Tuesday, March 22, 2011

II Peter 3:17 Four Imperatives of a Forward Looking Faith Part III

The Bible is a simple yet complicated book. It’s simple enough that there is truth that a child can understand yet complicated to the point that men and women have devoted their whole to the study of it and still feel they have barely scratched the surface of what’s there. Because of its simplicity and its profundity, the Bible touches all believers that study it. In fact, I would dare say that no one can truly study scripture, come face to face with the truth it reveals, and walk away unchanged. The truth of God’s word should change how we think and how we live. As Peter has noted in these concluding verses of his second epistle, because of the truth of God’s word our faith is a forward looking faith—we look to the future where sin will be done away with and Christ will reign to the glory of God the Father. To that end, Peter gives us here two last imperatives of a forward looking faith.

The first of these imperatives comes as a warning in verse 17—“be on your guard”. Notice further in the verse that Peter’s audience, and by implication us as well, have motivation to be on guard (present tense in the Greek—better translated “be on your guard continually”). They have been forewarned about the false teachers and heresy that is coming and therefore they “[know] this beforehand.” Now, I grew up in South Alabama and we had hurricanes occasionally. One in particular was pretty devastating but one thing that I learned was you are given fair warning. Like 2 days out they are able to predict with a fair degree of accuracy where that sucker is going to hit so if you’re in a mobile home or a low lying area you should have time to get someplace safe. Generally speaking, you have ample time to prepare. Now, Peter has written this book warning them that “there will also be false teachers among you” (2:1) and he has even told them the sorts of lies they would teach (3:3). Therefore, as a result of knowing what was coming, Peter gives them a command to “be on [their] guard”—they are to act as spiritual night watchmen, looking out for danger because, rest assured, danger is coming.

They need to be on guard because these false teachers could seduce them with false teaching. His readers, if they are not watchful, could be “carried away by the error of unprincipled men”. These unprincipled (lawless) men would come and teach doctrine that was contrary to the truth that had been taught by Peter and the other apostles. Their “error” would be presented by these false teachers as if it were true and if accepted by the church would put the souls of men and women in danger—the gospel saves, false doctrine does not. Because of that, it was paramount that these believers, and those of us reading Peter’s letter today as well, stay on their toes and be on the lookout for false doctrine so that it didn’t pollute the life saving message of the gospel.

Now, if these people to whom Peter wrote were to be deceived and follow these false teachers (which I’m sure happened then and certainly happens now) it would mean them “fall[ing] from [their] own steadfastness”. That steadfastness, of course, was the bedrock truth of God’s word. False doctrine provides no support, no foundation for anything. In contrast, the truth of scripture is a solid rock on which to build (Matthew 7:24-26) and no one who builds on it will be ashamed. The way to prevent falling for a slick snake oil salesman peddling false doctrine, then, is to study the scriptures and by studying them come to know more fully the God of the Bible.

Friends, false doctrine was not just a problem in the early church. As we have seen in recent days, it’s a problem here and now. Just like Peter, I exhort you to cling to the truth of God’s word. There is no better way to defend yourself against the lies of Satan than studying the truth of God’s word.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Matthew 9:3-8 True Spiritual Blindness

Almost two years ago, my retina in my right eye (my one good eye) detached. I was laid up for about 2 weeks after the surgery unable to see well at all. In fact, initially, I was blind as a bat. I was blessed to have a great surgeon (Dr. Trent Wallace) do an excellent job and I am now able to see pretty much like I could before. The Pharisees, though, had a blindness that even my friend Dr. Wallace couldn’t cure. They could see fine, physically. Spiritually, however, they were blind to the truth even though Truth Himself, Jesus Christ, was staring them right in the face.

Now, remember that Jesus has just performed an amazing miracle here—He has just forgiven a man of his sins based on faith. What an amazing, beautiful thing for these people to be privileged to witness. However, the reaction of the scribes was not one of praise and thanksgiving to God. Rather, they were incensed that Jesus would proclaim this man to be forgiven.

Actually, the principal behind their indignation was actually correct. For someone to declare to a person “Your sins are forgiven” would be blasphemy, as they correctly observe in verse 3 of this chapter. I mean, I couldn’t make that statement. You couldn’t do that. Oh, we can forgive people when they wrong us and we can declare to someone that has trusted in Christ that their sins are forgiven because the Bible says so. But we can’t ultimately forgive any person for their sins eternally—only God can do that.

However, Jesus is God. “Maybe they didn’t know it” one might argue. I would invite you to look at the parallel account of this story in Mark 2:1-13. Mark includes some details for us that Matthew wasn’t inspired by God to record (such as the homeowners got a brand new skylight [v. 4]). Notice in verse 2 that Mark records that Jesus was “speaking the word to them”. Christ was preaching and they heard Him. Now, I dare say that it is more than reasonable to assume that as He spoke it was obvious who He was. I cannot imagine someone hearing Christ preach and not having sufficient evidence just in His words that He was God in human flesh. Further, this was not the first miracle recorded in Matthew’s gospel nor was it the first one that Jesus had performed. His forgiving of this man’s sins was one of many miracles that had no doubt been talked about all around the land of Palestine. Therefore, these men had plenty of evidence of who Christ was and they chose to reject it. Their spiritual eyes were blinded to the truth.

