Saturday, July 27, 2013
Graduation with Honors
One of salvation’s eternal blessings is that we will receive eternal rewards at the judgment seat for believers (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-12). We will not have to give an account of our sins, for they are already forgiven and paid for by His shed blood (Matthew 26:28; Romans 3:25). Once we place our faith in His death, burial and resurrection as the only Way to Heaven, we are saved to eternal life in His presence (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16; 14:6).
But when we see Him face to face, Christ will review everything we did with our life since we were saved. He will also review opportunities He gave us but that we did not use to tell others about Jesus, to encourage and teach other believers, and to glorify God.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus explained that those who are faithful to use their gifts to further His kingdom will be rewarded proportionately (Matthew 25:14-30). For every good thing we did with the right motive, we will be rewarded. But for missed opportunities or good works done for self-serving reasons, we will suffer loss – not of salvation, but of rewards (1 Corinthians 3: 11-14).
The gold, silver and jewels that emerge unscathed from the fire of judgment are those deeds done with the right heart and the right motive to further Christ’s kingdom, while those “good deeds” we did out of pride or for our own selfish motives will burn up like wood, hay and stubble. These lost rewards will bring us momentary sadness and even shame, but He will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:17;21:4), and our overwhelming emotions will be of joy and gratitude.
To use an analogy, at a commencement ceremony some graduates receive their degree “cum laude” (with honors), “magna cum laude” (with high honors) or “summa cum laude” (with highest honors). Some may receive special awards for their community service, leadership, or academic achievement. Other graduates may be disappointed that they were not singled out for these rewards. Yet all should experience joy, relief and gratitude that they have graduated and are beginning or “commencing” a new, better life. Each graduate wears a cap and has the privilege of casting it into the air when the ceremony is over.
The Greek word that Paul uses to describe the judgment seat for believers is Bema, referring to the award stand at the Olympic games. For all athletes in such games, it is a great honor just to be there, and all who take part in their event will be blessed by their participation. Certain athletes are given special awards to recognize the excellence of their achievement. But all who are there can be considered winners because of their self-discipline and their devotion to their calling. None are punished or sent home in disgrace.
Based on Christ’s review at the Bema seat of what we did with our lives once we were saved, some believers will receive crowns, which we will give back to Him, casting them at His feet, because of our awe and love for Him (Revelation 4: 4,10-11). Five specific crowns are mentioned.
The soul-winners crown is the crown of rejoicing (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) – a living crown of those souls we helped bring to Jesus. What unspeakable joy we shall have in glory when we see those we helped lead to Christ! This may include those with whom we shared God’s Word, even though the seed we planted did not bloom into the flower of salvation until much later. We may not even have met some of these believers before, if they were saved because of missionaries we helped support, or an Internet posting we made, or even a tract we left somewhere (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
Each of us who looks forward to Christ’s return can receive the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). If we live each day in anticipation that the Rapture could occur at any moment (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17), we are far more likely to live a holy and separated life, not through our own righteousness but through that of Christ.
The crown of life is the martyr’s crown, given to those who were persecuted for their faith yet did not renounce Jesus, even though they were executed as a result (James 1:12, Revelation 2:10).
Faithful, God-fearing preachers, and perhaps pastors, deacons and teachers, will receive the crown of glory, provided they feed their church with God’s Word, are good examples, and are motivated by service rather than financial gain (1 Peter 5: 2-4).
The victor’s crown is the incorruptible crown, won through spiritual and physical discipline (1 Corinthians 9:25-27; 1 John 2:28). It represents denying the body’s fleshly lusts, such as sex outside of marriage or substance abuse, and living in subjection to the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5) Who inhabits our bodies as His temple.
These rewards and crowns will determine positions of responsibility in His Kingdom when He returns to earth to rule in perfect justice and peace for 1000 years (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6). Knowing this, why would we not want to store up our treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:20), rather than working so hard for earthly treasures that we won’t be able to take with us? May we not give up in our quest to serve Him, so that we will not lose our reward and our crown (Galatians 6:9; Revelation 3:11; 22:12)
Throughout all eternity, we will have meaningful and enjoyable projects and fields of study to challenge and delight us, and we will have the joy of worshipping Him with all our God-given talents and all our being (Revelation 2:17; 3:12 5:8-14). What could be better than the unending joy of being in Heaven, in His presence, with all that He has lovingly designed especially for us? (John 14:1-4).
Just as graduates have the joy of throwing their hats into the air, celebrating their commencement of a new life, may we devote our lives to Christ so that we can earn crowns to cast at His feet with joy, reverence, and eternal gratitude!
© 2013 Laurie Collett