Is salvation a reward or a gift?
This is an important question as the answer ought to really govern other conclusions we reach about salvation. It has huge implications as to assurance of salvation, for example, it seems self evident to me that if we view salvation as a gift, then absolute assurance is ours to keep as well. But if we view salvation as a reward, you can see that assurance becomes much more elusive since rewards are based on performance and, well, maybe you're not cutting the mustard. The question is, how to the cults answer this question and how does that line up with what Lordship teachers teach?
Latter-Day Saints (Mormon):
I put this question to the three LDS missionaries who answered my invitation, and after some discussion the answer finally came back: "Both". They understand it to be both a gift and a reward. Now for them this is more complicated because really "salvation" for them is not what it is to us… "salvation" is just the "First Heaven" and, well, everyone ends up there. So perhaps you could call that a gift. But their ultimate version of "salvation" is entry into the Third Heaven, or the "Celestial Kingdom". And this is certainly a reward and they readily admit that you have to work, you have to perform, to get there.
The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses):
Unfortunately, the Watchtower is apparently rather confused about whether salvation is a gift or a reward, as a quick tour through the Watchtower's web site will reveal to contradictory ideas in this regard:
“[Jehovah’s Witnesses] are working hard now for the reward of eternal life… making themselves eligible to receive the reward of eternal life.” -Watchtower publication
“Salvation is a free gift from God. It cannot be earned. Yet it does require effort on our part.” -Watchtower publication
Lordship teachers are not consistent even with themselves when it comes to this question. They seem to view salvation as a gift on one day, and a reward on the next, very similar to the Watchtower.
“Eternal life is indeed a free gift.” -John MacArthur
“This is a perfect picture of saving faith… the true believer signs up and gives everything for Christ. [Moses] gave up spectacular worldly wealth in order to suffer for Christ’s sake…he was really trading Egypt for a heavenly reward.” -John MacArthur
In the last quote, MacArthur is illustrating his view of salvation using Moses and his faithful choice to confront and oppose Pharoah even though Moses knew it would mean he was giving up wealth and power. By the context of the quotation, we know that MacArthur was speaking of entry into Heaven… eternal salvation, and in this illustration, MacArthur clearly views salvation as a reward (for having sacrificed all that wealth and power).
Again, it's important to understand that these ideas have consequences… That you may think salvation is a reward or a gift is not just a trivial matter. A reward is, by definition, earned and a gift, by definition, is not. Any view of salvation as a reward could betray a reliance on works for that salvation.
For the 7th time, Free Grace provides an answer that is not only unique, but consistent as well. It seems that teachers of Free Grace theology take seriously the Bible's insistence that salvation is a free gift. A gift is something for which you did not work… either before or after the fact. The fact that salvation is a free gift enables us to say, with certainty, that we are saved no matter what. It links up with our 100% assurance quite nicely and doesn't create any conflicts or contradictions. Rewards are given in Heaven for our performance in this life, according to the level of sanctification we attain individually, but going to Heaven is not a reward. You won't ever find Free Grace teachers describing salvation from Hell as a "reward".