Your Eternal Reward. Erwin Lutzer. 1998. Moody Publishers. 171 pages.
I am so thankful that this was not my first introduction to Erwin Lutzer, or I would have been scared away from some great books. I found myself questioning--struggling to accept--Lutzer's interpretations and arguments. For Your Eternal Reward is about as opposite from Jesus + Nothing = Everything as a book can possibly get. Though Lutzer does point out in several places that he is NOT talking about salvation itself OR even entry into heaven, what he seems to be advocating seems to conflict with the doctrine of grace. This little book is all about how Christians will be judged for every single act, every single word, every single thought since their regeneration. He points out that we won't be held responsible for our sins before coming to faith, since those sins are forgiven and forgotten by God. That while Christ's work on the cross covered our sins BEFORE conversion, that our sins after conversion will have eternal consequences, consequences that won't necessarily keep us completely out of heaven, but will keep us from being heirs in the kingdom, keep us from inheriting any riches, keep us from reigning with Christ, keep us from the glories of heaven. Part of Lutzer's argument for this doctrine is taken from one of Christ's parables: the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-27). But his main scripture text is 2 Corinthians 5:10.
If grace has a role in this book--outside of his few comments about how this book is not talking about salvation in general--I didn't find it. Nor was there mention of Christ's righteousness being sufficient. No mention of imputation--how believers sins are imputed to Christ and were paid for IN FULL on the cross, after all Jesus said IT IS FINISHED, and how Christ's righteousness is imputed to believers. How Christ's perfect, completely satisfying life of obedience is reckoned to believers. That justification means two things: just as if I've never sinned AND just as if I've always obeyed. I also did not find Lutzer discussing the doctrine of sanctification. What the book is all about is works, works, works, we'll be judged for our works good and evil. That some Christians will have an abundance of rewards that they've earned, while others won't. Lutzer stressing of course that we will be praising God for being so just in his judgment of our lives. We'll agree with his just judgment even while we are crushed by his disappointment in us.
In order to attend the marriage supper of the Lamb, we need two different suits of clothes. The first is the righteousness of Christ, the gift which admits us into heaven. This is a free set of clothes, the garments by which we are ushered into heaven's courts. (2 Corinthians 5:21). But the second suit of clothes is a wedding garment for the marriage supper. This suit is not the righteousness of Christ, but rather the deeds we have done for Christ on earth. Christ has made us ready for heaven; we must make ourselves ready for the wedding feast. We must distinguish between what only God can do and that which we can have a part in doing. (56)I find this interpretation deeply troubling to say the least.
Here's another example:
If we think of heaven as a theme park, we must emphasize that the entrance ticket is free. Christ must be received by faith; we are saved "not of works, lest any many should boast" (Ephesians 2:9). But if we want to go on some of the rides, if we want to be rewarded and not embarrassed at the sadness we cause Christ, we must be faithful on earth. The entrance is free, but some additional benefits are based on merit. (60)And again,
To possess eternal life you simply need faith in Christ; to truly inherit it, you need faith and obedience. If we keep in mind that to "inherit eternal life," or to "inherit" the kingdom, is an extra reward for faithful service, we will read many passages of Scripture differently. (69)I agree that you might read many passages of Scripture differently if you interpret them through this lens of works-righteousness, but, that doesn't mean necessarily that you reading them that way is the right way.
I think this book could prove dangerous IF it leads a person to focus on themselves, to focus on mistakes past and present, to daily tally up their works good and bad, to become discouraged and overwhelmed with the impossibility of the task ahead, to focus on riches, rewards, gifts, blessings--what can I get from God--instead of focusing on God, to question their own motives. So many passages in this book could cause one to either doubt OR fear. So many passages strip away the promises to believers as revealed in the Word of God.
I can't help thinking of what Tullian Tchividjian writes in Jesus + Nothing = Everything:
I used to think that growing as a Christian meant I had to somehow go out and obtain the qualities and attitudes I was lacking. To really mature, I needed to find a way to get more joy, more patience, more faithfulness, and so on. Then I came to the shattering realization that this isn't what the Bible teaches, and it isn't the gospel. What the Bible teaches is that we mature as we come to a greater realization of what we already have in Christ. The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it's not itself a message about our internal transformation but about Christ's external substitution. We desperately need an advocate, mediator, and friend. But what we need most is a substitute--someone who has done for us and secured for us what we could never do and secure for ourselves. The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of ourselves and our performance and more of Jesus and his performance for us. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our effort instead of with God's effort for us makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. (94-95)NOTE: The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of ourselves and our performance and more of Jesus and his performance for us. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our effort instead of with God's effort for us makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.
I think that exactly sums up the dangers of a book like Your Eternal Reward. As J.C. Ryle wrote, "Expect little from self--but much from Christ. Look more to Jesus--and less to self."
More quotes from Jesus + Nothing = Everything:
Our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves--on our obedience (or lack thereof), on our performance (good or bad), on our holiness--instead of on Christ and his obedience, his performance, and his holiness for us. We all possess a natural proclivity to turn God's good news announcement that we've been set free into a narcissistic program of self-improvement. When we do this, we fail to see the needs of our neighbors and serve them. After all, as Martin Luther said, "God doesn't need our good works, but our neighbor does." My greatest need and yours is to look at Christ more than we look at ourselves. (123)
Real slavery is living your life trying to gain favor; real freedom is knowing you already have favor--the difference is huge. The gospel frees us to work and live from the secure basis of faith, not fear. (141)
The hard work is not what you think it is--your personal improvement and moral progress. The hard work is washing your hands of you and resting in Christ's finished work for you, which will inevitably produce personal improvement and moral progress. Progress in obedience happens when our hearts realize that God's love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience. Martin Luther had a point when he said, "It is not imitation that makes sons; it is sonship that makes imitators." (175)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible