The Doctrine of Eternal Rewards Scares Me—How Do I Know If I’m Doing Enough?

Question from a reader:

I’m really struggling with the doctrine of rewards in Heaven. I feel like such a miserable sinner all the time. I confess my sins, I ask the Lord for help. I go to church, study my Bible, listen to Christian pastors all the time, and clean my church. My husband and I give financially to our local church as well as to other Christian charities. I love to give, and I wish I could give more.

Does our motivation have anything to do with rewards? I feel like if I do stuff out of fear, it nullifies the work. I ask the Lord, “What are the good works you have for me to do?” I don't get an answer that I can discern. How do I know I’m doing enough? I never feel like I’m good enough or doing enough. It makes me want to throw my hands up and just give up. God seems so far away from me. Everything I read about rewards scares me.

Answer from Doreen Button, EPM staff:

My heart hurts for you. You are struggling with hard things that Jesus never meant for you to falter over. He told His followers, “I have come that you may have life, abundantly!” That doesn’t mean we won’t ever suffer. Jesus also promised we would. But our suffering, when we face Him and believe His words, is like the storm which He calmed (see Luke 8). It’s external. It’s pressures from the world, and persecution, and even physical maladies and mental illness.

We are each given a unique set of circumstances tailored perfectly by the One who loves us, to draw us closer to Him and to help us image Him more nearly. Unfortunately, our world makes it way too easy for us to lose our direction and to fix our eyes on the wind and the waves instead of on Him.

When you say “I never feel like I’m good enough or doing enough” you’re absolutely right! We are fallen, finite humans. Thank God, He doesn’t EVER require us to be good enough. And I’m not even sure what “doing enough” even means; do you? Paul didn’t like being saddled with his “thorn” and prayed three times for God to remove it. “But God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Yes, you are a “miserable sinner” but God’s grace covers our sin through Jesus’ sacrifice. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He was telling us the work was done. The sacrifice was made. All the things we couldn’t do and be would never be enough and all the things He did were and are all God requires! I call that Good News! (In other words, though in this current age you’ll still sin, you get to choose whether to be miserable or not. You can choose to believe your feelings, or you can choose to believe God’s Word and Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf.)

When I am looking for specific direction, I pray Psalm 143:8 “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I put my trust in You. Teach me the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” Then I trust God to communicate both what He wants me to know, and what He wants me to do. If I don’t take the time to “calm and quiet my soul; like a weaned child with his mother” (Psalm 131) or “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), I think it’s harder for God to get the message through to me. On the other hand, He created everything out of nothing, speaking our universe into existence with a word, so it’s doubtful He will have too much difficulty giving us directions. When you think “I cry out to God, but nothing happens” turn your thoughts to “whatever is true, pure, lovely, worthy of praise” etc. (read Philippians 4:4-9) and trust that God is at work regardless of how you feel.

Our enemy loves to distract us with unproductive and sometimes downright harmful suggestions. He’s quite happy when we allow our thoughts to spin around and around about anything but God. I hope this doesn’t sound too blunt: what you’ve written implies that rewards in Heaven have become something of an idol in your mind. Jesus gave us one simple rule with two parts to follow: Love God; love people. That’s our job. We love God by loving others. And we love others because of God’s great love for us overflowing to them. It’s a win-win that only happens by His grace. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” Please notice that our job is to believe and to seek. The rewards are up to Him. So chase Him, and let Him take care of the rewards and life direction and all the other ‘wind and waves’ circumstances in your life. Then, like Him, you can peacefully sleep in the boat while the storm rages out there.

Praying God’s peace over you.

Photo: Unsplash

Doreen is part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and helps Randy with editing and answering reader questions. She is a certified biblical counselor.