Finishing the Pilgrimage means Continuing to Move Forward
Intro: Well morning South Sydney Anglican. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are taking up our PRECIOUS – sermon series – now looking at 2 Peter (instead of 1 Peter). But I still want you to think Pilgrims Progress. The focus is still on finishing the journey to heaven and not being waylaid by sin, false teachers or mockers on the way.
PRAYER: Well are you going to finish the Christian race? In your journey towards heaven (along the narrow path) are you ready for whatever comes round the corner? In this journey or pilgrimage our faith is tested by little things and sometimes big things. Satan is trying to waylay us…
In 1521 – the famous Christian protestant reformer MARTIN LUTHER faced a big test. He was summoned by the Roman Catholic Emperor Charles V – to a special court hearing in Germany. Luther was being accused of HERESY – because he dared to point out the blatant sin (and hypocrisy) in the Catholic church at this time. It really was terrible. Luther was trying to get the church to return to the pure Word of God. But the Catholic church didn’t like their power being challenged. So Luther was summoned to a court hearing. Previously, when the Catholic church called another man named – JAN HUS – to a court hearing like this – they ended up burning him at the stake for heresy, even though his teaching was biblical. So Luther knew that if he went – he might end up dead. If he didn’t go – he’d look like he was guilty. It was a test of his faith…
In the end Luther decided to go and defend his biblical teaching. 25 BOOKS Luther had written – were presented as evidence of heresy. In these books Luther had argued that Christian salvation was by faith alone in the precious blood of Jesus. He had also written in these books against the abuse of Catholic power in a variety of ways. He was asked to renounce all his books and give up his biblical beliefs or face the consequences…
Can you imagine the difficulty? A) Renounce true Christianity and live. B) Stick with your conservative, biblical, Christian beliefs and we will condemn you. In some ways – Christians today – face similar tests in their workplaces and online platforms. In different ways we are being asked to embrace the worlds beliefs, the world’s sexual immorality and killing of the unborn and they will let us live. But if we stick with our conservative biblical beliefs – watch out! Of course, its not quite the same as Luther. But how many Christians are beginning to fold or make compromises in their workplaces that perhaps they shouldn’t?
Luther asked for 24 hours to pray. He came back to court the following day and said (Slide 2). Thankfully, before the court reached an official verdict – Prince Fredrick of Saxony (kind of abducted Luther) and hid him in the Wartburg Castle for the next year. Fredrick defied the Roman Emperors law of the land to uphold a higher law – the law of Christ (and is usually considered a hero of Christianity).
But my main point in the Luther story is – we never really know when our faith will be tested or what is coming at us – around the corner. We assume we are strong and ready enough for anything. But as the pressure to commit apostasy (AND DENY JESUS) becomes more overt in our western world – I think we need 1) a certain humble, prayerful dependence on God, rather than 2) a self-assured cockiness that says; “She’ll be right mate.” Standing for Jesus is not easy.
So today – we are going to look at a little bit of THE BACKGROUND to 2 Peter – before we think about finishing the race…
Context: Peter is about to die and the church is under spiritual attack
Show: 2 Peter 1:1-2 (READ)
Explain: A couple of comments about these opening words that are perhaps significant. First, Peter uses his full name – Simon-Peter – perhaps reflecting both his pre-Christian and post Christian self. He lived a certain way as non-Christian Simon. He now lives a new way as Peter. This transformation of life is an important part of 2 Peter.
Second, Peter reminds his readers that he is AN APOSTLE. Again, the issue of AUTHORITY is a big question in 2 Peter. Whose authority are Christians to obey? In a world full of false teachers Peter makes it clear – that the ultimate authority in the Christian’s life is the Old Testament and New Testament. This is what Peter says in chapter 3 (Slide 3; 2 Peter 3:2). In other words – Peter is saying that when under attack by false teachers – we must stick with the Bible…
Third, (in verse 1) Peter speaks about the righteousness of our God and Saviour – Jesus Christ. The Greek in this passage says – JESUS IS GOD. 1) Jesus Christ is our Saviour and 2) Jesus Christ is God. This is perhaps one of the clearest statements in the Bible that A) Jesus is God and B) Jesus is Saviour. This is perhaps also significant – because MOST HERESIES – actually begin as attacks on Jesus’ identity. Either 1) Jesus is not really God or 2) Jesus is not really human.
