Connecting With God: “Judgment Day” – 2 Peter 3:1-13

the last judgment 2Twenty-five years had passed since the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican was painted in Rome when (between 1536 and 1541) Michelangelo Buonarroti began working on the monumental work called the “Last Judgment” at the front of the chapel. By now, as an older artist, he decided to create a new standard for this scene famous among artists of the Renaissance. Instead of positioning people according to their social station, dressed in the common garb of that place in society, he placed nude figures (entirely equal before the throne of God with nothing to hide behind). Stripped bare of rank, each person faced God in the truth of his own vulnerable, physical state. The scene graphically displayed separation of the blessed and the damned with the saved ascending on the left and the damned descending on the right. Muting the colors for a specific reason, the fresco is dominated by the tones of flesh and sky – because those indicate the point of the whole scene – as heaven swallows up mortality.

The depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the corresponding eternal judgment by God of all humanity was captured in an overwhelming artistic scene. It is loved by artists and students, but was spurned by many when first unveiled. The artist was accused of being insensitive to decorum, incorporating nudity and refusing accepted social convention. In fact, the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said of the painting “it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully,” and called the work suitable “for the public baths and taverns.” Michelangelo worked Cesena’s face into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld and gave him a set of Donkey ears (signifying foolishness), with the critic’s nudity covered by a coiled snake. Eventually, the genitalia in the fresco was painted over with a variety of draperies after Michelangelo died in 1564, only to be removed by conservators in more recent years where possible.

Just as well-studied guides to the Vatican know the history of the reaction to the painting of the Last Judgment, avid Bible students have studied the predictions concerning the reaction of the masses to an actual coming judgment as God revealed it through various Biblical writers. Here is the truth: as the day approaches, most people will become convinced that such a judgment is a myth – and reject its actual nature. That point was made clear in passages like the one for this lesson from 2 Peter 3. Here is the truth of this passage…

Key Principle: God has set the time and terms of judgment. They are not mean, but just. They are not harsh but deserved. We must therefore prepare not only to face that judgment, but to find a way to continue to offer the message of it in a more and more hostile climate.

While on the subject of artwork, the “Second Epistle of Peter” is like an exhibition of three sculpted works of art:

• In the first chapter, Peter offered a sculpted model of the fruitful and secure believer that is following after God, offering a scale we can compare our walk to (1:5-7).
• In the second chapter, Peter offered a sculpted model of the deceptive teachers that work to hurt the cause of Jesus in the world.
• In the final chapter, Peter sculpted an image of a “frieze scene” of a whole time period, a judgment that is coming, and what every believer should DO about it!

In the case of the third and final work, the point of the passage is two-fold. First, because judgment is coming, preparation is necessary. Second, even the notion of that judgment will be dismissed by most in the days ahead, and that should come as no surprise to us.

Peter wrote the last part of this epistle to help us with BOTH preparing people to face (or avoid) such a judgment AND (even more) to prepare believers to face a world increasingly hostile to the very idea that God will judge.

We will make this point again as we study the passage: Don’t miss the dual truths interwoven within the words. Both the fact of judgment and some of the reasons for its rejection are threaded into the verses of the chapter…The preparation, then, concerns both those who reject God, and those who must proclaim the truth of coming judgment in an increasingly hostile audience for that message.

“Have you ever noticed how popular notions and the Bible clash over heaven?” One writer asked it this way:

Have you ever noticed that when a discussion turns to a recently deceased celebrity, someone invariably says, “I know he’s looking down on us right now”? It doesn’t matter how godless the person was, his peers refer to him as being in a better place and then gesture skyward. Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sees a lamentable example of that in the 1941 poem “High Flight,” which was quoted in tribute to astronauts who died in the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Not all the astronauts were Christians “but we were told they ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,’” Coppenger noted… Such secular cultural perceptions are uninformed by the truth and seem to be based on the delusion that one’s eternal destiny is determined either by heinous deeds or good poll numbers. Some people assume the dearly departed are in heaven because they weren’t notorious sinners. People want to believe the departed went to heaven because they know they themselves are sinners and want to believe they are not bad enough for hell. “I’m not as bad as the other guy,” goes the thinking. “God will somehow understand in the end that we were pretty good people, and based on our overall behavior He should let us into heaven.” In a 2004 address at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said, “Even those who retain some vague idea of heavenly bliss beyond this life are slow to acknowledge the reality of final judgment and condemnation. Modern men and women live with the mindset that there is no heaven, no hell and therefore no guilt.” (Florida Baptist Witness, August 28, 2008).

Preparation for the Coming Judgment:

God’s people must be prepared to proclaim the judgment when the message is unwanted, in order that many will be enabled to avoid facing it. How do we make such preparations?

Step One: Let’s get our facts straight. We must take our information from God’s Word and not popular culture! (3:1-2).

To introduce the idea, Peter wrote:

2 Peter 3:1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior [spoken] by your apostles.

Peter essentially noted that believers need their MINDS engaged in the words made known in the Scripture and from Jesus and His Apostles. Here he promoted the need to identify the proper source of truth.

In an internet age where we “Google” anything we don’t know, this warning is even more necessary to carefully heed! The source of truth is not irrelevant, since most “news” outlets represent a point of view. Thus, Peter began with a simple warning: “Truth can be found in a more careful consideration of God’s revealed Word.”

Have you ever wondered why so many believers don’t take their understanding of the spiritual truths from the Word? I have wondered a good bit about that over the years. Perhaps it is because they have forgotten the clarity of the Word as it was presented, either by fuzzy, feeling-filled teachers, or by those who had only a marginal grasp on the text. Yet, the more I examine it, the more I believe many are unaware of some accepted maxims concerning our belief system:

First, there are many sources from which we take information we assume to be true, and many of them are unreliable. There is no one who relies on news received over a computer that hasn’t experienced this in the past decade. We have all seen, believed and been moved by hoaxes of some kind. There are the “Babylon Bee” type posts that are intended as satire, but get frequently passed as news items. There are deliberate lies that are fabricated to get people enraged, then “Snoped” to look stupid and shut down their message. These things abound, and they trick even the most sophisticated news organizations, who end up reporting false statements as assumed truths.

Second, truly understanding the truth, even when it is placed in our hands, is not a simple matter. The right map held upside down gets us to the wrong location. It requires time, investment and energy to read and understand truth properly. Right answers on critical issues don’t come easily – so one must be committed to go beyond the surface to get to the truth is many issues.

Third, a flawed map is worse than no map at all, because it provides undue confidence. The words God left us are not cryptic moral platitudes shrouded in mythology, but straightforward warnings of the coming days.

