The New Testament speaks both of a GIFT and of a PRIZE.
What is a gift?-It is "something bestowed without price." What is God's gift?
"The wages of sin is death; but the GIFT of God is ETERNAL LIFE in Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8; John 3:15, 16; 17:2; 1 John 5:11. It is also called "Salvation."
What is a PRIZE?-It is "a reward gained by some performance"
New Testament Scripture speaks of a prize as set before us.
"That I may know Him [Christ] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made comformable unto His death, if by any means I might attain to the select resurrection from among the dead. Not as though I had attained, either were already perfected; but, I follow after, if I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold on it, but this one thing I do, forgetting the things behind, and reaching forward unto the things before, I press toward the mark for the PRIZE of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:10-14.)
"Know ye not, that they who run in the course of the foot-race run all, but one (only) receiveth the prize! So run that ye may obtain. Now every one that entereth the lists is temperate in all things. Now they do it in order to obtain a corruptible crown, but we (do it to obtain) an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so box I, not as one that scourgeth the air; but I keep under my body, and lead it about as a slave, lest after having acted the herald to others, I myself should become disapproved." (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
Here then the Christian prize is stated to be a partaking in the first and blest resurrection of the thousand years, or the millennium (Rev. 20:4-6). It is also called "the reward," or "the kingdom."
The gift of God then, which is eternal life, and the prize, which is the millennial kingdom, are two different things. They differ on almost every point.
- Eternal life is, as its name imports, something which has no end. But the kingdom of the Christ ends after a thousand years, and is given up by the Son to the Father, that God may be all in all. (Rev. 20:4-6; 1 Cor. 15:23-28)
- Eternal life is something which is begun to be enjoyed already. (John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47; 1 John 5:13) The believer is already "saved," and ought to rejoice on this account. (1 Cor 1:18; Rom. 8:24; Eph. 2:5, 8; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16)
But the prize or the kingdom is something which even Paul was seeking for and had not then attained (Phil. 3:1 Cor. 9). It is a reward for service to Christ and suffering for His sake. "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matt. xxv. 21 – 23) "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom...for I was hungry and ye gave Me food." (xxv. 34-36)
"Not every one that saith to Me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father Who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:35; 1 Cor. 3:8-17; Matt. 5:11, l2) "We must through many troubles enter into the Kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22)
We are never said to be elect to the millennial kingdom. We are said to be "invited" to God’s Kingdom of Glory (1 Thess. 2:12). God means in this way to pay wages to His laborers, both of the Old Testament and of the New. "He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal; that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together." (John 4:36) This reward is to be at the seventh or last trump, when the kingdoms of this world become "the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ." (Rev. 11:15–18) It is in another place stated as given by Christ at His return (Rev. 22:l2).
- Eternal life is bestowed on God's elect at once upon their faith; and cannot be lost (Eph. 2:8; John 3:15, 16; 5:24, 6:40, 47; 10:28; 1 Tim. 1:16; Acts 13:46; Rom. 8:29-39). It is given to sinners against their deserts. "Not by works in righteousness which we did, did He save us, but according to His mercy." (Tit. 3:5) "To him that worketh not, but believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned unto righteousness." (Rom. 4:5) Eternal life is the present possession of our calling. The millennial kingdom is the hope of our calling. (Eph. 1:18).
The prize of our calling is to be sought for with effort. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness." (Matt. vi. 33) "But rather seek ye the Kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you." Luke xii. 31. "From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and violent ones are taking it by force." (Matt. xi. 12) "The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is being preached, and every one is pressing into it." (Luke xvi. 16)
- For the believer to be seeking after eternal life would be unbelief. For the believer not to be seeking after the prize of the Kingdom is unbelief. God becomes the rewarder of the diligent seeker (Heb. xi. 6; Matt. v. 46; vi. 1-16; x. 41, 42). To whom is the prize to be given? To those "accounted worthy." (Luke xx. 35, 36) "They which shall be accounted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from among the dead (the first resurrection) neither marry nor are given in marriage, for neither can they die any more, for they are equal to the angels." (Heb. iii.; iv.; vi. 11)
Hence exhortation comes in to stir us up to desire and to seek this glory: Heb. iii. 13; iv. 11. "Exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made associates of the Christ ['Thy fellows" (Psa. xlv 7), when He comes to take the kingdom,] if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end." "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any fall after the same example of disobedience" (Margin.).
For as human prizes require certain excellencies, and may be lost by the contrary offenses, so with the prize of God. Some of the offenses that will cause offenders to lose this glory are stated in 1 Cor. vi. 1-11; Gal. v. 19-21; vi. 7-10; Luke xviii. 17; Eph. v. 5; Rev. ii. 26, 27.
And the danger of loss is not distant and slight. Hence the apostle bids us seek, as if we were the only one that could win the prize. He exhibits to us twice the provocation of God's people Israel, after their deliverance out of Egypt, as warnings to us: Heb. iii.; iv.; I Cor. x. And the Most High has commanded the actual exclusion of some believers from fellowship at the table of the Lord for certain specified offences. Most churches are compelled, at some time or other, to excommunicate some of those received, because of these sins. But those justly accounted unworthy to sit down with their brethren in this imperfect state and time, will be by Christ accounted unworthy to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the millennial kingdom.
He has distinctly said, that He will confirm the just judgments of His churches on this point, when He comes (Matt. xviii. 18).
On this subject Abraham, the father of the faithful, is set forth to us as an example. He is first justified by faith: Gen. xv. But after that, he is found obedient to God's commands of circumcision and the offering of his son. On that latter occasion God by oath binds Himself to fulfill to Abraham all His promises, which look onward to the millennium. "’By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee ...And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice.’" (Gen. xxii. 16-18).
With Israel, Abrabam's sons after the flesh, it was just the reverse. They believed God at the beginning of their deliverance out of Egypt: Ex iv. But then instead of obeying God, they provoked Him by unbelief and disobedience, till at length He swore they should not enter into the land of promise, the hope of their calling. "Look to yourselves (therefore) that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward." (2 John 8).