Labor is an important yet largely misunderstood concept in the spiritual life that follows salvation. The labor for the Lord is one of the main issues in the post-salvation spiritual life, but has nothing to do with either being or remaining saved. Salvation is a gift from God. It cannot be earned and once received, it cannot be lost. Man can take no credit for it.
A person is no more or less “saved” throughout all of Eternity than he was at the moment he received salvation by believing in the Person and the Works of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing that Man can add to the labor of the Lord Jesus Christ that He performed on the cross in order to provide for our salvation.
Although there is something dramatically wrong with someone who claims to be a Christian but has no desire to serve God, it is important and comforting to note during “dry” times and failures that we remain saved regardless of the labor that is or is not performed during our walk with God. Although our salvation cannot be lost, various eternal rewards and privileges can be lost as consequences for the lack of labor on our part. For such a believer, the following passage will clearly apply; “…he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved…”. (1 Cor. 3:15).
Our “labor” for the Lord begins at the moment of conversion to the day we are called home to Heaven either via our physical death or the Rapture of the Church.
When determining what “labor” we are to perform, it is very important right from the start to acknowledge, “…apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV).
Humans can produce a form of labor that is the result of applying human talents and abilities. For example, a non-believing surgeon can perform “life-saving” operations. Accordingly, this labor does have varying degrees of value in the matters of this life, but it is of no value at all at the judgment of the believers and /or for consideration of eternal rewards. Deeds, performed with human talents and abilities, are symbolized as the “wood, hay or straw” (1Cor. 3:12) that is “burned up” (1 Cor. 3:15 NIV) at the judgment of the believers. Believers and unbelievers alike can perform this type of labor as it is based on their human talents and abilities.
Born again believers, and ONLY born again believers can produce the form of labor that is symbolized as “gold, silver, costly stones” (1 Cor.3:12 NIV) that “survives” (1 Cor. 3:14 NIV) and results in rewards at the judgment of the believers. This reason for this is that this ability to perform the kind of labor that God approves of is accomplished through the filling (control) of the indwelling Holy Spirit that non-believers do not have. This is what is meant in the John 15:5 verse previously cited.
There are two categories of labor that we are called to. The two categories of labor are general & specific. Both must performed with proper motivation and the filling (control) of God the Holy Spirit.
The general labor that we are called to perform is the execution of the post-salvation spiritual life. This “work order” is issued to all born again believers. It involves submitting to the filling (control) of God the Holy Spirit, the daily intake and application of Bible Doctrine in our personal peripheries as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. This is what glorifies God and is the very purpose for which Man was created.
The specific labor that the individual believer is called to perform will be in accordance with the individual gift that God the Holy Spirit has chosen (1Cor.12: 11) and assigned. The identification and execution of each individual’s gift is a matter for each believer to discern. The same God that has chosen the gift will also provide the means and opportunity for that gift to be realized.
Although the glorification of God must be the only motive for anything we do for the Lord, the Bible is clear that every individual will receive or fail to receive Eternal rewards based upon his labors for the Lord during this lifetime.
All Christians have the same opportunity to receive eternal blessings for having served the same Lord, but we do not have the same gifts (1 Cor. 12:4) or labors. Our labor is in accordance with the spiritual gift(s) that we receive from the Lord. It is not for us to choose what gift(s) we are to receive, as that is the prerogative of God the Holy Spirit. (1Cor. 12:11).
The Bible (Hebrews 6:10) assures us that our labor for the Lord is not in vain, and that he will not forget that which we have done.
In closing there is one more issue that must be included and that is the identity of the judge of our labors. We are admonished to make self-examinations (1 Cor. 11:28 NIV/2Cor. 13:5 NIV/) of ourselves along the way and we are told that we will give an individual account to God (HEB 9: 27 NIV)), but we are warned that we are not to judge the labor of others (Romans 14:4 NIV).
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (R) Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All Rights reserved.