I have been studying a small portion of The Republic by Plato the past couple weeks. It was a conversation on the meaning of justice, whether or not justice is a virtue, and whether a just man was happier than an unjust man. The common belief among man was that injustice was far more profitable than justice, and that the unjust man, being able to do whatsoever he pleases without suffering the consequences was far happier than the just man, especially if he was thought to be unjust. They believed that although justice was better than injustice, it was grievous and was only to be endured for benefits in the afterlife. Plato himself, however, believed that man should be just simply for the sake of being just, not for the sake of any reward.
In this conversation, a man named Adeimantus makes an interesting statement regarding man's motivation in pursuing justice:
"Parents and tutors are always telling their sons and their wards that they are to be just; but why? not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of character and reputation; in the hope of obtaining for him who is reputed just some of those offices, marriages, and the like which Glaucon has enumerated among the advantages accruing to the unjust from the reputation of justice."
At first this idea that people are only just because of the rewards that are promised to them seemed to me a selfish idea. But as I thought about it, I realized this is largely what Christians do. Many Christians follow Christ simply for the reward at the end, for the promise of heaven when the toils of this life are over. The Christian life is filled with decisions where we have to deny ourselves what our flesh wants and choose to be obedient to Him. We often don't do it because we want to, but because of the blessings or rewards we are promised if we do. And, of course, to avoid death and hell.
Is this a right approach to the Christian life? Does Christ not deserve to be loved simply for who He is, for the fact that God created us, and He redeemed us from our sin? Is He not worthy of our love even without all the rewards and blessings He promises? It should be, but that is not the case in the lives of many Christians. Many come to Christ initially to escape hell, many continue in the faith for the same, and for the promise of heaven. I must admit that I myself am guilty in part.
What would happen if the promise of heaven was taken away? Would we still love and follow our Lord? Would He not be worthy of our love and devotion either way? But then I have to wonder, would there have been a point in Christ's death and resurrection if not to grant us eternal life?
I am reminded that Jesus died for us for the sake of a reward. Jesus Himself "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2, ESV) Christ Himself has His eyes on a reward when He died on the cross. He came to break the curse of death that sin brought into the world. He didn't do it simply to save us from our sin, but to restore us to fellowship with our Maker and that we might one day be in His presence, see Him face to face and share in His glory. So, it seems to me that the reward of heaven was a part of His purpose, but that shouldn't be the only reason we follow Him.
Like justice, following Christ comes with a price. Yes, He promised us an eternal reward for our faithfulness, but it comes at a cost. Jesus said so Himself. Along with the blessings, He promised us trials and tribulations. Is it worth it? I believe it is. We can look around at the unjust of this world, and they may seem happy, they may look like they have it made, but they don't. I personally don't think it's possible for a man to live his whole life in sin and be truly happy, no matter how well thought of he is, how much recognition and possessions he has. Deep down, his conscience will condemn him. And whatever happiness he does have will last only until he dies.
Justice and the Christian life are wonderful. But both come with a price and a reward. So, I ask you, why do you follow Christ?