Jesus, because He was God and omnipotent, knew what they were thinking. In fact, even someone who wasn’t omnipotent could probably have read their facial expression and gotten a pretty good idea of what was in their heads. Christ called their thoughts what they were in verse 4—“evil”. They had taken a work of the Holy Spirit, this man being forgiven of his sins, and called such a proclamation an offense against God when it was God Himself doing the forgiving.

He then sets before them a pretty imposing question in verse 5— "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, and walk'? Now, I think you could understand this question in two ways. Which would be easier to say and actually have the power to do or which would be easier to say and not be able to prove it. Well, one could say the words “Your sins are forgiven” and not be able to back it up but it would be hard to have tangible proof that what you said wasn’t true. If you said “Get up and walk” and the person couldn’t do it, well, everyone would know then that you were a shyster. But as miraculous as being able to heal someone who could not walk would be, the ability to cleanse someone from their sins and declare them righteous before a holy God is infinitely more imposing a task. To prove to them that “the Son of Man [had] authority on earth to forgive sins” He healed the man of his impotent limbs. Not only was the man spiritually whole, which was by far the greater miracle, he now could walk. He wasn’t dependant on having other people carry him everywhere anymore. He was now able bodied and could do things for himself that he was not able to do before. Notice, those of you who claim that physical healing comes with spiritual healing, that the healing of his legs took place after his sins were forgiven and it took place only to prove a point.

Now, it’s easy for us to look at the religious leaders of the day and say “How could they miss it?” Brothers and sisters, how could we miss it? We have all the evidence we need to convince any sane person to follow Christ as Lord. Do we really do that? Are we willing to follow a Savior who has so graciously performed in our lives the greatest miracle of all—He has forgiven our sins? We dare not count such a blessing as cheap. Let’s take note of the spiritual blindness of the scribes and Pharisees and follow Christ as if our spiritual eyes have been opened…because they have been.

Monday, March 14, 2011

II Peter 3:16b Attributes of Scripture Part II

I took a class last fall called “The Doctrine of Scripture” and learned that theologians describe the word of God as having four attributes which I remember by using the acrostic CANS—Clarity, Authority, Necessity, and Sufficiency. In our previous examination we noted that Peter taught in the 15th verse of this chapter as well as the first part of verse 16 that scripture has authority. In other words, when we read scripture we’re not only reading something Paul, Peter, or Moses wrote (or dictated as the case may be) but we are reading the very words of God and, as such, those words have authority. To disobey the word of God is to disobey God and incur the consequences of that disobedience. As we continue to examine verse 16, we will see that Peter refers to another attribute of scripture—its clarity.

For instance, Peter says that Paul writes things in his epistles and that “some things are hard to understand”. Now, as one reads through scripture, the find cause frequently to give a hearty “Amen” to Peter’s statement. I mean, bless Paul’s heart, the man could start a sentence at the beginning of a chapter, interrupt himself 3 times, and not finish the sentence till nearly the end of the chapter. Not only is his writing “thick” and hard to wade through sometimes, but he tackled the most complex theological topics ever and for thousands of year’s people have being trying to sort them out. The doctrine of election is one such doctrine. The state of Israel and the church (Romans 9-11) is another. Furthermore, it’s not just Paul’s writings that have difficult subjects but the entire Bible has difficulties that have challenged men and women with more intellect that I’ve got. The fact is there are things in the Bible that are “hard to understand”.

But not all of it is hard. Notice, Peter says “some” of these topics in Paul’s writings are hard to understand. There is material that even a child can grasp in the pages of scripture—truths that can lead that little one to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In short, we can see here that scripture has the attribute of clarity. However, it is not all equally clear. We can understand some parts pretty easily while others are a challenge that we can spend our entire lives wrestling with. The fact is, the difficulties in the text does not mean that the Lord does not speak clearly in scripture. It means that our minds are finite and there are some things we will never be able to grasp here in this life.

However, the difficulties in scripture, while they give us the opportunity to spend a lifetime learning new things about God, also present a danger. Some people take the word of God and “distort” (literally—twist as on a torture rack) it for their own purposes (2:3). Peter uses two words to describe these deceivers: “untaught” and “unstable”. He’s already used the term “unstable” in 2:14. Rather than having a solid foundation of sure, biblical truth, these false teachers standing on their false doctrine are unstable like the man in Matthew 7 who rejected the words of Jesus and found his house (life) built on shifting sands. Further, Peter refers to them as untaught. Now, this might seem kind of funny coming from a professional fisherman. Peter was not a trained theologian. He didn’t go to seminary. Certainly, like all Jewish boys, he had some religions education but he was not a Pharisee or a scribe. In fact, in Acts, the religious leaders observed that he, James, and John were men without learning (Acts 4:13). I know there are a good number of people with lots of degrees from seminaries who don’t know the Lord Jesus as Savior but actually deny the gospel. Therefore, I don’t think Peter is here teaching us that we have to have advanced degrees to read and understand scripture. I think when he says “untaught” he means undisciplined in thinking a certain way. Before we are saved and before the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts, we can only think and perceive things like a totally depraved sinner. However, after we are reborn and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are able to begin to truly understand biblical truth (I Cor 2:14-15).

As we reflect on these truths, we should remember most of all the point Peter leaves us with in this verse. These false teachers employ their scripture twisting techniques to their own harm. Ultimately, their rejection of the truth will end in their “own destruction”. God will judge those who reject the truth. Those who ignore the clarity and authority of scripture do so to the own ultimate doom.