Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Recognizing False Teachers, Part 1

“Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing.”

(2 Peter 2:10-13 ESV)

False teachers are abundant. They’re sometimes found outside of the church, promoting a faith that is very different than our own. But, quite often, they are found inside of the church. They take the name “Christian.” And we must be able to identify them.

As we continue our look at the second epistle of Peter, he’s been talking about false teachers. He now begins to describe them for us.  And he does so that we might recognize them.

In the first half of verse 10, he tells us that they indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. And it’s the second part of this that he dives into in the above verses. They hate submitting themselves to those who are over them. In fact, they’re unwilling to do so.

Peter describes them as bold and willful. They are presumptuous and daring. They are arrogant and self-willed. In other words, they count themselves as the supreme authority, and claim this role for themselves.

This is demonstrated by their blasphemy of the glorious ones. They speak against the angels and the things of God. They speak against those who are more powerful than they. They speak about things of which they’re ignorant.

Even though they are more powerful than man, not even the angels do this. They don’t even speak against those who are fallen. They leave this to God, as it is his place to condemn.

We see many examples of this today. We see those who speak against the Word of God and stand in judgment of it. We see those who speak against God’s servants (angels and men) who carry out his will. We see those who speak against God himself, accusing him of child abuse, for sending his Son to die in the place of mankind.

In this way, they refuse to submit to God. In this way, they put themselves in the place of God. In this way, they despise authority.

We must have nothing to do with such people. We must not listen to their teaching. And we dare not submit ourselves to them, as doing so will lead only to our own harm.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Peace in the Face of False Teaching

“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.”

 (2 Peter 2:4-10 ESV)

As believers, we often become alarmed as we see threats gathering around us. We become worried and distressed. We fear that the work of the Lord might be brought to an end. We fear that his Word might be lost. We fear that the proclamation of the gospel might be stopped. We fear that the Church itself might become extinct.

This is a fear that often comes upon us as we begin to notice the false teachers in our midst. It comes upon us as we become aware of the false teachings to which our people hold. We fear that this might be it, and that the enemy might secure his victory.

And this fear multiplies as we see the prevalence of false teaching today. It multiplies as we see the continued rejection of God’s Word by society, by individual believers, and by the Church as a whole. We see it not only in false religions. We see it in society. We see entire church bodies that have been swept up by a false gospel. And we see false teaching creeping in to even conservative, Bible-believing, congregations.

We are right to be concerned about false teachers and their teaching. We must be on the lookout for it and resist it to the bitter end. However, as we see in the above passage, we need not fear for the Lord, his Church, nor his work.

No matter how things may seem, the Lord is not in danger of succumbing to the forces of evil. His Word is not in danger of destruction. And the proclamation of his Word will never cease.

The false teachers and their teachings do not have a chance of prevailing against the Lord. Their judgment is certain. Their condemnation will come.

God is also able to rescue and preserve his people. He’s able to preserve his gospel and continue sending it forth. He’s demonstrated this time and again throughout history, and will continue to do so even now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Don't Tolerate False Teaching

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

 (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)

When it comes to false teaching, we tend to be very dismissive. We think of it as no big deal. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. And we certainly don’t have to agree with him.

This causes us to be very tolerant of teaching that contradicts the Word of God. It causes us to remain silent when we encounter it. We say and do nothing when we encounter it in society.  And, worse yet, we say and do nothing when we encounter it in the church.

However, false teaching is a very big deal. It’s a big deal because many are led astray by it. We are told, in the above passage, that many will follow the sensuality of these false teachers. We’re told that, because of them, the way of truth will be blasphemed.

Because of these false teachers, people will be led away from a saving faith in Christ and they will embrace their sinful desires. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be vilified and regarded as evil.  Because of their desire to lure people from the gospel to themselves, they will manipulate others with their false message.

We also see, very clearly, that it’s a big deal to God. He does not sit idly by and tolerate it. These false teachers stand condemned by God, and their destruction will soon come.

Knowing this, we must not tolerate false teaching. We see in Revelation 2 that the church at Thyatira was reprimanded by Jesus for doing so. We must ensure that only the pure gospel is proclaimed.

We are limited in what we can do in society. We live in a nation where the freedom of religion is guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to Christian and non-Christian alike. And, for this reason, all faiths are able to share their message. We can only expose the false teaching being proclaimed and share the truth.

In the church, however, we can do much more. We must insist that only the truth is proclaimed. We can refrain from giving false teachers a pulpit and an audience. And we can remove from our congregation those seeking to lead others astray.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Be on the Lookout!

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

(2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)

We live in a society where many messages are given to us. We live in a time when many people claim to speak for God. They have their holy book, which they present to us. They have their book, which they have written, interpreting the Bible. They have their “truth” which they seek to proclaim.

Many of these messengers profess to be Christian. And they claim that their messages come from the Bible. However, as we evaluate their words, we see that nothing could be further from the truth.

This is not unique to us, nor is it unique to our time. As we see above, the same was true even in the time of the apostles.

Peter had reminded the people of the truth of his message. He had reminded them of the reason they knew it to be true. And, now, he unpacks for them why this is so important.

Just as there were false prophets among the people in the past, there would also be false prophets among them. And the messages, brought by these false prophets, would not be insignificant. They would contain destructive heresies. They would even deny Christ himself.

