Thursday, December 24, 2009

Above All – 1 Peter 4:8

Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. (RSV)

There are a few “above all” commands in the Bible. Of course, different versions phrase it a bit differently but here are some of them.

1 Chron 16:25 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. (NIV) The first I found is the command to fear the Lord above all other gods. This is also recorded as a psalm of David. He wrote this when he brought the ark of God into Jerusalem. In the psalm, he recounts a brief history of God’s miracles, His provision, and His character. He compares God with the idols that are in the other nations. He also wrote in 1 Chron 16:34 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. (NIV) While I need to have the proper respect (fear) for God, this psalm also reminds me that the multitude of my sins is covered because of His great love. The fear comes because I know that I don’t deserve His love. There is nothing I can do to earn it. It is there because of His nature and because He sent Jesus to pay for my sins. I can know Him because I accept Jesus. However, can you imagine what it would be like for someone to spurn God’s love by rejecting Jesus and what He went through to cover those sins? That person should have a fear of God, but it would be a fear of judgment. 1 Chron 16:33 for he comes to judge the earth. (NIV)

Prov 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (NIV) It is important for me to guard my heart. It isn’t just the physical organ that pumps my blood but represents my soul. Jesus put it this way: Matt 15:18-19 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. (RSV) The Bible also says that the heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9.) It also says that God will give me a new heart. Ezek 11:19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (NIV) I get that new heart when Jesus takes up residence there by faith (Eph 3:17.) Because Jesus is there, I need to guard what I take into my soul. I don’t want to dump garbage on my Lord. I don’t want to expose my heart to junk that takes my mind and my thoughts away from His kingdom and His goals. As an example I have to be careful to screen TV commercials as well as shows to make sure I’m not buying into the world’s value system. I have to eliminate anything (books, movies, acquaintances) that would lead me into sexual sin, greed, envy, lust, judgmentalness, or any other evils that would then come out of my heart and turn into speech and actions.

James 5:12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation. (RSV) This is a command to be honest. It is a command to keep promises. I really get sick every time I see some character on TV saying to someone, “I promise I won’t let you be hurt.” The promise may be different but the situation is clearly out of the person’s control. There is no way that he or she can keep the promise. I think that they are sending the wrong message to kids and adults alike. The message is that I can promise anything but if the circumstances change, then I don’t have to complete it. It sets the stage for a multitude of sins. The command is to be honest in life, whether it is in marriage, business, with friends or children. The implication is that making a promise and breaking it is a sin and there will be condemnation if not consequences. Love isn’t going to break those promises thereby covering over, or better yet, avoiding sins.

2 Peter 1:20-21 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (NIV) I think that this could be the root of all the other “above all” commands. This is the very basis for my faith, that the Bible is the very words of God spoken through men. If I don’t have this as a firm foundation, then none of the other commands in the Bible are worth anything. If the Bible isn’t the words of God, then they have no authority. They may be very nice principles to live by, but they are optional. Because these words come from God, I can compare any other writing to them to determine if the other is truth or lie. If the Bible says there is only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus, and another “scripture” says that there are many ways, I know the latter is lying. If another “scripture” says that I need Jesus and works, Jesus and someone else, or Jesus and anything else, then I know it is also lying. This is why I must know what the Bible says. Otherwise I can be swayed by any teacher or charlatan that comes to town. Even worse, if I don’t know the Bible, then I can be swayed by my own evil desires. When I obey this “above all” I will know Jesus for who He is, turn to Him for my salvation, repent, and have Him living in my heart by faith. The multitude of my sins will be forgiven. My life may not become perfect but it will be better and another multitude of sins will be avoided.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The End – 1 Peter 4:7

The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. (NASB)

My faith is wrapped up in the fact that the end of all things is near. Jesus said that my attitude should be that He could come back at any time. Matthew 24:36-42 is His part of his description of the way it will be before the end. The first thing He told us in these verses is that no one knows when the end will come. I vaguely remember that someone predicted the end to be some day in 1988. When I first heard it, my thought was that surely Jesus will not return on that day because this guy made the prediction. Currently, everyone is saying it will be the end in 2012 because the Mayan calendar runs out at that time. All this speculation is hogwash because Jesus made it clear that no one would know the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven. However that doesn’t mean the end isn’t near. Jesus said in these verses that things will appear quite normal before the end. People will be eating, drinking, marrying, and working in the fields. Business will be going on just as usual. No one will suspect that in a few minutes, the end will come.

