“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
By John David Hicks
A courthouse in Ohio stands in a unique location. Rain that falls on the north side of the building eventually flows into Lake Ontario and the Gulf of St. Lawrence; rain that falls on the south side will flow into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. The peak of the roof determines the destiny of the raindrops. Inches can make a difference of 2,000 miles.
Likewise, your decisions make a difference. The deeds that you do and the words that you speak will flow “north or south,” be good or bad, and will affect your eternal destiny and the lives of others.
The answer to your destiny, says Jesus, is your treasure. We are responsible for the words that we say (Matthew 12:36) and the deeds that we do (Hebrews 9:27). The flow must be toward heaven.
We became Christians because Christ paid the penalty for our sins; we become children of God through His effort, not our own. God loves us, whether or not we choose to accept His forgiveness. His grace flows without condition. His forgiveness continues even when we do not measure up and fail all over again. God’s desire is for us to receive (John 1:12).
Yet once we enter into relationship with God, should not our actions reflect this relationship as His children? This is what the apostle Paul asked in Romans 6:1, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!”
Following Christ is a daily decision, not just a one-time recitation of a prayer of forgiveness. We are tempted daily—to cut corners at work, to fudge a little on our tax return, to tell a small lie when we are caught off guard. We know that we can ask for forgiveness, but Paul says we should rid ourselves of these habits rather than over relying on the grace of God to forgive us. The plan of God is to bring men and women back into the divine image (1 Peter 1:3; Roman 8:29). Yet after we accept Christ for our salvation, it is easy to slack off on our responsibility as His children before being completely transformed in His image (1 John 3:2).
Hence we come to a paradox in the Christian life. We are saved by the grace of God, but we need to respond by living an upright life. This is not to say that living a correct and godly life will save us, but rather, it is our response to a forgiving God as our gift to Him. Paul told the Philippians, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (3:12). His desire was to “take hold of” God’s purpose and a destiny for him. Once we are saved, we have work to do other than just filling up a pew on a Sunday morning. This work will be different for each person (Ephesians 2:10). Your degree of accountability before God is in direct proportion to your degree of knowledge and opportunity He has given you.
The Bible says we are stewards of all that God has given us. That means it matters how you live. You will be judged on how you used what God entrusted to you.
In a parable, Jesus said your reward will be in direct proportion to your work (Luke 19:11-27). The lazy and disobedient servant who played it safe is called unfaithful and a “wicked servant” (v. 22) and is given no reward. This servant is the Christian who says he believes, but shows no actions that express his faith.
The master explains how he rewards in verse 26: The person who uses what he has been given will be rewarded greatly. This is the believer who dies to self, putting God’s desires first in his life, and who daily becomes transformed into the image of God. God’s destiny for your life cannot be fulfilled without your cooperation (Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 4:13).
According to Scripture, some will be ashamed at His appearing (1 John 2:28). Why? They believe in God and have asked for His forgiveness, yet they are not living correct and upright lives. When Christ comes, they are ashamed because they did not do what they knew was right.
It’s easy for Christians in America, where we are not being persecuted, to get complacent. Many Christians in other countries have made great sacrifices and even given their lives for their Lord. They will be rewarded, while many American Christians who are living a soft life and do nothing for the Lord will receive no reward.
The decisions you make and the way you interact with people are ways to lay up your treasure in heaven. Your treasure, where your heart is, will fund your destiny. Jesus talks about doing things that are really going to matter for eternity instead of wasting time stockpiling things that can be stolen or turn to rust. “He will render account and reward every man in accordance with what he has done” (Matthew 16:27 Amplified Bible). Knowing this should affect your everyday life; from the words you say to your investment of time, from the way you spend your money to your use of your talents and your choice of a life’s vocation. All this involves your attitude toward people and toward God.
“God gave his approval to people in days of old because of their faith” (Hebrews 11:2 NLT). The proof for their good report was the demonstration of their faith. Or as the NRSV puts it: “Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.” Actions confirm faith. In Hebrews 11 God named the approved and honored them. Their motives were not for the rewards of God or the applause of people, but good works were the by-product of their faith.
The Bible says that the Judgment Seat of Christ will be like the Olympics where you earn your “reward” for serving God and others. But it’s more than “going for the gold” and walking the streets of gold. Life on earth is short; but eternity is everlasting. Jesus says you will “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:23). Nothing can compare with the rewards that God gives, plus you will keep them forever. Therefore, store up treasures in heaven, not on earth.
Scripture refers to five crowns that together make up what it means to receive salvation. Remember, salvation is a free gift from God, but our actions reveal our commitment and faith. Unlike the Olympics, we don’t compete against one another. These crowns describe ways we can be “doers of the word” (James 1:22).