Yet, even though their message would be very different than the one given by the apostles, many would follow them. Many would be deceived by their words. And this would lead to the truth being blasphemed.

These messengers would be self-serving. They would be greedy. They would be seeking to exploit the people for their own gain.

This is very different than the apostles, who had nothing to gain from their ministry. They sought the gain of others. They desired only that those who heard the message would receive it in faith, that they might receive the salvation of the Lord.

Peter is warning his readers that they might be on the look out for these false teachers. They were to remember the truth, and those who had brought it to them, that they might not be deceived. He did not want them to be led astray from the gospel, causing them to miss out on the blessing of God.

We, too, must heed his warning. We must be on the lookout for these false teachers who will come, not only into society, but the church as well. We must do so that we might not be deceived. We must remember the Word which has been proclaimed to us. And we must do so, knowing its truth and those who delivered it to us.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Truth of the Gospel, Part 2

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

(2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV)

As I mentioned in my prior post, many people now view the gospel as nothing more than myth. They believe the account of Jesus to be nothing more than a man-made story. They believe it to be a story that was propagated to either comfort the distraught or to gain control of society.

However, as we saw, the account of Jesus was attested to by eyewitnesses. Men who were there, who saw and heard what had taken place, shared this message. In fact, they even went to their death for this message.

And, as we see above, there is something even more compelling that reveals to us the truth of the gospel. In addition to eyewitness testimony, we have the prophetic word. We have the message of the prophets, which spoke of the coming Savior. In fact, these prophets spoke of the Savior long before he was born into the world.

As we look to Scripture, we see the Savior foretold from the very beginning. The first promise of the Savior was given in Genesis 3, immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve and the entrance of sin into the world. And these promises continue to come throughout the Old Testament.

God also pointed the people to the coming Savior through his acts of salvation performed on behalf of his people. He pointed them to the Savior through his law. And he pointed the people to the Savior through the sacrificial system and the holidays he ordained. Everything in Scripture, from beginning to end, points us to Jesus.

This word, Peter tells us, was not produced by the will of man. It’s not something that men decided to write. Nor is it a message produced in the mind of men. This message is the very Word of God. It’s the Word of God because these men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. In other words, they recorded for us a Word given to them by God himself.

Many people, today, downplay this truth. They downplay it, knowing men to be imperfect and sinful. And for this reason, they tell us, their message contains mistakes. Imperfect men are incapable of bringing to us a perfect word.

In saying this, they discount the inspiration of God. Apart from him, their message was sure to be flawed. But because this message was given by the perfect, omniscient, omnipotent God, it is flawless.

We, then, can take comfort in this Word knowing it to be true. We can take comfort in the gospel knowing that it was delivered to us by eyewitnesses.  And we can take comfort in it knowing that it’s confirmed through the prophetic Word, which was inspired by God himself.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

The Truth of the Gospel, Part 1

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”

(2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV)

Eyewitness testimony is crucial in the court system. When someone is being tried, circumstantial evidence is typically not enough to convict. What’s needed is the testimony of one who was there, who saw and heard what had taken place.

The same was true in Old Testament times. In order to convict someone of a crime, they needed the testimony of at least two people. They needed multiple witnesses who were able to attest to what had taken place.

There are many, today, who equate the gospel with myth. They put it at the level of the accounts of the Greek gods. It’s just a story, they say, with no confirmation of its truth.

What they fail to realize is that the accounts, recorded in Scripture, are given by eyewitness testimony. It’s recorded by those who were actually there. They had seen for themselves the events that had taken place.

This is what Peter tells us in the above passage. What they were teaching to the people were not myths. They were proclaiming what they had seen and heard.

He goes on to describe the events that took place on the Mount of Transfiguration. He recalls how the voice of God rang out from heaven, telling them of Jesus’ identity. They heard him proclaim that Jesus is his beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased.

History tells us, in fact, that Peter went to his death for his testimony. The early Christian writer Hegesippus tells us that, when Peter was old, Emperor Nero planned to put him to death.  And although the believers in Rome begged him to leave the city, he remained and was crucified. At his request, he was crucified upside down, because he did not count himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.

It was men like this who recorded the words and actions of Jesus. It was men like this who continued to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. They were not men greedy for wealth and power. They were not men looking to their own interests. They were not men looking to upset the system. These were men who were so convinced of the truth that they were willing to testify to it no matter the cost.

As we read Scripture, this is how we must read it. We must read it not as a story, but as eyewitness testimony. We must understand their words as those of men who are passing along what they had received from the Lord himself.  

Monday, August 27, 2018

Where Do We Serve the Lord?

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

(Colossians 3:23-24 ESV)

There’s a mistake we often make in the Christian life. What I’m referring to is our tendency to believe that we serve God only through the ministry of the church. We think that we only serve God by becoming a pastor or missionary. We think that we serve God only by teaching Sunday School or serving on the church council. However, in reality, we serve God in every aspect of our life.

This truth is brought out in the above passage. Paul leads up to this statement by telling us how we’re to live as wives, husbands, children, and even slaves. He then tells us that we’re to work with all our heart in everything we do. He tells us that, in everything, we are to work with all of our heart, as for the Lord and not for men.

