I have quite recently started studying the book of 1 Peter and am
currently contemplating what the apostle might have meant by God?s judging
each man?s work impartially (1:17). Since Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches that a
Christian is saved by God?s grace through his/her faith and not by his/her
works, then I have concluded that Peter was not referring to salvation by
works. My take on this is that God?s judging of a Christian has to do with
determining what his/her reward, apart from salvation, will be in Heaven.
Now, I have attempted to read Matthew 6:19-21, 25:14-31, and 1 Corinthians
9:24-27 in light 1 Peter 1:17. My questions are: Have I interpreted 1
Peter 1:17 correctly? In view of Matthew 6:19-21, 25:14-30, and 1
Corinthians 9:24-27, is it possible that Christians who faithfully labor
more here on Earth will be rewarded with more in Heaven? I would
definitely appreciate your thoughts on this matter.


This is a very good question. It proves to me that you are thinking,
which is always a good thing. I see your interpretation of this as
reasonable, but perhaps too limiting. The context of 1 Peter 1:17 allows
for both interpreting the statement in terms of relative rewardin heaven
and in terms of salvation. I do not think it is wrong to see this passage
as relating to salvation. We are obviously not saved by works (Eph 2:8),
but that does not mean that a person with no works can make it to heaven.
Our works do not save us, but this does not mean that God does not require
works. It is a “work” to believe in Jesus(John 6:29). Faith without
works is dead. Although we are not saved by works, it is legitimate to
say with regard to our salvation, God judges each person’s work
impartially. If the “quality” of our work is absolutely irrelevant to
whether or not we make it to heaven, then an intellectual assent to the
existence of Jesus is sufficient. If our “work” is absolutely irrelevant
to whether or not we are in heaven, then it is hard to understand
Revelation 20:13. We will be judged in relationship to our lives. It is
possible to overreact to works salvation, a la Catholicism. We are saved
by grace. No doubt about that. There is nothing we can do to warrant
salvation. Ephesians 2:8 trumps James 2:14-26. However, a faithful
response to the gospel is required. God is just in this area. A response
of faith, which includes repentance showed by deeds will not earn our way
into heaven, but it will, when combined with the atoning sacrifice of
Jesus produce salvation.

Having said that, I believe that your understanding of this statement is
correct. Although Peter is talking about their salvation(he mentions
their redemption in v 18), he is also talking about “living our liveshere”
as already saved people. He is talking about a just and fair reward for
the work we do while in these bodies already saved. Yes, there will be
reward in heaven. The New Testament leaves it vague, but provides a few
hints that there will be levels (I am not sure this is the right word) of
reward in heaven. Hebrews 6:10, the parable of the talents and others
imply, albeit somewhat subtly, proportional reward. God does not
emphasize this a lot. It is not about competing for higher positions, but
God tells us that our work in the Lord will not be in vain.

In the end, I am not sure if it matters all that much. Our goal is to
make it to heaven. Our goal is to love and to serve God. God?s
comforting words that our work will not go in vain has only slightly
different meaning whether or not the reward has gradations in heaven. It
is probably not a good idea to build up a big doctrinal stance with regard
to this question, but rather we should trust in God. I sense from the
tone of your question that you will agree.

John Oakes, PhD

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