In the first century Jesus’ divinity was being challenged because of a famous Greek philosopher NAMED PLATO. Plato had a dualist worldview and he claimed the world of God and the world of men can’t interact. Basically, Plato argued that the world of God is perfect idea and the world of man is corrupt matter. So the two worlds can’t come coexist. So when Christians started saying the two worlds did coexist in Jesus – everyone influenced by Plato (and everyone was influenced Plato) started to question Jesus’ divinity. So, Peter clearly begins this book saying, Jesus is our God and our Saviour. OUR PRECIOUS CHRISTIAN FAITH is based on the belief Jesus is fully God and fully man.
Fourth, in verse 2 – you will see the word “KNOWLEDGE”. Peter says; Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God. (Slide 4). In Greek the word knowledge is GNOSIS – you’ll see it in verse 2, 3, 5, 6 & 8. That’s a lot of references to “knowledge” at the beginning of this book. Now in the second century AD – a very big heresy started in the early church called Gnosticism – which comes from the word knowledge or gnosis. It was a blending of Christianity with Plato’s dual worldview. Gnosticism was based on SECRET KNOWLEDGE about angels. The Gnostics claimed that angels (NOT JESUS) were the intermediaries that BRIDGED the gap between God’s world and man’s world. Also because God’s world and mans world did not join – what people did with their bodies sexually or with gluttony didn’t really matter. Gnosticism was all about having a pure spirit, not a pure body. Now Gnosticism really began to emerge in the C2nd AD. But most Christian scholars think that in 2 Peter, Peter is beginning to attack some of the ideas that eventually formed Gnosticism. I think this is right. So here is the summary…
Show: (Slide 6; Key Ideas & Departure)
Apply: As you can see Peter anticipates he will soon die. Now we know from church history that Peter and Paul were both executed by the Emperor Nero in about 67-68AD. So perhaps PETER AND PAUL are in adjoining jail cells. Peter writing 2 Peter (his last letter) and Paul writing two Timothy (his last words). There are similarities as they both speak of their imminent “departure” from this world…
Point 1: Christians have everything they need for Godliness
Show: 2Pet.3:3-4 (READ)
Explain: Please notice that God has GIVEN US EVERYTHING we need for a godly life. The word godly or godliness (here) has to do with 1) piety, 2) true Christian discipline and 3) being like God. Now I know many of you and your crazy back stories. But Peter is saying everyone here (who is a genuine Christian) has everything they need to be godly.
Peter is saying (even if you have a history of addiction, you’ve developed bad sexual habits or just become insanely greedy and materialistic) with Jesus you have everything you need to live a new godly life. With Jesus you have the ability to stop being SIMON (pre-Christian self) and become PETER (post-Christian self). Of course, we all make EXCUSES for lack of godliness. We especially love making excuses for ungodly behaviour AND dabbling with our preferred vices when life is tough or hard. But Peter begins this book reminding us that God’s divine power (THE HOLY SPIRIT) has given us everything we need for a godly life. In relationship with Jesus you can become godly. But do you want to be godly or do you just want KNOWLEDGE?
It took me a long time to recognize this fault in myself. In becoming 1)a Christian, 2) going through Bible college and 3) becoming a young pastor I was far more interested in attaining BIBLICAL KNOWLEDGE than biblical godliness. I listened to sermons to gain knowledge, not godliness. I went to Bible study to gain knowledge (and to show off my knowledge). But godliness, well that was simply an after-thought. Really my goal was more and more knowledge.
But please notice that in verse 3; Peter says “we have everything we need for godliness, through our knowledge of him.” KNOWLEDGE is simply the MEANS to the end, not the END itself. Your goal should not be knowledge. It should be godliness. In verse 4 – Peter goes on to speak about God’s great and precious promises – so that you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of this world.
