Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Welcome to Heaven – 2 Peter 1:11

Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (NLT)

Have you ever wondered what it will be like to enter heaven? There have been many songs written about entering heaven. Some focus on seeing loved one and other saints that have passed on but yearning to see Jesus. Others consider what we will do when we first see Jesus. Will we fall on our faces, will we shout with praise, will we be scooped up and hugged by Jesus? One song talks of a welcoming committee of people who have been somehow blessed by our ministry, even things we never even considered as ministry.

What would a grand entrance, rich welcome, abundantly supplied entrance, or gates opened wide be like, as different versions state? When famous people visit a city, they are often given a key to the city, a symbolic gesture that says that all the resources of the city are available to them. Is that what Peter is talking about? Are we going to get keys to heaven when we enter? Think about it, only dignitaries, nobles, or famous people get a key to the city but God is promising us a grand entrance into heaven. We who were once opposed to God and enemies, we who have done nothing to deserve even to be in heaven will be welcomed with great fanfare. It boggles my mind.

Am I only speculating about this? What does other Scripture say about this? The first that comes to mind is Matt 25:21 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'” (NIV) There are requirements to hearing the Lord Jesus say this to us. We need to be faithful in a few things. God has placed us here for a purpose and we need to be faithful to Him. He doesn’t ask much and He gives us His Holy Spirit to make sure we can do the little that He requests. In the eternal perspective, what He has entrusted to us is little, but what He will give us in eternity is much. That is quite amazing. In addition to that, He says that by taking charge of the things He has in store for us in heaven, we will be sharing in His happiness. This certainly sounds like we will have a grand entrance.

Col 3:3-4 “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (NIV) This is a big clue as to why we will receive a rich entrance into heaven. I can imagine God standing at the gate to heaven. He looks down the road and sees someone coming. Will He open the gate and welcome this person? He will if He recognizes him. If He sees that the person is a dignitary, noble, or fantastically deserving person, God will have a parade with throngs cheering and trumpets blowing. When the person gets near, God breaks out the band and everyone rushes to line the street. Who does God see coming? He sees His own Son. He doesn’t see our sins or failures. He only sees the righteousness and holiness of Jesus. Yes, He knows that hidden in the image of Jesus is John or Jane Doe. But Jesus died for us and that means He will welcome us just as He would welcome His own Son.

Matt 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (RSV) Jesus has already given us the keys to heaven. We have, through Him, access to everything that heaven has to offer. Jesus is the way to heaven and no one will be able to enter without Him. Not only do we have entrance to Heaven but we can call on Him now to provide what is needed to further His kingdom on earth. John 15:7-8 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (NIV) We have the Gospel message which will loose any who respond and will actually bind or condemn any who hear and reject it.

Rev 3:21 “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (NIV) Not only will we be treated as royalty when we enter heaven, but we will become royalty. Don’t ask me how this works. I don’t know how each person who enters heaven will be able to rule with Jesus. The question is who will we rule over if everyone is ruling? Beats me, I only know what I read. I also know this: 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (RSV) This all fits together in heaven.

I certainly don’t want to miss out on it. Do you? He has promised us this great entrance, but the greatest part of it will be to see God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit as they truly are. Rev 22:17 “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (NIV) If you thirst and yearn to see Jesus, to see evil ended, to be done with sin, then the invitation is open to have a grand entrance into heaven.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Election – 2 Peter 1:10

Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall. (RSV)

When I first read this in other versions, it sounds almost like Peter is telling me that I had to do these things (the list in the previous verses) in order to keep my salvation. However, this version and the original Greek clarify that what I’m supposed to be doing (confirming my call and election) will keep me from falling or stumbling. It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the possibility of losing my salvation.

The RSV is the only version to use the word zealous in my approach to confirming my call and election. Others use the word eager or diligent. I really like zealous. But, what do I need to do to confirm or make sure of my call and election? The question boils down to, how can I be sure that God has saved me?

The answer lies, not with me and what I’ve done, but with God and who He is. What are His promises regarding salvation? I need to be eager to find out more about Him and how I’m saved in order to confirm in my own mind that He has saved me and that He won’t go back on His promise.

A good starting point is what Jesus said. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) God initiated the whole thing by giving Jesus to us. It is based on His love for us and not on what we can do. We have some work to do, if you want to call it work. That work is to believe in Jesus. John 6:29 “Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’" (NIV) Paul clarified that the ability to believe on Jesus isn’t even something that we can do without God giving us the ability through the faith He has given us. (Eph 2:8-9) He also makes sure that we understand that this believing isn’t the same kind of efforts in which we can boast.

In fact, Paul goes even further in saying that this gift of faith is something that God had planned on giving us long before we were even born. Eph 1:4-5 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ …” (NIV) This is mind boggling if you stop to think about it for a while. Somehow, way before even time began, God knew all about us and decided that He wanted us to be holy and blameless even though He also knew we would be sinners, much less than holy and blameless. He decided that He would have to adopt us as His children in order to be able to make us holy and blameless. The only way to do that was to do it through Jesus. Eph 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (NIV) Heb 13:12 “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” (NIV)

He had this great plan in place before we existed. How can we possible think that we are saved by anything we have done, other than accepting that gift that He has provided? How can we possible think that we could somehow do something that would cause God to take that give away? I’ve run into people who think that after they have been saved they can commit some horrible sin and lose their salvation. What is interesting is that they are usually people who strongly emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that these gifts can’t be revoked. They quote this verse to prove it. Rom 11:29 “for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (NIV) What a great verse for this study! Not only does it talk about God’s gift, but His call. Once I’m called, that’s it. I’m His and there isn’t any changing it. Once I take hold of that gift of faith that leads to salvation, He will never take it away.

