Question: "What is the purpose of there being rewards in heaven?"
Answer: The Bible mentions rewards in heaven multiple times (Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:23, 35; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 9:18). But why are rewards necessary? Won’t being in heaven with God be enough? Experiencing Him, His glory, and the joys of heaven will be so wonderful, it’s hard to understand why extra rewards would be needed. Also, since our faith rests in Christ’s righteousness instead of our own (Romans 3:21–26), it seems strange that our works would merit reward.
God will give rewards in heaven at the bema, or the judgment seat of Christ, based on our faithfulness in service to Him (2 Corinthians 5:10). The rewards will show the reality of our sonship (Galatians 4:7) and the justice of God (Hebrews 6:10). God will give rewards in heaven in order to fulfill the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7–9) and make good on His promise that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
One reason for the rewards in heaven is the fact that Jesus shares His reward with us. Paul said, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Our lives are “hidden” with Christ, who is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1–4). We die with Him and we live with Him and we share in His joy (Romans 6:8; Matthew 25:21). In heaven we will dwell with Him (John 14:1–3). Our lives are inextricably linked with Christ’s. The reward He receives is shared with all of us: “If we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).
Our rewards in heaven depend on the goodness and power of God. Through Christ’s resurrection we gain an inheritance in heaven; on earth our faith is tested and results in praise and glory and honor when Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:3–9). The things we do in this life are only permanent (that is, carried with us into heaven) if they are built on the foundation, which is Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11–15).
The rewards we gain in heaven are not like the rewards we earn here on earth. We tend to think in material terms—mansions, jewels, etc. But these things are only representations of the true rewards we will gain in heaven. A child who wins a spelling bee treasures the trophy he receives not for the sake of the trophy itself but for what that trophy means. Likewise, any rewards or honor we gain in heaven will be precious to us because they carry the weight and meaning of our relationship with God—and because they remind us of what He did through us on earth.
In this way, rewards in heaven glorify God and provide us with joy, peace, and wonder as we consider God’s work in us and through us. The closer we were to God during this life, the more centered on Him and aware of Him, the more dependent on Him, the more desperate for His mercy, the more there will be to celebrate. We are like characters in a story who suffer doubt, loss, and fear, wondering if we will ever really have our heart’s desire. When the happy ending comes and desire is fulfilled, there comes a completion. The story would not be satisfying without that completion. Rewards in heaven are the completion of our earthly story, and those rewards will be eternally satisfying (Psalm 16:11).