“Man’s sanctification is never to the glory of a man, as though man could glory in any holiness of his own.” – Martin Luther
One of my favorite times of the year in the media are the award shows. The red carpet, the fashion, the nominees, the winner, it is all exciting to see. When you hear, “The winner is…” you can’t help but think how that person’s life has now been changed. Each actor, designer, and director have been striving for this one moment. The moment to win the award to show they have made it. They have joined the other greats who have made the mark.
Those in film, music, theatre, and the other performing arts train to become the best in their field. They want to stand out. Others who do not win the award go back the drawing boards. Emotions of disappointment are worked through, and more plans are constructed as a scaffold is built in order to reach the award.
Awards are an interesting phenomenon in our culture. The ceremony of giving awards can be seen as way back as the ancient Greeks. Everyone wants to be recognized. And, everyone wants to meet the benchmark.
As Christians, is there a lesson we can learn in our own practices?
The Christian Award Phenomenon
You have probably been in a Christian school, institution, or even a church that has recognized someone and presented an award for Christian Character, Christian Perseverance, or Christian Service. Names are chosen for who is best exemplifying Christ in their lives. Many of the reasons for these awards is to provide an example to others around us.
You might be surprised to know that when I researched a history of Christian awards, I could only go back to the 1960’s. There were no records further back. Christian awards are a modern phenomenon. In comparison, the Oscars first started in 1929. They came about with the film industry. Christianity has been around much longer. Yet, Christian awards are not seen throughout church history.
The question must be asked, “Why is this a thing in Christian culture? Is it biblical to give out awards such as a Christian Character Award? What are the potential blessings and dangers as we think about Christian awards?”
The Bible and Awards
When we first think about the Bible and awards, we think of Matthew 5:11-12 claiming our reward is in Heaven. Crowns of life tease our imagination as an award found in James 1:12. Awards connate honor, and the biblical phrase “Honor to those you owe honor (Romans 13:7)” rolls right off the tongue.
Before we open the envelope to unveil the next winner, let’s consider the contexts of these award-giving passages. There are others, but I would like to deal with these popular passages.
Matthew 5:11-12 falls at the start of the Sermon on the Mount in the section known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Jesus reveals what is meant by a blessed life. In the final two verses (vs. 11-12), He tells us that it is blessed to be persecuted. He says it is good to be glad and rejoice when we face persecution. Why? Because we have a great reward in Heaven. Notice the location of our reward: in Heaven.
James 1:12 is apart of a larger section in which James is writing about how to endure trials (James 1:2-18). Verse 12 is a promise for those who endure trials. God has promised a crown of life. Take note that it is God who is giving the award.
Finally, Romans 13:7 find itself in a discussion about the Christian and government (Romans 13:1-7). Paul is encouraging Christians to submit and respect their government. He even goes as a far as saying to pay taxes and give honor to whom honor is due. The context has nothing to do with awarding people. It has to do with our response to government and paying our taxes as one action in honoring our government.
When looking at two of these passages, we come to the conclusion that God is the giver of awards and they are not found on earth, but in heaven. In fact, Revelation shows us that everything we are and everything we gain can be cast back in honor of our Savior (Revelation 4:9-11).
Awards as a Benchmark
The unfortunate aspect of awards is that all do not receive an award. Yet, all Christians receive the award of eternal life with their Savior. So what are Christian Character awards? They are dedicated to those who display extraordinary Christian living. Recipients can be perceived as those who have reached a benchmark in their sanctification. It can almost be seen as having arrived at what true Christian living looks like.
Biblically speaking, benchmark sanctification is far from the truth. Paul (Romans 7:14-25) confesses his struggle with sin. He is a good example of one who could have said “he has made the mark” with his sanctification, but clearly confesses he is not perfect. He still has a long way to go.
This is a potential danger with Christian awards. We present them to the one who displays Christian character. However, for the recipient it sets up a potential pedestal of pride which can lead to a fall. There are many Christians nationally famous, and others who are not, which after a while of receiving an award for their Christian faith have walked away and led others astray. On the flip side, those observing can feel shame and frustration as they have prayed and fought sin, but still have not made the “award benchmark.” This may not happen in all situations, but it is a danger that can lead us astray in how we view sanctification. Our sanctification is about Christ’s work in us for the glory of God.
The Endeavoring Encouragement
As we have seen, awards come from God. Our Christian character is a working of the Spirit as we walk with Him, and not on benchmarking ourselves with each other.
What would happen if instead of awards, we gave the opportunity to give a testimony? Ephesians 4:19 outlines a way to encourage each other through song. Could we use the same principle and encourage each other through God’s working in our lives? Then we will be fulfilling Hebrews 10:24-25. Do awards really provoke us to love and good works? Or do awards spark a sanctification based on comparison?
Many people are famous in church history, not because they won an award, but because they died for Christ and proclaimed His Word. People to note in church history did not win an award, but voiced a Biblical response to bring Christians back to biblical thinking. It is not about winning an award that makes or breaks our sanctification or makes us famous. That is the world’s way of thinking. Christ is the one who makes our sanctification, and it is when we stick to the Word we can win the best award when we hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Sanctification and holiness is not for our own glory, but to give glory back to Jesus who saved us through an award-winning work where he receives the Kingdom and the title “King of kings.” Awards can be good, but it is better to hear “Well done” by our Savior than an applause of a crowd.