Let me take a moment to illustrate how a lie can change a society and become an assumption. Crisis Magazine reported in 2012:

“Alfred C. Kinsey had a secret. The Indiana University zoologist and “father of the sexual revolution” almost single-handedly redefined the sexual mores of everyday Americans. The problem was, he had to lie to do it. The weight of this point must not be underestimated. The science that launched the sexual revolution has been used for the past 50 years to sway court decisions, pass legislation, introduce sex education into our schools, and even push for a redefinition of marriage. Kinseyism was the very foundation of this effort. If his science was flawed — or worse yet, an outright deception — then our culture’s attitudes about sex are not just wrong morally but scientifically as well.

Let’s consider the facts. When Kinsey and his coworkers published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953, they turned middle-class values upside down. Many traditionally forbidden sexual practices, Kinsey and his colleagues proclaimed, were surprisingly commonplace;

• 85 percent of men and 48 percent of women said they’d had premarital sex,

• 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women had been unfaithful after marriage. Incredibly, 71 percent of women claimed their affair hadn’t hurt their marriage, and a few even said it had helped.

• What’s more, 69 percent of men had been with prostitutes, 10 percent had been homosexual for at least three years, and 17 percent of farm boys had experienced sex with animals.

Implicit in Kinsey’s report was the notion that these behaviors were biologically “normal” and hurt no one. Therefore, people should act on their impulses with no inhibition or guilt.

The 1948 report on men came out to rave reviews and sold an astonishing 200,000 copies in two months. Kinsey’s name was everywhere from the titles of pop songs (“Ooh, Dr. Kinsey”) to the pages of Life, Time, Newsweek, and the New Yorker. Kinsey was “presenting facts,” Look magazine proclaimed. He was “revealing not what should be but what is.” Dubbed “Dr. Sex” and applauded for his personal courage, the researcher was compared to Darwin, Galileo, and Freud.

But beneath the popular approbation, many astute scientists were warning that Kinsey’s research was gravely flawed. The list of critics … included …Distinguished British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer [who] put it well when he called the reports propaganda masquerading as science… what were the issues the world’s best scientists had with Kinsey’s work? The criticism can be condensed into three troublesome points.

Problem #1: Humans as Animals

… Trained as a zoologist, he saw sex purely as a physiological “animal” response. Throughout his books, he continually refers to the “human animal.” In fact, in Kinsey’s opinion, there was no moral difference between one sexual outlet and any other. … In his 842-page volume on female sexuality, motherhood wasn’t mentioned once.

Problem #2: Skewed Samples

Kinsey often presented his statistics as if they applied to average moms, dads, sisters, and brothers… in reality, Kinsey’s reports never applied to average people in the general population. In fact, many of the men Kinsey surveyed were actually prison inmates. … the team had taken sexual histories from about 1,400 imprisoned sex offenders. ..In short, Kinsey’s team researched … from sexual deviants — and then passed off the behavior as sexually “normal,” “natural;” and “average” (and hence socially and morally acceptable).

Problem #3: Faulty Statistics

Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that Kinsey’s statistics were so deeply flawed that no reputable scientific survey has ever been able to duplicate them. …Not surprisingly, Kinsey’s numbers showing marital infidelity to be harmless also never held up. In one Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy study of infidelity, 85 percent of marriages were damaged as a result, and 34 percent ended in divorce. Even spouses who stayed together usually described their marriages afterwards as unhappy. Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman, M.D., estimates that among couples who have been married for a long time and then divorce, “over 90 percent of the divorces involve infidelities.”

Speaking at a 1955 conference sponsored by Planned Parenthood, Kinsey pulled another statistical bombshell out of his hat. He claimed that of all pregnant women, roughly 95 percent of singles and 25 percent of those who were married secretly aborted their babies. A whopping 87 percent of these abortions, he claimed, were performed by bona fide doctors. Thus he gave scientific authority to the notion that abortion was already a common medical procedure — and should thus be legal… Bad statistics are significant for many reasons: “They can be used to stir up public outrage or fear, they can distort our understanding of our world, and they can lead us to make poor policy choices.”

• In a 1951 Journal of Social Psychology study, psychology students at the University of California, Los Angeles, were divided into three groups: Some students took an intensive nine-week course on Kinsey’s findings, while the other two groups received no formal Kinsey instruction. Afterward, the students took a quiz testing their attitudes about sex. Compared with those who received no Kinsey training, those steeped in Kinseyism were seven times as likely to view premarital sex more favorably than they did before and twice as likely to look more favorably on adultery. After Kinsey, the percentage of students open to a homosexual experience soared from 0 to 15 percent. Students taught Kinseyism were also less likely to let religion influence their sexual behavior and less apt to follow sexual rules taught by their parents.

Influencing Court Decisions

• …The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 2003 decision striking down sodomy laws was the offshoot of a long string of court cases won largely on the basis of Kinsey’s research.

• Inspired by the first Kinsey report, Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953.

• A decade later, Helen Gurley Brown turned Cosmopolitan into a sex magazine for women.

• In his book The End of Sex, an obituary of the sexual revolution, Esquire contributor George Leonard accurately observed that “wherever we have split ‘sex’ from love, creation, and the rest of life . . . we have trivialized and depersonalized the act of love itself.” Treasuring others solely for their sexuality strips them of their humanity. When Kinsey tore the mystery of love from human sexuality, he abandoned us all to a sexually broken world.

That is a long illustration, I admit. The problem is, the lie became an assumption and the culture was changed by it, and is still being changed by it.

Step Two: While fact finding, don’t expect the crowd to join you. Expect the notion of judgment to become a laughing matter (3:3-7).

Thankfully, the Bible offers truth – even if many will be carefully weaned from recognizing it…

2 Peter 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God [the] heavens existed long ago and [the] earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

Peter said people will walk away from truth for one reason: they want to do what they want to do. They want to follow their own fallen inclinations – period. Kinsey may have lied, but people bought what they wanted to buy, and P.T. Barnum (“A sucker is born every minute”) rolled in his grave to smile. The specific truth Peter referred to was not about sexuality, but about accountability.

Obviously, Peter made clear that in identifying the truth concerning the destiny of mankind, we cannot look to the popular voices in our culture. God has promised they will rise in an anthem against the truth, and that should not surprise us. Lies will be planted, nurtured and eventually widely assumed. In a culture sculpted to believe that everyone should get a prize so that no one feels badly, where does Divine judgment fit it? It doesn’t – and that point shouldn’t be overlooked. A tailor-made morality will slowly replace the truth, and make judgment seem, not only unlikely, but entirely untenable as part of the Christian message.