In all of our worldly duties, and in all of our worldly relationships, we are serving God. Others will be blessed in the process, of course. But, ultimately, we are serving him.

Keeping this in mind helps us to work with all of our heart. When we’re called to serve someone who’s offended us, when we’re called to serve someone who’s hateful or ungrateful, it gives us the motivation we need. Thoughts of retaliation, thoughts of returning evil with evil, are replaced by a desire to glorify God.

When we’re tired, and even when we’re struggling with selfishness, it gives us the motivation we need. It takes our focus off of ourselves and places it where it belongs. It causes us to fix our eyes upon the Lord.

This also makes our day-to-day duties seem less monotonous. It turns our duties, which seem less than spiritual, into a response of faith. Doing the dishes becomes a response of faith. Doing the laundry becomes a response of faith. Cleaning the kitchen or the bathroom, paying the bills, mowing the lawn, and making household repairs all become a response of faith. It does so because, in even these small ways, we’re serving the Lord.

Martin Luther once said this: “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” In other words, we serve God by doing our job well. We glorify him by performing our duties to the best of our ability.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Forgetful People

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.”

(2 Peter 1:12-15 ESV)

I can be a rather forgetful person. This is especially true if what I’m to do is not part of my regular routine.  Two weeks ago, for example, I was scheduled to lead worship at the nursing home on Sunday afternoon. I remembered this obligation all week, when I woke on Sunday morning, and even during fellowship after our congregational worship. But then I went home and forgot all about it. My wife left to see a movie with the older children, and I was relaxing at home until the alarm on my phone sounded. I was reminded that, in ten minutes, this service was to start.

I raced upstairs to change clothes, telling the younger kids to put on their shoes. We loaded in the car, stopped by the church to gather my Bible and sermon notes, and arrived at the nursing home with two minutes to spare. I don’t think anyone at the nursing home knows that I’d forgotten (unless they’re reading this now).

The same forgetfulness can plague my life of faith. I know the gospel and I believe it but, at times, I need to hear it again. In the same way, I know how God has called me to live my life but, at times, I need to be reminded. With God’s leading, I need to search my heart to see whether I’m unintentionally harboring a sinful attitude or behaving in a sinful matter.

This is true for all of us. It was true of the early believers. And I believe this is why Peter speaks of his intention to remind the people of the fruit of faith that’s to be expressed in their lives. It was his intention to give them that little reminder that they might search their heart and, if necessary, repent and seek God’s forgiveness.

This was especially true as Christ had made clear to him that the end of his time in this world was approaching. He wanted to make an impact on their lives while he still could. He wanted them to remember these things even after he was gone. And, through his epistle, we’re enabled to remember them as well.

In the same way, we can be an encouragement to one another. As we share God’s Word and interact with it, both personally and corporately, we’re able to receive this reminder and to share it with one another. We’re able to encourage one another in the faith and we’re able to encourage one another to walk in that faith. No matter how well we know Scripture, and no matter how long we’ve trusted in Christ, these reminders are necessary.

Monday, August 20, 2018

A Confirmation of Faith

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

(2 Peter 1:10-11 ESV)

We are encouraged, today, to separate our faith from our daily life. Faith, we’re told, is personal. It’s a private matter. It’s something to be kept to ourselves.

And we’ve become pretty skilled at doing so. We express our faith on Sunday, if we make it to church. Perhaps we express it during a pre-meal prayer before our family Christmas or Easter dinner. However, we keep the rest of our life separate. We do all that we can to keep our faith out of our day to day relationships and activities.

However, as we see above, we are to be diligent, or eager, to express our faith. Peter isn’t suggesting that we put our faith in our efforts. He’s saying, rather, that our faith is to be expressed in the qualities discussed previously. It’s to be expressed in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

This makes complete sense. As a people who have been redeemed from sin, we should no longer pursue our wicked desires. Knowing the great extent to which God went that we might be saved from sin and death, namely the sacrifice of his only Son, we naturally love him in return. And, as a result, we long to live for him. We long to glorify him.

Our works do not save us. But the expression of our faith, through these qualities, confirms our faith. It reveals our faith to be genuine and indisputable.

If we practice these qualities, Peter says, we will never fall. He’s not suggesting that we’ll be free from sin. But, so long as we’re pursuing the things of God and not those of our sinful nature, we will not fall from grace.

In this way, through the power of God which supplies all that pertains to life and godliness (verse 3), there will be provided to us entrance into the kingdom of God. By possessing a true and genuine faith, we are saved. And a true and genuine faith is not one that’s separated from our day to day life, but one that is expressed in it.

Monday, August 13, 2018

An Expression of Faith

“For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”

(2 Peter 1:9 ESV)

Christians are not perfect, and they will never be perfect this side of eternity. We will not be perfect until we meet the Lord face to face and we’re transformed into his image. We are in continual need of the grace and mercy of God.

However, when we’re brought to faith in the Lord, it does bring change to our life. No longer do we desire to live in sin. We understand our guilt and the punishment we deserve. We understand what Jesus did to save us from sin and its consequences. And, for this reason, we long to live for the Lord.

The qualities that Peter mentions in verses 5-8 become a part of our life, and grow as he continues his work. Virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love increase in our life and are used by God to bless others. As we live in a state of daily repentance and faith, these virtues enable us to be effective and fruitful for the kingdom of God.

