What happens to our good works in the age to come? Can our good works survive the fire of God's judgment? Are our good works relevant for the coming glory? And what about the "reward" for our good works in the new heaven and earth? Are there differences of reward in heaven? This article addresses all these question.

6 pages. Translated by Albert Oosterhoff.

Our Good Works in the Age to Come

Previously, we considered the question: how is the world and how are we affected by the last day? Is there any continuity between now and then? And if there is, what does it consist of? In this article we shall consider our good works. What happens to them in the age to come? Paul assures us that our labour is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58), and in Revelation 14:13 the Spirit says that the deeds of those who die in the Lord will follow them. That teaches us that what we have done in faith will not be destroyed, but will have lasting significance. However, this raises questions. On the last day we must all appear before Christ’s judgment seat and we shall be judged for all that we have done (2 Corinthians 5:10). Our works will be revealed with fire and the fire will determine the quality of each person’s deeds (1 Corinthians 3:13). Can our good works survive that? And if they can, are they relevant for our coming glory? And what about the ‘reward’ about which the New Testament speaks often?

We shall address these questions in this article.

Good Works🔗

First we must make clear what we mean when we speak about ‘good works’. The old misconception that good works means that the Lord expects something from us in return for all his love, still has many adherents. In the southern provinces of The Netherlands you will often come across images of a cross with the subscript: ‘This is what Jesus did for you; what do you do for him?’ In this way thankful obedience is easily understood as something that we in our turn have to do for the Lord. Even the title above Lord’s Day 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism, ‘Our Thankfulness’, could lead us to believe this misconception.

But the Catechism immediately repudiates that misconception in Answer 86. It does not speak about our pious accomplishments, but about what the Christ does for us by his Spirit. He did not merely redeem us from our sins, but he also renews us to be his image. Through him there is forgiveness, but also renewal. Christ has also become our holiness (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30). That is why the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that our life of thankfulness is completely a life in Christ. By his Spirit he ‘makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him’ (Answer 1). By his power, we are raised up to a new life (Answer 45) and therefore, those who are grafted into Christ will bring forth fruits of thankfulness (Answer 64).

Calvin speaks about a ‘two-fold grace’, namely that of the justification or forgiveness of sins, and that of the sanctification or renewal of our lives. That is correct. Christ’s complete obedience is not only credited to us (justification); it is also being worked out in us (sanctification). The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ (cf. Romans 8:9) takes responsibility for the latter. He is identified specifically in connection with our sanctification (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2).

With justification we are entirely passive. We are acquitted, without any merit on our part. But with the sanctification of our lives we are not just passive. For the nature of the work of the Spirit is that he makes us active and causes us to function again in consonance with God’s intention. You could say: the Spirit works to put us to work. Paul proclaims this marvellous work of the Spirit when he writes: ‘. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’ (Philippians 2:12-13).

When we speak about ‘good works’ we need to keep all this in mind. They are indeed our works. The Holy Spirit does not believe, does not convert himself, does not walk in new obedience. We do. But we can only do all this because it is he who works it in us. And therefore, at bottom, our good works are completely the work of the Spirit. For that reason, the Catechism rightly calls them fruits of thankfulness (Answer 64). They are the fruit that the Spirit causes to ripen in God’s children (Galatians 5:22-23). They are the fruits that proceed from our connection to the heavenly vine (John 15:5) and the Spirit works and maintains them.

Therefore, our good works have nothing to do with what Paul calls ‘works of the law’ (Romans 3:20). Those are works that are the achievements of pious human beings. But our good works have everything to do with what the apostle refers to as ‘your work produced by faith’ (1 Thessalonians 1:3). So our good works are about the work that proceeds from our faith in the gospel, from our connection to the Lord Jesus, by the renewing work of his Spirit. The Heidelberg Catechism, accurately and concisely, defines what good works are: only those that we do out of true faith (i.e., the source), in accordance with the law of God (i.e., the norm), and to his glory (i.e., the purpose) (Answer 91).

Judgment According to Works🔗

When we think about our eternal salvation, we are certainly not inclined to think about good works. For we are saved solely by grace (Ephesians 2:8), without any merit on our part (Romans 3:20). Nevertheless, our Reformed fathers were not afraid to speak about the salvific necessity of our good works.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus says that only he who does the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). And Hebrews 12:14 proclaims that without holiness no one will see the Lord.

