Certificate of Participation
Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Acts 10:34-35
Over the years, I’ve run several marathons and have finished them all except one. That one, I walked off the course halfway through, taking the bus of shame to the finish line. I was abusing drugs at the time, and as such, I was overweight and undertrained. Later, I saw those who had crossed the finish line with their “finisher t-shirts”. I wanted one, but without crossing the finish line, I couldn’t get to the t-shirt table. So, I called over the fence, asking for a shirt. I showed my bib number, but the woman asked, “Did you finish?” No, I hadn’t. Those shirts were for finishers. They didn’t give them out just for signing up for the marathon. To get one, you had to actually do the marathon.
We live in the age of giving out rewards simply for existing. Certificates of participation are meant to encourage those who’ve not performed well, but who are just there. This may be a good thing in kindergarten, but we sometimes carry this idea into later life, even into our faith. We know that God is loving and forgiving. We believe he’s full of grace and mercy. So, we errantly think that it simply doesn’t matter how we live. We’ve signed up for Christianity and so, we believe that we can now just do whatever we want and still experience the blessed life.
Peter’s words in today’s passage dispels such thinking. In the story, Peter was commanded to take the gospel to non-Jewish people. God showed Peter that he didn’t just love the Jews, but that he loved everyone and wanted all people to know him. Peter declared that God shows no partiality based on race, but that he does judge based on whether a person fears him and does what is right or not. To God, skin color doesn’t matter, but behavior does.
We’re not saved by what we do. We’re saved only by God’s grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). If we truly believe though, it will have a profound effect on how we live (James 2:17). We don’t get to experience the life, joy, and peace of God, just because we claim to follow him. There’s no reward for simply signing up and then living however we want. We experience the joy and peace of God only when we actually follow him.