If this is not true of us, it indicates a serious problem. If we lack these qualities, Peter says, we are so nearsighted that we are blind. Even though we’ve heard the gospel and professed it, it’s become useless in our life. We’ve forgotten that we were cleansed from our former sins.

Instead of living in the grace of God, we revert back to our former life of sin. Instead of living in the freedom God has provided us, we allow ourselves to be enslaved all over again. We live not for the Lord, but for our sinful nature. And this is inconsistent with the salvation we’ve been granted.

The solution to this problem is not to try harder. It’s not to add these qualities to our life by our own efforts. They are the fruit of faith. They flow naturally from our faith.

The solution, then, is to remember what Christ has done for us. The solution is to, once again, look to him in faith. And, as we do so, he will be at work in our life.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Embracing Our Guilt

“Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
(Romans 1:32 ESV)

We live in a time when sin is not only accepted, but celebrated. We’re encouraged to embrace our own sinful desires and live in them. And, in the same way, we’re expected to endorse the sinful decisions and activities of others.

As we look to Scripture, we find that these are things we must not do. We must not embrace our own sinful desires. We must not seek to live in them.  And, in the same way, we must not give approval to the sinful activity of those around us.

We must not do this because, as we see above, sin leads to death. Physical, as well as eternal death, is the consequence of sin. And I think it’s safe to say that we don’t desire our own death nor that of others.

This, then, creates a tension when it comes to our interaction with one another. It does so because we’re called to reach out to mankind with the gospel message. And, if people feel condemned by us, if they feel we’re looking down upon them, they have little desire to listen to us.

How do we bridge that gap? How do we reach out to others and, at the same time, reject sin? The key, I believe, is to avoid the “us” versus “them” mentality.

Our tendency is to focus on the sin of others while ignoring our own. Our tendency is to count our own sin as insignificant while, at the same time, we count the sin of others to be major. And we must recognize, first and foremost, that we’re just as sinful as everyone else. We must recognize that our sin condemns us to death and eternal judgment.

We must openly live a life of confession and faith. We must willingly acknowledge to ourselves and others our guilt and our need for a Savior. We must embrace Jesus personally and publicly because he atoned for the penalty of our sin.

As we reject the sin of others, we must ensure that we’re just as vocally rejecting our own. As we condemn the sin of others, we must ensure that we’re just as vocally condemning our own. We must make it clear that we are not better than anyone else. We must make it clear that we are not less sinful or more deserving of God’s blessing. We must make it clear that, apart from Jesus’ sacrifice, and apart from faith in him, we are equally lost.

Like the apostle Paul, we must count ourselves to be the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-16). We must see and understand the miracle of his salvation in our own life. And we must communicate this as we reach out to those around us.  We must communicate the gospel in this way: If Jesus can save a sinner like me, then he can certainly save a sinner like you.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Living in God’s Grace

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
‭2 Peter‬ ‭1:5-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In America, we often complain about those who fail to enjoy or make use of the freedoms and opportunities available to them. We see so many who lazily neglect these great blessings. And we become frustrated as they squander them away.

They have the chance to receive a great education. They have the chance to work and to gradually increase their income. They have the chance to advance as new and better opportunities come their way.

They’re able to make use of the tremendous medical care available in this nation. They’re able to live and raise a family in relative peace. They are able to provide for their children more opportunities than even they have enjoyed.

They have all of this and so much more, yet they remain idle. Perhaps they try to attain the things they desire through corrupt means. And, for this reason, they are completely ineffective.

Even though this frustrates us, so many of us do the same thing spiritually. We fail to receive the blessings God has made available to us, or we try to attain them by corrupt means. And, in this way, we become ineffective and unfruitful.

So many of us in the church profess faith in Christ, and we talk about our hope of salvation, yet all evidence of it is absent from our life. We are not living in the grace of God. In fact, our life looks no different than that of the unbelievers who surround us on a daily basis.

God’s grace has been provided to us, yet we fail to receive it. We reject it in favor of worldly desires. Even if we do so without recognizing it, we squander these blessings he’s graciously provided to us.

As we saw in our look at the prior verses of this chapter, God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. None of this is attained on our own. It’s the gift of God, received by faith.

For this reason, as we see above, we’re called to live in this grace. We’re called to supplement our faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with steadfastness, steadfastness with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

This doesn’t suggest that we gain these qualities or grow in them by our own effort. Again, it’s God’s power that supplies all we need for life and godliness. However, we are receptive of these gifts that God has graciously made available to us, and we walk in them.

If these qualities are ours, Peter says, and if they’re growing, they will keep us from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ. Our faith will not only receive the blessings God has provided to us, but will enable us to be a blessing to others. It will enable us to point others to Christ and to the blessings found in him.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Granted by God

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

(2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)

Our tendency is to believe that we have it all together. We believe that we are good people. We believe that we are deserving of every blessing. We believe that we’ve gained for ourselves everything that we need for life. And we think that, by our goodness and effort, we can gain all things that pertain to godliness.

Scripture, however, tells us the exact opposite. It tells us that we are not good. It tells us that we deserve nothing other than death and hell. It tells us that life has been granted to us by God. And it tells us that godliness is not something we can attain on our own.

This is also something that we see very clearly if we take an honest look at ourselves. When we do so, we see our constant failure. We see our inability to do what is right. We see the darkness inside of us.

