by Roland W. Keith
In his first epistle Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (I Peter 5:8-10). For the faithful these words are a strong reminder that God never promised us a life of ease while here on this earth. What He did promise us was this: He will be with us every step of the way— to strengthen us, to restore us, and to establish us in our faith, and through that faith to bring us into His eternal glory through His Son Jesus Christ. But until that day there is no guarantee that we won’t occasionally find ourselves traveling through some tough and dangerous territory.
When revealing His revelation to John, Jesus said, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11). Many people in that day, and in days since have been tested, even being put to death for the name of Christ, and they did so with faith in God’s promises, even those things as yet unseen (II Corinthians 4:18). One of those things is the crown of life.
The Lord’s brother also mentioned this crown: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). Have you noticed a pattern concerning those who will one day be awarded this crown? They are not those who are ‘once saved, always saved’ or sometime pew sitters in our local congregation. These are the people who have been put though the fire and stood the test. Those who have endured tribulation and remained steadfast in their faith.
It is not always easy to stand our ground, but that is what we must be willing to do for the sake of Jesus— and for our own eternal welfare. We will never be left alone in the fray, but we may well be tested to our limits. An example of that is Paul the apostle. I don’t have to tell you all he endured for Jesus. The beatings, the danger, the hardships he went through are well-documented in scripture. Yet at the end of his life, after all of that, when he faced execution, he stood tall, writing to Timothy, “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” (II Timothy 4:6-8).
Are you one of those who are truly grateful that Christ came to this earth to die for us? Jesus once told His apostles, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Are you one of those who truly believes that Jesus has prepared a place for you? That you have a home and crown waiting for you in heaven? What are you willing to give for the name of Jesus? Are you willing to glorify God by suffering for Him (I Peter 4:15; see also I Peter 3:14; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; II Timothy 1:29)?
It is not that God wants us to undergo hardship, it is just that He knows what the world can and will do to those who choose to walk in the light. Yet, He wants us to overcome the world by putting our faith in Him, knowing that our faith will often be tested. When it is put to the test God demands that we do not shrink back but stand firm in our confession. God gave His Son in sacrifice for us, and while we will never be worthy of His propitiation, we must strive toward that worthiness with true devotion, understanding that it is only through Jesus’ blood that we will be seen by God as deserving of His gift of salvation. When we look back across the history of man and the current state of humankind it is an amazing thing to consider what God has done for us. God wants us to succeed. His holiness and righteousness demand justice, but He wants us to accept the forgiveness He is offering so that we can avoid the condemnation that His perfect character calls for. He sent the Messiah into the world to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, while at the same time paying the penalty for our sins in our stead. However, as much as God wants all to come to repentance and thereby salvation (II Peter 3:9), it would be a mistake for us to think that if someone turns his back on God and chooses to take the path to destruction God will overlook that or prevent it. God does not interfere with our free will, it is up to us to exercise it wisely.
In Revelation, John wrote, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:3-5). The Creator of the universe wants man to dwell with Him. He has created a perfect paradise for us to do so. It is our chose. And this John tells us is the truth. If we are faithful and true we have a home in God’s eternal kingdom, and there is a day set on which we will pass through the narrow gate into heaven.
Paul described that day, in part, with these words, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:51-57).
That is the day each of us will receive the crown of life. I don’t know if it will be an actual, physical crown, or if that term is symbolic for our victory in Christ, and the award of eternal life in heaven. Whatever it is, I know I want it. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul put it this way: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:24-27). According to him it is an imperishable gift. The apostle Peter saw it as an “unfading crown of glory” (I Peter 5:4). Yet for all their imaginings what truly awaits us is almost certainly beyond our current understanding. Much has been revealed to us, but some things I think we will just have to see for ourselves (I Corinthians 2:9).
The crown, and the life that goes with it have also been described as “God’s rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11), and “the prize of the upward call” (Philippians 3:14). It is also a place where the righteous are separated from the unrighteous or ungodly, as John wrote, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:14-15).
With that separation in view we are also made to understand that each of us will one day stand before Christ to give an account of our life and will be adjudged worthy or unworthy to enter in to heaven. According to Paul: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened— not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (II Corinthians 5:1-10).
Next week will continue our study by asking the question: Can our crown be lost? We will also look at the final result of our faith.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.