THRIVING IN THE FACE OF THREAT
Equipped for Spiritual Survival and Growth in a Dangerous World
2 Peter 1:1-4
Series: Wide-Awake Living
Grace Community Church
November 16, 2008
I have a couple of stories to tell you this morning. These are tales of two pilots who experienced the ultimate problem a pilot will ever face - conditions in which continued flight is impossible and a crash is inevitable. The first is a pilot named Franco. His accident happened in a Cessna twin on January 17, 1998. He and a friend, who was piloting the plane, left Reno, Nevada, and crashed for unknown reasons near Carson City. The aircraft broke into several pieces, and the other pilot with Franco was ejected and died.
The clearing where the aircraft came to rest was covered with several feet of snow. Franco regained consciousness while upside down, still strapped into the seat, able to touch the snow in front of his face. He had broken ankles, a severe compound fracture of the femur, and other injuries. The temperature was about 25 degrees (F), the winds were gusting and he was getting very cold. He released his restraints, fell into the snow, crawled to the badly damaged fuselage and forced his way inside. There he put on a ski jacket and additional clothing to stay warm. He found his own flight bag and retrieved the handheld radio he always carries when he flies. Fortunately, he makes it a point to always keep the battery charged up. Finally, a Nevada Air National Guard C-130 heard the weak transmission and began the search-and-rescue. Just before it got dark and a major storm blew in, he was rescued. After hours of surgery to repair broken ankles and legs, and sporting multiple steel pins and rods, he eventually made a full recovery.
A post-mortem examination of the pilot's body revealed that he had sustained minor injuries including bruises, cuts, and abrasions during the crash. The cause of death was attributed to hypothermia. When found, he was wearing a flight suit over dress clothes, a flight jacket, and dress shoes. There was no survival kit or survival equipment found in the aircraft. His survival kit was found in the trunk of the car at the airport. Additional information gathered from the CAP indicated that the pilot was well-acquainted with survival in the field and, in fact, was a survival instructor for the CAP.
What are the lessons to be learned from these two accidents? First and foremost, both of these people survived the crash. While Franco was seriously injured, the CAP pilot had only minimal injuries. Survival in both cases depended on what the people did, and what they had with them when they crashed.
I’m sharing these stories with you today to help you begin to get a sense of what the apostle Peter was feeling as he sat down to write what might well have been his last letter. We know that letter as 2 Peter, a brief letter to other followers of Jesus scattered throughout the world of his day. Peter has a keen sense of what his fellow-believers would face. He’s a prisoner of the Roman emperor, Nero, a notoriously evil and ill-tempered person, and he knew that his days on earth were numbered. His last task is to equip his friends to face the monumental challenges his world would throw at the young church he would leave behind and he was helping equip them to avoid a fatal crash. That’s why he says in 2 Peter 1:12-15: So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
As the letter develops, Peter makes it obvious that there are clear and present dangers to the church. Most of us know churches and individual Christians who have impacted some mountainous obstruction that the world throws up and they have not survived as effective Christians. These obstructions include false teachings, moral traps, and personal circumstances that can bring a high-flying Christian down to earth abruptly. Are you equipped to not only survive a world and its culture that is increasingly hostile to followers of Jesus, but thrive? It’s been interesting to observe people’s response after last week’s election. Some of you are euphoric and filled with hope, and others of you are in despair, seriously wondering if Obama is the antichrist. To hear some people talk, it has now become officially impossible to live the Christian life in this country. I’d like to point you to Peter, who lived in a world ruled by a chaotic dictator given to whims of cruelty unimagined in any corner of our world today, as far from a God-fearing man as one can get.
But totally apart from political considerations, we live in a dangerous world, and Peter is telling us what we have in our survival pack, so to speak, and urges us to use it. There are no imperatives, or commands, in the first four verses we’ll look at today. It’s DESCRIPTIVE of what Christians possess, not PRESCRIPTIVE of what we are to do. He’s simply telling us how it is for anyone who has come in faith to Jesus and has been born into God’s family through the new life given by God’s Holy Spirit. The central statement in these four verses is v. 3: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Peter’s thesis is very clear: YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED RIGHT NOW TO FACE WHATEVER LIFE THROWS AT YOU. God has equipped you to not only survive, but thrive even in an environment that might appear to be inhospitable to following Christ. In this letter, Peter describes the primary threats we face.