On the surface, this is discouraging. It’s discouraging because we see the futility of our situation. However, Scripture also gives to us hope. It gives to us hope such as that seen in the above passage.

Even though we cannot attain these things for ourselves, Peter tells us that God has provided them for us. God’s divine power has given to us all that we need for both life and godliness. He’s enabled our life in this world and in eternity. And, by his power, we are transformed into his image.

This is possible through the knowledge of God, who called us. It’s possible by knowing Jesus, through faith. In this way, he’s granted to us his promises so that, through them, we can become partakers in the divine nature.

This doesn’t mean that we’ll be gods ourselves. Through faith in Christ, God dwells within us. And, as we trust in his promises, we are saved from sin and its consequences.

This passage, then, reminds us to trust in Christ and in him alone. We must not look to ourselves, we must not look to our goodness or effort, for any blessing we need or desire. We must look to him knowing that we receive these things only by his power.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Growth Is the Work of God

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.”

(1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ESV)

Ministry can be frustrating. And this is true of ministry whether it’s that of the individual, the local congregation, or mission work in a distant land. It can be frustrating because we aren’t seeing the results we’d like.

We’ve served for years and made every effort to reach out to the lost. Yet, despite our efforts, we see few, if any, coming to faith in the Lord. Despite our efforts, growth is either minimal or nonexistent.

Let’s face it, we all want to see growth. We want to see people receiving the grace of God. We want to feel like we’ve achieved something.

Seeing no results, we feel like failures. We feel like the church is dying. We feel that our efforts to reach out are futile.

Although Paul was addressing a conflict in the church, the above passage speaks to our frustration. We, too, deal with factions in the church. We, too, believe that one leader is better or more effective than another. But we’re reminded, in this passage, that growth is God’s work and not our own.

When speaking of himself and Apollos, Paul says that they are nothing. They did their jobs: One of them planted and one of them watered. But it was God who gave the growth.

The same, then, is true of us. In ourselves, we are nothing. We must do our job. We must carry out our calling. But we must bear in mind that it’s not we who cause the growth. It’s the Lord who does so.

This doesn’t give us permission to slack off. It doesn’t mean that we can excuse a lack of preparation for a sermon or a Bible study. It doesn’t excuse our lack of effort to improve and to grow in our preaching, teaching, and evangelism. And it doesn’t excuse our lack of effort to conduct ourselves as well as possible.

However, we must remember that we cannot change the hearts of men. Nor can we instill faith into the hearts of men. This is the work of God.

We must simply carry on in the calling God has entrusted to us. We must serve as faithfully as possible. And whether we are seeing results or not, we must remember that it’s God who gives the growth.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Equal Standing Before God

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

(2 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

The above passage is the introduction to the book of 2 Peter. And our tendency is to pay little attention to passages such as these. They come across as a mere greeting as the letter begins.

However, something in the introduction of this book sticks out like a sore thumb. Peter addresses this letter to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with his own. And this tells us that there was no distinction between his faith and theirs.

This is important because we tend to see a distinction between our faith and that of others. Our tendency is to look upon certain people as possessing greater worth than ourselves. We have a tendency to look upon some as more spiritual and others as less spiritual.

We tend to believe that the apostles possessed a faith that was superior to our own. We tend to think that pastors and missionaries have a faith that’s superior to our own. We tend to think that those lay-leaders in the church, who are involved in everything, have a faith superior to our own.

We also let this mindset play out in terms of practice. We believe that the prayers of those with a higher status of faith are more likely to be heard and answered than those with a lower status. We believe that those with a higher status of faith are more deserving of blessing than those with a lower status. We feel that others are far more qualified to minister to others because they have a greater status of faith than we do.

However, Peter tells them, they had a faith of equal standing to his own. Even though he was Jewish and many of them were not, their faith held equal standing to his own. Even though he was an apostle and they were not, their faith held equal standing to his own.

This phrase is worded a little differently in various translations, but it brings home the same point. The NASB says it this way: To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours…” And the Holman Christian Standard Bible says: “To those who have received a faith equal to ours…”

This phrase means that their faith has the same value. It means that it grants the same privileges. There is no distinction.

There is no difference because the source of their faith was the same. It had been received by the righteousness of Jesus. In other words, the righteousness of Jesus provided for them the same faith and the same standing before God.

It was in no way dependent upon their goodness or virtue. And we tend to think that it is, regardless of the fact that this belief contradicts the gospel itself. Our faith, our salvation, and our blessing are gifts of God given freely to us in spite of our sin.

This, then, is an encouragement to us. We are not of a lesser standing than others in the church. Our faith is not less valuable than that of others. Our faith doesn’t provide lesser privileges when compared to that of others. We share a faith of equal standing. And this is true because the source of our faith is the same.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Resisting the Enemy

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

(1 Peter 5:8-11 ESV)

When it comes to the enemy, we tend to go to one of two extremes. There are those of us who fear him to an extreme. We don’t understand the power of God, and his power over Satan.  And, for this reason, we don’t trust in the power of God to overcome him.

However, there are also those of us who don’t seem to think he’s any real threat whatsoever. We recognize the power that God has over Satan and, because of this, we disregard him completely. We seem to downplay the danger he poses.

