“Growing or Falling”                   2 Peter 3:15-18                        July 8, 2012

 

INTRO:  If you knew that you would not live to see next year—

   that sometime between now and December 31 you would leave this life,

   and step into the presence of the Lord—

   what would be some things you would say to the people you love?

 

What words of encouragement and counsel would you share?

What would you tell them about the Lord and about the Christian life?

What would you want them to remember after you were gone?

 

I have, on a number of occasions shared with you the last words of a friend

   of mine named Al Rodenhouse.  Al was a member of our church in Florida.

   He was a Dutchman from Grand Rapids, Michigan—spiritual giant.

He went to school through 8th grade but he could have taught theology and Bible

   at a seminary level—because he never stopped reading and learning.

The Lord had blessed him with success in everything he touched—

   but he never bragged about his business and financial success and wealth.

   He was always giving praise to God and giving away his money generously.

 

In 1999 he as diagnosed with liver cancer and went back to Michigan for final days.

   The last time I spoke to him on the phone, we both knew we would probably

   not speak again in this life. 

When the time came to say goodbye, I grabbed a pen because I knew Al.

   I knew he would not say goodbye without a final word. 

   I was not disappointed.  He said:

 

“Stay faithful, preach the Word, and God will take care of the increase.

It’s not up to you to fill the church, just to fill the pulpit.”

   Those are good last words from a father in the faith to a young minister.

 

This little letter that we’ve been studying over the summer is the Apostle Peter’s

   last word to the church.  He knew that he was going to die soon.

   Do you remember that?  Look back at chapter 1, verses 13, 14 and 15:

“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.”

The death Peter knew he was facing was martyrdom.

Early church tradition, crucified upside down along the Appian Way, outside Rome.

As Peter wrote letter, he knew his final words to Christians he loved so much. 

 

I think it would serve us well to ponder the poignancy of that for a moment.

These are the last words of the great Apostle Peter.  No one like Peter.

Do you remember the time:

   Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.”

 

Do you remember how at the Last Supper:?

   Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me.”  Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”  But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”

 

Do you remember how after Peter had denied Christ three times, that the risen Lord

   Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples at the Sea of Galilee?

Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him:

   The third time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was hurt because

   Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?”  He said, “Lord, you know all things; you

   know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

 

We come this morning to the last words in this last letter of this great apostle.

   And in these last words he feeds the sheep, he feeds our souls.

His message in these last words is a magnificent summary of the whole letter.

   He draws all of the themes and threads together for one final exhortation.

In these final sentences he reminds us that there are only two possible conditions

   for you to be in as a Christian—you will either be growing or you will be falling.

You will either grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

   or you will fall from your secure position.

 

Peter’s concern is that you grow and not fall. 

Peter knew what it was like to fall.  He fell hard that night he denied Christ.

   He also knew the joy of growing in grace—that’s his final word—Grow.

Let’s look at both of these conditions—growing and falling

   As we do, try to pull together all the threads of this magnificent letter.

In the passage Peter mentions falling first, then growing—look at in reverse order.

Let’s start with

MP#1  Growing

Look at verse 18:

   “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Peter speaks of growing in grace and in knowledge.

   Grace is the unmerited favor of God given to you through Jesus Christ.

   How do you grow in the grace of the Lord?

 

The Bible teaches that there are two fundamental motives that can drive your life—

   law or grace.  They are two very different enabling powers.

Living under law means you say—I have to prove I am a worthy person.

   I have to prove to my parents, friends, spouse, children, colleagues, self, God.

Prove it by being successful in finances, career, love life, marriage, child rearing,

   friendships, looks, accomplishments, or my spiritual disciplines.

For every person the lists are different, who have to prove to, what have to prove

   But if you probe deep enough, you will discover them.

 

Two weeks ago I was in Louisville, Kentucky for the General Assembly of our

   denomination—the Presbyterian Church in America.

In the PCA, every church can send two or more ruling elders as a voting

   commissioner, and every ordained minister can come attend as a commissioner.

I always see ministers I know, some old friends, and many I just know by name and

   reputation.  Every time I’m around that many Presbyterian ministers I get a very

   unsettled, discontented feeling. 

Because I think—my church is not as big as So-and-so’s. 

   I don’t have the graduate degree from Scotland like Dr. So-and so.

   I’m not as good a preacher as So-and-so. 

   I’ve never written a book like So-and-so.

   What kind of two-bit minister am I? 

That’s living under law.  It never produces spiritual maturity. 

   It never enables you to die to sin and live to righteousness. 

 

Living under grace means that you say—I have nothing to prove to anyone.

   Because in the eyes of the only person who really matters—Judge of all the earth

   I am fully accepted on account of the perfect record of Jesus Christ. 

Furthermore, God is no longer my Judge, He is my Father.

   He will no more reject me than He will reject his own Son.

Living by grace means you can look honestly at the flaws and sins you’ve battled

   for a lifetime and honestly say—things are even worse than I think.

But I am loved and accepted by God.