As we go through this letter, you’ll see that not only is there danger to believing Christians from false teaching and moral traps, there is a clear and present danger to the world. There is an ultimate accountability the world and its system will face, and there is an ultimate judgment that will be so complete that nothing of the original creation will remain. It will all be burned to a powdery ash, and God will re-create it. That’s where the world is headed, and this letter is a warning to anyone who has not received the gift of eternal life through Jesus. You can breathe easy on that score if you have received that gift. You will not be subject to that judgment. Jesus has taken that judgment on Himself for you on the cross. You are encouraged to live in that hope. However, Peter also warns us of the danger that the corruption of our decaying world will rub off on those of us who rely on the name of Christ for our eternal salvation. You can almost hear some Christians saying, “Well, I’m safe from the ‘big burn.’ So I’m kind of free to dabble in stuff of the world. It’s kind of appealing.” That’s the equivalent of leaving the survival bag in the trunk when you take off. Christians can crash and burn; not in the eternal sense, but in this life. And it can be very painful and damaging to the person and to the cause of Christ’s kingdom. Peter longs to equip his readers so they can avoid that fate and live in victory and spiritual health.
So what is it exactly that God provides us in this ‘survival pack’ that Christians receive? Peter identifies it in v. 1: To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received A FAITH as precious as ours:
“The FAITH” here describes the sum total of our relationship with God through believing faith. This is one of two key words in these four verses; the other is the “PROMISES” of v. 4: …He has given us his very great and precious promises… The promises of God are the guarantee of His provision, which is the faith that we hold in our Lord Jesus Christ. As I said, these four verses DESCRIBE the privileges we have; they are God’s gift to us, and it’s not until v. 5 where Peter tells us how to respond to this “very great and precious” gift. THEN he says, …make every effort to add to your faith…, and then he encourages us to move forward.
When I was a child, occasionally I’d go roam around the bottom lands of the Missouri River in South Dakota where our small town was located. My mom would pack a lunch for me, along with a few other little things she knew I’d probably need. I learned to live in the assurance that in my little pack was everything necessary for my trek. In that same way, God has given you everything you need for your trek through this world and beyond. Let’s look at how Peter describes the FAITH we have received. And recognize that when Peter describes how we “have received a faith,” he’s not just talking about the act of believing, or trusting, in the Lord Jesus. He’s talking about the whole body of the gift of our salvation. First of all …
I. In our faith, Jesus Christ is CENTRAL, v. 1-2
Man is not central in these first four verses – Jesus Christ is. It is His righteousness which saves us (v. 1). It is through knowing Him that grace and peace come to us in abundance (v. 2). It is His divine power that gives us everything necessary for life and godliness (v. 3). It is He who called you to Himself. He took the initiative to bring you to that faith in Him (v. 3). I have observed, as many of you have, how common it is for even Christians to freely use the name of God in conversation but not use the name of Jesus. What would happen if in the seventh-inning stretch of a baseball game someone sang, “Jesus, You‘re my Firm Foundation,” instead of “God Bless America?” It is the Person and work of Jesus that false teachers target. This was true from the very foundation of the church, as Paul recognized when he expressed his concern to the Corinthian Christian. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3) The “grace and peace” Peter prays for his readers to possess (v. 2) comes only through a “knowledge of…Jesus our Lord.” This “knowledge” is not just ‘knowing about.’ It’s knowledge on an experiential level, and it’s the kind of knowledge that only comes through a relationship. This is an interesting word in the Greek text. It’s a compound word with the word ‘knowledge‘ (gnosis) with a prefix ‘epi’ that adds the idea of a ‘fullness of knowledge.’ When we talk about ‘knowing Jesus,’ we’re not talking about acknowledging His historical existence. It’s having entered into an eternal relationship with Him through believing faith.
