Summary: There is a growing belief that the better a Christian behaves or does things for God, the greater their rank and job responsibilities will be in the heavenly kingdom - and they will also be rewarded with a deeper relationship with God.
There are primarily two schools of thought that have emerged over the years about what the reward of Heaven will be. Some believe that there will be different gifts and varying degrees of happiness in Heaven based upon a merit type of system done on earth and how well a person works at their Christian life in holiness and obedience to God's commands.
Others believe that the only valid reward a Christian receives at the moment they release all claims to their life and receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior is eternal salvation because nothing else matters.
Although there are no Scriptures that explicitly declare these beliefs, there is the insistence that the Scriptures' imply' them. The Bible tells us that those Christians who build the foundation of their life - or their ministry - upon their good works just as the church at Corinth was doing, "will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each man's work" (1 Cor 3:10-15). The works that are not done to God's glory are "rubbish" and will be destroyed;
"But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:7-8 NKJV)
Christians must be 'careful' how they build upon the only foundation of the Church, which is Jesus Himself. Those who are active in ministry must recognize that it is a holy endeavor and not to be taken lightly. Just as Christians are to have an attitude of fear and trembling when considering that it is the holy God alone who is working out their salvation within them (Phil 2:12-13), so it is with ministry and service within the Church.
When a Christian comes to the place of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that their salvation is based upon what Jesus has done and not what they do - or don't do - for Him, they will never worry about being faithful and building their life, or ministry, upon their self-made foundation.
Some would contend that the touted merit system of heavenly hierarchies is antithetical to Christianity. They would assert that the underlying principle of Jesus' words that the "last shall be first and the first last" turns this belief upside down as the top 'performers' actually become the bottom 'performers' and those at the bottom go to the top (Matt 20:16, 19:30, 23:12; Luke 14:11).
The Great Reward
Every Christian receives a reward for the work of Jesus because He alone is the One who did the work and sent the Holy Spirit to ensure they would bring forth fruit by His faith (Matt. 5:12; Eph 2:8-10). There are two words translated "reward" in the New Testament. They are 'apodidomi,' which means to give away, give over, give back, (Matt 6:4, 16:27; Rom 2:6; 1 Thess 5:15; 2 Tim 4:14; Rev 22:12), and 'misthos,' which means to hire and pay for services and is the most widely used word for "reward" (Matt 5:12,46; 6:1; 10:41; Mark 9:41; 1 Cor 3:8,14).
The Parable of the Talents is the second of three parables on various aspects of salvation and, in context, is about salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus, and not by works (See Matt 25:14-30; Eph 2:8-10). Salvation brings a person into a right relationship with God (Eph 2:13-16).
No matter how hard the 3rd servant (Gk ‘doulos’ = a bond slave) worked or how successful they were, the rewards belonged to their master. They could only secure their “just” reward if they were the king. The same is true for with God: it ALL belongs to Him.
The evidence that someone is Born-Again is they naturally produce good fruit because they are a “good tree”… “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that” they “should walk in them” (Matt 6:43-45; Eph 2:10 ESV see also Ps 24:1).
The Born-Again Christian is God’s workmanship alone. They are not saved by works but are saved by grace through faith in Jesus to do good works. Jesus will say to those who are not good trees, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23 ESV).
The Parable of the Talents shows that a right relationship with God (a.k.a., righteousness) allows a person’s faith to be transformed into good works. No matter how hard the servant worked or how successful they were, the rewards ultimately belonged to their master.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and those who dwell therein.” (Ps 24:1 ESV)
A wrong relationship with God is defined by self-preservation rather than self-sacrifice; distrust rather than dependence; self-focus rather than God-focus, and so it produces no good works that attest salvation has taken place.