Would Christianity survive without reward or punishment in the afterlife?
This was the essence of a question that TheMark posed to me in a comment on his article "The Rise and Fall of a Christian" (http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/The-Rise-and-Fall-of-A-Christian-20120613).
More precisely, his question was: it is possible to have a loving relationship with Christ without thinking of the eternal reward?
By the time I wanted to answer him, the article's "shelf life" had expired and it did not make sense answering. But I thought it would make a meaningful article.
I cannot speak on behalf of all Christians, but I think that eternal reward or punishment should not be anybody's primary motive for being a Christian.
I would say one's motive for being a Christian should be driven by – what I call – "the cause".
“The cause” cannot be summarised in a single sentence, but I would say it constitutes, amongst others, of the following:
* The root of the cause is triune God's character: the fact that He not merely loves us, He IS love. In other words, He cannot help himself when it comes to love. He can only do one thing: LOVE.
* God made man(kind) in his image for the cause: i.e. He wanted us to represent and perpetuate his loving character here on earth in bodily form. I firmly believe it is the only way mankind can live in harmony with each other: through living out the unselfish love who God is and that Jesus made manifest
* The fact that, as soon as we start using our brain, every person decides "I'll do things MY way" – which is exactly when s/he starts working against the cause of unselfish love: the person puts him/herself before others. But, although we screw up big time, God still persists and wants us to become the love-potential that He sees in us
* God pulled out all stops to enable us to still be part of the cause. Not only did Jesus come to live among us and demonstrate God-in-the-flesh-Love-in-action, but He was willing to make the ultimate statement for the cause though his unselfish atoning death
* Whoever buys into God's cause hands the reigns of their life back to God (as God intended since the beginning of time). That is what the Bible means when it says we "enter God's Kingdom". A better translation actually is to "submit to God's Kingship" - we merely acknowledge him as the one holding the reigns.
When we buy into the cause of his Kingship by portraying the character of God and we are Jesus to others through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit in us, we bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Then we help answer the prayer of Jesus:
“Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven”
I can see myself becoming part a cause that brings heaven to earth, making earth a better place - irrespective of whether there is a heaven or a life after death.
In my view: the fact that the Bible says that there is an an eternal reward after death is an added bonus.
It's not the goal.