The other night I saw a short clip from a drama that illustrated the point well. A woman was in anguish about her life and some terrible events that transpired. She ran into a storm and cried out to God. She said: “God, where are you? Why are you taking me through this hell? I haven’t done anything to deserve such a life! I have tried to be good. Much of my life I have helped others, and I have never done things that were cruel or harsh.”

Can you hear her? Can you imagine yourself sympathizing with her plight in the midst of a movie or play. When you watched her play her role, wouldn’t you find yourself thinking: “Wow, what terrible things happened to her. She doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. She is so nice. She has been incredibly kind. That just doesn’t seem right!

Now step back. Would such a nice person with such a good heart deserve judgment by God? Wouldn’t you think a God that would judge her would sound cruel and heartless?

Here is the problem. The woman may deserve our human sympathies for her plight. She may evoke in us a deep sense of care for her, and that would be a good thing. What we must admit, however, is that we don’t see what God sees. He sees a heart hardened to His love. He sees a woman who chooses to do “good things” while snubbing the gift of His Son for her sin. He sees a woman speaking of her goodness, but not of her need. He sees depravity – the very act of self-trusting and earned righteousness – and not kneeling and surrender.

Here is the way the lie is constructed in us:

First, people will wholly believe (including many in the church) that man is basically good. A baby is born innocent.

Second, an offshoot belief that must be eventually assumed is that people who haven’t committed heinous acts barely deserve any kind of judgment.

A third lie that will be grasped by most is this: It is action of sin that make a person a sinner.

I believe the greatest accepted lie of our time is this: “Man is basically good.” It is found in the musings over the “innocence” of a little child. It tugs at even the toughest heartstrings. Yet, it ignores the Biblical view of each of us as we are born, and makes any judgment by God seem both highly unlikely and fully unwarranted… It is essential that Jesus followers recognize that man is not condemned simply because of some terrible acts we commit, but rather because our default state is one of rebellion.

Let’s be honest. Since the Garden of Eden, even the most tenderhearted of us have few moments that are truly and fully surrendered to God. The default setting of our heart is selfish rebellion. The argument of Scripture is not that man is condemned apart from salvation because of what we do, but because we are depraved in our state of rebellion alone. Depravity, in the Bible sense, doesn’t mean we do something the world considers terrible; it means our self-reliance IS considered a heinous act by God as we reject the headship of our Creator in favor of following self. It is Eve’s choice revisited in daily action.

Our guilt, then, isn’t primarily about horrible treatment of others, it is about horrible treatment of God Himself. In our lost state we continuously reject God’s right to rule our lives in favor of self-leadership. We reject the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf in favor of our own striving. We tell God that He should want was we want to give, not what He has demanded.

In truth, even those who know and follow God struggle to yield, while those who do not know Him do not even understand that state as a problem. In that way, depravity has become a hidden state or normality. Lost man can judge himself by his acts and ignore a rebellious heart that is at the center of the problem. The point is this: It is a lie that we are not depraved. It is a lie that depravity is about action – it is about rebellion.

Even implied innocence erodes that necessity of judgment. If man isn’t “that bad” then they don’t deserve judgment.

Step Three: Don’t be disheartened by God’s delay. Remember this creates an opportunity!

In light of the lies that permeate our culture, don’t get discouraged about God’s lack of enthusiasm to judge quickly. In fact, it is to our advantage. Peter reminded:

2 Peter 3:8 But do not let this one [fact] escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

The point of this passage is not to suggest that God’s watch is set in thousand year increments, but rather that God is not subject to time – for He is the author of time. He, by definition, doesn’t “rush” anything. He has a plan and He works that plan – but He is telling a story. The temptation to jump to the end is not something He faces. He knows what He wants to do – and He will do it when and how He chooses.

Step Four: We should be changed by a knowledge of His promise and not need to see more.

We need to walk carefully, and keep our eyes fixed on enduring things! Peter said it this way:

2 Peter 3:11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

Since all this is coming, how should a believer behave? We ought to live for God and walk distinctly from others (3:11) as we keep in mind the swiftness of judgment. We should measure our surroundings as those things that will not last, (3:12) and keep our eyes on the coming ever-enduring world promised us (3:13)!

God has set the time and terms of judgment. They are not mean, but just. They are not harsh but deserved. He doesn’t want to judge you. The choice is yours.

As a body of Jesus followers we have a choice. We can decide that what God said is true, whether popular or not. We can follow His Word and open our hearts to allow Him to change us…or not. We can play church, and few will know.

Back in January of last year, Francis Chan traveled to Hawaii and spoke to a church where some friends of mine work on the staff. He opened his message explaining how many people were telling him in his travels that they followed him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and his words really helped him in their daily walk. He was very flattered, but he had a big problem. He wasn’t on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. He didn’t post a word of what they read. His staff did some digging. They discovered the whole thing was put up by well-meaning believers who posted only quotes from his sermons or books, and put up pictures of his wife and things he did that they found in other places. He didn’t post them, but he was the author of the words. How incredibly awkward! Yet, Francis took a lesson from this that we need to recall. Today, across the world, people will meet in the name of Jesus. They will quote Him, and they will share pictures of what He has done. Yet, many of them, will not really be a part of His family. They are faking their identity and hoping for belonging. They aren’t part of the Body of Christ. They haven’t surrendered their heart to Jesus. The pictures are real and the quotes are accurate, but the identity is fake. One day, sadly, they will hear the voice of the One they have played before and quoted.

Connecting with God: “Spiritual Espionage” – 2 Peter 2

William MelvilleLong before there was an “Agent 007” there was a man named William Melville. He wasn’t a film star, but rather a talented man who helped to establish the first independent intelligence agency, the British Secret Service, and became its first chief. His rise into the office came after 1903, in the steady spiraling toward the First World War when relations between Britain and Germany gradually cooled. Melville lobbied his government to create a counter-espionage service. By 1906 he “obtained” several pieces of deeply troubling German plans as he hired a Courage Brewery representative in Hamburg to supply intelligence for him. Eventually, in 1909 Melville went to Germany himself to recruit more agents. In October 1909 the British War Office authorized the creation of the Secret Service Bureau, and nineteen military intelligence departments—MI1 to MI19 were created. Today, MI5 and MI6 are the most recognized because they remain active to this day. Melville worked in a separate “Special Section” and concentrated on spy-hunting. By August 1914, Melville had uncovered the barbershop of Karl Gustav Ernst at the center of an important German spy ring. With the outbreak of World War I, funding increased dramatically, and Melville recruited more personnel and was attached to the “G-section” that concentrated on investigating suspected spies, while he founded a “spy school” opposite the War Office at Whitehall Court. Adept in the world of espionage, William Melville eventually became too ill to work and died of kidney failure in February 1918.

