One 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.