The Free Gift of Salvation vs. Rewards

by Charles H. Welch

Hands holding a gift box isolated on black background



  • We believe that if we are to attain to truth, we must distinguish most clearly between :
    HOPE and PRIZE.
  • Otherwise, by confusing things that differ we shall give no certain sound in our witness, and have no certainty in our work or walk.


‘It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us: if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself’ (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

‘ … Made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light’ (Col. 1:12).

‘Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ’ (Col. 3:24).

‘In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight’ (Col. 1:22).

‘ … warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus’ (Col. 1:28).

‘In Whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him’ (Eph. 3:12).

‘ … Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12).

‘ … I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities … shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8:38,39).

‘Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain … I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached (heralded) to others, I myself should be a castaway (disapproved)’ (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

‘Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3:13,14).

‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’ (2 Tim. 4:7,8).

Much mischief is wrought among the children of God by teachers failing to distinguish between those things which belong to the believer in Christ as a free gift of grace, and those things which are held out to him as a reward in connection with his service.

Such words as prize, crown, reward, win and gain have no place in a salvation that is by grace, through faith, without works. It is impossible for the same believer at the same time and connected with the same thing to be confident and yet in fear and trembling. It is specially harmful to the truth of the One Body to attempt to teach from Philippians 3 that membership of that Body is held out as a prize to be won. It is equally untrue to speak of the prize of Philippians 3 as the hope of the church; for if we do, then we must also teach that Paul, when he wrote Philippians, had not then attained membership of the One Body, and was not certain of the blessed hope of resurrection. Leave Philippians 3 as the record of an added prize that may be won, associated with perfection and the high calling, and all is clear.

Let us examine some of the scriptural grounds for this distinction, taking as an example 2 Timothy 2:11-13. The subject here is twofold: living and reigning. Living is one thing; reigning is another. Now, living with Christ depends upon our having died with Him, but reigning with Him depends upon suffering and enduring.

In the realm of life – none can pluck us out of His hand; ‘once in Him, in Him for ever’. No member of the One Body can ever forfeit his membership. The whole standing is by grace. We are chosen by God alone and assured of eternal security, so that it can even be said: ‘If we are unbelieving, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself’ (2 Tim. 2:13, Author’s translation). Once having died with Him, there can be no forfeiture or loss. ‘Who died for us, that, whether we be watchful or sleepy, we should live together with Him’ (1 Thess. 5:10, Author’s translation).

Reigning, however, is quite another matter, and depends upon enduring. In this sphere, we can lose or forfeit. ‘If we deny Him, He also will deny us’. These words must not however be made to contradict what follows in verse 13. The contradiction may be avoided if we distinguish the two spheres. Set out in line with the subject, the verses appear as follows:

A    v. 11. If we died with Him, we shall live. Life and free grace.
B    v. 12. If we endure, we shall reign.
B    v. 12. If we deny Him, we shall be denied. Endurance and reward.
A    v. 13. If we are faithless, He abideth faithful. Life and free grace.

Another passage that demands the same discernment is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. The foundation, Christ Himself, once laid is unalterable. No ‘if’ can be admitted there. What a man builds, however, on that foundation is subject to quite a different principle. He may receive a reward or he may suffer loss; but even if he should suffer loss: ‘He himself shall be saved: yet as by fire’.

The same principle of distinction obtains in 1 Corinthians 9:27. Paul had no thought that he could ever be a ‘castaway’ from grace or from Christ, but in respect of the prize he realized that the flesh was a danger to his hopes of winning it. He kept under his body, lest he should be disqualified regarding the prize, but no amount of keeping under of the body would ever save Paul or anyone else from the wages of sin.

The next chapter in the epistle (verses 1-5), with its contrast between ‘all’ and ‘many’, emphasizes the lesson. Moses was a man of God; he appeared on the mount of transfiguration, but he forfeited entry into the promised land. Every one of the Israelites whose carcases fell in the wilderness had been redeemed by the Passover lamb.

So when we come to Philippians let us remember to keep it in its place. Referring to the structure given above of 2 Timothy 2:11-13, A.A. correspond to Ephesians, where we have boldness, confidence, acceptance. Philippians corresponds to B.B. of the same structure, where we have fear and trembling. Here we have an ‘if’ – ‘if by any means’. Paul reaches out to attain the prize which God has attached to the high calling. Sir Robert Anderson has pointed out that those who quote Philippians 3:14 as ‘the on-high calling’, meaning thereby a summons that will call them up to glory, do not regard the implications of the whole verse. The words, ‘the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’, do not fit a future summons. The ano calling is the calling of the church of the One Body, and attached to it, but quite distinct therefrom, is a prize. This prize may or may not be attained, but in no case can the hope be forfeited or membership of the One Body lapse.

So with the two references to the inheritance in Colossians 1 and 3, already quoted in this section. In the first case God has made us meet; nothing remains for us to do to qualify for it. In the second it is the reward of the inheritance for faithful service. So with the two ‘presentings’. In the first case we are presented through the death of Christ holy and unblameable, yet Paul warns and teaches that he may present every man perfect in Christ. Paul could not and did not touch here the presenting of Colossians 1:22. It is most important that these things that differ should be clearly defined. Those who do not thus rightly divide the truth are preparing for disapproval and shame in that day (2 Tim. 2:15).

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This article by Charles Welch was originally published in “Things Most Surely Believed” (Chapter 11 – Standing and State).

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