Yes, many have believed that the end is near, ever since Jesus left. Peter said it, Paul said it, and the writer to the Hebrews said it. Each one of them tells me how to live in view of that day. The next few verses in 1st Peter are all related to how I should live in expectation that Jesus could appear in the next few minutes.

The first priority in this list is prayer. NIV says that I should be clear minded and self-controlled so that I can pray. The Greek is really fun: sophroneo (so-fron-eh'-o); to be of sound mind, i.e. sane, (figuratively) moderate. I need to be sane when it comes to thinking about the end of the world. This would definitely rules out standing on the street corner, dressed in a robe, sporting a long beard and hair, and holding a sign. Crazy people simply do not influence those that need to be warned that the end could come at any time.

The next Greek word is: nepho (nay'-fo); of uncertain affinity: to abstain from wine (keep sober), i.e. (figuratively) be discreet. I like that last definition. Be discreet. That means to be tactful, cautious, diplomatic, or judicious. I guess I can’t just run up to everyone on the street and tell they will go to hell if they don’t straighten up before Jesus comes back. While it may be true, it certainly isn’t very discreet and therefore probably not very effective.

I don’t want to lose the point of being clear minded and self-controlled. It is so that I can pray. Jesus also gave a big long list of things that would occur just before He comes back. That was listed in a couple of places but Matthew 24:4-35 is a good one. All sorts of terrible things will be happening. Among them will be increased persecution of Christians. This is something that is happening all around the world. Wickedness will increase. That is also happening but those who are involved don’t see it because they have this attitude: Rom 1:32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (NIV) When all this is happening, Peter warns me not to lose my head, but to know how to pray.

In the middle of Jesus’ description of pending events, He says: Matt 24:20-21 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. (NIV) So I believe that one thing I should do is pray for those who are persecuted. Pray for their escape and their needs. Prayer has a way of leading to action. That is one reason I’m involved with Serving Others Worldwide to help Christians in Pakistan. ( Christians are seeing persecution and are kept in economic slavery as well. They are in constant need of food, clothing, and Bibles. They need prayer to keep their faith in the midst of very trying times.

I can also pray for myself and those around me so that we will be able to stand strong should trials befall us. I would also pray as Paul asked: Col 4:3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (NIV) Paul knew firsthand about trials, yet was always looking for a way to proclaim the Christian faith in the middle of them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Paganism – 1 Peter 4:3-6

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do — living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (NIV)

I became a Christian when I was about 28 years old. I had rejected Christianity and my philosophy was that it was OK to do anything as long as no one got hurt. That is pretty much the philosophy of the world today. The only problem with it is that I can’t determine if someone is going to be hurt or not by following my own selfish desires. If I choose to spend all my income on my pleasures, and myself, then I am hurting others that are in need. Without any way of determining what is OK other than my own perception of what may hurt others, I also failed to understand what would hurt me.

The human mind is very capable of rationalizing just about anything in order to satisfy perceived needs. That is why, after abundant information about the dangers of smoking, people still smoke – even physicians. That is why a person with several DUIs will still drink and drive. That is why the man or woman in a loving marriage will still stray and commit adultery. I don’t need to list the things I did before I came to Christ or even the sins committed afterward. All I need to do is re-read verse 4 and know that I spent way too much time doing those things.