You can go on and find may more verses about God and His promises to us about our election and calling. Rom 8:28-39 is loaded with these promises. He called us, foreknew and predestined us, justified us, intercedes for us, nothing can separate us. They all depend on God and who He is. If your knowledge of God is lacking, then to confirm your election and calling, get to know Him better. That’s something to be zealous about.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Growing – 2 Peter 1:5-9

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For 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. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (NIV)

Because of His divine power, His great and precious promises, our participation in His nature, and therefore, our ability to escape corruption in the world, God expects something from us. He wants us to exert some effort. Reflect on what He has given us and then consider whether or not some effort on our part is appropriate. Anyone who thinks that living a Christian life should be easy has been feed some misinformation. It does take effort and it isn’t always easy. However, we aren’t doing it alone. If we try to do it alone it will be impossible. We need to remember that He gives us everything we need to live a victorious Christian life. Even in this, we must depend on Him.

Notice that the verse says we need to add to our faith. Faith is the starting point. Faith doesn’t come from us; it is the gift of God. (Eph 2:8) We need to take what God has given us and work with it.

The first thing that we are told to work on is goodness. Before we came to Christ for salvation we were corrupt as described in Eph 4:19. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. (NIV) The world’s proverb, “Do unto others before they do it unto you.” is a good description of what lies below the surface of every human being. This self-centeredness results in badness instead of goodness.

Becoming good requires a realistic view of what we were and what we should be. Eph 4:22-24 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (NIV) This “put off” and “put on” is where the effort comes in. This verse starts with, “You were taught.” Think about it. How can a Christian become good if he’s been taught all his life that his immoral behavior is normal? Yes, Jesus does clean us up by giving us His Holy Spirit, however we need to pay attention to Scripture to so that we can discern what is right and wrong. We need to be taught. Learning requires effort and we shouldn’t assume that we will suddenly have the wisdom to know what to do in every circumstance. We need to add to the goodness that we practice, more and more knowledge so that the goodness will increase and we can move on to the next step.

Self-control seems out of step with what some believe is the way the Holy Spirit works in us. They believe that once you are filled with the Holy Spirit, He will control you and you don’t have to work on it. 2 Tim 1:7 for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. (RSV) It works both ways. His Spirit gives us the willingness and ability to control our selves. Without His Spirit, we wouldn’t have a desire to be self-controlled in a godly way. That knowledge we received in the previous step points out where we need that self-control. All of these steps are circular in nature. They are like a chain where each link depends on the previous and also supplies to the next.

How is it possible to persevere without self-control? The world is clamoring for us to go the opposite way of Christ. Everyplace we go there are enticements to sin. Go to the store and there are things there that we want but can’t afford. We sin when we covet those things. Something goes wrong and we are tempted to complain or grumble. Get on the internet and it’s just you and your imagination to indulge in a host of sins from gambling to pornography. Persevering is just saying no to all these temptations. The longer you say no, the easier it gets. The temptations don’t go away so perseverance must stay.

Perseverance finally leads to godliness. This is a life significantly free from sin. Perseverance in saying no leads to a life that others will recognize as blameless. Looking back at the beginning of the Christian walk, that goodness seemed like a huge step. Now, looking from the perspective of godliness, it was just a baby step. It was a step of faith. Now, goodness is almost second nature.

All the above has been God oriented obedience and growth. He doesn’t want us to stop there. He wants us to continue to put it into practice so that it helps others. True brotherly kindness happens after getting our relationship with God right. It is treating others the way God wants. It is true friendship or brotherly love. It is the spiritual progression of being godly.

Brotherly kindness runs right into love, the kind of love that Jesus has for us. 1 Peter 1:22-23 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (NIV) We’ve been born again (came to Jesus in faith) and then purified ourselves by obeying the truth (the first steps as described above) and that should result in brotherly love. Peter then pushes to the next step which is Godly love. This is the fulfillment of our faith on earth. If we truly have Godly love for one another, we have achieved the unity that He expects us to have.

It would seem that at this point we have achieved our goal. However the next verse lets us know that we will never completely arrive, this side of heaven. These qualities are to increase. We need to start back at the top and increase every area listed. Peter knew that we would never be completely loving or godly or self-controlled or anything else. The Christian life is an ongoing progression to become more like Jesus.

When we are increasing in these qualities, whether we have taken only the first step toward goodness or whether we have advanced and then gone back to improve on any of the qualities, we will be effective and productive in our knowledge of Jesus. Do you feel that you are not effective or productive in your Christian walk? Then go back and look for the weak link in the chain. Work on it. Peter said to make every effort. Don’t give up.

Do you call yourself a Christian but can’t identify with any of these qualities? Peter says that you are nearsighted and blind. Do you know that you have been cleansed from your sins? Have you forgotten that? Is it possible that you have not been cleansed from your sins and that is the reason you don’t have these qualities. If you haven’t been cleansed then you have been calling yourself a Christian without the benefit of knowing Christ. Now is the time either to remember that you have been cleansed or to ask Jesus to forgive you and accept His cleansing. Then, move from faith to godliness and start on the progressive road of the Christian life.