Peter also teaches us that…
II. Our faith rests on the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God, v. 1
Peter addresses his letter (v. 1)To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Our problem is our sin, or unrighteousness, which eternally separates us from God and makes us subject to His ultimate judgment. But God gave you His righteousness through the Person and work of Jesus. We told people in the JH gospel presentation room that no human being who ever lived can meet God’s standard of perfection. The picture that I get in my head is how at the moment of our salvation, or new birth, God drapes the robe or garment of righteousness over us so that when He looks at us, all He sees is that goodness of His Son, Jesus. He’s the one who took on human flesh and demonstrated His sinless perfection by perfectly living that life of righteousness.
(Optional story) I heard a story of a man who took his young son and his son’s friends to the carnival. He bought a long string of tickets and throughout the evening different kids in the group came up to him and said, “I need four tickets for a ride…I need 2 tickets for a hot dog,” and so on. At one point as the dad was handing out tickets, he saw a face in the group he didn’t recognize. He said, “Wait a minute. Who are you?” The boy pointed to the dad’s son and said, “That’s my new friend, and he said if I came to you, you’d give me a ticket.” So he did. That’s the way it is in the Christian life. Our relationship with Jesus – the “faith” Peter is talking about – is the ticket, so to speak, to receiving all the things that are part of this wonderful gift: grace and peace, everything we need for life and godliness, the great and precious promises.
Third, Peter makes another very important point…
III. Our faith is a gift of SOVEREIGN GRACE, v. 1.
Nowhere here does Peter speak of what we do to merit this gift. Our faith and all its benefits is not some mix of what we can do for God and then He throws in the balance where we can’t quite measure up. Peter says we “have RECEIVED a faith…” (v. 1). Other translations use the word “obtained,” as opposed to “attained.” The word “received” or “obtained” is a somewhat unusual term in the New Testament, appearing only four times. It’s a term that gives no credit to the person receiving whatever it is. Sometimes it was used in that day to refer to something that comes to a person by lot. In Luke 1, Zechariah the priest’s division was on duty, and the text says he was chosen by lot (Luke 1:9-10) to go into the temple of the Lord to burn incense. There he encountered the infant Jesus. He “received” the assignment in the same way we “receive” our faith.
If a person makes wise investments and gets a large return, he might take pride in his accomplishment. But if a person wins the lottery, he can feel no sense of pride in the outcome because it had nothing to do with his merit, or worthiness. It simply fell to his lot to win. The illustration has obvious limitations because we receive the gift of faith by God’s purpose, not by chance, but it’s somewhat that way with our “receiving” of the faith in which we stand. While we willingly received the gift, it was given by grace so that we could take no pride in it. That’s the point of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:8,9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast.
Peter also makes the point that…
IV. This faith is a TRANSFORMING FAITH, v. 3-4
Look at v. 3: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Here’s where the ‘full knowledge’ of v. 2 that speaks of a heart-relationship with Jesus becomes the ‘full knowledge’ (same word) that transforms our lives. Through God’s power, we have everything we need to get to Heaven – that’s v. 1-2 – and we have everything we need for ‘life and godliness’ down here. That’s v. 3-4. Actually, I think he may be thinking about ‘life’ in v. 3 as eternal life. He has two goals for us. Eternal life and godliness; moral and spiritual transformation now, and hope for life in the world to come. The ‘full knowledge’ of Jesus as Savior now also includes learning to know Him better so that we can live transformed lives.
You can see how this worked in Peter’s own life. The Peter we find in the Gospels was transformed in exactly the way he writes about here. The man who once argued with his friends about who was the greatest in the kingdom now speaks of himself as a servant (v. 1). The man who rebuked his Lord and tried to prevent Him from suffering is now the man who writes of the glory of his own suffering and ours as well (cf 1 Peter).The man who would not take the Gospel to Gentiles and thought of Gentile converts to Christ as second-class saints (cf Galatians 2:11-21) now speaks of them as equals (1:1). Peter was transformed. He had everything he needed at the moment he entered the kingdom through faith in Jesus. But he had to act on that faith. A baby is born with everything necessary – all the parts are there. But that little person will never become all that she can be unless she grows. That’s why it is one of our primary aims to ground you in God’s Word so that you can become a fully capable, mature follower of Jesus in this life.
