Synod 2020 of the PRCA notes make mention of the following statement, “there is an activity of the believer that is prior to the experience of a particular blessing from God” and continues to explain such statement saying positively that, “scripture and confessions clearly teach that God graciously rewards the good works of believers, even in this life” (Acts of Synod 2020 pp. 75,85). At first, this may startle us. Did we not just work so hard to establish what our obedience is? “Obedience is the way of, that is to say, the way of grateful conduct in the experience of covenant fellowship.” Obedience is “never the way of approach unto the experience of covenant fellowship, which way is Christ alone on whom we come by faith alone” (Acts of Synod 2018 pg. 72).
Do we deserve anything for our good works? No, we most certainly do not. These works, on their own, are filthy rags before God (Is. 64:6). “Our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin” (Lords’ Day 24 Q.A 62). Our good works do not merit anything before the face of God. Yet, amazingly He is pleased to see us walk faithfully (Heb. 11:5, Ps. 147:11, Rom. 8:6-8 understanding we are not left in the flesh).
If our view of works states they do not merit then how can they come prior to a blessing? What is this reward we talk about? “This reward is not of merit, but of grace” (LD 24, Q&A 63). Remember what is central to this point made by Synod. “God graciously rewards the good works” at times “even in this life” for believers. This reward is not earned by the works, but it is given of grace. It is not a reward as one earns for turning in a wanted man, but a free gift given. We use the word ‘reward because it is used by scripture (Matt. 6:6, 2 Sam. 22:21, Heb. 11:6). Sometimes we so emphasize our doctrinal ideals that we come to fear even Biblical language. One can be so afraid of work’s righteousness that the word ‘reward’ startles them into a defense of justification by faith alone even though the reward of grace is a proper biblical teaching.
To be clear, “the activity is not the cause of the blessing, nor does it earn the blessing” (Prof. Dykstra). Every blessing we receive is merited by Christ’s work and by that work alone. In God’s good plan He orders all events in all of history and in your and my life. His pleasure may be to “work that the activity of the believer comes first in time and the blessing follows.” Our obedience is the way in which we live as those who receive the blessings of salvation. We experience such blessings through the instrument of faith.
But why would some of the works we perform by the strength of God alone ever need to come before His blessing? Ultimately, because this way is the order in which God is sometimes pleased to give His blessing. Synod explains one example of this order saying that “we repent and in the way of repentance experience the mercy of God” (pg. 82).
Over and over, the Psalms teach us about God’s blessing. They speak about God blessing His people when they walk righteously (in obedience/doing good works). Psalm 34:8 ends “Blessed is the man that trusteth in him” and he is blessed, as the Psalm begins, because “The LORD is good”. All goodness flows from God and He gives blessing graciously. Not because God is required to give back when we trust in Him. Similar language is found in many places in the Psalms speaking about God’s blessing given to those who walk a certain way and are righteous (see Ps. 1:1, 2:12, 5:12, 40:4 41:4, 112:1, 119:1,2,12). As you consider these Psalms, consider them along with those which clearly teach the LORD is the giver of all blessing and that blessing is not earned by us (see Ps. 3:8, 5:12, 24:5, 28:9, 29:11, 32:2, 68:19, 115:12,15, 128:5, 134:3).
How do we respond to this truth? We respond in awe of God’s grace! How amazing that we are blessed beyond blessing. Ultimately that is what these rewards are! He does not have to do this, but God loves so much and is that merciful. God the King takes the helpless prisoner, frees him, and provides a covenant home to live in. Even further, God gives many blessings to that freed servant in the covenant home throughout his life often after that servant’s good work (which work is itself the result of God’s blessing him).
Synod is wise in pointing us to scripture and below is much of the pertinent scripture to look at regarding this discussion. This must be our primary and main guide. Read this and consider God’s word to us! Also
Degrees of reward: Gracious reward of good works:
Luke 19:13-19 2 Samuel 22:21,25
I Corinthians 3:13-15 Matthew 6:6
Revelation 22:12-14 Mark 10:28-30
II Samuel 22:21-27 Proverbs 3:7-10
I Kings 8:32 Malachi 3:10
Proverbs 24:12 Hebrews 11:6
Luke Christian Potjer
Acts of Synod 2018, PRCA. pg. 72
Acts of Synod 2020, PRCA. pp. 75, 81-82, 85.
Prof. Dykstra Russel, Synod 2021: a unified commitment to serving Christ and His church. Standard Bearer, July 2021, pg. 418.