Scripture is clear that Satan is real. Scripture is clear that he’s a powerful being. And Scripture is clear that he poses a very serious threat.

It’s for this reason that Peter warns us, as he does, in the above passage. He tells us that we must be watchful and that we must be sober-minded. And we must do so because Satan is bent on destroying us.

He tells us that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion. He does so seeking someone to devour. His goal is our destruction. His intention is our ruin.

Peter, in this passage, seems to be referring to persecution in particular. And the enemy does use persecution in an effort to destroy our faith and hope. Yet, he can pursue his goal in other ways as well.

He may use temptation. He may target us where we most struggle, enticing us to sin. He may use our emotions. He may play off of our feelings of fatigue or despair to distract us from our hope. He may use the pressure of the world. He may use our sense of isolation and distinctiveness to cause us to bow under its weight.

For this reason, we’re called to resist him. We’re not to give in under the weight of his attack. We’re to continue our struggle against him every moment of every day. And we’re to do so no matter how things may outwardly seem.

We're to do so firm in our faith. And we’re to do so knowing that, even though things may be difficult, God will establish us. We’re to do so knowing that, although our circumstances are hard,  he will strengthen us and restore us.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Bringing Our Concerns to the Lord

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

(1 Peter 5:6 ESV)

Most of us take for granted our ability to approach God in prayer. We continually bring to him our requests without thinking twice about it. But, that being said, few of us approach him rightly. Our tendency is to approach him in ways that downplay our dependence on him, that exalt us, or that lower him before us.

Quite often, we approach God in a spirit of arrogance. We treat him like a Genie, who is bound to grant our every wish. We treat him like a Santa Claus in the sky, expecting that he’ll give to us each and every thing for which we ask.

We also come to him believing that we deserve the blessings for which we ask. In fact, we come to him believing it would be wrong of him to deny our request. And, for this reason, any unmet request is understood as a failure on the part of God.

We often approach God as an equal, attempting to bargain with him. We ask him to give to us something we need and cannot provide for ourselves. And, in return, we offer to provide for him something he cannot acquire on his own.

We come to God, insisting that he demonstrate his love for us by granting our requests. However, in times when we don’t perceive a need, or once our needs have been met, we completely disregard him. We demonstrate no love for him whatsoever.

However, as we see in the above passage, we are to approach God humbly. But not only is this the case. We’re encouraged to bring to him our requests for no other reason than the fact that he cares for us.

Jesus, in Matthew 7, compares God to a loving Father who longs to give good gifts to his children. He longs to provide for them the things that they need. He doesn’t need to be convinced. He doesn’t require anything in return. And he’s willing to do so despite the fact that we’re undeserving.

In this knowledge, in this faith, we should approach God in prayer. We should cast all of our anxieties upon him trusting in the fact that he cares for us. We should cast our cares upon him knowing that, out of his Fatherly affection, he’ll graciously meet our needs.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Approaching God Rightly

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…”

(1 Peter 5:6 ESV)

Most of us would say that we approach God in a humble manner. He is God, after all. He is the all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe. He’s the creator and sustainer of all things. He is our source of life both in this world and in the world to come.

We would also say that we approach God in a humble manner because of who we are. We are the creation. We’re limited in power and knowledge. We’re capable of doing only what God has empowered us to accomplish.

We are also a sinful people. Our heart and mind are corrupt. And, as a result of our sin, we’re subject to suffering and death.

However, even though we may sincerely believe this to be true, reality is far different. We rarely approach God in a humble manner. More often than not, we approach him arrogantly. In fact, we often approach him in a condescending manner.

We approach him believing that we know better than him. We look at the way he handles the affairs of our world and we disapprove. We think to ourselves how we would do things differently. We think to ourselves how we would do things better.

We offer our prayers to him, instructing him how he can best answer them. We often give him step by step instructions so that he can better meet our needs and fulfill our desires. And we become frustrated with him when he works in a different manner.

We look to his Word, and we find issues that we disagree with. We don’t like the way he’s ordered the home and society, because it seems sexist. We don’t like his instructions for marriage and divorce because it seems too restrictive. We don’t like what he says regarding issues like homosexuality and gay marriage because it seems old-fashioned and oppressive. And, because of this, we rewrite it. We reinterpret it so that it better fits our desired understanding.

How arrogant! How prideful! How dare we!

We must repent of the many ways we approach God in an arrogant manner. We must confess our sin, seeking his mercy. And we must humble ourselves before him.

Peter then gives to us a wonderful promise. He gives us a promise that echoes the teaching of Jesus. He tells us to humble ourselves so that, at the proper time, God may exalt us.

Jesus says, in Matthew 23:12, that whoever exalts himself will be humbled and that whoever humbles himself will be exalted. In other words, God will bring low those who raise themselves up. But the one who lowers himself, the one who views himself modestly, will be raised up by God.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Showing God’s Grace to Others

“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
(Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)

As believers, as people of the church, we sometimes find ourselves living a contradiction. And there’s one such contradiction that often affects our relationships.  It affects our relationship with our spouse, children, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow church members.

We understand the teaching of Scripture. We understand the message of the gospel. We believe and confess that we are a sinful people. We believe and confess that we are in no way deserving of salvation. We believe and confess there’s no way we can earn salvation. And we believe and confess that, in spite of our condition, God has graciously provided for us the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of everlasting life.

