The Biblical Distinction Between Eternal Salvation And Eternal Rewards: A Key to Proper Exegesis -- By: Robert N. Wilkin

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 09:1 (Spring 1996)
Article: The Biblical Distinction Between Eternal Salvation And Eternal Rewards: A Key to Proper Exegesis
Author: Robert N. Wilkin


The Biblical Distinction Between Eternal Salvation And Eternal Rewards:
A Key to Proper Exegesis

Robert N. Wilkin

Executive Director
Grace Evangelical Society
Irving, TX

I. Introduction

A number of books have been written recently which attempt to harmonize two NT themes: judgment according to one’s works and justification by faith.

Sometimes the explanation given is hard to follow. Some authors seem to feel that justification is by faith apart from works and yet final salvation is by faith plus works.

For example, Judith Gundry Volf writes,

Paul’s certainty that God will faithfully accomplish God’s purpose to save Christians completely and finally does not mean, however, that he views this process as “automatic.” The present is characterized by the eschatological tension. Both the reality of salvation and the power of evil await the completion of their salvation while enduring testing and afflictions in the present. Subjection to antagonistic forces at work in such tribulation can even threaten their salvation. Moreover, they have yet to appear before the judgment seat at which occasion their final destiny will be made manifest. Will they be accused and condemned after all?

It is in the very context of these dangers that Paul affirms the certainty of Christians’ final salvation… Christians are more than conquerors in tribulations and will come through the final judgment unscathed (Rom 8:28–39).1

This is confusing. How is it possible that Paul “affirms the certainty of Christians’ final salvation” and yet as the same time asserts that Chris-

tians await a final judgment in which they may be “condemned after all”?

The problem here is a failure to recognize a distinction between eternal salvation and eternal rewards. This is a widespread today. Blomberg, who feels that there is no distinction between eternal rewards and eternal salvation, writes concerning five texts which deal with the possibility of receiving crowns (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Tim 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4):

A majority of commentators agree in each of these five instances that our texts are not at all talking about degrees of rewards in heaven but simply about eternal life<...

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