The New Testament emphasizes that the judgment to come will judge our works. Paul writes about the judgment of God that he ‘will give to each person what he has done’ (Romans 2:6). The apostle points out that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, ‘that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body...’ (2 Corinthians 5:10). And Christ says: ‘behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done’ (Revelation 22:12). Thus, our good works have everything to do with the judgment on the last day!

In what way? They do not serve as ground for our salvation, but they do serve as evidence, as expression of our faith. The important work at the time of the judgment is faith in the Lord Jesus (John 6:29). Only he who believes in the Son has eternal life (John 3:36). But this faith is not a faith that remains unfruitful. Rather, it is a faith that, in love for the Lord, expresses itself through love (Galatians 4:6). That is why James says that faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26).

When Scripture proclaims that we shall be judged according to our works, it refers to our work produced by faith. That is what the Lord will look for. We can also say that he will look for the fruit of the Spirit in us. For we were only able to work thanks to the grace of God that was with us (1 Corinthians 15:10). God has prepared our good works in advance (Ephesians 2:10), but in the judgment it will become evident whether we have walked in them!


Scripture teaches clearly that our works produced by faith will not be lost when we die. Our work will be judged. Paul speaks about that in 1 Corinthians 3:10ff. The Day (of Christ) will be revealed with ‘fire’ and it is this fire that will determine the quality of our work. 1Then it will become apparent how we have built on the foundation that is Jesus Christ. Defective work will be ‘burned up’. But the apostle also speaks about work that will ‘survive’. That means that there is a future for true work produced by faith. It is not destroyed.

This is apparent also from 2 Corinthians 5:10: when we appear before Christ’s judgment seat, each of us will ‘receive’ what he did, whether good or bad. The Greek verb that Paul uses for ‘receive’, means receive back. The good that was done in faith remains. We receive it back from the Lord (cf. Ephesians 6:8).

Scripture also refers to this continuity in the promise: ‘. . . the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life’ (Galatians 6:8). The context makes clear that this refers to good works (see verse 10), to a life that is governed by the Spirit and labours accordingly. Such a life delivers fruit that has value for eternity.

The continuity of work produced by faith is made very clear in Revelation 14:13: ‘. . . “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”’ The Spirit gives us a comforting perspective here. God’s children may not only rest from all they have suffered for Christ’s sake; they may also know that their work done in faith on earth will not be left behind. It will accompany them and retains its significance after death.

Our good works do not survive because of our faithfulness or effort. They survive because of ‘pneumatoligical continuity’: Paul says that we will harvest from the Spirit. Because the work of the Spirit stands firm, our work, done in faith, stands firm, for it has been done ‘through God’ (cf. John 3:21).

Reward According to Our Work🔗

That there is continuity with respect to our good works, is very clearly evident from what the New Testament proclaims about reward and repayment. There is some truth in Abraham Kuyper’s complaint that, in their opposition to Roman Catholic doctrine, the Reformed tend to ignore this message and would rather that it was not pointed out to them.2Nonetheless, Scripture speaks about these concepts in quite a number of places. In fact, J.L. de Villiers posits: ‘The concept of reward is a fundamental part of the gospel, for in it God promises reward’. 3

The Lord Jesus says: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven . . .’ (Matthew 5:11-12); and ‘. . . . love your enemies, do good to them, and . . . your reward will be great . . .’ (Luke 6:35). Paul writes that if our work survives, we shall receive our reward (1 Corinthians 3:14). The coming Christ says: ‘My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done’ (Revelation 22:12). And it said of Moses that he was looking ahead to his reward (Hebrews 11:26). Moreover, the Colossians knew that they would receive an inheritance from the Lord as reward (Colossians 3:24). That there is a correspondence between our work done in faith on earth and our reward in the age to come is apparent from what Scripture says about being rewarded according to our work and about receiving back of the good that we have done. Our work done in faith has unmistakable significance for the glory in which we shall share.

Why does Scripture speak about reward and repayment? It is not to make us think that we can earn something for the age to come. We do not inherit the kingdom on the basis of what we have done. But that does not detract from the fact that the prospect of repayment of which the New Testament speaks serves to motivate us to faithfulness and sanctification of our lives.

W.H. Velema strongly rejects this idea: ‘The idea that the promise of reward serves as an extra motive would distort our entire relationship toward God’. 4H. Bavinck writes in a more nuanced way and in my opinion rightly refers to reward as ‘an incentive to spur his disciples toward faithfulness and perseverance in the pursuit of their calling’.5

I draw your attention to 1 Timothy 4:7-8: ‘. . . train yourself to be godly. For. . . godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come’; to Matthew 5:11-12: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven . . .’; and to Revelation 3:21: ‘To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne . . .’.

