Dear Catholic Exchange:
My sister-in-law believes after having been “saved,” she is assured of salvation regardless of any future behavior. She said people who choose to sin after having been saved will not earn “crowns in heaven.” Where does the idea of “crowns in heaven” come from?
Peace in Christ!
The idea of crowns in heaven comes from various parts of Scripture (e.g., 1 Pt 5:4; Rv 2:10; 3:11). “Crown” as it is often used in Scripture refers to honor. Thus, a “crown of glory” or a “crown of righteousness” speaks of one who, by God’s grace, has attained to these good things. Proverbs says, for example, the “crown of the wise is their wisdom” (14:24), meaning that wisdom is visible in their lives i.e., it “crowns” their lives. Those who are given shame or dishonor in Scripture are often said to lose their crown. Lamentations 5:16 says of Israel, “The crown has fallen from our head.” This gives great significance to Jesus being made to wear a crown of thorns. He willingly took upon himself all the dishonor, humiliation, and pain that was due humanity.
Some believe, either literally or metaphorically, that among those saved by grace, those who live out their faith in an exemplary way will receive “crowns” in heaven. There is a sense in which this is true. Scripture often refers to how each person will be judged according to their works; not as to whether he or she will be saved, but with regard to honor in God’s kingdom (e.g., 1 Cor 3:10-15).
However, from this idea that there are different degrees of honor in heaven, it does not follow that a person cannot throw away heaven altogether. See our FAITH FACT on mortal sin for more information. There is a section there on the doctrine commonly referred to as “once saved, always saved.”
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