with mature sanctification that is evident in your life - this is all the more reason for the humility that emulates the elders in Revelation 4 who throw down their crowns before the throne of God.
I'm an LCMS Pastor in Jamestown, ND.

Brian Stoffregen

Quote from: Dan Fienen on February 16, 2024, 11:33:03 AMThere are several pieces to the puzzle that is the topic of this discussion. Which means that there are several ways to get it wrong.

To look at one of the pieces.

QuoteOn the other hand, God is graciously pleased to recognize our efforts, unworthy objectively as they are, and honor them. To use a family analogy, parents praise and reward the efforts of their children to do good work, even though they could likely have easily done better and quicker. It is when the child starts over rating themselves that they have to bring them down to reality.

QuoteIf God is pleased with our efforts, objectively feeble and of mixed motives as they inevitably are, and graciously chooses to recognize and reward them in heaven, that is God being a good parent.

Where do you find that God is pleased with our efforts? Generally, God's expressed pleasure in Jesus at his baptism, and displeasure with the Chosen People.

QuoteWe often think of reward as something that makes our condition tangibly better, a bigger house, fancier car, more comforts etc. But reward could also be the recognition of a job well (relatively) done. Like a medal awarded for meritorious conduct or service. The medal may not come with a cash award, just the honor of it. Perhaps that is what the degree of glory in heaven amounts to.

The word translated "reward" literally means, "payment for work done," e.g., "wages."

I'm also wondering how this discussion fits with Jesus' words in Luke 17:

7 "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? 8 Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me; put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done

Should we manage to reach perfection in our faith and deeds, we are still worthless slaves. We have done only what we ought to have done.
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

George Rahn

Quote from: racin_jason on February 15, 2024, 02:15:18 PMIn our Men's Bible Study this week, as we have been plowing through Hebrews, we discussed Hebrews 10:35: Do not, therefore, abandon that boldness of yours; it brings a great reward . Our Bible Study consists of mostly Lutheran laymen, as well as a sprinkling of a few from other traditions, including a retired pastor from the Vineyard movement. The question came up "Do we get rewarded for extra works" (you know, Jewel-in-the-crown type of stuff). The Vineyard pastor, who I have a great deal of respect for and who I consider a friend, said "yes, we do get rewards for extra-efforts". And referred to Paul and the Book of Revelation as well as the Parable of Talents" 

I countered that this was not a Lutheran teaching, even though there are undeniably passages in the Bible that seem to indicate salvation as a reward and even degrees. Instead, we are more shaped by the parable of the laborers in the vineyard who receive the same wage regardless of hours worked. We agreed to disagree.

But later in the morning he sent me this link, saying "See? Lutherans believe it too". 
 https://forwardinchrist.net/reward-for-good-works/?fbclid=IwAR28NPfcrrrmjvmggnqTQTYnczz1YH73HvhKvvRnJ3xvUS7yLTHfPZ9dglY

It's from a WELS pastor. When I did more research online, I could find a few other WELS pastors who taught this. But no ELCA or LCMS sites.

I find the notion of degrees in heaven repellent from a law/gospel point of view. It seems to me we are trading one set of laws for a new set of rewards that work withing a framework of the law, rather than the transformational, unconditional good news of the gospel. But hey, that's me.

Can anyone here speak to this little situation here? Either their personal thoughts on the teaching or where the teaching stands in the tradition of Lutheran theology? 

This seems to me an important teaching, and I am surprised there is not much out there on it. 


There is a great misreading of Hebrews 10:35 if the object of the reward is based on anything other than the confidence that we have in the Gospel now.  It has nothing to do with reward in heaven.  The reward is based on the confidence that we have now based on the Gospel in terms of endurance in suffering.  The writer just got finished talking about endurance in current matters and the confidence to endure through the message of the Gospel, which is the reward.

racin_jason

I agree, George Rahn.

But we are talking about a bunch of lay people here. You put that verse out in front of a bunch of good-hearted retired guys, and that's where they are going to go with it.
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George Rahn

Quote from: racin_jason on February 16, 2024, 04:59:19 PMI agree, George Rahn.

But we are talking about a bunch of lay people here. You put that verse out in front of a bunch of good-hearted retired guys, and that's where they are going to go with it.


Got it.  Sad situation.  Maybe go back into discussion with them based on the text itself.  Although I understand how limiting it can be in certain situations with lay folks.  Especially when discussing scripture with them.  Patience and Courage, my friend!

Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

Quote from: Tom Eckstein on February 16, 2024, 01:19:08 PM
Quote from: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on February 16, 2024, 08:40:07 AMThen the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."

This is a classic text for this locus. There is also the division of the elders from the great multitude in Revelation 4ff.

The study I undertook with my people distinguished five crowns mentioned in Scripture that are awarded to believers for different accomplishments.