However, when it comes to our relationships here in this world, it seems that we forget these truths. Even though we believe that all people are sinful, we seem to think that they should never sin against us. Even though we believe that there’s no way we could ever become deserving of God’s love and forgiveness, we seem to think that others must become deserving of our own.  And even though we believe that God’s love is given to us as a free gift, we demand to be paid back for our own.

I’m certainly not trying to excuse the harm others have done to us. I’m also not denying the fact that, when others harm us, they’re to confess their sin and repent of it. However, we are clearly holding people to standards they could never attain. We are holding them to standards to which we could never measure up.

This is harmful to any relationship. It’s setting our relationships up for failure. Just as God is gracious with us, so must we be gracious with one another.

This is exactly what Paul is telling us in the above passage. As believers, we’re to be compassionate with one another. We’re to be kind to one another. We’re to approach one another in a spirit of humility and meekness. We are to be patient, and bear with one another. And, if we have a complaint against one another, we’re to forgive.

He tells us that we’re to forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven us. As Jesus forgives us freely, we must freely forgive one another. As he forgives, demanding nothing in return, we must forgive others demanding nothing in return. As he forgives us again and again, so must we forgive one another again and again. As he forgives our continual failure without giving up on us, we forgive the continual failure of others without giving up on them. As he bestows his grace upon us, so must we extend grace to one another.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Regarding our Fellow Believers Rightly

“…Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

(1 Peter 5:5 ESV)

Most of us like to think of ourselves as humble. We would never admit that we believe ourselves to be greater or more important than others. We would never admit that our tendency is to put ourselves first.

In fact, we would say that we despise the proud. We would say that the attitude of the prideful is a complete turn-off for us. We would say that we want nothing to do with these people.

However, this humility that we profess tends to be a false humility. In reality, we do believe ourselves to be greater and more important than others. In reality, we believe ourselves to be smarter than most.  And, in reality, we do put ourselves first.

We constantly question those who are in authority over us. We question their decisions and the actions they take. In fact, we look down on them and tend to think that we could do better.

We tend to think that people should listen to us. We tend to think that they should heed our instruction. It should be clear to them, we think, that they have a thing or two to learn from us.

We tend to believe that we’re entitled to the help that others have to offer. We tend to think that they should gladly be there for us. We tend to think this way even though we’re too busy to help others.

We tend to think that our needs should be addressed, first and foremost. Although there are countless others who need help, and although there are many with greater needs than our own, we think that our needs should be the priority. We think that everyone else should cater to us.

There are many more examples we could cite, but you get the point. Although we claim a spirit of humility, we are a proud people. Although we claim to detest pride, we display it unceasingly.

This is why we need Peter’s admonition, seen above. He calls upon us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another. He calls on us to possess a modest opinion of ourselves when it comes to others.

He goes on to say that God opposes the proud. He tells us that God is against the proud. And this stands as a warning for us.

We cannot live in a spirit of arrogance and rightly expect God’s blessing. We cannot live in a spirit of conceit and expect to be in his favor. This attitude makes us deserving of his disapproval. It makes us deserving of his resistance.

However, Peter says, God gives grace to the humble. God gives his grace to those who recognize how little they deserve. He gives his blessing to the one who understands his lowliness in relation to God and others.

May we, then, recognize the pride in our heart and confess it to the Lord. May we recognize our arrogance and repent. May we ask God to transform our heart so that we gladly lay aside our desires and interests for the sake of others.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Regarding Pastors Rightly

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.”

(1 Peter 5:5a ESV)

I remember, as a youth, how much I looked up to my pastor. I both respected and admired him. And, because he invested in my life, I’ve always thought of him as much more than a pastor. I’ve always thought of him as a spiritual father.

Now that I’m a pastor, I hope that I can be as great of a blessing to others as he was to me. I hope and pray that God will use me in my calling to direct people to himself. I hope and pray that I can live up to the responsibility he’s entrusted to me.

That being said, even after twenty years of full time ministry, I’m still not fully comfortable with the respect people give to me. I’m not fully comfortable with it because I know my sin and my shortcomings. I realize that I’m not deserving of the role God has assigned to me.

No pastor is perfect. No pastor is deserving of the role into which he’s been placed. Yet, as we see in the above passage, those who are younger are called to be subject to the elders. They are called to be subject to their pastor and spiritual leaders.

This doesn’t mean that those who are older are free to disrespect him. Age isn’t the primary issue in this passage. Spiritual maturity is the matter at stake. Peter is telling us that those who are young in faith, he’s saying that those who aren’t as spiritually mature, are to be subject to the leaders God has placed over them.

This is something that’s missing in many places today. Often, pastors are treated as hired hands. Their voice is regarded as only one in the crowd. They are bullied and pushed around. And we must repent of this and give to them the esteem they deserve.

However, pastors must also ensure that this doesn’t go too far. They must ensure that they aren't treated like a god. And they must ensure that they don’t take it too far. As we saw in the first several verses of this chapter, they are not to become dictators. Putting this all in perspective, the people are to respect their pastors and spiritual leaders as they humbly carry out the calling given to them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Why We Serve, Part 4

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you…And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

(1 Peter 5:1-2,4 ESV)

As we’ve looked through Peter’s encouragement to elders, one thing is clear. Our ministry can easily become self-serving. We can serve to relieve guilt or to fulfill the expectations of others. We can serve for personal gain. And we can serve in order to control.

