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From the Summer 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

Augustine on Heaven and Rewards

by Kevin Offner
Senior Campus Staff Member for Intervarsity Collegiate Ministries, Mid-Atlantic Area Graduate and Faculty Ministries


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 Augustine’s favorite biblical passage on rewards was 2 Timothy 4:7–8. (See above.) Here is how he understands the dynamic that is taking place when one obeys God and is later rewarded for it.

The Lord, he says, will award me a crown, being a just judge. So he owes me what he will award; so the just judge will award; having inspected the work, after all, he can’t deny the reward … But with the reward you do nothing; with the work, you don’t act alone. The crown simply comes to you from him; the work on the other hand comes from you, but only with him helping … To Paul fighting the good fight, completing the course, keeping the faith, he paid back good things. But for what good things? For ones he himself had given. Or wasn’t it by his gift that you were able to fight the good fight? … The only things of yours that we know were prepared for you by yourself are evil. So when God crowns your merits, he is not crowning anything but his own gifts. 16

 Augustine’s understanding of the believer’s sanctification is that God has intentionally given commands, with corresponding consequences, which the grace-depending Christian can—and must—obey and then be rewarded for. Indeed, this notion is at the very heart of a life lived out in faith. In a sermon preached in the middle of his career, around A.D. 410, at a church somewhere between Carthage and Hippo, Augustine said,

What God commands us to believe, he doesn’t offer now to our sight; the reason he doesn’t do so is so that faith may have a reward. I mean if he showed it to you directly, what merit would there be in your believing it? It wouldn’t in fact be believing, but seeing . . . And when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ comes, who is preached or having already come now in such a way that his coming again is also expected, he will come with due payments for both believers and unbelievers, ready to give believers their rewards, to dispatch unbelievers into eternal fire. 17

 But Augustine goes even further. Since God has set up this pattern of God’s grace → human obedience →  God’s rewards, Augustine admonishes Christians for thinking that the process of salvation somehow does an end-run around the need for obedience. God’s reward is offered in response to obedience. Given that God’s grace is the first, central, and necessary empowerment, Augustine has no hesitation in exhorting Christians to obey in order to receive the award (or “win the prize”).
 Augustine preaches,

Who doesn’t want life? And yet who wants to keep the commandments? If you don’t want to keep the commandments, why look for life? If you are slack about the work, why be in such a hurry for the salary? … This life is still giving you time; don’t spurn reproof. You were a thief yesterday; don’t be one today … Be done with evil some time or other, and for the sake of the reward carry out the good. You want to have good things, and you don’t want to be good; your life is in contradiction to your wishes. 18

 In fact, when Christians, by God’s grace, do in fact obey God’s commands, they should be bold in expecting the reward! “At harvest time they will say to their Lord, ‘Lord, with your help we have done what you commanded; render what you promised.”19


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