Sunday, 13 July 2008

Graduated by Works, Saved by Grace

I graduated last Thursday! It was a great day and I really enjoyed myself. I don't think I have ever been so proud as when my name was eventually called out and I walked up the steps, shook hands with a senior university man (no idea who he was, but he must have been important!) and claimed my degree certificate. All the work I had put in over the past three years had come to this point, and I was finally getting my reward!

The whole ceremony reminded me of Paul's final message to Timothy from 2 Timothy 4. For pretty much the whole book, Paul has been instructing Timothy as to how he should fulfil his duties as a minister and now Paul tells Timothy that the time of his death has come:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Paul will soon die, but he will be awarded the crown of righteousness from the Lord, the righteous judge. He's being poured out as an offering, he's fought the good fight, he's finished the race, he's kept the faith. But he doesn't claim his reward in the same way that I claimed my degree certificate.

The passage says that the Lord is a righteous judge but it says that He gives the crown of righteousness to Paul, who is unrighteous (c.f. Acts 8:1-3) That really makes no sense at all! A righteous judge cannot say that someone unrighteous is righteous - it's logically impossible. And it's not just Paul that is unrighteous - the Bible says we have all done bad things, whether or not its persecuting the church or just plain ignoring God.

But this is where the wonderful news of the Christian gospel comes in. God makes the unrighteous righteous by taking their punishment onto himself at the cross and crediting Jesus' righteousness to them. So we have our punishment deserved for being unrighteous being dealt with and we're given Jesus' righteousness. It's absolutely amazing. This same crown will also be awarded to everyone who loves Christ!

So I compared being awarded my degree to being awarded the crown of righteousness. But in reality, they're not even remotely similar. I had to work for my degree certificate and it was a direct reflection of how well I did. But my crown of righteousness will be given to me from God as a gift and it has no bearing whatsoever on how well I do or how many times I screw up.

What an amazing thought. God gives crowns of righteousness to those that don't deserve them. Why? It's all down to God and his love for us. 1 John 4:10 says: "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Wow.

So I've officially finished uni and now I can't wait until September when Relay starts. Then I get to get stuck into studying the Bible and being discipled and being continually amazed at what God has done for us! :)

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