I mention William Melville because he was a man of incredible technique in the spy craft, but excelled particularly because he didn’t look much like a spy. He looked like an administrator or local mortgage officer. In short, he blended in very well with work-a-day people in the context of his time. It would be easy to become his friend and confidant, and never realize you were speaking with a spy master. The best people working in the spy craft are the ones who seem to have nothing special going on. You need to look deeper to find them. Things that “don’t add up” need to be more carefully scrutinized. Yet, that is rude and uncomfortable – and that is what spies count on.

I don’t want to simply talk about spies today, but our lesson leans into the idea that our spiritual enemy DOES send infiltrators to come into the midst of God’s people to disrupt and destroy the work. Nehemiah had them. Ezra faced them. It is a well-established Biblical truth that God’s work will constantly face the infiltration work of both ill-informed and deliberately dangerous people – and they will present themselves as qualified to lead and teach.

To set the context, you may recall that one of the ways ancient Israelites discovered those who were infiltrating among them in Judges 12 was to make them use a “password” that was pronounced “Shibboleth” to stop people from invading their lines. The writer of Judges reminds:

Judges 12:5 And it happened when [any of] the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.'” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly.

The word they spoke was wholly unimportant. The pronunciation was the thing that exposed the false and confirmed the true. In our lesson, Peter effectively offers us a short course in “catching” the infiltrator, creating a kind of “Shibboleth” test that helps us to recognize a false teacher if we encounter one. Following a tough lesson in 2 Peter 1 where we suggested there are deliberate and measurable growth marks for a believer, Peter offered a second truth – there will be opposition. Just as you can see growth in the process of 2 Peter 1, careful observation will allow us to see “marks” of false teaching. Here is the truth of the passage…

Key Principle: God unmasked false teachers and exposed their specific and measurable qualities in order that we would know them when we encounter them. Knowledge from the Word concerning false teachers is essential to walk in maturity.

• In the first chapter, knowledge of God’s processes for our growth promised a sense of peace and security to the people of God.

• In the second chapter, knowledge of the enemy’s work encourages vigilance among God’s people.

Peter opened with “The Fact of False Teachers”: They would be a part of the landscape of the church.

The church was called to anticipate attacks on the truth of the Word, and some of them would come from within the church. Note how the passage opened:

2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you,

Peter noted in this passage there WILL be false teachers in our churches, the workers of the enemy of God. It isn’t a possibility but rather a warning. Just as God allowed the enemy in the Garden of Eden in the beginning, so He allows the enemy in the sanctuary of the church. Just as God allowed the serpent’s hissing to fall into the ears of Eve, so He openly acknowledges the enemy may don religious garb and stand behind a cross-affixed lectern. The question is: Will the warned leaders of the church do a better job as guardian to the flock than a warned Adam did for his wife?

Have you ever picked up an apple off of a tree, polished it on your shirt and taken a big bite out of it – and then promptly discovered it had a huge rotten area or, even worse, was worm infested? Near Cape May, New Jersey, there was an old farm where I worked during the summer that had a big apple tree, but the farmer didn’t spray the trees for insects. He didn’t like the stuff and that meant that when the apples were finally ripe for picking, it was often hard to find a good one! Many had worms or “bad spots” clearly visible. On occasion, even after a close inspection, it was possible to take a big bite, only to find you had a mouth full of rotten yuck! Instinctively, I spit out the bite. Eventually, I discovered a secret. The farmer noted many of these apples didn’t get rotten by worms boring a hole from the outside at all! Essentially the worms would lay their eggs on the blossoms before the apple even began to form! When they hatched, the larvae were already inside the apple, with a constant food supply readily available. Eventually, they would eat their way out of the apple and that was when the worm holes would appear! Worms crept in unnoticed and unobtrusively, but their secret left behind what would bring about destruction.

When we talk about false teachers, we are talking about a process. Sometimes the teacher was under-trained or poorly trained, and the “seed” of the disruptive and ungodly behavior was allowed to grow unnoticed. At an early stage, a church is still “in bloom” when Satan places some deceptive eggs of destruction. By the time Peter wrote this warning, there were already signs of spiritual worm damage.

It is true that some false teachers are just poorly trained in Biblical thinking, but increasingly I am seeing people who are deliberately out to destroy the faith of our young in the name of “education” balance and “anti-bigotry training”. They aren’t hiding, but many of us are being tempted to hide and let them have their say. We need to take action – not against them – but toward our own. The day will come when we will face them. Today we need to get our house in order and train, train, train our own. “Why?” you may ask. The answer is simple…Even those who claim to be Born Again are not necessarily firmly grounded in the truths of the Bible. Knowing Jesus and knowing what God said in the 1189 chapters of the Bible are very different. Even further, knowing the Bible and understanding the content in the context of God’s work is also very different.

George Barna’s book What Americans Believe cites statistics based on a national survey concerning religious beliefs in our country. In chapter four he states, “The Devil, or Satan, is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” Then asking that segment of his survey respondents who have identified themselves at being Born Again, he states, “Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with that statement?” The Born Again population reply with 32 percent agreeing strongly, 11 percent agreeing somewhat and 5 percent did not know. Thus, of the total number responding, 48 percent either agreed that Satan is only symbolic or did not know! A few pages later, Barna asked: “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God.” Again, the respondents were asked to agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat or disagree strongly. Of that population surveyed who identified themselves as Born Again, 30 percent agreed strongly, 18 percent agreed somewhat and 12 percent did not know. That is a total of 60 percent! (What Americans Believe, pp. 206-212). What we are seeing in our time is this: people don’t know the Bible even when they have claimed to have surrendered to Jesus. That is a problem, and will continue to be a problem.

Adam’s greatest problem in the Garden was that he didn’t take God’s warnings seriously. The church must see the problem and address it, or we are simply letting Eve have a “snake conversation.” Parents need to recognize that an occasional hour of Sunday School or Vacation Bible School is no match for the hundreds of hours of social experimentation going on at many a local school, daycare or local club designed for your child. I am not trying to make school teachers the enemy – they aren’t. Yet, even the most Godly among them will tell you they cannot say many true things and remain employed as teachers. The fact is that we have sacrificed truth on the altar of pluralism for my entire life in America – and many believers think their children are going to be invited to think Biblically from their education. The higher in the ranks of that education you follow the trial, the more the Bible will be denigrated or even openly tossed aside. Here is my point: If the Bible isn’t valued to the point where we will deliberately press our children to know it – they will be easy targets for the enemy – and he IS at work prowling to get them.