Now what is GOD’S DIVINE NATURE? Well God is God, so His divine nature is GODLY, or GODLINESS. And God wants us to participate in his divine nature of being godly. God’s nature is the opposite of corruption or evil (end of verse 4). And you as a Christian 1) by faith in Jesus, 2) through the power of the Holy Spirit 3) clinging to the Bible as your absolute authority can actually become like God in terms of godliness. Yes, you may be close to being a TRAIN-WRECK happening in slow motion. But through faith in Jesus – you can stop being Simon and you can become Peter. But do you want to?
Illustrate: Right now, there are ALL SORTS OF CHURCHES in Sydney where you can basically design your own version of Christianity. If you want to be a Christian and do drugs – I’m sure you can probably find a Bob Marley – Rastafarian church. If you want to continue in sexual immorality and call yourself a Christian – well there is the Metro church and many others. If you want to be greedy, selfish and materialistic and call yourself a Christian – well there are heaps of prosperity gospel churches to pick from. Plenty of churches will tell you what you want to hear. They’ll tell you – you can be a Christian AND you can do whatever you want with your body – it doesn’t matter. But that’s not true Christianity.
Apply: CHRISTIANITY IS NOT just about going to heaven when we die. Christianity is about Jesus SAVING US really and truly from the corruption and evil in this world. True Christianity is about becoming more and more like God, the longer you are a Christian. That’s how you finish the pilgrimage. You need to become more and more like God…
Point 2: Christians should be Growing in Godliness
Show: 2Pet.1:5-9 (READ)
Explain: Well Peter seems to have the Christian doctrines of JUSTIFICATION and SANCTIFICATION in mind – as he writes these words. PLEASE NOTE; Peter begins with FAITH. Peter says “make every effort to add to your faith – goodness.” The Christian life begins with faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. (GOSPEL) AS SAVIOUR – Christians believe Jesus died for our sins. There was a PENALTY for SIN and DISOBEYING God – that is death and hell. But Jesus saved us from this death and hell, by dying in our place for our sins. He took the punishment for you – because he loves you. Now you either believe that is true or you don’t believe that is true. But the Bible says – that if you really do believe Jesus died for you and you ask God to forgive you – you are forgiven. You are pardoned…
Now the Bible calls this step of faith – “JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH.” THE MINUTE you really believe in Jesus (and accept him as your Saviour) – God declares you not guilty. God pardons all your sins. THIS IS JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE IN JESUS. This means that if you really become a Christian (and put your faith in Jesus) you are going to heaven.
But being a Christian ALSO MEANS you accept JESUS IS LORD in your life. That means you really do believe Jesus is God in the flesh. So as you accept A) Jesus as Saviour (who died for you), you also accept B) Jesus as your Lord and King – who you will obey. This decision to follow Jesus and obey Jesus – begins a process called SANCTIFICATION BY FAITH – that happens over your Christian life. Little by little – you become more and more obedient; more and more godly. JUSTIFICATION is the once for all decision to become a Christian. SANCTIFICATION is the daily decision – yes, I’m going to try to obey Jesus again today. This means there is no sanctification, without the first step of justification by faith. But there is no real justification by faith, if sanctifying faith doesn’t follow each day…
Peter explains that real Christian faith (the sort of faith that really saves us) will produce fruits of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly love and agape love. This is simply Peter’s version of James – who says faith without works is dead. Well Peter is saying the same thing. Real Christian faith that justifies a sinner will in time MANIFEST ITSELF in goodness, growing knowledge of God, self-control, perseverance, godliness – philadelphia brotherly love and agape Christian love. (Please note – nowhere in this list is the word NICE. The word “nice” is not in the Bible. We are meant to be good).
Now there is definitely a climax to this list of Christian traits. We are aiming as Christians for godliness, brotherly love and ultimately agape love. Real Christian faith must express itself in good deeds and a transformed life – otherwise it is probably not real saving faith.
