Some years ago, I was asked this question by a member of the Lord’s church. In all seriousness, she wanted to know, “Is it wrong to be a Christian to get the reward of heaven?” Knowing her, and being able to properly judge the motives behind such a question, I considered it a fair and probing question…one worthy of honest attention. Having thought about it awhile, I decided to share my response.
Really when you boiled it down, each of us should carefully consider why we came to Christ in the first place. We need to honestly consider what our motivation is for serving God. It is certainly correct to say that we should not make our decision to be a Christian for purely self-serving motives; a “what’s in it for me?” way of thinking. Having said that, we again want to consider the fundamental issue: is it altogether wrong to be motivated in our service to God by what the consequences might be for ourselves?
I freely acknowledge that some today seem bothered by elders and preachers who encourage others to serve God by using heaven as motivation. This is in my estimation, making much out of nothing. Such an appeal is not only reasonable, but Biblical.
Having said that, let me be clear…I do believe we should be helping others mature to a point where they serve God for more than just heaven, the object of their hope. When we consider God’s grace and mercy; His “great love with which He loved us,” we should be motivated to service and obedience for reasons other than just what we might receive in this life and ultimately the life to come. The better we come, in our limited, finite way, to comprehend the nature of God the more we will appreciate the fact that we should love Him, serve Him, worship Him and submit to Him because He is God. Understandably, this should become our true motivation for walking by faith. But again, refusing to use heaven as motivation to encourage people to stay in God and stay with God is not only unfortunate, but moving away from the language of Scripture.
Someone has humorously observed: “For an employee, incentive means working hard to get a raise, motivation means working hard so you won’t get fired.” While both of these ideas involve self-interest, the point is well made that there can be multiple inducements leading to the same result.
The same can be said about living the Christian life. To argue for only one acceptable reason for coming to Christ and remaining committed to Christ is missing the point. Who among us was not in some measure making a decision for heaven over hell in coming to Christ for the forgiveness of sins? How often do we now “in Christ” have thoughts about “how beautiful heaven must be” while surrounded by the ugliness of sin?
Make no mistake about it, heaven is great motivation for us to “press toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14). Heaven stirs us onward regardless of the persecution and no matter the pain because we believe in the promise “be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). In some measure, it is the promise of heaven that causes us to say “no” to the passing pleasures of sin because we like Moses are looking to the “reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Remember, heaven is heaven because our Lord is there! We need to reflect for a moment upon the words we sing…“when all my labors and trials are over, and I am safe on that beautiful shore, just to be near the dear Lord I adore, will through the ages be glory for me” (Charles H. Gabriel).
Most certainly we should be ever sensitive toward self-serving motives. However, there is no reason to be ashamed or apologize for talking and thinking intently about the “prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Let us run to win! Heaven will surely be worth it all!