Peter continued with the Description of False Teachers:

We cannot spot what we do not recognize in false teachers. For that reason Peter wrote:

2 Peter 2:1b …who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

Don’t bypass the details, but rather notice the technique of what the enemy does to plant false teachers – it will help you to spot them before the damage is too great. They will…

• “secretly introduce”: (paraisago: bring beside) they will come in through conventional teaching and “bring along” some other false teachings. When they are predators, they will be deliberately deceptive and they can smell simple-minded and gullible people like a wolf can detect a crippled rabbit from a quarter of a mile away.

I don’t want to get lost in this, but I was surprised at how the Charlotte NC reporters gave a “pass” to checking on the people who backed the recent “bathroom bill” in the city that caused such a controversy. The bill provided for people to use restrooms that differed from their assigned biological sex. One of the chief sponsors of the bill was Charlotte’s “LGBT Chamber of Commerce”. Though now exposed and ousted, Chad Sevearance-Turner was the president of the chamber while pressing for the bill. No one I can find in the press, while touting his passion and care for the oppressed, thought to publish his past public arrest record. He had been arrested in 1998 (at age 20) and charged in Cherokee County, S.C., with a “lewd act, committing or attempting a lewd act upon a child under 16.” A careful look at the case clearly shows the man has a history of voyeurism. Let me ask you something: Do you honestly believe there would have been such an omission if the man opposed the bill but had a public arrest record? I believe people often get duped because they want what they want and won’t be wise to recognize the sources of coming trouble.

That is in our modern community. Peter warned that in the church, these teachers will bring…

• “destructive heresies”: (hah’-ee-res-is + ap-o’-li-a: heresies of ruin), the nature of the teachings will be of significance to cause ruin to the faith of the hearers.

• “denying the Master who bought them”: (ar-neh’-om-ahee: to refuse the rights of the Master), they will teach that God does not have full rights to demand surrender of all areas to His Lordship. The false teachers don’t always come across as plaid-wearing clowns trying to wow you with on-stage miracles. Sometimes they just want you to think they are going to help you renovate yourself so you can be a better person. They don’t offer spiritual life; they don’t hold up Jesus as the One who gives new birth from above and makes a new creation. They want you to feel better about yourself so you will feel grateful and reward them for lifting you up.

• “bringing swift destruction” (pulling to themselves ruin – the word translated destructive above…), their actions will fragment and destroy bodies of believers. They will be destroyed in the process. They may make a fortune, but they will still face death and judgment prescribed for all others in this life.

Peter moved to Describing the Followers of False Teachers:

The false teachers will be marked in specific areas that are able to be discerned when looking closely, but so will their followers…

2 Peter 2:2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;

The teachers will have in view a publicly known sensuality (as-elg’-i-a: license to do wrong or impure deeds). The term is familiar: Galatians 5:19 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality…”

The point of this verse is not to identify the teachers, but the type of people that seek and follow after them. These followers will be people who do not desire to surrender to the Lord, but prefer to expand the number of things they can be “licensed” to do that are not of the nature of surrendered believers. Consider this story:

Once the Devil was walking along with one of his cohorts. They saw a man ahead of them pick up something shiny. “What did he find?” asked the cohort. “A piece of the truth,” the Devil replied. “Doesn’t it bother you that he found a piece of the truth?” asked the cohort. “No,” said the Devil, “I will see to it that he makes a religion out of it.” Klyne Snodgrass, Between Two Truths – Living with Biblical Tensions, 1990, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 35.

Here is the point: There IS freedom in Christ – but it is freedom to follow Him and please Him. There is no WORK that saves you – but that doesn’t mean real faith does not have telltale signs in life change. We need to be careful not to allow a “piece of truth” to cover the other pieces that balance it.

Peter then moved on the the Motive of False Teachers:

It isn’t essential we know why people do what they do, but it can be helpful. The teachers are clearly marked by a desire to live the good life here on earth, and greed is easy to spot. I know that because he wrote:

2 Peter 2:3 “…and in their greed they will exploit you with false words;”

The teacher wants FORTUNE, and is willing to teach things that are not true in order to gain personally in the fortune or fame departments. The term “false words” is literally “plas-tos’”: or artificially molded. The word envisions a study room where they sculpt words that will cause people to part with their cash in favor of sending it in an envelope to the teacher. These are people who teach a plastic faith, and we need to see the difference between the authentic and the plastic. Allan Bloom American philosopher, classicist, and academic who died in 1992 wrote:

Openness – and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings — is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all of the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.” – Charles Colson, Against the Night, p. 84.

Dear ones; hear my words very carefully. I believe I can make the case that our children will not be openly taught to believe we are wrong in our faith (in most cases) as much as they will be indoctrinated to become emotionally offended at the notion that you could even think you were right about the most basic issues of truth.

Skepticism has handily replaced real learning in the heart of many of America’s most prestigious educational centers, bearing cynical children without a goal of reaching truth at all.

We must not rant, but we must not be ignorant. Our children are being led away from truth in far too many places while we act as though it is inevitable. It is not. We can answer lies with truth. We can answer false education with real education. We can sit down and look carefully at what they are learning and turn it back on itself. We not only can do this, we must do this – or we have given up our post as guardians.

I thank God for godly men and women who take on the work of training children, both in the public education system and in the church. They are to be commended and cherished for the work they do!

Peter then shared the End of False Teachers:

The destination of the false teacher is judgment, and it will come upon all too swiftly!

2 Peter 2:3b …their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; 7and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,

The issue of defense against heresy is ultimately about God defending His own work through the church.

Look at the Seven Marks of the False Teachers:

First, they are Indulgent of flesh and Rebellious in spirit:

2 Peter 2:10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.

Second they are presumptuously disrespectful:

2 Peter 2:10b…Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.

Third, they project expertise in things they do not even understand.

2 Peter 2:12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed,

A story is told of two men who worked in the audit department of a large bank. They made an overnight trip to a distant branch of the bank, and were dining in a local restaurant. The chief auditor told the other man, “First we’ll hit the tellers, and then get the vault.” They arrived at the bank the next morning, only to be promptly arrested by the state police. Upon inquiry, they discovered that a police captain had eaten at the same restaurant and had overheard the conversation about “hitting the tellers and getting the vault.” The police captain had made a very good assumption about the situation, based on the information as he had overheard it, but his assumption was also very wrong.

Fourth, they mix and mingle among the people of God carousing in their deceptions.

2 Peter 2:13 “…suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children;

Fifth, they love the wages of unrighteousness.