In general, we can say that Scripture speaks about reward and repayment in order to encourage us (2 Thessalonians 1; Revelation 2:10); and to spur us on (Colossians 3:12; Revelation 27). With respect to the first reason, Calvin writes: by the promise of reward ‘…our weakness, which would immediately collapse and fall if it did not sustain itself by this expectation and allay its own weariness by this comfort, is relieved in this way’.6With respect to the second, he writes: ‘...God, to prick our sloth, has given us the assurance that the trouble we have borne to the glory of his name will not be in vain’.7

Differences in Reward?🔗

We saw already that in the age to come we shall be rewarded according to our works. Christ will give to everyone ‘according to what he has done’ (Revelation 22:12). Is this reward different for each child of God?

Various theologians have accepted this view. G.C. Berkouwer maintains that there will be ‘variation and gradation’ in glory that will be commensurate with the reward that will be given.8W.H. Velema believes that there is a ‘distinction in glory’ and that consequently we can speak of a ‘special blessing’ by which God crowns his own work.9H. Bavinck writes: ‘Although salvation is granted to all believers, there will be differences in glory among them, depending on their works ...’.10K. Schilder says that at the great wedding feast there will be ‘diversity in unity’. Those who experienced extraordinary suffering, will also receive ‘extraordinary glory’. The characterization of each person’s glory ‘depends on the correct answer to the question what a person has meant for his God, for the way of salvation, for the service of God’.11

The New Testament uses different expressions for the reward that will be given in the age to come. Among other things, it is the kingdom (Matthew 25:34; 2 Thessalonians 1:5); eternal life (Matthew 19:29; Galatians 6:8); the inheritance (Colossians 3:24); comfort (Matthew 5:4); being filled (Matthew 5:6); and seeing God (Matthew 5:8). All this points to the fact that in the age to come the reward for God’s children will be identical. This is underlined by the conclusion of the parable that we find in Matthew 20:1-16. The workers who were hired at the eleventh hour received the same amount as the workers who were hired first. The goodness of the ‘landowner’ ensures that the same amount is paid to all, even though those who were hired first worked much longer.

It is also remarkable that James holds out the prospect of ‘the crown of life’ to everyone who perseveres (James 1:12). Similarly, Paul points to the ‘crown of righteousness’ that the Lord will give him, and not only him, ‘but to all who have longed for his appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:8).

The reward must be the same for each child of God, for how can there be something extra in the kingdom, eternal life, and the inheritance? Surely that includes all that the Lord has prepared for his children?

Therefore, I agree with J. van Genderen that we cannot speak of gradation in glory, but we can speak of variation.12In this respect I am reminded of the variation that characterizes God’s work in creation. He gives each person her own personality. There is variation among people.

Those individual characteristics are not lost in the renewing work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not destroy, but restores and sanctifies them. The believer may know: also in glory, I shall be I and not someone else! The variation will continue on the new earth. Abraham is Abraham and Luther will be Luther, although completely renewed.

It seems plausible to me that the ‘work done in faith’ will have significance. For our deeds will follow us (Revelation 14:13). God’s children will be clothed with ‘righteous acts’ (Revelation 19:8). Revelation 2:17 also points to this variation when it speaks of the new name, ‘known only to him who receives it’. Each person who overcomes, receives a name that is not interchangeable and belongs to that person and his history.

As believers, we shall all share in the ‘state of perfection’ (Hebrews 11:40), but we shall not all share in it in the same manner. Perhaps this is indicated in the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:16-19, known as the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30). The first and second servants both become regents and receive the same distinguished title, but the task they receive as reward, takes account of their personal abilities, just as their master did previously.

In this connection I refer also to 1 Corinthians 12:4-6: there is diversity in office, a diversity that Paul traces back to God (the Creator), who works ‘all . . . in all men’. When the Holy Spirit already now honours God’s work of creation in which he makes people able to assume the diverse offices in the congregation, it stands to reason that in the age to come there will be no difference in reward, but there will be a variation in the manner in which God’s children will serve him forever as priests (Revelation 22:3).