Throughout history, and even today, it’s clear how the office of ministry is used for self-serving purposes. And we must never believe that we’re immune to this sin. We must never believe ourselves to be so strong that we’d never fall into it.

The simple fact of the matter is that, even as pastors (elders) or lay leaders in the church, we are a sinful people. We are subject to temptation. We are vulnerable to the seduction of the world, the devil, and our own sinful nature.

This is what makes the above passage so timely. As we come to the end of this admonition, we’re reminded of a very simple truth: Jesus is the chief shepherd. Although we have been called to shepherd the flock of God that’s among us, we must bear in mind that it’s his flock. We must bear in mind that Jesus is the chief shepherd while we are under-shepherds.

As we carry out our ministry, we are to serve him. As we carry out our ministry, we’re to do so under his authority. We must continually remind ourselves that he is our Lord and that we are his servants.

When we serve with impure motives, we also fail to recognize the source of our blessing. We act as though we must provide for ourselves the blessings we need or desire. However, Peter reminds us that the Lord is the source of our blessing.

If we use the office of ministry for personal gain, the only thing this will bring about is worldly gain. It brings to us something temporal. However, if we serve faithfully, we’ll receive something greater.

At the return of Christ, Peter says, we’ll receive the unfading crown of glory. We’ll be honored by the Lord himself. We’ll receive the blessing of everlasting life and be clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Moralism is not Christianity

I’ve recently been reading a book titled: Broken. The subtitle of this book is: 7 “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible. It was written by Jonathan Fisk and published by Concordia Publishing House.

The second chapter of this book deals with the issue of moralism. This resonated with me because I’ve become convinced, in recent years, that a majority of our teaching in the church is nothing more than that. It’s become nothing more than a system of laws, a system of right and wrong.

As a result, our faith has become a system of making good people. It’s become a system of doing good things. And, in this way, the message of the gospel becomes lost.

Moralism is defined as the belief that access to God can be achieved through our own personal efforts or attempts to improve ourselves. And, as Fisk rightly points out, moralism is nothing more than the worship of our own works. It’s a dependence upon ourselves and our own efforts to attain salvation.

Please don’t misunderstand me. We do have to deal with issues of morality in the church.  God has given to us his Law that we might see our sin and our need for a Savior.  And, if we fail to understand our sin, we’ll never understand our need for Jesus or receive the grace offered to us by God.  He’s also given to us his Law that we might know how he desires for us to live as his people.

However, we have to realize that our faith is more than just a system of good morals.  We must realize this because we are a sinful people, incapable of living up to God’s standards.  And we must not begin to think that, if we only try harder, or if we can only fix ourselves, we’ll be acceptable to God.

When this becomes our version of Christianity, we’re lost.  As Paul tells us in Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse…” If we are trusting in the Law for salvation, if we’re trusting in our efforts to attain the forgiveness of sins, we stand condemned.

We must take to heart the message of the gospel. We must trust in the message of Christ, and what he’s done for us. We must believe that the Son of God became man, that he might give his life on our behalf. We must know that he died on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin.  We must understand that, through faith in him, we can receive the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.  And we must proclaim this message to one another, as well as to the world around us.

Yes, as Christians, it’ll be our desire to serve God. We’ll want nothing more than to turn from our sin and live the life to which he’s called us.  Yet we must always realize that our salvation is found not in what we do, but in what Christ has done for us. As we’re told in 1 John 2:2, He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Monday, April 30, 2018

Why We Serve, Part 3

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight… not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
(1 Peter 5:1-33 ESV)

There are many different leadership styles that are used in churches around the world today. Some churches are lead exclusively by the pastor. Others are led by a group of elders. And still others are congregational led.

When churches are ruled by the pastor, or by a small group of individuals, it creates the possibility of leaders becoming overbearing. They are enabled to dominate those in their care. They are empowered to lead by coercion. And, being sinful human beings, there’s a tendency to take advantage of these possibilities.

However, the leadership style advocated by Peter is very different. He calls on elders to shepherd the flock of God that is among them, not domineering those under their charge. In other words, their leadership is not to be characterized by control of the church.

This fits in with the leadership style encouraged by Jesus. He said that the one who is great in the kingdom of God will be a servant of all (Matthew 20:26). And he calls on us to sacrificially give of ourselves to bless others.  He calls on us to perform even the most menial and degrading of tasks to serve one another (John 13:12-17, 34).

Instead of domineering the flock, Peter calls on elders to be examples to those under their care. As we feed and care for the flock of God, under our oversight, we’re to model a life of faith. We are to live out our faith in front of them. This doesn’t mean that we’re expected to be perfect. However, we’re to live a life of trust in Christ before them. We’re to model a life of confession, repentance, and confident expectation before them. We’re to model a continual reliance upon the Word of God.

This isn’t to downplay the role of the pastor or of elders in the church, nor does it downplay the respect they’re to be given. Paul says that they’re to be respected (1 Thessalonians 5:12). He says that those who rule well are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17).

However, we are called to be servant leaders, and not dictators. We're called to be examples, and not task-masters. Our leadership is not to be characterized by dominance and control of the church.