2 Peter 2:15 “…forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…

Peter used Balaam as an example of those who ‘love the wages of unrighteousness’. What does that mean? Just what it says! They follow the path of unrighteousness for the very reason that it pays more – if you are using the values of the fallen world! Balak, king of Moab, saw the wandering Israelites as a military threat. So he hired Balaam, already known as a prophet for hire, to put a curse on them. “Have curse. Will travel”

Sixth, they talk big and allure others through the lusts of the flesh and lewdness:

2 Peter 2:17 These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,

Seventh, they promise freedom but on closer inspection you can see they are slaves themselves. Some years ago Clark Tanner wrote these words:

2 Peter 2:19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. …

Our Assignment

I don’t want to end this lesson with THEM. I want you to see that God offers more than doom and gloom ranting. There are ways to grow in discernment and spot someone exhibiting the traits of a false prophet or teacher. Your assignment is to grow by:

1. Identifying the SOURCE of truth: Ask often of those sharing religious sounding material: “Do they practice sound Biblical hermeneutics in sourcing their truth accurately according to the scriptures?” Paul wrote, “Study to show yourself approved of God. A workman who does not need to be ashamed. Handling accurately the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15) Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction.” (2 Tim. 4:1,2)

2. Recognize the call to SANCTIFICATION – Jesus said, “Sanctify them in your word, your word is truth.” (John 17:17) If Holiness is what we need, are they leading people toward that, or toward indulgence?

3. Listen closely to their main SUBJECT – You can tell a lot about a person by the main subject of their conversations. Paul said it best. “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live yet not I but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) Let our teaching be about Christ, His love, His purpose, His priorities and His will for the lives of people.

4. Examine their words about SALVATION – False prophets distort the true gospel of salvation. Paul made it clear in Eph. 2:8,9 when he wrote, “It is by grace we are saved through faith and not of ourselves. It is a gift from God not as a result of works that anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Let everyone be disavowed of any notion that they can earn their salvation through works of righteousness which we have done instead of by His own mercy and grace whereby we receive our regeneration. (Titus 3:5)

5. Look closely at their attitude concerning SERVICE – False prophets and teachers have a sinister way of being self-serving. Paul wrote, “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor 4:5) Let us make our theme song, “Make me a servant, humble and meek. Lord let me lift up those who are weak. And may the prayer of my heart always be. Make me a servant today.”

6. Guard against hoarders and look for SENDERS – If someone is not involved in the sending out of workers into Christ’s harvest fields in evangelism, service ministries and mission ministries for the sake of the great commission they are living in disobedience to God. Jesus gave the great commission six times in the New Testament to give emphasis and dimension to His key commandment. Jesus taught, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into His harvest fields.” (Matt. 9:36-38)

Remember: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” – C.S. Lewis. We must be diligent about learning, in order that we can discern truth. Every mother knows to check the temperature of the food before the child takes a bite, to save the child from pain and injury. We need to do the same with spiritual food.

God unmasked false teachers and exposed their specific and measurable qualities in order that we would know them when we encounter them. Knowledge from the Word concerning false teachers is essential to walk in maturity.

Connecting with God: “Blessed Assurance” – 2 Peter 1

come to jesusOne of the great hymns of the faith began with the words: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!” At different points in the past of our faith, assurance was emphasized, and the desire to be assured of eternal salvation seems like it was particularly important.

I have known a number of people in my life over the years who have come to a crisis point in their lives and have asked: “Am I truly a believer?” Usually, they have related to me, it is because they admitted they seemed very weak in their faith, and expressed things like: “I must be the worst follower Jesus ever had!” In some cases, I suspect they were real followers who were facing depression issues. In other cases, like what Zechariah saw of his partner in Temple rebuilding, the High Priest named Joshua, the problem was actually an attack of the wicked one that was driving the man toward defeating discouragement. Still in others, as I spoke with them, I became concerned that they may have never truly understood the message of Jesus Christ, and never truly were saved. Their question wasn’t from discouragement, but rather because they recognized Jesus was not living within them!

It IS possible to know Jesus and be assured of eternity with Him when I die. The Apostle Paul made it clear in his second letter to Timothy when he told Tim to stop being embarrassed about the fact that Paul had been arrested. He warned Tim not to allow that fact to make him shy away from the Gospel, and its absolute assurance of peace with God. He wrote:

2 Timothy 1:12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to [you].

Do you notice how assured Paul was of the truth of his relationship with God through Christ? He used words like “not ashamed” and “believed” and “convinced” – all because he trusted Christ and counted on that for an eternity with Him.

While is IS possible to get past the “I hope I will go to Heaven when I die,” it is also equally possible to not know Jesus but think I will be with Him when I die because of some distant memory of praying a prayer or raising a hand at a church meeting, a camp or some other place where a response to the message of Jesus was requested. There is more to coming to Christ than simply agreeing that what He did at Calvary was good and right. There is more to being a Christian than simply saying “yes” to Jesus. Hear the Master Himself explain it in His first major sermon captured in the Gospel of Matthew, the so-called “Sermon on the Mount”:

Matthew 7:21″Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven [will enter]. 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

Look carefully at what Jesus said. He made the following points clear:

• First, some people think they know Jesus and will presume the Lord has saved them, but they will be rejected (Matthew 7:21).

• Second, the basis of their access to the Kingdom won’t simply be their words. The terms Jesus used were “does the will of My Father”.

• Third, it won’t be the type of work that ensures entrance to the Kingdom, since those rejected will have been involved in endeavors like “prophesying in the Lord’s name, casting out demons, and working miracles.”

• Finally, the command to depart from Jesus was based on the singular characteristic: “You work lawlessness.” Remember, the term “anomia” translated “lawless” doesn’t simply mean without any rules – it means they MAKE UP THEIR OWN RULES.

The simple issue of the Gospel, then, is surrender of the life and will.

It isn’t what you SAID that got you into the Kingdom. It isn’t how much you SERVED in churches or Christian ministries. It isn’t which areas you served in as part of ministry. The issue is whether we “do the will of the Father” – period. Certainly part of that will is to call on Christ for salvation – but that isn’t all of the story. Another part of that will is to be busy in service to Jesus – but that isn’t the key either. The clear key in the teaching of Jesus was this: Either My Father is at the center of your choices and behaviors, or you are making up your own rules about what life is to become.

Key Principle: A Christian is sure of his faith because of his surrendered walk. His walk isn’t his faith, but rather the product of it that assures him that his faith is genuine.

I can hear the theological objections swarming over this lesson. Some will say: “He is promoting ‘works salvation’ and not salvation by the blood of Jesus alone.” I am not; I am quoting Jesus. He said people would appear before Him and think they should be allowed into the Kingdom based on words or works alone – and neither of them, yes even BOTH of them were insufficient. The only issue I can discern out of what Jesus said on that hillside long ago to people who wanted to become disciples was this: “Is My Father at the helm of your choices.”

