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June 1, 2008

Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen (2 Peter 3:17-18; NIV).

2 Peter is about the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. God has given you everything you need for life in knowing his Son. If you are in Christ, the Son of God is for you, with you, and in you in every circumstance you face, in every season of your life, from now to eternity.

How you face life as a Christian

That is an amazing promise, and it runs throughout the New Testament. “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19 AV). “I can do everything through [Christ] who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). Christ says to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

That’s how you face life as a Christian! Thank God that being a Christian is more than believing a creed. It is more than adopting a way of life. It is knowing, enjoying, and living on the power and presence of Jesus Christ in your life.

That’s what this letter is about: The sufficiency of Jesus Christ for everything you will ever face at any time in your life. My aim for this series has been that you will see what you have in Christ. That you will embrace him with greater confidence and with greater joy, and that you will prove him in the hardest circumstance of your life.

As we’ve moved through this series, we’ve seen that in Christ, you have everything you need for life, growth, faith, deliverance, patience, hope, and today, everything you need for action.

2 Peter ends with a call to action: Guard against distortions of the gospel that diminish Jesus Christ. Grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Glorify the Lord Jesus Christ now and forever.

Guard Against Distortions of the Gospel…
…that Diminish Jesus Christ

Therefore dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position (v17).

“Since you already know this…” Know what? What do we already know that should put us on our guard? There are some things in the Bible which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (v16).

That’s why you need to be on your guard. Because in every generation there will be people who distort the message of the Bible. They will do it to their own destruction and to the destruction of the church.

Distorting the gospel always diminishes Christ. Wherever you find a distortion, you find him displaced by someone or something else. That’s why it is so destructive, because it is in Christ that God has given us everything we need for life.

For many churches today, the fundamental motivation of their ministry is to “help people do life.” Here’s the irony: We have everything we need for life. Where? In Jesus Christ. So, when the church moves the focus of ministry off of Jesus Christ and onto “helping people do life,” you lose the ability to help people do life because you’ve moved away from the one through whom life is done.

When I’m interviewing a man who wants to be a pastor, one of the questions I like to ask is, “What movements or trends do you see in the Christian world today that diminish the gospel of Jesus Christ? What teachings out there do you disagree with?” If a man can’t identify error, how can he possibly defend the truth?

What really matters…
…according to the New Testament

Truth matters. Getting the gospel right matters. The centrality of Jesus Christ matters. A large part of the New Testament is directly addressed to guarding the gospel against distortions that diminish Jesus Christ. Here are three examples:

Galatians: Why was Galatians written? Because the gospel was being distorted by some people who wanted to turn it into a list of rules: ”If you want to be a Christian, you have to do this and this, and you can’t do that.” It degenerated into a list of man-made rules. But a list of rules can’t give you everything you need for life. And Christ is diminished when the rules take center stage: “Here’s what you have to do if you want to belong here…”

Corinthians: Why was I Corinthians written? Many reasons, but one of them is that the gospel was being distorted by building the church around magnetic personalities. Some were saying, “I follow Paul,” while others said, “Well, I follow Apollos” (1 Cor. 3:4). Magnetic personalities will attract people, but they won’t give you everything you need for life. Because everything you need, and everything your children need for life is found in Jesus Christ.

Colossians: What about Colossians? Why was it written? The gospel was being distorted by human tradition, and the basic principles of this world. Paul was writing to say, “Don’t run the church based on human traditions or on the basic principles of this world,” because they can’t give you everything you need for life.[1]

If God has given us everything we need for life in knowing Christ, then knowing Christ matters more than anything else in your life or in the church.

Where security can be found

Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position (2 Peter 3:17).

“Fall from your secure position?” That sounds scary! Does that mean that I am not secure? No. Peter says you are secure. Your position as a believer is secure. But your security is in Christ. That’s why this whole business of moving away from Christ is so destructive, and why the Apostles make such a big deal of it.

Our security is in Christ, through the gospel: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

Don’t you know people who once professed faith in Christ but now have abandoned him? They were like seed that sprang up quickly, but they had no root, so they withered away (Mark 4:5-6). If you place your confidence in rules, magnetic personalities, or human traditions, you will not stand. The fruit will not last. But if you cling to Jesus Christ, you will find him clinging to you from now until eternity.

Standing guard

To glorify God by multiplying God-centered, Christ-exalting world-transforming believers in the greater Chicago area and around the world [2]

When we say that this is the aim of our church, we are saying that we are aware of these dangers. We’re on our guard against becoming self-centered believers, the kind of church where our comfort matters more than advancing the gospel. We are on our guard against becoming self-exalting believers, the kind of church that’s all about personalities and everybody getting their own way. We are on our guard against becoming self-absorbed believers, interested in our own spiritual growth but not really caring about lost people here in our own community and around the world.