Reward of Grace🔗

We need to add something about the character of the reward that awaits us. This is a topical issue because the book by Randy Alcorn, Deadline, has become a bestseller in Christian circles. P. Niemeijer has done us a service by informing us about the theological background of Alcorn’s novel about life in heaven.13In Alcorn’s opinion, our salvation is a gracious gift of God that we receive in the way of faith. But for reward, our works come into play. We earn that reward. It is determined according to what we have done on earth. Ultimately, you receive the position in the age to come that corresponds to what you have invested in the heavenly treasures in the here and now. Alcorn even lists the works that will eventually receive a special reward.

We object strongly to Alcorn’s position. Paul calls the reward in the age to come ‘the gift of God’, i.e., grace (Romans 6:23). The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) contradicts the idea of a reward that is earned. When we are faithful, we have only done our duty and we are but ‘unworthy servants’ (Luke 17:10). That is why the Bible calls the reward an ‘inheritance’ (Matthew 25:34; Colossians 3:24). And an inheritance is not something that you receive because of your works.

Further, the Heidelberg Catechism says: ‘even our best works . . . are all imperfect and defiled with sin’ (Answer 62). Not even our greatest acts of faithfulness satisfy God’s standard (Romans 7:21). In fact, because of this continuing deficit on our part, what we ‘earn’ is punishment, as Article 24 of the Belgic Confession states.

We receive the reward only because of God’s forgiving mercy. That is why Calvin writes: ‘How could he impute righteousness to our works unless his compassion covered over whatever unrighteousness was in them? And how could he judge them worthy of reward save that he wiped out by his boundless kindness what in them deserves punishment?’14Our good works can please the Lord only ‘because of mere forgiveness’.

Finally, the idea that our special deeds can earn us a special place in glory, completely denies the fact that they are not our achievements, but the fruit of Christ’s Spirit in our lives. Whatever is good in us, has been given to us (Philippians 4:13; Revelation 19:8). Therefore, when the Lord rewards our good works, it is because, by his grace, he crowns his own gifts (Belgic Confession, Art. 24).

This reward out of grace is not only a matter of the age to come. Scripture also speaks about reward in this life (Matthew 19:29; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Ephesians 6:2-3). But at the same time we may (for our comfort) hold fast to the promise that the great reward is still to come. The Lord is not unjust and so he will not forget our work (Hebrews 6:10). What we have faithfully done out of love for him, will not be destroyed and will not be forgotten! It will be taken into account when our earthly life will be unveiled before Christ’s judgment seat (2 Corinthians 5:10). And then it will truly become apparent that we shall reap what we have sown in the field of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 6:8). That prospect may spur us on to bear ‘fruit in every good work’ (Colossians 1:10).


  1. ^ We do not have to restrict what Paul writes to his successors in the work in the churches. J.P. Versteeg, Geest, ambt en uitzicht, Kampen 1989, notes: ‘When Paul speaks very generally in verse 10 about “each one”, in verse 12 about “anyone”, and in verse 13 about “each one”, this points to the work of every believer’ (p. 124).
  2. ^ A. Kuyper, E Voto Dordraceno, II, Amsterdam / Pretoria 1905, p. 384. 
  3. ^ J.L. de Villiers, Die loongedagte in die Nuwe Testament, Den Haag 1957, p. 5
  4. ^ J. van Genderen / W.H. Velema, Beknopte gereformeerde dogmatiek, Kampen (1992), p. 605.
  5. ^ Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, John Bolt, ed., John Vriend, transl. (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008), vol. 4. p. 234. Cf. p. 266: ‘That reward is one of the many incentives for moral conduct, but by no means a rule of law, for it arises from God’s will alone. It may, however, be an additional motive . . .’.
  6. ^ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John T. McNeill ed., Ford Lewis Battles, transl., III, 18, 4.
  7. ^ Ibid., III, 18, 7.
  8. ^ G.C. Berkouwer, Geloof en rechtvaardiging, Kampen 1949, p. 121. 
  9. ^ J. van Genderen / W.H. Velema, op. cit., p. 792.
  10. ^ Herman Bavinck, op. cit., p. 236, cf. p. 728.
  11. ^ K. Schilder, Wat is de hemel?, 2nd impression, Kampen 1954, p.165. 
  12. ^ J. van Genderen, De Bijbel en de toekomst, Heerenveen 1998, p. 146. 
  13. ^ Cf. P. Niemeijer, ‘Het loon van Gods kinderen’, in Nader Bekeken, vol. 8, no. 6, June 2001, pp. 157-58. 
  14. ^ John Calvin, op. cit., III, 18, 5. 

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