Now look again at verse 8 (READ). Notice the words INCREASING MEASURE… Its not enough to have been good once or twice. You know I remember I was good once in 1987, and again in 2003 when I helped a homeless person. Or, I was self-controlled, and gave up alcohol for two days in 2012. NO. PETER SAYS we must have all these Christian character traits in INCREASING MEASURE so that we are not ineffective or unproductive for Jesus.
Now of course, as sinners this is A BATTLE. It is very hard to be SELF-CONTROLLED if you’ve developed an addiction – to porn, drugs or gambling. It is very hard to show AGAPE LOVE – when your neighbours or parents are idiots. But remember Peter said – God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. Now you may stumble many times; and many times you may need to cast yourself on God’s mercy and forgiveness. But if you are a genuine Christian – you should have more of these things in your life now, than last year and definitely more than a year before that. You should also be stumbling less and less…
Apply: Now Peter says if you are not growing as a Christian, you are a useless Christian. You are INEFFECTIVE and UNPRODUCTIVE for God. In other words useless. It is only as you turn your faith into goodness and godliness etc etc that you become a useful Christian. But do you see – your calling to holiness or are you blind?
Point 3: Christians who are Growing in Godliness will get Rich Welcome
Show: 2Pet.1:10-11 (READ)
Explain: Well Peter now explains that if we have the above Christian character traits (beginning with faith and ending in agape love) – IN INCREASING MEASURE – we will 1) be effective and productive for God, 2) we will not stumble too badly and 3) we will receive a rich welcome at the pearly gates.
But what are the implications if we don’t have these things in increasing measure? Let’s just imagine, we say A SINNER’S PRAYER once. We’re kind of sincere – when we prayed. But year, after year we continue in blatant sin. We don’t know our Bibles any better; we are just as bad with self-control as the day we were saved? Is there still assurance of salvation? Or should we question whether such a person is really saved? Peter is clear that if you don’t have GODLINESS in increasing measure – you are an ineffective and unproductive servant. And a useless servant cannot expect Jesus to say; “Well done good and faithful servant”, on judgment day. But worst yet, Peter says that if you do not have godliness in increasing measure – you will A) STUMBLE in your journey towards heaven and you will B) NOT RECEIVE a rich welcome at the pearly gates. That’s serious…
Now you may think; “Oh well, if I stumble and fall over, I’ll just pick myself up, wipe myself off and get back on the path to heaven.” But how badly, can a lazy Christian stumble and fall? This is A LIVE QUESTION in 1 Peter. Could a lazy, carnal Christian stumble and fall so badly – that they lose their salvation?
Illustrate: Many years ago the Johnson family did a famous hike in Glacier National Park in Montana. (Slide 9 & 10). It’s called THE HIGHLINE TRAIL. It goes along a very high cliff edge with truly spectacular views. But there are many places in that hike where stumbling and falling is a death sentence. If you stumble in the wrong place or at the wrong moment – you die. There is no getting back up. There is no dusting yourself off. The key is; “Make sure you do not stumble.”
Apply: I say this because in some versions of Calvinism; or Sovereign Grace; or perseverance of the saints; or once saved always saved – you hear pastors say things like; “if you are a genuine born-again Christian you cannot stumble and fall and lose your salvation. It is impossible.” Now theologically that might be true. Jesus says; “nothing and no one can snatch us from his hand.” (jn.10:28-29). Romans says nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Rom.8:37-39). So salvation is entirely by God’s grace.
But I assure you that NO WHERE IN THE BIBLE are we encouraged to put the doctrine of election or the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints – to the test. NO WHERE IN THE BIBLE are we told to go bungee jumping without a cord or skydiving without a parachute. To the contrary – Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure footed – by having the Christian character traits mentioned today in increasing measure. AN IMPORTANT REASON why real Christians do not stumble and fall beyond recovery, is that real Christians are not so dumb as to ignore Peters words today. SO REMEMBER – increasing measure. REMEMBER – make your calling and election – sure footed and do not stumble. Life is full of trials. People are trying to take you off the narrow path. And you never know when (SLIDE 14) one of these may come round the corner ON THE HIGHLINE TRAIL (or in the Christian life).