If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
The sketch in my kids’ scripture memory book is of a young boy running to catch up with a woman whose purse isn’t quite clasped shut. She’s inadvertently left a trail of dollars and coins strewn behind her, and the lad is carefully collecting her accidental generosity that he might return it to her.
The boy could’ve absconded with the unexpected gain, but he doesn’t. He could’ve also expected a reward for his integrity, but he doesn’t. His reward came in the form of the simple satisfaction of having done what he knew pleased God.
In the divine economy, what is the greatest reward we could ever get? It’s not the material blessings God could grant us. It’s not even the eternal enjoyments He might bestow. The greatest reward we could ever have is God Himself—knowing Him, experiencing Him, resting in Him (Jer 9:23–24). He is the greatest reward because He is, by definition, the greatest thing in the universe.
To believe God is our greatest gift has an effect on how we value everything else, including what proceeds from doing His will. The kind of heart that believes God himself is our greatest gift sees nothing else as more appealing or attractive. So the child who gives the money back to the woman without expectation of reward represents the kind of heart God wants us to have: a heart which treasures God most, which is happy to do His will even if it means he will receive nothing else in return. God is His treasure.
But wait. Doesn’t Jesus promise rewards for obedience (Mk 10:23–31)? Doesn’t He encourage the pursuit of treasure in heaven (e.g. Mt 6:19)? That sounds like God means to incentivize us with reward. Yet we also know that Paul warns of misconstruing our salvation as a wage for service rendered (Rom 4:4). Furthermore he seems to embrace an attitude of contentment irrespective of whether God has provided for him materially (Phil 4:11). God is not our lackey; we are His servants. So how can we understand (and seek) His rewards without misconstruing them as wages? How can we bear fruit for God without reducing our obedience to a mere transaction—a favor now for a leg up later?
On Sunday, March 20, 2011, we sought to emphasize the necessity of faith in the freedom Christ fought to furnish as the foundation of all our fruit-bearing (with apologies to those with an aversion to alliteration). We said Christ has freed us from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, but also from the compulsion to establish our own acceptance with God. Resting in that freedom has several effects, one of which John alludes to when he says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18–19). Faith in his love evacuates fear of our approach to God.
But I would add that faith in His freedom does more than remove fear. It also transforms—even rescues—our obedience from a transactional mindset that unwittingly conceives of God as the cosmic concierge. Knowing that my union with God—my enduring communion and fellowship with Him—is entirely grounded in what Christ has done, rather than what I do, obliterates my naïveté that I could oblige Him to reward me. Moreover, knowing the utter graciousness of that union helps me to see the height of His kindness, and impels me to obey Him for His sake alone—not merely for His gifts or even His rewards.
God does, of course, make promises of reward to those who hallow Him with their lives. But the rewards—like all things related to salvation—are bestowed not because God is obliged to compensate us, but because of His grace. We will be compelled to cast any crowns of affirmation for our obedience at His feet because we will know it was because of Him that we obeyed (Rev 4:10–11). The fruit of the Spirit comes from a heart which, like a child who unassumingly returns lost money, knows God in that way—even if it also looks forward to an inheritance still to come.
Would you say your obedience is for God, or for His gifts? Could you obey Him if He promised you nothing in return? If God loves to reward the heart that finds its reward in God alone, what conditions are you placing upon your obedience that God must strip away? What matter calls for child-like faith this morning?