What I do need to do is substitute that attitude of self-indulgence with something else. That is impossible without coming to Christ and having a new birth. Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. (RSV) His grace trains me to live a new life. Without His leading by His Holy Spirit through the Bible, I would have no point of reference regarding what is right or wrong. I would not be able to know what hurts others or myself. More importantly, I would not know what hurts God. With His grace, I am able to know His will and to do things that will please Him. When I do these things, I will not hurt others out of my own sinful self-interest.

Will I be able to avoid hurting other completely? No. However this is my aim: Rom 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. (RSV) According to 1st Peter, I won’t be able to do that, especially when others heap abuse on me and anyone who wants to live a godly life. However, I will be able to stand and declare as Paul did. Acts 24:16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men. (RSV)

One way of doing this is to remember that it isn’t my job to convict the world of sin and to clean it up. My job is to share the good news of Jesus Christ and do it with words if necessary. My life should reflect my belief and my life should match up with what I say.

I need to warn those who are still caught in the ways of the world. They don’t realize that they will have to give an account to Jesus who will judge them. They are currently dead in their sins. (How intolerant of me for saying that.) They will be judged and unless they respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and turn their lives over to Jesus, they will end up in hell. (Oops another intolerant attitude.) If they respond then their spirits will be made alive and they will demonstrate that by no longer living the way they are now or the way I did. I will know that I have done the right thing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I’m Arming Myself – 1 Peter 4:1-2

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (NIV)

Just about the whole book of 1st Peter is about suffering as a Christian. So far most of it has been about how to handle the troubles and trials of life that happen and especially when it is a result of persecution for my faith. This verse addresses suffering in order to eliminate sin.

I’ll have to admit that this one is hard to figure out since I can’t quite come up with any examples where I’ve had to suffer in order to resist sin. However the same concept is presented in Hebrews. Heb 12:4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (NIV) In context, the writer to the Hebrews had just explained how many people in the past, from Abel through the prophets and beyond had to give up something to accomplish God’s will. Many had been killed for their unwillingness to succumb to the demands of others. Prophets, for example, had been killed when they refused to stop preaching that Jerusalem would be destroyed for Judah’s sins.

You can see why I don’t relate to this. I decided that drinking was not something I would do because the spirits in even one beer quenched the Holy Spirit in me enough to make comments that hurt others. Have I suffered because of this? No. some people may think I’m weird or legalistic, but for me, it has been a good decision. Has it completely eliminated my ability to hurt others in my speech? No, but it has reduced the frequency.

There are many parts of the world where the biggest sin of all, denying Jesus, does bring about bloodshed. I just heard on the news that a mega church in China had been forcibly closed and the pastors told to stop their illegal religious activities. Other churches have been razed by bulldozers along with the homes of Christians. Many were sent to the hospital during that incident.

The Living Bible paraphrases the verses which sometimes helps and sometimes hinders. It says that I must be ready to suffer. The implication is that I may not have had to suffer physically as a result of sin or in attempting to resist sin. The NIV and NASB say I’m to arm myself with the attitude of Christ, who suffered. So my conclusion is that while I may not have suffered resisting sin, I can certainly make up my mind that I will not let physical discomfort prevent me from resisting sin.

How do I arm myself with the attitude that I’ll be ready suffer? Many verses come to my mind. The first is James 1:2-3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (NIV) I have to have a mindset that all trials are there to help me persevere. Persevere in the face of sin or persecution or whatever. Heb 12:7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (RSV) Heb 12:10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. (NIV) I must look at suffering of any kind as a way that God disciplines me. This is not discipline in the sense of being punished but the same kind of discipline that an athlete goes through to so his body will respond correctly when called upon. Suffering produces strength to persevere in the tough times and it gives the training to respond correctly during temptation. This is how suffering does away with sin. It is a long process that eventually leads to holiness.

