The Bible consistently calls on individuals to serve God (See Ex 23:25, Jn 12:26, Col 3:24, etc.). He has decided to promote much His agenda through willing workers. And He repays with ... eternal rewards. "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me" (Rev 22:12). It is not possible to know what these rewards are, but we do know they are protected - and are incorruptible. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth ... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal" (Mt 6:19,20). The main reason we cannot really understand what these rewards are ... is because they surpass our present comprehension. "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1Cor 2:9). God offers this "deal" - and we receive this "deal" - by faith. Willing participants trust God in this matter, and that He will honor all His commissioned labors.
For two summers during college, I sold books door-to-door. The goal was to maximize work hours, minimize expenses, and send as much cash as possible into company headquarters. Then at summer's end - pick up one big paycheck. The gaining of eternal rewards has some similar elements. We are looking to one big Payday. "Well done, good slave. Because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities" (Lk 19:17).
The case for dismissing "rights" to eternal rewards for anybody is quite strong. For starters, "Salvation is from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). While Jonah was probably referring to deliverance from the belly of the great fish, those with even a cursory Bible understanding know that "to God the Lord belong escapes from death" (Ps 68:20). Our most urgent need is deliverance from the deaths of sin - all three of them; spiritual, physical and eternal. But, on our own initiative "there is none who seeks for God" (Ro 3:11). Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (Jn 6:44). The Bible is clear on this matter. Scores of verses support this. If you think you are going to stand before God and say, "Yeah, I woke up one day and knew I needed You in my life. I started reading the Bible and I figured out who Jesus was and what that meant. Then I decided to accept Him, and I ... I ... I ...." (This next statement is blunt, but know I am speaking ... to myself first). If you think you engineered your faith and understanding of the things of God - you have deceived yourself. In light of this, does anyone have "rights" to eternal rewards?
But, even as Christians, we cannot claim total credit for our service. We do become "God's fellow-workers" with each receiving "his own reward according to his own labor" (1Cor 3:8,9). But, deep behind the scenes of our willing service, we find these assertions: "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10) and "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). So, God prepares labors for us and motivates us toward them ... and even grants spiritual abilities (gifts or aptitudes - 1Cor 12:4-31) ... and then compensates with eternal rewards?
Notice ... we "should" walk in these prepared opportunities. But, in an exercise of free will, we can stupidly choose otherwise. John told his audience, "Watch yourselves, ... (so) that you might receive a full reward" (2Jn 8).
Everyone who gets even one eternal reward will acknowledge it is undeserved. It is He "who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist" (Ro 4:17). He not only makes us "alive together with Him" (Col 2:13), but He then empowers our efforts for Him ... so actual spiritual progress occurs. It is "God who causes the growth" (1Cor 3:7).
So, are there "conditions" one must meet to be used by God - and thus receive eternal rewards? Well, John would not have exhorted his audience, "watch yourselves ... (so) that you might receive a full reward" if these rewards were automatic. Jesus would not have warned of the wicked slave who "hid" his talent ... unless we were capable of the same transgression (Mt 25:14-30). In Revelation, He admonished the churches to "repent ... be faithful ... overcome ... hold fast" and rewards would follow (Rev 2:5,10,17,25). Paul warned Christians to build properly on the foundation, as fire "will test the quality of each man's work" - some efforts ending in eternal reward and others burning up (1Cor 3:10,13-15). So, here are a few points.
To be used by God is a moment by moment,event by event, transaction. God is not obligated to use everything a Christian does. An individual must actively maintain the relationship with God - in actions and reactions. And one must seek Him ... asking for wisdom to know His will, priorities and agenda. This privilege is never owed. To be used by God, even one time, is an honor - forever undeserved. Amassed "credentials" or appositions do not dictate to God who He must use. He employs individuals based upon present standing ... with one's heart being the measure. For example, while there are many sins that move a person into an "inactive" status with Him, one that God hates ... is pride. "If anyone thinks he is something, being nothing, he deceives himself" (Gal 6:3). Pride can often hide in the background until some circumstance brings it forward. Just ask Job about this. Then, one is in for "a season" of self-examination and corrective action ... before God can deploy him/her. In this matter, "God shows no partiality." (Paul said this of the other apostles "who were of high reputation"! Rest assured, when Peter and Barnabas, were operating in their pride, that chapter of their Christian lives only produced fuel for the fire [Gal 2:6-9]). Do you think God is somehow obligated to eternally reward error and impure motives, known or unknown by the perpetrator, and expand His Kingdom with that?
But, what if there is a group of Christians - say, a local church - representing God? Must He automatically use their work and witness? Or, are its activities weighed moment by moment, event by event ... as is done with the individual?
Let's look at it this way. Have you ever heard this one? "How will the church's bills be paid if you don't give?" Well, there are two assumptions behind this statement (this is not a question). First, the activities of that church are being used by God, and second, people in the pews are responsible for that church's bills. But, ... is God using that place - now? Even if it had a glorious past, that does not mean God is presently active ... and current standing is all that counts. This basic question - indeed this basic test - is always present and relevant. And, what about those bills? Well, we already know of one place God abandoned - where He had been very active. Somewhere around 35 AD, He left the Most Holy Place at the Temple in Jerusalem ... never to return. Of course, people still came to the Temple, and it was populated with priests, and councils, and all kinds of religious ceremonies for another 35 years. During that time ... all the financial needs of those "ministries" kept coming. Do you think the "contributions" by those religious participants will end with eternal rewards from God?
If individuals, or groups, want investment into their ministry(s), they should look primarily to God Himself to impress on potential donors the validity of their cause. God persuades and moves hearts and minds - without any begging, threatening or manipulation. He simply opens eyes ... and those eyes see, and respond to, the eternal opportunity.
In my own personal crucible, I have come to some determinations. One is this: "Lord, I would rather be used by You one time in my remaining days, than to have a lifetime of plastic 'achievement' - pursuing what I think, or others think, should be done." It requires great diligence and effort to seek out God on these matters ... but, what is the alternative? Fuel for fire?