The Incorruptible Crown is for the faithful: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
This crown is an eternal crown for your faithfulness. It is for every Christian who remains faithful to Christ to the very end.
It’s an incorruptible crown as compared to the perishable crowns of the Greek games. To participate in the Olympic games was a great honor. Every athlete put his body through rigorous training and a strict diet. He took an oath that he had been at least 10 months in training, that he would not violate any rules of the game. The “prize” was a crown of green laurel leaves that would perish in a few days. This coveted reward, and the honor that went with it, meant the world to these athletes. They gave up everything to obtain the prize. They knew that they would be recognized the rest of their lives for what they had accomplished.
We will be faithful and will finish the race by fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and by being yoked with Jesus (Matthew 11:28). That’s the rule—stay close to Jesus. “For without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This requires daily living in the presence of God, meeting with others who can challenge your faith, and working out your faith—putting the Scripture into practice (John 14:15). To remain faithful, you must exercise your faith in small ways so you are ready for the bigger tests that come your way.
Paul warns, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). That’s why Paul practiced self-discipline; he would not allow his body to be an enemy of the purposes of God. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
This incorruptible crown is given to the faithful in Christ. It is not always easy to be faithful. However, we can surround ourselves now, before trouble hits, with ways to remain faithful and establish good habits that will keep us faithful even in difficult times. Exercising faithfulness is one way we show God our commitment to Him.
The Soul-winners Crown is for givers: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
The ones who have loved the lost will be rewarded (Daniel 12:3; Proverbs 11:30; James 5:20). Jesus made it clear that labor in His harvest field will reap a reward (John 4:36). When you involve yourself in witness and intercede in prayer for the lost, you will wear this crown.
Paul rejoices that the Thessalonians were saved and he will wear a crown. Jesus says that anyone who helps or gives money to help in ministry will be rewarded (Matthew 10:41). One of the best ways to lay up treasures in heaven is by investing in a ministry that reaches people for Christ. God’s blessing will follow when you invest in His kingdom.
All kingdoms have a tax, including the kingdom of God. It’s the tithe. The first fruit or tithe of the Promised Land was Jericho. The tithe belongs to God. When Achan stole the tithe, judgment fell on him and his family. Jesus said the tithe is what you ought to do (Matthew 23:23). All soul-winners are givers. This is why they have a ministry. If you can’t trust the Lord with your money, you will never trust Him with your life.
There are thousands of ways you can support the ministry of the kingdom of God—through prayer, giving, hospitality, verbal encouragement, monetary gifts. The list is endless. Yet this is another way we can turn our faith into action by helping in small ways to build the kingdom of God.
The Crown of Life is for persecution: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
Jesus said, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).
Every godly Christian I know has suffered. When you endure suffering and persecution even to the point of death and remain true to the Lord, you will be rewarded (Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:22-23; 2 Timothy 2:12; James 1:12).
Some refer to the crown of life as the martyr’s crown. Jesus said in Luke 6:26 that when you are hated, ignored, insulted, and rejected for His sake, your reward in heaven will be great.
The crown of life is for devotion and steadfastness. The promise is to those who love him enough to endure trials. Character and deep relationships with God and man are built in trials and suffering. Those who “suffer with Him” will reign with Him. Those who make sacrifices for the Lord will be rewarded. Everyone who has sacrificed “for my name’s sake,” Jesus said, “shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29). That is why Jesus promised His disciples three things:
Power over the fear of man so that they could be bold.
Peace and contentment so that the world would lose its pull.
And the presence of the Holy Spirit to sustain them in trouble.
God promises, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
Paul understood that “slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
God sees your affliction and will reward you in heaven for your faithfulness. Derision and ridicule can be painful and disheartening. But stay true, stand firm, and keep the faith, knowing that His presence will wipe the tears from your eyes and your reward will be great someday.
The Crown of Glory is for shepherds: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).
This crown is for those with a shepherd’s heart. Shepherds loved, cared for, and protected their sheep from danger and illness. The old gospel chorus says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
Christians are to treat others with love, especially the poor, hurting, and broken (Matthew 25:34-40). Bob Pearce, founder of World Vision, described what it means to be God’s shepherd in his prayer, “Lord, let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” In Matthew 7 Jesus says to the goats, “I never knew you,” because they did not care for the hurting and broken. When you serve anyone in the name of Christ, you are serving Christ Himself.
Churches have found many ways to minister to their neighbors. What would a personal investment look like for you? Perhaps you become a mentor to a child. Visit a lonely person in a care home. Or baby-sit for a single mom for free. Are you making a difference in someone’s life here and now? This is what it means to put your faith in action and be a shepherd.
