We’re all familiar with the “outrage” in our culture about the trend in youth sports to award “participation trophies.” Someone hears about a kid who came in last place at the track meet getting the same trophy as the kid who won. Whenever that happens, those of us who value blood, sweat and tears are apoplectic.
Participation trophies offend our sensibilities especially the sensibilities of those who excel in sports. We say to ourselves, “I’m glad the trophies on my shelf were earned with my own hard work and determination.” Or, “I’m glad I don’t need a participation trophy.”
Well, I don’t really have much of an opinion about participation trophies in youth sports.
Rather, I want to use the idea of participation trophies and outrage to talk about the Gospel.
Friends, Jesus gives us, his church, participation trophies. If a participation trophy is an award earned entirely by someone else’s blood, sweat and tears- then your salvation and mine is precisely that. It is something we definitely didn’t earn. It is something we definitely don’t deserve.
What trophy of merit will you show at the pearly gates for your admittance? Flashing your puny ribbons of piety that you earned will not open the gates of God’s kingdom. Feed every medal of morality you’ve got into the hopper. But, no matter how many measly trophies of your own excellence you dump in, the readout will still flash: Insufficient funds. Heaven’s gates are only opened by possessing an enormous Stanley Cup sized trophy of perfection. But, the good news of the Gospel is that as believers in Christ we’ve been clothed in a jersey emblazoned Christ’s name. We who confess that we’ve struck out, fumbled, fouled and double dribbled are given his perfect stats. His perfection is counted as though it is ours.
In sports, participation trophies are offensive to the athletic achievers. Likewise, the Gospel of sheer grace is offensive to the morally upright. Those for whom the Christian life feels like Rocky bounding up the steps while their own theme song plays will not be excited about Christ’s gifted righteousness. But, for the slow, bumbling, weaklings- Jesus imputed righteousness is life eternal.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. “ -1 Corinthians 1:18