The rules don’t change.  God’s law doesn’t change.  We’re still called to work

   and strive and not be slothful.  But the motive changes completely. 

Growing in grace means simply growing in your assurance of that grace,

   growing in your experience of it.  And then using that as an enabling power,

   do die to sin and live to righteousness.

 

What is growth in the knowledge of our Lord?

This is one of Peter’s great themes in the letter.  It’s in Chapter 1 verses 2 and 3:

   “Grace and peace by yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. 

   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.”

 

Divine power is experienced through the knowledge of God—

   specifically, through the knowledge of Him as the one who has called you.

When you come to a point in your Christian life in which you truly believe

   that the Lord has chosen you, called you away from sin and death,

   into life and sonship—then you will experience divine power.

 

Do you remember John Piper’s excellent illustration of this—

   the power that comes from knowing you have been graciously called by God.

Imagine you are a prisoner of war in a concentration camp.

   You’ve lost hope, in your hopelessness you’ve done terrible things.

Then you learn that a prisoner exchange has been planned.

   See a guard coming down the row with a list in his hand, of prisoners destined

   for freedom.  He’s pointing at individual prisoners and calling them out to

   freedom and family.  You, you, you, you, YOU!  Come with me.

 

That’s not a bare piece of knowledge when he points to you and calls you.

   It is power!  The power of hope surges through you because you know you’ve

   been called.  So when Peter says that divine power for hope and godliness flows

   through the knowledge of our call to glory, we can feel what he means.

If you could see the glory and excellence of God.  If you could know that your

   Creator has approached you and said,  “You there, come; I’m going to show you

   my glory and give you an eternal life to enjoy it,” it would mean power! 

The power of hope and the power of godliness. 

 

And the way you grow in this knowledge is by claiming the promises of God. 

   His promises are simply statements about your guaranteed future in God’s grace.

 

As you grow in your knowledge of those promises,

   so will your assurance and confidence that you are fully accepted

Let’s take this matter of growing in grace and knowledge of Christ and see how it

   works out in real life.  Where the rubber meets the road.

 

Suppose you are dealing with an irritating person.

   If you are motivated by the law you might tell yourself:

I can’t blow up at this person because that would be embarrassing,

   that would be bad form, I would be lowering myself to his or her level.

Your concern would be proving something to yourself or to people

   around you that you are a person who has it under control.

So you smile and act patient—but inside you are boiling.

   That looks like patience, but it’s a counterfeit.  Not a better person.

 

But if you know God’s grace, growing in grace can say to yourself.

I can be patient with this person because I’ve experienced God’s

   infinite patience toward me in Jesus Christ.

I am so slow in obeying God.  It takes me so long to get it.

   But He is truly patient with me.

 

Then you apply the your growing knowledge of Christ—this promises.

   2 Peter 3:15, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.”

By grace, knowledge of God’s promises, real patience begins to grow.

   And if you blow it, and lose temper—you know you are forgiven

   and can even ask forgiveness and move ahead.

 

The Apostle Peter’s last word to the church is to grow—

   grow by getting to know the promises of God. 

   Open your Bible, read it, look for promises.

If don’t read Bible regularly, read through 2 Peter again.

   Find them, ponder them—as do, will grow.

 

But what happens if a Christian doesn’t make every effort to grow?

Will you just stand still in the Christian life?

   No—Peter says that there is another condition that is possible for a Christian.

   This is the condition he warns you about, it’s called falling.

 


 

MP#2  Falling

Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by error and fall from your secure position.

 

Three questions:

What is this condition of falling?

Is Peter talking about falling from salvation?

   It almost sounds like that—falling from secure position of salvation.

But remember that Peter is summarizing all that he has said in this letter—

   so rather than look at this verse in isolation, let’s back up and see

   how it fits in the context of the whole letter.

 

I want to take you back to the beginning, to chapter one.

By the power of God, and using the promises of God as the conduits of that power

   vs. 5  “make every effort to add to faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance,

   godliness, brotherly-kindness, love.”

You add to faith.  Become more like Christ.

 

But what happens if you don’t make use of God’s promises, don’t apply power,

   don’t add to your faith? 

   vs. 8  “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being

   ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

If you aren’t increasing in these qualities, become ineffective and unproductive.

   Possible for a Christian to be condition, not bearing fruit for Christ.

 

Peter is even more explicit in verse 9.

   “If anyone does not have them he is nearsighted and blind,

   and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”

A spiritually nearsighted Christian is one who can see his problems,

   because they are right in front of him—he can see close up.

But can’t see what God is doing through those problems.  Can’t see big picture.

 

Can see the next thing going to buy, next business decision, next vacation—

   but blind to bigger purposes Lord has for life.

   Even starts to forget core identity—sinner saved by grace.

So when Peter talks about falling from your secure position—his is talking about

   this condition of being ineffective, unproductive, spiritually nearsighted, blind,

   and forgetful.

 

Why is this condition so bad?

Because it’s a miserable condition for a Christian to be in.