When I allow suffering to work in me, I will be able to overcome sinful habits, I won’t spend the rest of my life wondering if I’m missing out on something. Instead, I’ll be eager to do what God wants. I would like to say that I’m eager to do what He wants, but it seems that most of the time I’m not. Rom 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV) It is a two-step operation. First, I need to stop being conformed to the world’s ways and ideologies. All the stuff that says I can be satisfied by something less than God Himself. Then the second step is to be renewed so that I can determine His will. I still have a long way to go in yielding to the Holy Spirit so that I can do that. However, as I look at each trial and each problem as something that is there to teach me rather than just bad stuff happening, I will move forward.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How to Be Great and Who Are Those Guys? – 1 Peter 3:22

Who [Jesus Christ] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (RSV )

How to Be Great

What does it mean to be sitting at the right hand of God? The right hand man of a king or any other authority is the person who is in charge of the daily affairs of the kingdom or company. Good examples are Joseph, Daniel, and Mordecai in the O.T. Each of these men became second in command to the king after he had proved himself capable. The king didn’t have to worry because these honest men were not looking out for their own good, but the good of the kingdom. In the same way, Jesus always sought to glorify the Father by doing His will. John 4:34 "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (NIV)

How does this apply to me? Phil 2:3-7 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (NIV) This is the secret to greatness, putting others first. Jesus sat down at the right hand of God because He put us first. He gave up everything to serve us. Once He accomplished that, He was exalted to the highest position in Heave that can be attained (Eph 1:21-22.) Everything was put under His dominion and control. This doesn’t mean that I will attain to the same position as Jesus if I seek the welfare of others above my own. There is only one place in heaven with that authority and Jesus has it. However, I will have a position of authority in heaven. Rev 1:5b-6 To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV) As I serve as a priest in the kingdom of Jesus, I’ll bring glory and to the Father. Since this is Jesus’ goal, it is mine as well.

Who Are Those Guys?

Who are these angels, authorities, and powers that are subject to Jesus? Angels are pretty easy to identify. Heb 1:14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (NIV) They are clearly being who are the good guys. They do what God wants them to do, every time and without fail.

The authorities and powers are not as easy to identify since they are represented as evil in various places. Eph 6:11-12 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (NIV) In these verses, they are clearly aligned with the devil and his schemes.

Daniel gave us a very brief and mysterious glimpse into this spiritual world. Dan 10:20-21 Then he said, "Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I am through with him, lo, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince. (RSV) In these verses I can see that there are both good and evil powers and principalities. I can imagine that in the spiritual realms, there are beings that exercise some sort of power or control over the leaders and peoples of nations. As this angel (Gabriel) fought against the prince of Persia, I can imagine that he was able to restrain the prince of Persia from eradicating the Jews who were in exile. You can read the book of Esther to see what that struggle looked like on the human level. I can only imagine what it looked like in the heavenly realm.

Elisha could see these mighty battles and prayed to let his servant see what was happening behind the scenes. 2 Kings 6:17 And Elisha prayed, "O Lord, open his eyes so he may see." Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (NIV) Elisha prayed the physical enemy would be blinded and they were so that he could lead them captive to the king of Israel. I’m positive that the surrounding angelic army caused Elisha’s enemies to be blinded.

So it seems that each nation has an evil prince who seeks to destroy and a holy one, an angel, who seeks to protect. Satan told Jesus that all the kingdoms of the earth belonged to him and Jesus didn’t deny it (Matt 4:8-9.) At this time, Satan is still in control of the nations (Eph 2:2) even though Jesus has been seated as the authority over all. One day Jesus will come back and take full control of the earth. That is when we will reign with him. Rev 20:6 Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years. (RSV)

In the mean time, when bad things happen I know that my Lord Jesus is in ultimate control. Satan may think he is ruling but I know that he can do no more than Jesus allows (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-6.) I can be confident in the following verse. Rom 8:28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (RSV) Those who are not under Jesus’ authority, who have not submitted to Him, can’t claim this verse. When Jesus comes back, they will find themselves on the wrong side and will not be punished for eternity.

