Watchman Nee (1903-1973) served the Lord by raising up many churches in mainland China, his homeland. He spent the last twenty years of his life in a communist prison camp in China.
According to the Bible, the goal which is set before a person is twofold: when we are yet sinners, our goal is salvation; after we are saved and become believers, our goal is reward. For salvation is provided for sinners, whereas reward is provided for believers. The perishing should receive salvation, and the saved should win reward.
By reading 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and Philippians 3:12-14, we can readily see that some believers fail to obtain reward. In these two passages, Paul is talking about reward and not about salvation. He well knows that he is saved. In his other epistles, he frequently expresses himself as one who has received grace. But in these two passages, he tells us of what he is seeking after having been saved—and that is the reward. At this moment he dare not say for sure that he has achieved the reward; he instead is still pursuing. Sinners ought to seek for salvation, while believers ought to seek after reward.
Before anyone believes in the Lord, if he is willing to acknowledge himself as a sinner, come to the Lord Jesus, and believe in His substitutionary death on the cross, he is saved, and eternal blessing is guaranteed to him. But according to the Scriptures, after he is saved he is placed by God on the race course of life that he may run. If he wins, he shall be rewarded. If he loses, he will not be rewarded. Yet he will not lose eternal life because of his defeat. For salvation is eternal. Here we find the most balanced teaching, the perfect truth. Unfortunately, many people only know salvation. They are content with merely being saved and do not care about the reward.
How sad that people have mixed up salvation with reward! They reckon salvation is most difficult, requiring their supreme effort of self-discipline to attain it. But this is not the teaching of the Bible. The Scriptures consider salvation to be that which is most easy to come by, for the Lord Jesus by His own initiative has already accomplished everything for us. But the Scriptures regard reward as that which is somewhat harder to obtain because it depends upon the works which we by our initiative accomplish through Christ.
Let no reader think it is enough to be saved and not seek the reward as well. To every truly born-again person, the Lord is calling that one to pursue after spiritual excellence – to win the reward. And it should be a natural thing for him to pursue and win. Yet not for his personal benefit, but to gain the Lord’s heart and pleasure. For whoever is rewarded by the Lord has delighted His heart. Just as a sinner should be saved, so a believer should be rewarded also. Reward to a believer is as important as salvation to a sinner. If a saint fails to achieve the reward, it does not mean that he has sacrificed his profit; it only indicates that his life is not holy and his labor is not faithful and that he has not manifested the Lord Jesus Christ during his pilgrim days.
Recent teachings have swung towards two extremes. Some reckon salvation to be so difficult that it demands people to do a great deal. Thus they nullify the substitutionary death and the work of redemption of our Lord Jesus. Such teaching puts the entire responsibility on man and overlooks what the Bible says about our being saved by grace through faith. Some others think that since all is of grace, then all who believe in the Lord Jesus will not only be saved but also be rewarded with glory and rule in the future with the Lord Jesus. And hence, they lay the entire responsibility on God and neglect what is observed in the Scriptures that some believers—though they be saved—will suffer loss (1 Cor. 3:15).
If we carefully study the New Testament, we shall perceive how clearly God separates salvation and reward. Salvation is for sinners, but reward is for saints. Both are divinely ordered: sinners should be saved, and saints should be rewarded. Overlooking either of them will incur great loss. Let us therefore not mix salvation and reward together.
What is reward? From the Scriptures we can see that reward is to reign with Christ during the millennial kingdom. Every believer has eternal life, but not every believer will be rewarded by being given the right to reign with Christ.
Adapted from Aids to Revelation, by Watchman Nee. Christian Fellowship Publishers, New York, pp. 41-45.