Martin Luther marked two critical days on his calendar—“Today” and “That Day.” That Day marked the day he would arrive in or graduate to heaven. Why is That Day important for believers? Anyone who believes that Jesus is God incarnate and trusts in Him as his or her Savior has eternal life. Luther understood, however, that not all graduations to heaven are created equal. So do we simply want to graduate to heaven? Or do we want to graduate summa cum laude? God left instructions in 2 Peter 1:5–11 to help us show up at our heavenly graduation in attire worthy of highest honors.
Put on goodness
First, God commands us to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness” (v. 5). Goodness is moral excellence that shines in a world darkened by sin. We display goodness when we keep promises, earn honest paychecks, are truthful on tax returns, obey copyright laws, and dress modestly. Graduation day is coming!
Put on knowledge
But without God’s Word how can we know His moral standards? So we must add “knowledge” to goodness (v. 5). A man I led 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 spiderweb of false teaching.
Put on self-control
But what good is knowledge of God’s Word without the discipline to apply it? We must put on “self-control” (v. 6), being careful not to gossip, harbor bitterness, or watch movies that insult God’s moral excellence.
Put on perseverance
But we can grow weary in our war against sin, and therefore we 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!”
Put on godliness
What follows if we 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 her life on earth.
Put on kindness
But exactly how does godliness show itself? First, with “brotherly kindness” (v. 7). We could help a friend move, fill our pastor’s gas tank, or visit a suffering saint.
Put on love
The final virtue in the Christian’s wardrobe is woven throughout the first six virtues, and is 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 misunderstood teen, the shut-in, even our enemies. He longs to beautify us with merciful eyes, servant hands, hopeful smiles, and obedient feet.
A rich welcome
What happens, then, to the Christian who allows God to clothe his or her life with these seven virtues? “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. The people of his hometown have torn down a section of the city wall so he can make a grand entrance. 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 will receive such a welcome. How we live every day on earth influences the kind of heavenly reception we will receive. We can be received as “a highly honored saint,” or as one who makes it into the kingdom but who forfeits his or her rewards. To use the words of Paul, some will enter heaven “only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15). A person who “lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (2 Pet. 1:9, NASB).
But if we imitate Christ, we will be lavished with verbal praise, crowns, privileged positions in His future kingdom, intimate fellowship with Him, and the treasures stored in heaven through material gifts to His work on earth. The quality of our lives now determines, in a sense, the quality of our life hereafter. Morally all Christians will be like Christ, but just as there are degrees of punishment in hell, so there will be degrees of bliss in heaven.
On a scale of honors we can graduate to heaven anywhere from having no accolades to summa cum laude. If we strive to achieve the highest honor, we can rest knowing that we have done our best. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you (in the millennium and eternity future) must be your servant” (Mark 10:44). This motivates us to receive a hero’s welcome in heaven.
Is there, then, an unimportant minute, hour, or day in the life of a follower of Christ? With That Day in view, absolutely not. What kind of attire will we be wearing at our graduation to heaven? Consider today how we will wish we had lived when we stand before Christ on That Day.
Ron Barnes (ThM, 1985) is professor of Biblical Studies at San Diego Christian College. He also is involved in evangelism at Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California.