Introduction to the idea that some Christians will receive greater eternal rewards than others


Even though most people don’t have issues decorating only certain particularly worthy soldiers for exemplary service, for example, many seem to have problems when that idea is mapped onto the concept of eternal rewards from the hand of God. Despite the skepticism, scripture is actually pretty clear on this specific question, so for all who are truly willing to look at what the Bible says, it becomes quickly apparent that God will in fact reward some individuals more than others in eternity, based upon the quality of their Christian walk here in time.


Merit-based rewards are not generally controversial

Every day people give honor to distinguished service and scorn laziness. The idea of different levels of recognition and reward for different levels of service does not seem to be very controversial to most people.

However, when the rewards in question are eternal, people seem to be a bit more skittish

However, some people seem to have a problem when the rewards in question are not physical rewards in this temporary world of ours, but eternal spiritual rewards. There are several reasons why people might take issue:

  • Maybe it is because these rewards are eternal, so the overall consequences are much larger.
  • Maybe because people are familiar with the correct teaching that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by works, they think eternal rewards must work in exactly the same way.
  • Maybe they want everyone to be rewarded the same because if we are instead rewarded according to service they will not do very well!

Whatever the reasons, this idea of different levels of eternal reward for different levels of merit-based service seems to be hard for many people to accept. The goal of this short study is to briefly put forward some of the scriptural evidence for the concept.

Some general passages dealing with differing levels of eternal reward

Scripture is quite clear that upon Christ’s return, judgement will be rendered as to the works of men. For example:

All these passages speak of an evaluation of our works. It follows naturally that if some people have “better works” than others, then they will receive more reward. There is no other way to responsibly interpret these passages.

More on the process of evaluation: 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Paul gives us some more detail on the process of evaluation in 1 Corinthians 3:

After the fires of judgement, only those things we built upon the sure foundation of Jesus Christ will remain. (This applies to words and thoughts as well as actions: compare Matthew 12:36–37).

This passage in 1 Corinthians 3 teaches that those who build with gold, silver, and precious stones have works that survive the fire. On the other hand, those who build with wood, hay, and stubble have works that do not survive the fire.

The fire represents God evaluating the things we do in this life, and the things left behind lead to reward for us (see verse 14). For this reason, this passage clearly teaches that some people receive greater reward than others.

Eternal ranking is implicit in “Many of the first will be last, and the last first”

Finally, consider the passages that teach that many of the first will be last, and the last first:

These passages directly teach that there is ranking in heaven. If we were all the same in eternity, it would not be possible to have people who are first and last.