I’m glad that I know I’m on the right side. I didn’t join Jesus for all the benefits. I’ve only learned about them as I study the Bible. It turns out that believers are blessed with much more than we can understand even after a lifetime of study.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Does Baptism Save Me? – 1 Peter 3:20b-22

In it [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (NIV)

It is evident from these verses that baptism, all by itself, can’t save me. I am saved when I have the right attitude, i.e., a pledge of a good conscience toward God. A good conscience toward God means that I must believe He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb 11:6.) It also means that if someone comes to me and says that I need to be baptized in order to be saved and jump in the water but don’t care about pleasing God or being submission to Him, then I won’t be saved at all. Outward obedience to a command of God without a heartfelt desire to live for Him isn’t worth anything. This is what God said to the Israelites through Isaiah the prophet. Isa 29:13-15 And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote; therefore, behold, I will again do marvelous things with this people, wonderful and marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hid." Woe to those who hide deep from the Lord their counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" (RSV)

It doesn’t save me if I don’t acknowledge that Jesus is God, which is proven by His resurrection. If I don’t believe that He is sitting at the right hand of God, baptism is worthless.

Baptism wasn’t invented by Christians. It was around a long time before Jesus came on the scene. Most thought that if they followed ceremonial cleansing, they would become acceptable to God. They thought that doing the right stuff would earn their right to eternal life. They were wrong. John the Baptist was on the right track when he was baptizing people to get them ready for Jesus. Matt 3:11 "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (NASB) John’s baptism didn’t save anyone as was made evident later. However, the outward sign of baptism indicating repentance will save me because I have a desire to submit to God.

When I look at all that must accompany baptism to be saved, it becomes apparent that baptism is not the vehicle or the necessary ingredient for salvation. Rather it becomes an outward demonstration of what has already occurred in the heart of a believer. Baptism should be one of the first steps of obedience of a person who has repented and changed their mind about sin and who God is. I have to confess that it took me seven years after becoming a Christian to be baptized. I would argue with people who said I didn’t have the Holy Spirit and wasn’t a true believer because I hadn’t been baptized. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was saved because the Holy Spirit let me know. (1 John 3:24, 4:13) I also realized that they were teaching a false doctrine because they would also say, only after I interrogated them, that the baptism was only valid if it was done in their church.

However, that changed for me when I heard a preacher talk about baptism from Rom 6:3-7. Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (NIV) I was convicted that I must completely identify with Jesus in His death in order to live a new life in complete victory over sin. He also used out Matt 28:19-20. The Great Commission says that as a believer, I need to baptize followers if they are to be disciples. How could I baptize others if I had refused to be baptized? It was a point of obedience to Jesus’ command. Since I was disobeying Him in this simple act, how could I tell others to obey Him? If I was disobeying Him at this point, I was leaving myself vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. In essence, by ignoring baptism, I was not identifying with Jesus in His death and I was thereby still a slave to sin, the blatant sin of disobedience.

Just to be clear, a person can be saved without baptism. In fact, baptism never occurred in the Bible until someone made some profession of faith. So a person is saved before they are baptized. The thief on the cross never had an opportunity to be baptized but was saved as Jesus said. Don’t tell me he was an exception. He was an example. In Acts 2:41, those who received the word were baptized. They believed first. Acts 10:48 clearly showed that the gentiles had received the Holy Spirit before being baptized. They weren’t exceptions either, but examples.

Acts 19:5 is an example of people who had been baptized but didn’t know about Jesus. They only had John’s baptism. They weren’t saved until they had the right details, the correct knowledge. Faith in the wrong things doesn’t save.

All the comments about the need to have the right heart attitude and to believe before being baptized leads to one other conclusion. Infant baptism or baptizing children who are not capable of making a decision to follow Jesus is not going to save them. When I mentioned this to people who believe the opposite, they point to Acts 16:33 where the jailer and all his household or family was baptized. First of all, the verse does not say infants were baptized. We have no way of knowing whether or not the jailer had babies in his family at that time. To imply that infants were baptized is making the verse say something it doesn’t. In addition, the word household or family is not in the original Greek text. The NASB italicizes “household” to indicate that it is a word that has been added in translation. The Greek simply says he and his all were baptized.