Peter knows that the “false gospels” of false teachers leads to a life of self-indulgence (see later) and corruption; “full knowledge” of Christ of the kind that leads to a life of godliness is something we learn. We are rightly warned about the danger of a sterile faith – of a ‘head knowledge’ that doesn’t touch the heart. But we need to be equally careful about a ‘heart knowledge’ that never touches the head. Too many Christians know too little about their faith. They’re often unprepared to explain how God differs from the god of the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims. And so we’re vulnerable to the variety of religious philosophies that masquerade as Christianity.
Let me point out several things about this life-transforming faith. First…
A. The SOURCE of our transformation is God’s power, v. 3. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. This is a very humbling sentence. When it comes to both our eternal hope and a God-honoring life, we must have everything provided for us from outside. It doesn’t mean we are passive. What it does mean is that THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS NOT MERELY A SET OF DOCTRINES TO BE ACCEPTED, IT IS A POWER TO BE EXPERIENCED. It means that every morning when you get up, you consciously open yourself to God’s presence and power to face the day. Second…
B. The MEANS of our transformation is knowledge of God and His Son, Jesus, v. 3. We’ve talked some about that already. But the KNOWLEDGE of God has content – knowledge without promise that God will act within and for us is empty. That’s why, third…
C. The HOPE before our transformation is the promises of God, v. 4. Through these (His glory and goodness, v. 3) he has given us his very great and precious promises… This is one of those “now but not yet” things. We have the promise of God’s power and presence for now, but the fullest realization of that will come in the next world. But that doesn’t cancel out the significance of how we live in THIS world. Jesus taught us to pray, “may your will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven…” God’s promises are like a wedding vow – a promise of a promise. The couple standing on stage are making a real and present vow that will be lived out immediately and into the future. One more thought…
D. The RESULT of our transformation are participation in the divine nature and escape from the world’s corruption, v. 4. You can be an escapee from the trap of the world’s system that promises, contrary to God’s promises, that you will be happier if you lie on your income tax return because you’ll have more money; if you divorce your spouse, you’ll be happier and more fulfilled; if you don’t upset your neighbor by sharing Christ you’ll have a happier relationship with them. The world’s corruption is evident, and in many cases, absolutely awful. But we tend to lose sight of God’s promises and brush up against the edges of that corruption, staining ourselves in the process. Unless we have God’s promises of abundant life by following Jesus closely filling our vision, we are vulnerable to temptation and the teachings of false religiosity. But if, through a growing knowledge of Jesus Christ, we keep in front of our noses one or two precious and very great promises, we will not be nearly as vulnerable to temptation. The best strategy for avoiding the corruption of the world is to bring so much good stuff into your life that the bad stuff has no room to operate. That’s even more important than fighting the bad stuff. Just trying to experience transformation by being more and more religious is as futile as spraying a can of air freshener at the city landfill. It starts with learning to know Jesus more and more. We’re not about preaching a religion here, it’s to promote a relationship.
I know we’re not big on liturgies and the quoting of creeds here, but sometimes I think we miss something the fathers of our faith understood. I’m moved by the answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism: What is your only comfort in life and death?
“That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Where, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.”
Did you catch that last part? God enables us to become HEARTILY WILLING AND READY to live for Him.
These four verses tell us what we have in our faith. It’s our survival pack – but it’s much more than that. If we ignore the gift we have and the resources available, it will be of no more use to us in terms of ‘life and godliness’ than that survival pack in the trunk of that pilot’s car was useful to him. What we have is all that is necessary for us to grow and thrive and be escapees of the world’s fate, both here and hereafter.
I must ask the question of you this morning – do you ‘know’ Jesus in the way Peter is describing? Have you received the gift of His grace, and the peace with and the peace of God that accompanies it? If you do know Jesus, is that grace and peace yours ‘in abundance’ as you grow in your knowledge of Him?