There are few people more miserable than Christians, saved by Christ,

   blessed with divine power for life and godliness, heirs of all promises—

   who are living ineffective, unproductive, nearsighted, blind, forgetful lives.

You might cover up for some time that you are in this condition—

   religious and church activities are a great cover-up.

But if you ever reflect on your feelings toward worship and the Lord,

   will have to admit that you don’t have much joy.

And when you hear fellow Christians talking about love for Christ, God’s goodness,

   you might join in, use the lingo—but really don’t feel those things.

 

The rubber really meets the road when you have a crisis.

   That is when you will really be miserable and truly fall from secure position.

In the crisis you will feel that God has abandoned you,

   you will wonder if you are really a Christian, you will be shaken to the core.

 

Said in very first sermon on 2 Peter, back in May, that as a pastor

   I have seen that Christians face crises in two different ways.

Some come to me and say, “Pastor, I’m hurting, I’m grieving—

   but look what the Lord has given me.  (Read a Psalm, promise).

Or they say.  This is terrible, I want God to fix it—

   but let me tell you what He’s teaching me.

And I just sit back amazed and say—Wow, Christ Covenant has a great Pastor!

   His name is Pastor Jesus.  I don’t have anything to say—I’m out of a job.

   This brother/sister already farther along than I could ever lead him.

 

On the other hand, some Christians are simply overwhelmed with crisis

   and collapse under it.  And as a pastor I remind them of promises

   that I hope Lord will use to prop them up and give hope.

Few things more miserable than Christians in this condition—

   because the many of the things they are suffering from just aren’t true.

 

They feel that the Lord has abandoned them—He hasn’t.

   “Never I will leave you, never will I forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

They feel that the Lord hates them—He doesn’t

   “I have love you with an everlasting love.”  Jeremiah 31:3

They doesn’t feel that anything good can come of this—It will.

   “All things work together for good . . .”  Romans 8:28

 

They feel like there will never be an end to the pain suffering—There will be.

   “Humble yourself under God’s almighty hand that he may lift you up due time.”  1 Peter 5:6

What’s their real problem?  They don’t know these promises.

   Even if they have heard them, aren’t living by them, experiencing them,

   using them as conduits of divine power.

That’s because they weren’t doing it before the crisis hit,

   so they were in a weakened spiritual condition whether they knew it or not.

 

What causes this condition?

You probably have a good idea already. 

   Caused by not knowing, believing, and applying God’s promises to your life.

If you aren’t doing those things, you don’t just sit there empty—

   you start to absorb lies and falsehoods.

 

That’s why Peter, one more time, at the end of his letter can’t help taking a final

   shot at the false teachers who where distorting Scripture.

Don’t you love Peter.  Here is his impetuous, feisty personality to the end.

   “ignorant and unstable people” distorting writings of Paul and other Scriptures.

   “the error of lawless men”

That’s one of the drums Peter beats in his letter—right doctrine matters.

   Because false teaching is never a conduit for divine power.

 

It’s the truth, know, believed, applied, pressed down into your heart until it takes

   root and then grows into every area of your life that keeps you from falling.

What about you?  Are you in this fallen condition Peter describes?

   Are you joyless, discouraged, going through motions of religion

   but without the passion? 

   Has a crisis shaken your faith?

 

Take heart.  Peter himself, the first of the Apostles, knew what that was like.

   He fell hard the night he denied Christ.

   Galatians 2 tells us about another time, years later when he fell again.

   Let himself be influenced by false teaching, rebuked publicly by Paul.

He was a great Christian, but one like all of us, with feet of clay.

   From both of those times of falling, and probably others, Lord brought him back.

Peter’s concern is that you not fall. 

   But if you have, this is also the way out.

It’s in verse 18.   “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

 


CONC:  There’s a famous American rock climber named John Long.

In the 70s, he was part of an elite group who called themselves The Stonemasters.

   They revolutionized the sport of climbing.

Their most daring technique was free soloing—which simply means climbing

   without ropes.  It’s just the climber and the cliff.

What makes this the ultimate challenge is that one mistake can kill you.

 

John Long was free soloing on a 150 foot rock wall with a 105 degree overhang.

   He started up the wall, using all of his skills,

   then, he suddenly realized that he had made a mistake—

 

“The chilling realization came that, in my haste, I’d bungled my sequence.  My hands were too low and my power was ebbing fast.  My foot started vibrating and I was instantly desperate, wondering if and when my body would freeze and plummet.  There is no reversing any of this because you can’t climb down hard rock any more than a hurdler can run his course backwards.  The only way was up.”

 

The only way is up. 

 

That is Peter’s last word to Christians before his death.

Grow in grace, know and claim the promises of God,

   use them as conduits of divine power for the moral and spiritual transformation

   of your life—if you don’t you are going to fall.

 

And so, we come to the end of our study of 2 Peter.

   I hope you have grown to love this precious little letter as I have.

   Let us take our leave with Peter’s last words—

 

“To Him be glory both now and forever!  Amen.”