Don’t make the false assumption that because you were baptized as an infant that you have a ticket to heaven. I was, but saw my need for salvation as an adult. Don’t make the false assumption that because your babies have been baptized that they have a ticket to heaven either. You need to make sure they know the way as soon as they can understand.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No Second Chance - 1 Peter 3:18b-20a

He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. (NIV)

Now that I’ve stated my belief that Jesus is God and some more on the Trinity, I’ll move on to the next topic and that is all this stuff about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison. The first thing to note is that it was Jesus who preached to them but He did it through the Spirit that made Him alive. All I can say about that is that it is further proof that the God is a Trinity. If I can say that Jesus is God and that the Spirit is God, then I can also say that Jesus is the Spirit. Eph 3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; (RSV) 1 Cor 3:16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (RSV) In one verse I can see that Jesus lives in me by faith. In the next verses I can see that the Holy Spirit lives in me. Since Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God are all one, then it means that I have all the fullness of God living in me (Eph 3:19). I have Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father.

Some want to split hairs and say that you must receive Jesus, then you must receive the Holy Spirit. Other even say that you then must receive the Father. If you have only Jesus, then you aren’t a full-fledged Christian. Hogwash! If you have one, you have all three. Of course if the Jesus I received isn’t God, then I have received an imitation and imitations have their limits. The biggest limitation is that no imitation Jesus is able to save me.

How do I figure out who these spirits in prison are? One clue would be what Peter writes in the next chapter. 1 Peter 4:6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God. (RSV) Jesus preached to those who are dead. If they are dead that implies that they are people and not just spirits like angels or fallen angels. I assume that spirits can’t die. Peter again mentions the judgment during Noah’s time. 2 Peter 2:5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; (RSV) I had read this in the NIV before and it says that God brought the flood on the world’s ungodly people. The Greek doesn’t say people, it says world. So back to the O.T. to see what it says about the flood.

Gen 6:5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Gen 6:8 Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Gen 6:12 And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. (NASB) According to the original account there was only one person whom God saw as blameless and that was Noah. From this I can determine that everyone who died in the flood was a sinner and deserved the fate of death for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23.) All this to just find out that the people that Jesus is preaching to are not godly and are not demons who have fallen.

1 Peter 4:6 is tough to get my head around. First because I normally think of ungodly dead people in a sort of never-never land where they aren’t aware of anything until the final judgment comes. This verse implies that they are aware and that when Jesus went to them they could understand what He told them. Luke 16:19-31 also supports the idea that they know what is going on and are conscious. 2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, (RSV) implies the same thing. Not only are they aware but they are being punished even while they await judgment.

The second thing about 1 Peter 4:6 is that it implies there might be some sort of second chance for them, if not for all who die without Christ. Just what does that phrase mean, “they might live in the spirit like God.” Does it mean a second chance for salvation or does it mean something else? Is there a possibility of a second chance? The Greek word for “like” is “kata” and the definition doesn’t help. It is “down from, through out, according to, toward, along.” In the KJV it is translated “according” in this verse and differently in some 40 other place it is used. Most translations use according in this verse so that it says they will live according to God in the spirit. I think this simply means that even a person who dies without Christ has eternal life. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that they are with God but according to other scriptures, too numerous to mention here, they will live in eternal torment and there is no way out.

The preaching that Jesus provided may very well have gone like this, “You thought that because so many rebelled that I would forgive you. You thought that since no one could live a holy life and please my Father that I would have to let you off the hook. Well, I’ve come to tell you that I emptied myself of my God nature and became a man. I lived a holy life proving that it can be done. I paid the penalty of death for all who would believe in me and turn to me for salvation. However, you turned away from my Father and did not repent when you were confronted by Noah. By turning away from my Father, you rejected me. Therefore, your condemnation stands. There is no second chance after death.”

This is not a very uplifting study. However, it does serve as a warning. The same applies today. If I have Jesus, I have eternal life apart from that eternal punishment. If I don’t, and die, there is no second chance. Today is the day to decide to follow Jesus.