Ed, but we dare not forget that in Revelation 4 the elders take off their crowns and throw them down before the throne of God!

Yes. That was how our study on crowns ended.

John Mundinger

Quote from: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on February 16, 2024, 08:25:38 PM
Quote from: Tom Eckstein on February 16, 2024, 01:19:08 PM
Quote from: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on February 16, 2024, 08:40:07 AMThen the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."

This is a classic text for this locus. There is also the division of the elders from the great multitude in Revelation 4ff.

The study I undertook with my people distinguished five crowns mentioned in Scripture that are awarded to believers for different accomplishments.

Ed, but we dare not forget that in Revelation 4 the elders take off their crowns and throw them down before the throne of God!

Yes. That was how our study on crowns ended.

Missing from this conversation - and I wonder if it is also missing from group studies on this topic - is the Lutheran understanding of Christian stewardship.  The motivation for good works has nothing to do about earning God's favor or an extra measure of rewards in eternity.  The motivation is thanksgiving for the fact that, in Christ Jesus, we already live in God's favor.
Lifelong Evangelical Lutheran layman

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought.  St. Augustine

Brian Stoffregen

Quote from: John Mundinger on February 17, 2024, 10:12:42 AMMissing from this conversation - and I wonder if it is also missing from group studies on this topic - is the Lutheran understanding of Christian stewardship.  The motivation for good works has nothing to do about earning God's favor or an extra measure of rewards in eternity.  The motivation is thanksgiving for the fact that, in Christ Jesus, we already live in God's favor.
"Lutheran ethics start to function when one no longer asks, 'What's in it for me?'" (Eric Gritsch)
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

Weedon

No one, but no one has remotely suggested that we would seek to do good works in order to be rewarded for them. But that has zero to do with the Church's clear obligation to teach what the Scriptures teach about the reality of degrees of glory and reward. No imagined danger of teaching this escaped the Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred writers to include this in the faith once delivered to the saints. The correct way to guard against misunderstanding of the doctrine is to teach correctly about grace and the motivation of thankfulness for salvation in our serving the neighbor; it is not to erase part of what the Holy Spirit revealed because you think it might be abused. Grrrr.

John Mundinger

#56
Quote from: Weedon on February 17, 2024, 10:32:29 AMNo one, but no one has remotely suggested that we would seek to do good works in order to be rewarded for them.

The title of this particular conversation suggests otherwise.

Quote from: Weedon on February 17, 2024, 10:32:29 AMBut that has zero to do with the Church's clear obligation to teach what the Scriptures teach about the reality of degrees of glory and reward.

The Church's clear obligation is the Great Commission - teaching intended to fill all of the cheap seats, not teaching about how to fill the box seats in heaven.

Quote from: Weedon on February 17, 2024, 10:32:29 AMThe correct way to guard against misunderstanding of the doctrine is to teach correctly about grace and the motivation of thankfulness for salvation in our serving the neighbor;

Agreed.  And, I'd suggest that the message of grace and thankfulness for salvation is sufficiently important that it should occupy almost all of our teaching and preaching.  And, as I have already suggested and the progress of this conversation as tended to confirm, conversations about degrees of glory has great potential to introduce more confusion than enlightenment.

Quote from: Weedon on February 17, 2024, 10:32:29 AMit is not to erase part of what the Holy Spirit revealed because you think it might be abused. Grrrr.

But, why is it necessary to teach and preach degrees of glory?  How does it enhance our understanding of justification and sanctification?  In fact, where does the term, "degrees of glory", even appear in the Lutheran confessions?
Lifelong Evangelical Lutheran layman

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought.  St. Augustine

RF

Quote from: John Mundinger on February 17, 2024, 11:18:12 AMBut, why is it necessary to teach and preach degrees of glory?

Because it is part of God's inspired, inerrant Word.

Holy Scriptures - Is or contains - where do you shake out?  Is it all worth teaching and preaching or only the parts you value?

John Mundinger

Quote from: Fletch1 on February 17, 2024, 12:01:39 PM
Quote from: John Mundinger on February 17, 2024, 11:18:12 AMBut, why is it necessary to teach and preach degrees of glory?

Because it is part of God's inspired, inerrant Word.

Holy Scriptures - Is or contains - where do you shake out?  Is it all worth teaching and preaching or only the parts you value?

I'll ask you the same question.  Where in God's Word and the Lutheran Confession do you find the term, "degrees of glory"?
Lifelong Evangelical Lutheran layman

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought.  St. Augustine

Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

I think Will's point is that Christ and the Apostles taught us about both justification and sanctification. If you don't want to discuss sanctification, why not just say, "Oh, I've not spent much time on that teaching. Thanks for sharing!" And move on. Why question the motives and service of persons teaching something taught by Christ and the Apostles?

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