While it is true that Jesus will reward the faithful ones (Rev. 22: 12) and while it is also true that the ultimate desire of our life should be to please the Lord( 2 Cor. 5: 9), so that we can hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from Him one day, yet Jesus Himself warned us against the self-centered desire for even a heavenly reward, motivating us in our sacrifice and our service for Him.
When Peter compared himself favorably with the rich young ruler ( who had just turned away from Jesus) and asked the question, “What shall we get for all that we have given up for you?” (Matt. 19: 27), Jesus replied with the parable of the laborers (Matt. 20: 1-16). There we find that those who worked for reward ended up last, while those who worked without any thought of reward ended up first (even though they had done only a small percentage of the work that the former had done).
Quality versus Quantity- Here we see the difference between dead works and living works. Works done with the hope of our ultimately being promoted above other believers and finding a place in the bride of Christ will be exposed as dead works in the final day. If you purify your thought-life, do good to others, and love your wife or submit to your husband, all with the thought of being exalted in some future day, then self is still at the centre of your life, and all your self-centered “good” works are dead works!
Those who do get crowns in glory are quick to cast them down at the feet of the Lord, saying, “Thou alone art worthy” (Rev. 4: 10). It is only when we have purged ourselves from motives rather than the desire to glorify God, that we can be freed from dead works. If we keep a record in our memory of all the good works we have done, those good works become dead works.
Jesus gave us two pictures of the final judgment day. One where people listed before the Lord all the good things that they had done in their earthly lives, “Lord, we prophesied in Your name, we healed the sick in Your name, etc” (Matt. 7:22, 23). These people were rejected by the Lord. In the other picture, we find the righteous surprised when they are reminded by the Lord of the good that they had done in their earthly lives, “Lord, when did we do that?” is their surprised cry. (Matt. 25: 24-40) They had forgotten about the good that they had done- for they had not done those works for reward
There we see a clear contrast between dead works and living works. Which category do we fit into?