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.