Now I expect to hear from some objectors who will cry: “You are teaching ‘Lordship salvation’” – as if a label will somehow move us from the words recorded by Matthew that Jesus uttered long ago. Let me be clear: I have no interest in finding a theological camp to join. My pure interest is in the clarity of the text. I must ask this: “Where, oh theologian, did God set up a theology whereby you could make up your own behaviors, control your own choices, and yet be assured of Heaven?” Please, show me such a clear text. I cannot find such a word; but I do have the clarity of what Jesus said – and it is clearly about those who theologically presumed they were acceptable to God, and found they were not.

I also have what the Spirit gave us through the Apostles like Peter. Look for a few moments into the opening chapter of Peter’s second epistle (2 Peter 1). To save us some time in the lesson, let’s note that when I passed through this letter on my previous teaching opportunity with you, we looked together at five thoughts that shape the basic truths of the verses. I want to remind you of these and then look more deeply at how to establish life patterns that will help us realize what God truly says about His work in each of our lives.

The five parts of 2 Peter 1 are five descriptions of God-revealed truths about following Him.

• First, the passage opened with “Describing the God-given Parameters of those Following Him” (1-2). Here Peter shows who he is writing to, and what it took to be included in the promises he would unfold.

• Second, the text continued with “Describing the God-given Provisions for us in Following Him” (3-4). If they were part of the group the letter was written concerning, they could expect God to provide specific aid to them.

• Third, the letter pressed forward “Describing the God-given Process for us in Following Him” (5-7). This is at the heart of the teaching – how God works in and through us if we truly know Him.

• Fourth, the writer made clear “Describing the God-given Promises for us in Following Him” (8-11). God has some things He will give us if we surrender to His work in and through us.

• Finally, Peter unfolded in brief form “Describing some God-given Privileges for us in Following Him” (12-21). God’s children have some unique privileges, and you can experience them!

Look more closely…

Describing the God-given Parameters of those included in “Following” Him:

Parameters are simply fences placed around things to identify who is “in” the set and who is “outside” the set. Let’s begin with “WHO” Peter addressed in the letter as “inside”…

2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;

Note the fence Peter placed around the recipients to define whether they are part of the group he addressed in the letter. The letter is for those who received the faith: (1:1 “Peter, to those who received what we did”). God has special objectives for those who first received the faith conveyed by the Apostles, then recognized it was by faith and work of Jesus and not of themselves they had been saved. The point is this: I must accept the Gospel is God’s work, not mine. I can’t adjust it and still call it the message of God. Jesus came and died in my place to pay for my sin. If I don’t believe that, I don’t believe what the Apostolic Gospel taught.

Now note that people who received the faith were eligible for yet more grace and peace which came from a more intimate experience with the Father in daily life. (I.e. 1:2 “Grace and peace by knowing God intimately”). God’s goals include blessings in this life – not only in Heaven! The blessings include both favor (grace) and a measure of inner rest (peace) as well as a growing experience with God daily. It is clear that God never meant for His children to go through the Christian life uncertain of His desire for us or His work in us. He wants us to be assured and steadily growing.

In short, the work of God is limited in the passage to those who deliberately received the message preached by the Apostles, and who desire to grow in a rich and sure walk with God. Next, Peter offers another description.

Describing the God-given Provisions for us in Following Him:

God doesn’t simply tell us He wants us to surrender our choices to Him; He made clear some provisions He offers to help us do it. Peter wrote:

2 Peter 1:3 “…seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

I count two specific provisions of God in these verses. First there is an empowering knowledge: (I.e. 1:3 “His power gave us all we need to live a godly life, out of His glory and goodness, through knowing Him”). A growing knowledge of Him (as He reveals Himself through His Word and Spirit) affords us something special – empowering to accomplish His will. When we truly know and experience the God Who called us, we can access His power to accomplish what He wants done.

I don’t know if you have ever seen the History Channel’s series called “Mountain Men,” but my wife and I have really enjoyed it on Amazon Instant Video. We have followed these men through snowstorms and deep freezes as they trap animals I never even heard of for their pelts and meat. That may not sound interesting, but the part I found particularly helpful was when they showed these men using natural things to solve problems. They could build a cabin in the wilderness with very few tools, and their knowledge empowered them to be able to live where the less informed (like me) could not. Knowledge that can keep you alive is valuable knowledge. Peter spoke of knowledge even greater – knowledge that will give you the ability to live victoriously in God’s power.

Second, God provides beyond empowering knowledge some precious promises: (1:4 “His glory and goodness offers us great promises”). God makes us partakers in His own spiritual nature or: “allows us to walk in His nature” – an experience off limits to fallen and unredeemed people. He even offers us an escape from the trap of the fallen world! His salvation allowed us to escape the trap – “affords us ability to overcome the power of evil desires”. We have something in Christ we did not have before we knew Him – a new nature and an escape hatch from the lust and moral decay that traps the lost around us. God provided it. You don’t have to serve sin anymore. You don’t have to succumb to temptation, because you have empowering knowledge that God is at work in you, and will help you get away from the temptation. You must follow His nudge when He gives it.

That may set off a question in your mind. “How can I stand against the defeating push of my past life, the present situation I am in that hold me back from walking with God, or perhaps my natural lazy personality, or the people in my life that pull me backward, or even the principalities (the enemy’s hoards at work)?” Rest easy. God has a plan and He shared it with us. Start where He said to start, and add each step in the order He specified.

Describing the God-given Process for us in Following Him:

Look at the recipe and add each ingredient in the right sequence:

2 Peter 1:5 “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.”

In 2 Peter 1:5-7, the writer essentially said this: “In light of this provision, deliberately work at the process for sustained growth”. What steps should take? Don’t miss these; they are vitally important for all of us!

• First, my walk starts with Faith (pistis) the vision of what God says is true. I must conform my opinions and ideas to what God says in His Word, or I will be tossed about and not able to build on that foundation. These ideas form a new “world view” that is Biblical. I get a Biblical world view from knowing the Bible.

• Second, to the Biblical world view, I must add a lifestyle that is filled with chosen acts of moral excellence (areetay) a word from metallurgy that was commonly used for purity. My Biblically shaped world view must show in my moral choices and acts of truth and purity. If I learn the Bible but don’t live the Bible, I am not growing well. A Bible that is learned by not lived is fodder for the enemy to create guilt inside me, pushing me from Christ.

• Third, to the choices I must next focus on adding knowledge, (gnosis: add learning strategies and life experiences that enhance specifics of God’s teachings and wise experience). The experience of the Christian life is to be a shared and developed experience. I can’t accomplish God’s desire for me if I don’t spend time with those who know more about how to be successful in the walk.