The Crown of Righteousness is for integrity: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
This is the crown for loving righteousness and for finishing the race. Their lives are full of integrity, which is “adherence to moral and ethical principles; honesty.” The key to integrity is endurance of character—holding to your personal standards and convictions even in life’s hard choices, which may be clouded by stress, the pressure to succeed, or the temptation to compromise.
Paul endured because Christ was his objective. The crown is for all who love His appearing. “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself; just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). “We will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him” (1 John 4:17).
Paul knew he would give account at the Second Coming and longed for Christ’s appearing when all things will come together “according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). A person who is not accountable will squander his time doing his own thing; live for his pleasure; and do what feels good to him. But accountability changes all that. We stand ready for Christ’s return, waiting in anticipation for His coming as we consistently serve God by our actions.
Are you storing up treasure in heaven? Or are you worried about your retirement fund? Things done in the flesh are like wood, hay, and straw, which flames will consume. You will be saved, but only as one escaping through the fire. It will be like watching your house burn to the ground with everything you possess inside. Everything lost forever. But things done for God’s glory and in His strength are like gold, silver, and jewels, which the fire will purge. You will be eternally rewarded.
These good works come out of our relationship with Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). If you do not have a relationship with Christ and are simply trying to do what is right, your life will become tiresome and without joy. You are simply a rule follower. Out of a vibrant relationship with Christ comes a desire to make a difference in other people’s lives. “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 NRSV). The five crowns are visible ways that others can see our faith; we are living what we believe.
There will be no glory given in heaven except to God. In heaven we will lay our crowns before Him (Revelation 4:10) and say with Paul, “But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than all the other apostles, yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NLT). God’s love and grace have been given to us, and in response we pour love and grace out on others.
The real test is not what you believe, but did your actions reveal what you believe? Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “By their fruit you will recognize them.” You cannot be a tree that brings forth good fruit (works) without the work of Christ in you. James says your works show what you believe. Every day you have the opportunity to invest in God’s kingdom or yours; to live for God and others or yourself. Only what’s done for the Lord will last. Even a thoughtful “cup of cold water” given in the name of the Lord will be rewarded (Matthew 10:42).
When I was a teenager, my pastor told the story of a stingy, self-centered king. Concerned for the king’s soul, the court jester told him a story about a rich nobleman who moved to a new country but did not take anything with him. “How could anyone be so stupid?” the king said. “He’s a fool not to take anything with him.”
“But that’s what you are doing in regard to heaven,” said the court jester.
Is that what you are doing? Jesus called a rich man a fool who saved for this life but not the next (Luke 12:21).
The things you do are an outward indication of the inward state of your heart. The five crowns in Scripture give us insight into how to transform our faith into action.
The Incorruptible Crown is given to the faithful. Paul uses the picture of the pentathlon with its tremendous demand of physical stamina and discipline. Your faithfulness reflects your quality of work or service. Are you practicing spiritual disciplines to keep in shape spiritually?
The Soul-winners Crown is for those who are reaching out to the lost in their witness, prayers, and giving. Are you reaching others for Christ?
The Crown of Life is for the persecuted and those who are steadfast in their devotion to Jesus. Are you devoted to Christ, or do you back down in the face of peer pressure?
The Crown of Glory is for those who have a shepherd’s heart of caring and discipleship. Are you personally involved in making a difference in someone’s life who is less fortunate than you?
The Crown of Righteousness is given to those who complete the race with integrity and are committed to Christ. They are eagerly awaiting the return of Christ. Are you ready for His return?
The Bible says that Jesus has gone away to receive His kingship from the Father. He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords to set up His kingdom. When He returns, He will reward those who faithfully served Him: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21 NKJV). But those who did not obey Him will be judged.
A pastor friend of mine visited Hearst Castle in California. As the guide finished the tour, he said, “William Randolph Hearst was a very wealthy man. He had the best in life—from things to women. He had it all. Are there any questions?”
My friend raised his hand and said, “Jesus has one: ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?’”
Clearly, William Randolph Hearst had plenty of treasure here on earth, but that was of no benefit once he entered eternity.
One hundred years from now we will all be in eternity. What will matter then? Comfort? Fame? Wealth? Power? Things will not be important. Jesus says, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5).
Will you be faithful and steadfast in your devotion to the Lord? Are you a giving and caring person? Are you a person of integrity? Do you love righteousness and await His appearing? Then you will be crowned with eternal rewards in heaven. Or do you need to get your priorities and values straight? To seek first the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness so that all things can be added to you?