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Graduating with Honors!

Martin Luther marked two critical days on his calendar—Today and That Day, the day he would arrive in heaven, or, graduate to heaven. But why should the believer have concerns about That Day? For everyone who believes that Jesus is God-in-flesh and trusts in Him as his Savior has the promise of eternal life. Luther understood, however, that not all graduations to heaven are created equal. So do I simply want to graduate to heaven?  Or do I want to graduate Summa Cum Laude? God has left instructions in 2 Peter 1:5-11 to help us show up to our heavenly graduation in attire worthy of high honors.

First, God commands us, “make every effort to add to your faith, goodness” (v.5). Goodness is moral excellence that shines bright in a world darkened by sin: keeping my promises, earning an honest paycheck, being truthful on my tax return, obeying copyright laws and dressing modestly. Graduation day is coming!

But without God’s Word how can we know His moral standards? So, I must furnish goodness with “knowledge” (v.5). A man I brought to Jesus flourished in his new faith until he read a book that convinced him to join a cult—his ignorance of Scripture made him easy prey for the spider web of false teaching.

So, what good is knowledge of God’s Word without the discipline to apply it? I must put on “self-control” (v.6). I must be careful not to gossip, harbor bitterness, embrace fall teaching, or watch movies that insult God’s moral excellence.

But I grow weary in my war against sin and need “perseverance” (v.6). Perseverance is “resolve under pressure.” I’ve never met anyone more like Jesus than my mother. One day I asked, “Mom, do you ever get mad at God for allowing your cancer?” “No, Ron,” she said. “God does as He pleases and deserves my full trust.” I’ll never forget her last words: “Let’s pray.” In her dying, she inspired me to pray, “Precious Lord, grant me perseverance—help me finish strong!”

Graduation day could be today!

So what follows if I persevere in keeping God’s moral standards seen in His Word? As verse 6 reveals, “godliness”—an ocean deep-devotion to God—emerges! In her suffering, my mother became a better Christian instead of a bitter Christian, snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting because she knew that one day the Master Teacher would review what kind of Christian she was.

But exactly how does godliness show itself?  First, with “brotherly kindness” (v.7). I could help a Christian friend move, fill my pastor’s gas tank or visit a suffering saint.

The final virtue in the Christian’s wardrobe is woven throughout the first six and the ultimate display of godliness. It is “love” (v.7), God’s kind of love. He beckons us to reach out to all people, not just believers: the grieving widow, the unloved teen, the elderly shut-in, even our enemies. He longs to beautify us with merciful eyes, servant hands, a smile of hope, and obedient feet.

What happens, then, to the Christian who allows God to clothe his life with these seven virtues? Verses 10-11 answer: “if you do these things…you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (vv.10-11). A rich welcome?

Picture a first century athlete, crowned with a pine wreath for winning the footrace at the Greek games, then entering his home town through a section of the city wall torn down just for him. Banners fly, musicians play. Everyone cheers.

Peter applies this custom to a Christian’s arrival in heaven, but implies that not all Christians will receive a hero’s welcome. Only those who routinely magnify Christ’s qualities. Every day matters in light of the kind of heavenly reception I will receive and my disposition throughout eternity: a highly honored saint, or one who makes it into the kingdom, but, in the words of Paul, “only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor. 3:10-15), rewards forfeited. As Peter warns in v. 9, “he who lacks these qualities is shortsighted, even to blindness and has forgotten he was cleansed from his old sins” (NASB, emphasis added). In light of this shameful possibility, Peter follows with a stern command in verse 10: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things, you will never stumble.”

In this context, the command “make your calling and election sure” cannot be a calling into question the eternal security of Peter’s readers who, according to verse 2, have “received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Rather, the word “sure” refers to steadfast progress in holy living. Sanctification, not justification, is in view. Verse 10 does not pertain to the assurance of one’s salvation, but about diligently increasing in godly virtues to avoid stumbling into spiritual blindness and forgetfulness concerning justificational forgiveness (v.9). It correlates perfectly with how Peter concludes his letter:  “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (3:17-18, emphasis added). As well, 2 Peter 1:10 is written to help believers to acquire the only kind of heavenly welcome that rightly reflects the Infinite Worth of the One who has called us to salvation by His own glory and virtue (1:3).

In light of the teaching of the New Testament on the doctrine of rewards, Peter’s purpose in verses 5-11 is this: Imitate Christ and you will be lavished with verbal praise (Matt. 25:21; 1 Cor. 4:1-5), crowns (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19-20; 2 Tim. 4:6-8; Js. 1:12: 1 Pet. 5:4), privileged positions in His future kingdom (Matt. 19:27-30; Mk. 10:35-52; Lk. 19:11-27; Rev. 2:26-27), intimate fellowship with Him (Rev. 2:7, 17) and the treasures you’ve stored in heaven through material gifts to His work on earth (Matt. 6:19-21). The quality of my Christian life here and now determines, in a sense, the quality of my hereafter. Morally, all Christians will be like Christ, but there are degrees of punishment in hell (I Jn.3:3) and degrees of bliss in heaven (Matt.25:14-30). 

I can graduate to heaven Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, Cum Laude, Laude, or without any honor at all, but graduating Summa Cum Laude will honor God the most because that will mean I honored Him much on earth! Jesus said, “whoever desires to be great among you (in the Millennium and Eternity Future) shall be your servant” (Mk.10:44). Spiritual greatness there will mean I brought great glory to God here by mirroring His gorgeous servant heart. This is the motivation for a hero’s welcome in Heaven.

Is there, then, an unimportant minute, hour or day in the life of a Christian? In light of That Day, absolutely not! Even doing the dishes for Christ’s honor today is an investment in 333 million years from now. What kind of attire will you show up in at your graduation to heaven? As someone has said, “The garments we weave today we will wear for eternity.”

So with great earnest we pray, “Lovely Lord, empower me to imitate Your glorious character, to live this day the way I’ll wish I’d lived this day, when I stand before you on That Day.”

Ronald Barnes is a professor of Biblical Studies at Southern California Seminary (SCS) in El Cajon, CA. In addition he is also Pastor of Casa de Oro Baptist Church in Spring Valley, CA. Prior to working at SCS Ron was a Professor of Biblical Studies at San Diego Christian college (SDCC) from 1991-2009.

Ron received his BA in Biblical Studies from SDCC, and his Th.M from Dallas Theological Seminary. In addition he earned his Ph.D in Systematic Theology from SCBC&S. He has also published two books called, A Hero’s Welcome, and On The Edge of Their Seats. When Ron is not teaching he enjoys playing piano and guitar.

 

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