Can someone lose his reward but retain his salvation?


Dear minister of God,

Would you be kind enough to assist me in answering the following:

For me, my understanding is that the believer's eternal salvation is a matter of grace through faith alone. His reward is based on righteousness and works. Whereas the believer's eternal salvation can never be lost, his reward can be forfeited. Indeed salvation is two sides of the same coin, but I am afraid (I could be wrong) that your understanding might be focused on the "initial" salvation since you referenced Ephesians 2:8.

For example, Paul said, "For I know that for me this will turn out to salvation through your petition and the bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:19). Was not Paul saved? "Salvation" in this verse does not refer to receiving eternal life by those who believe, but rather to Paul's release from prison.

Usually we say that is the reward of the kingdom. Paul overcame and finished his course to gain the crown, which the Lord will award His overcoming saints. Clearly, this reward is not our eternal salvation, which is a gift gained freely by grace through our faith in the gospel. That the reward is for works is clearly seen in I Corinthians 3, which says that each will receive his own reward "according to his own labor" (I Corinthians 3:8), based on his work of building upon the one foundation (I Corinthians 3:14). As Paul says in I Corinthians 3:15: "If anyone's work is consumed, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."

Lukewarm is a condition of a defeated SAVED believer. This is why the charge to overcome! In Revelation 3:15-16 the Lord says, "I know your works (living), that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of My mouth."

Thank you and God bless!


Most of the writer's argument is based on how he defines the terms and not on direct proof that his definitions are correct. He attempts to add confusion by saying that salvation has different meanings. From this point of confusion, he then claims to define salvation to mean as he sees fit.

"Salvation" means to be rescued from something. What you are being rescued from would depend on the context. "For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:19). The Greek word here is soteria which means to rescue or bring to safety. What Paul knows is that by the Philippians' prayers, he will be rescued from prison.

"According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (I Corinthians 3:10-15).

Paul was given, as a gift from God, the duty to lay a foundation. By this Paul is referring to his call to be an apostle (Ephesians 2:20). Others come after him to build upon that foundation. Paul preferred this type of work of going whether others had not to get cause of Christ started (Romans 15:20). But Paul warns that just because a proper foundation was laid, those who come later must still be careful how they build upon that foundation (II Corinthians 11:4; I Timothy 4:16). The foundation is critical, but it is not the whole of a building. Paul and other preachers are using the materials (people) available to them to build on the foundation of Christ. Some are of high and enduring quality. Others are cheap material. Paul's illustration is like the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). The same message goes out, but the responses are different depending on the individual.

The fire which tests each man's work is not necessarily held off until the end of time. Each Christian faces the fires of trials during his life (Zechariah 13:9; I Peter 1:7; 4:12). We often focus on the loss of the Christian who is not able to endure the end, but here Paul mentions the impact the loss of such a Christian has on the teacher. It is a joy to see the efforts of your work last. It is a sorrow to see them come to naught. In either case the preacher is saved, but the hardship he faces will be different (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 33:1-9).

Therefore, the salvation that Paul is talking about here is the eternal salvation of the teacher. However, he is not talking about different degrees of reward, but rather the joys and hardships of the journey to reach the final destination.

It is always a good thing to look up the passages someone alludes to but does not directly quote or give reference to.

"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (II Timothy 4:6-9).

The author claims that "Clearly, this reward is not our eternal salvation." But how does he draw this conclusion from what Paul stated? Paul is talking about his approaching death. He has remained faithful through his life and because of that he knows that the Lord will give him "the crown of righteousness" on the day of judgment. Notice it is the crown of righteousness and not a crown of righteousness. This is a title in Greek. The same crown is given to everyone who loves Lord's appearing. Thus, it is not crown earned because Paul was righteous, but rather an honor designating Paul as righteous that is given as a gift by the Lord. It seems clear to me that Paul is talking about salvation. "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (I Corinthians 9:25-27). Note that both "crown" and "wreath" are translating the same Greek word, stephanos.

This then leads us to the original point made by the author. He claims that a believer's eternal salvation can never be lost, but he can lose his reward. It begs the question: Then why Paul was concerned in I Corinthians 9:25-27 that he would not be disqualified? I suppose the author is under the delusion that Paul is only worried about his reward and not his salvation. Unfortunately, he never proves that reward and salvation are referring to different things, he merely asserts that it must be.

There is a promise that people will inherit eternal life. "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29). It is not an inheritance given in this life. "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption" (I Corinthians 15:50). The inheritance is something that comes later, after this life is over and it is also referred to as our salvation. "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14). That is why the Spirit is the down payment or guarantee of what we have not yet received. Or as Paul told the Colossians, "giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light" (Colossians 1:12). It is something Christians look forward to receiving. "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23-24).

Though Christians are given salvation when they become children of God, in a very real sense what they have is the promise of salvation. "And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15). The promise is so certain that we can speak of actually having it, yet we won't be completely rescued from sin until we enter the place where there is no sin. "Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ" (Hebrews 1:14). Notice that it is the inheritance, eternal life, that is rewarded to the Christian.

The inheritance is awaiting Christians in heaven. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Peter 1:3-5). This why Peter said we are being kept through faith for salvation.

In the last few paragraphs I highlight the words: inherit, salvation, reward, and promise to show that these terms can all be used to refer to the same concept: eternal life. The idea that the reward is separate from salvation is unsupported.