“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” Jesus in Revelation 22:12
In my sermon on Revelation 22 I tried to echo the scripture and make a case for obeying Christ and doing good works in order to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming. Why? Because Jesus is coming as the judge of the living and the dead; he is bringing his recompense (Gk. misthos, “wages, reward”) with him, to repay each one for what he has done.
When Jesus comes he will give to each one of us according to what we have done, not just as a community, but as individual people. Jesus is coming to judge everyone rightly, justly, and fairly. That means he will hand down punishments and rewards. He will reward each and every one of his faithful servants according to what they have done, and he will punish each and every unfaithful sinner according to what they have done or left undone.
This has nothing to do with justification, but everything to do with sanctification. As the Shorter Catechism explains:
Justification is an [once-for-all] act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. (WSC Q33)
Sanctification is the [on-going] work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. (WSC Q35)
The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will. (WSC Q39)
Since Jesus will give to each one according to what he has done, it follows that punishments and rewards will differ from person to person. All those who are justfifed by grace through faith in Christ shall be rewarded for their particular sacrifices and service performed in their pursuit of sanctification. Likewise, all those who are not justified by the grace of Christ shall be punished for their particular sins. In both cases, some will receive more, some will receive less, but all will receive from Christ the measure of punishment or reward that matches their own life and works.
As we follow the Lamb out of the old creation into the new creation we need to know that our obedience of faith, our good works, and our personal sacrifices mattter to the Lord. These things are not disregarded and do not go unnoticed.
When the Lord Jesus Christ comes he will reward us for what we did in this life as we prepared for the life to come. That promise is intended to motivate us to do more good works, not less, by the grace of God for the glory of God.
For more on the relationship of our works and his rewards see:
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 16
Of Good Works
I. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His holy Word, (Mic 6:8; Rom 12:2; Hbr 13:21); and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intention, (Mat 15:9; Isa 29:13; 1Pe 1:18; Rom 10:2; Jhn 16:2; 1Sa 15:21-23).
II. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith, (Jam 2:18, 22): and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, (Psa 116:12-13; 1Pe 2:9); strengthen their assurance, (1Jo 2:3, 5; 2Pe 1:5-10); edify their brethren, (2Co 9:2; Mat 5:16); adorn the profession of the Gospel, (Tts 2:5, 9-12; 1Ti 6:1); stop the mouths of the adversaries, (1Pe 2:15); and glorify God, (1Pe 2:12; Phl 1:11; Jhn 15:8); whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus unto, (Eph 2:10); that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life, (Rom 6:22).
III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ, (Jhn 15:4-6; Eze 36:26-27). And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will, and to do, of His good pleasure, (Phl 2:13; Phl 4:13; 2Co 3:5): yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them, (Phl 2:12; Hbr 6:11-12; 2Pe 1:3, 5, 10-11; Isa 64:7; 2Ti 1:6; Act 26:6-7; Jud 20-21).
IV. They who, in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do, (Luk 17:10; Neh 13:22; Job 9:2-3; Gal 5:17).
V. We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, (Rom 3:20; Rom 4:2, 4, 6; Eph 2:8-9; Tts 3:5-7; Rom 8:18; Psa 16:2; Job 22:2-3; Job 35:7-8); but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants, (Luk 17:10): and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit, (Gal 5:22-23); and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure, the severity of God’s judgment, (Isa 64:6; Gal 5:17; Rom 7:15, 18; Psa 143:2; Psa 130:3).
VI. Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him, (Eph 1:6; 1Pe 2:5; Exd 28:38; Gen 4:4; Hbr 11:4); not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight, (Job 9:20; Psa 143:2); 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, (Hbr 13:20-21; 2Co 8:12; Hbr 6:10; Mat 25:21, 23).
VII. Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others, (2Ki 10:30-31; 1Ki 21:27, 29; Phl 1:15-16, 18): yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith, (Gen 4:5; Hbr 11:4, 6); nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word, (1Co 13:3; Isa 1:12); nor to a right end, the glory of God, (Mat 6:2, 5, 16); they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God, (Hag 2:14; Tts 1:15 Amo 5:21-22; Hos 1:4; Rom 9:16; Tts 3:15): and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God, (Psa 14:4; Psa 36:3; Job 21:14-15; Mat 25:41-43, 45; Mat 23:3).