It has been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Calvary is the great equalizer. It is the demonstration of our sin. It is the demonstration of our righteousness. There we see our condemnation and our comfort, our judgment and our justification.
The landscape of the cross never changes. Obedience and sanctification do not lift us above others. Missionaries, pastors and full-time ministers do not stand on higher ground. The Christian of 50 years is not positioned to look down on the new believer.
Peter helps us understand the common ground of the cross. In his second letter he addresses his readers: “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:1). If anyone were to have higher footing it would be the apostles. Peter dismisses the notion.
It is the righteousness of God applied to us through Christ that creates equal standing. It does not matter who we are, what we have done, what we do or who we become…all have merited condemnation and all who believe receive a righteousness outside of themselves.
Craig Blomberg understands this radical conception of grace to unravel any notion of varying rewards in the kingdom of God. He wrote an article in JETS titled, Degrees of Reward in the Kingdom of Heaven?
In the article he states, “the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ ought to liberate believers from all such performance-centered conceptions of the Christian life. An important step in that direction would be to jettison this misguided and discouraging doctrine of eternal rewards that distinguish one believer from another.”
Blomberg points to Martin Luther as a champion of such an understanding of justification. “Martin Luther often shied away from speaking of Christians even standing before God’s judgment seat, preferring instead to call it his mercy seat. It was a bar of judgment only for unbelievers.”
Blomberg points to Luther’s sermon, ‘The Sum of the Christian Life’ preached in Worlitz on November 24, 1532. As always, Luther is rich with gospel understanding and application.
“If we are ever to stand before God with a right and uncolored faith, we must come to the point where we learn clearly to distinguish between ourselves, our life, and Christ the mercy seat…. The man who can do this will be the justified man. All the others operate with a feigned faith. They talk a lot about faith but they mix things together, as a barkeeper mixes water and wine, by saying if you live in such and such a way God will be gracious to you, and they turn the mercy seat into a judgment seat and the judgment seat into a mercy seat…. Therefore, keep these two widely separated from each other, as widely as ever you can, so that neither can approach the other. See, if that is the way faith were preached, men would be justified and all the rest; a pure heart and good conscience through genuine, perfect love, would follow. For the man who through faith is sure in his heart that he has a gracious God, who is not angry with him, though he deserves wrath, that man goes out and does everything joyfully. Moreover, he can live this way before men also, loving and doing good to all, even though they are not worthy of love…. This is the highest security, the head and foundation of our salvation.”