Whose job is it to guard the church against distortions of the gospel that diminish Christ? Is it the pastors’ job? Yes! Is it the elders’ job? Yes! Is it the members’ job? Yes! Is it the volunteers’ job? Yes—all of the above!

You may be wondering: How can I do this? You are an ordinary Christian. You’ve never been to seminary. So how can you discern error and guard against it in your own life and in the church?

Zooming in

There are two ways to discern error. One is by zooming in; the other is by zooming out. Zooming in involves developing a careful understanding of what is being said by leaders and movements in our time. That’s a job especially for pastor and elders.

Paul said to Timothy, who was the pastor of a local congregation in Ephesus, “Guard the gospel…” (2 Tim. 1:14). “Command certain men not to teach false doctrines… nor to devote themselves to myths” (1 Tim. 1:3). It was Timothy’s job to identify error and guard against it.

Thank God for pastors and elders who are determined to guard the gospel by keeping it at the center of the church. Pray for us in that great responsibility.

Zooming out

Zooming in involves developing a careful understanding of what is being said by leaders and movements in our time. Zooming out is much simpler. Every Christian can do this, and this is how ordinary believers can check the pastors.

When you listen to a Christian teacher, when you are trying to get a handle on a new movement or trend, when you are evaluating another person’s ideas, or when you are browsing a Christian book wondering if you should buy it, ask the question: Does this make more of me or more of Jesus?

Yesterday, I googled a list of “best-selling Christian” books, and I applied this test. I found two books out of the top ten that looked like they might make more of Jesus. The other eight looked interesting, and perhaps even helpful, but they looked like they were mainly about me.

They covered issues like the purpose of my life, the future of my country, dealing with difficulties in my children, improving my diet, finding passion in my work, and developing my leadership skills. Then Jesus Christ is diminished, because he’s a means to an end.

Someone who has been trying to lose weight said to me recently that they’d been helped by the statement: “Your body is not a trash can.” Think about what you put into your body. It’s not a trash can! That has helped him to be more discerning about his diet.

It’s the same with your spiritual diet. Your soul is not a trash can. Fill your soul with a diet that will make much of Jesus Christ. Treat the stuff that’s about you like you treat fast food: Okay once in a while, but deadly if it becomes your regular diet. Grow in discernment by zooming out, and you’ll make better choices in what you’re taking in.

Grow in the Grace and Knowledge…
…of your Lord and Savior

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (v18).

When you come to know Christ it is like buying a field that is full of buried treasure. What a strange thing to be the owner of a field full of buried treasure and to still be holding and cherishing one nugget you had dug up five or ten years ago. You have discovered nothing else! The field is full of buried treasure! Dig! Dig! Dig! Never stop digging!

That’s what Paul is saying to us: “I want to know [Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings…” (Phil. 3:10). Late in Paul’s life he writes this. He’s been digging for years! Never be satisfied with your knowledge of Christ.

Knowledge without grace is dead

Notice how grace and knowledge go together. A sure sign that you are growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is that there is more grace in your life. The Lord Jesus Christ “came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The more you know him, the more you will become distinctly like him.

Are you growing in kindness towards other people? Are you growing in patience with your kids? How about the people who work with you? When you see how patient Christ has been with you and how patient he is with you now, you will grow in patience with other people. When you see God’s grace towards you, it becomes easier to get over the offenses of other people towards you. Grow in grace.

There’s all the difference in the world between religion and Christ. They’re different trees, and they produce different fruit. Religion makes a person hard. Christ makes a person tender. Religion makes a person proud and opinionated. Christ makes a person humble and teachable. Religion makes a person angry. But Christ brings a heart of love.

These are different trees! And the kind of fruit you bear shows the kind of tree you are. Grace grows where Jesus is. If you walk with the Lord Jesus Christ you will grow in grace.

Glorify the Lord Jesus Christ…
…Now, and Forever      

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen (v18).

Put these three together. What a marvelous vision we have for the church and for life: A truth-embracing, grace-displaying, Christ-exalting believer. That’s what Peter wants for the church. That’s my prayer for us. Make it your prayer today.

When you see that God has given you everything you need for life in his Son Jesus Christ, you will find yourself saying, “Lord, you are my greatest treasure. In light of all your love and patience and grace towards me, may your name be praised, and may you receive all the glory, in my life and in the church, both now and forevermore.”

 

[1] “See to it than no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than Christ” (Col. 2:8).

[2] The aim of the Arlington Heights Evangelical Free Church.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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