• Fourth, when I have surrounded myself with others who encourage me in walking inside a Biblical world view, I need to focus on the constant discipline of self-control, (eng-kratia: one who masters his impulses) I must learn strategies to control impulses for God. Even though I will increasingly shape a more Biblical world view, it will be constantly challenged by my rebellious and undisciplined nature. I need to learn how to address that part of me as well.

• Fifth, when dealing with my disciplines, I will be ever challenged by life’s difficulties. For these I must learn to persevere, (hupo-meno: stand by the difficult and remain under rather than try to escape the uncomfortable). I will want to quit, but I must stand under the load and not abandon my post.

• Sixth, while I stand at my post and pass through troubles, I should learn to deepen in reverence under God’s gentle and powerful hand. I will learn to see God and revere Him in a deeper way, (godliness: eusebace; reverence and worship). It takes experience with God to really appreciate Who He is and what He has done.

• Seventh, when I really am experiencing God’s grace and worshipping His presence in my life, I will have endurance and grace in my striving with others. (Phildelphos: brotherly kindness, operate in grace to pull others up). How I treat others is a reflection of my walk with God. Bad relationships are a symptom of a deeper problem, not the key problem.

• Eighth, when I am experiencing God’s power and grace, and I am reflecting His attitudes in my life, I am able to give myself away to love. (agape: unconditional and whole love; wholly caring for others before self). Right love comes from a whole and complete lover. My maturity has everything to do with my ability to truly love another.

Describing God-given Promises for us in Following Him

Peter outlined WHO God would work within (those who accepted the message of the Apostles). He then made clear WHAT God provided to lead us to victory. Next he described HOW the process was prescribed. Yet, that wasn’t the end. He also made clear WHY we should deeply hunger to follow God… and that is rooted in some promises. The promises are outlined in…

2 Peter 1:8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

The first promise is one of productivity: (1:8 “you will avoid the traps of ineffective and unproductive behavior that frustrate your walk”. If we focus on practicing the steps he outlined and constantly give them greater attention they will lead to a productive and meaningful life!

The second promise is clarity. We will see clearly what others do not. (I.e.1:9 “Conversely, if I don’t persist in these truths, I will lose my direction or “sight” and will forget the cleansing (katharismos) and rescue I have experienced). We have a continual choice to go back to the trap in which we were caught, of move toward assurance of heart! The passage doesn’t claim that if we aren’t growing we lose our salvation – but it does say we lose clear sight that we are His.

The third promise is certainty: (I.e. 1:10-11 “Do these things and you will be secure in your assurance!”). The work we have just seen is like picking up and organizing my room. When I do it I do not trip or stumble on my way through the room. When I don’t, I create false obstacles that cause me to condemn myself when God says I am UNDER NO CONDEMNATION because I am IN CHRIST. (Romans 8:1). You won’t know for sure while you are living in compromise, because you aren’t designed to see it when you aren’t living it. Like a natural apprehension when in a high place, God built into our hearts the need to be walk with Him or feel like something is missing.

Describing God-given Privileges for us in Following Him

The chapter ends with God making clear the promises come with specific privileges. Peter wrote:

We can build on things that are eternal in view and value:

2 Peter 1:12 Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things… 14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.

God’s work is bigger than our time on the planet, and we are a tiny part of His huge work. That doesn’t make me feel small, it makes my life’s work feel incredibly significant. To use a football analogy: running my pattern places me where I need to be when God wants the “ball” to come to me.

We can handle the actual truths of the Creator of the universe and pass on actual verified events.

We aren’t offering platitudes and empty promises. Peter reminded:

2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

Beyond giving out God’s Word, we also get an opportunity to see God work in others and change lives!

Peter made clear in: 2 Peter 1:19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

In the end, we pass on truths that came from God that He made known, so there can be no work of greater value!

God wanted us to know Him and hear Him. Peter wrote: 2 Peter 2:20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

I guess the best question to ask, having grappled with the words of this lesson is this: “Where are YOU in the process of following? Are you certain you have begun?” It all starts with knowing the TRUTH!

A Christian is sure of his faith because of his walk. His walk isn’t his faith, but rather the product of it that assures him that his faith is genuine.

I want to close these words with something written by another pastor. “The Agonizing Problem of the Assurance of Salvation” contains the words of Pastor John Piper who wrote:

The most agonizing problem about the assurance of salvation is not the problem of whether the objective facts of Christianity are true (God exists, Christ is God, Christ died for sinners, Christ rose from the dead, Christ saves forever all who believe, etc.). Those facts are the utterly crucial bedrock of our faith. But the really agonizing problem of assurance is whether I personally am saved by those facts. This boils down to whether I have saving faith. What makes this agonizing – for many in the history of the church and today – is that there are people who think they have saving faith but don’t. For example, in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

So the agonizing question for some is: do I really have saving faith? Is my faith real? Am I self-deceived? Some well-intentioned people try to lessen the problem by making faith a mere decision to affirm certain truths, like the truth: Jesus is God, and he died for my sins. Instead of minimizing the miraculous, deep, transforming nature of faith, and instead of denying that there are necessary life-changes that show the reality of faith, we should tackle the problem of assurance another way. We should begin by realizing that there is an objective warrant for resting in God’s forgiveness of my sins, and there is a subjective warrant for God’s forgiveness of my sins. The objective warrant is the finished work of Christ on the cross that “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). The subjective warrant is our faith which is expressed in “being sanctified.”

John went on to suggest that Biblically speaking saving faith has two parts.

• First, in 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul said that what Satan hinders in the minds of unbelievers is the “seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” For faith to be real there must be a supernatural “light” that God shines into the heart to show us that Christ is glorious and wonderful (2 Corinthians 4:6). This happens as a work of the Spirit of God through the preaching of the gospel.

• Second, faith becomes a practice in our lives of seeing Jesus and His glory more important than our own. We are motivated, not simply by seeing an escape hatch from hell, but by desiring to become what we were made to be – one whose life can bring glory to our Majestic God!

Let me close with a sobering word that I hope will prompt all of us to look more seriously at where we are in our walk.

In his book, Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey wrote, “There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him. “Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons, but the instructor wanted $5 a lesson. That was a lot of money. I found that it was cheaper to pay the bully, so I gave up karate.”

Dear ones, I am concerned that far too many of us have concluded it is much easier to pay the bully than learn how to stand up and defend truth, and ultimately defeat him. The place we live is not always difficult, for God is standing with us – but at the end of the day we were saved into a BATTLEFIELD and not a PLAYGROUND! It is time for us to take our stand – and to do that we must know we are part of the team.