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Monday, 04 January 2016 11:21

Earnest Christian Discipleship

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Dear friends, the first Banner of Truth radio message for 2016 is based on the last verses of II Peter. We have been doing a little series on this letter from the apostle Peter, and as we begin a new year, let us listen now to Peter, led by the Holy Spirit, stressing the call for Christians to diligent and eager Christian discipleship. Yes, most hearty zealous following after Jesus Christ and His gospel word. In seeing this is Peter’s earnest final exhortation to us, let us notice under this theme: 1. the basis of earnest discipleship 2. the behavior of earnest discipleship 3. the blessedness of earnest discipleship. Let me first read the last four verses [14-18] of II Peter 3. There God’s word states: “14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. 15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. 17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. 18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” To bring out the urgent last call for diligent and eager following after Jesus in spirit and truth, we need just to look at vs.14. There Peter writes, “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” The wherefore at the beginning of vs.14 brings us to the basis of Peter’s final exhortation. It relates to all that he has written in this second letter. Peter is saying in his final verses: Beloved, having heard now from me about the precious grace of God for sinners like us as revealed in Jesus Christ the Saviour of sinners and receiving that gospel, what should be the fruit thereof? Should it not be to live all out for God and His glory and in true love and care for our neighbor, not just in terms of this life but thinking of their spiritual and eternal wellbeing too? Realizing as well that many false teachers and scoffers are going about, should we not always be so careful in God’s ways and zealously be pursuing those ways? Yes, also especially seeing the end of the age is approaching when Christ returns as triumphant Saviour and Lord and Judge over all, and when this old world of sin will be burned up and the eternal age begins? That eternal realm in one of two places, either in hell with all the wicked and unbelieving or in heaven with all the redeemed of God in the new heavens and earth to come? Wherefore, for all these reasons and also for the fact that Satan won’t sit still in the last days persecuting Christians and drawing away fence sitters to his lies, be diligent and zealous followers of the Lamb of God. Don’t trust yourselves ever, but daily humble yourselves before God and under His word and ask Him to guide you and guard you and bless you and make you a blessing. Do you see the basis of the apostle Peter’s last exhortations? It is his love for them, his understanding of human nature, his faith in the riches of the gospel, and his realization we live here yet in perilous times that all contributes to his earnest solemn call to us. Namely, to be diligent and earnestly steadfastly zealous disciples of Christ and His word. Here it is so important that you and I understand the bottom-line basis for the last exhortations of Peter are not some kind of self-resolution or self-determination from out of ourselves. How many New Year resolutions in this regard often come to nothing because it is all dependent on just ourselves when as sinners we have proven over and over so unreliable and undependable before God and our neighbor! But listen now, Peter is not saying at the end of his writings it is all up to us, you and me, whether we persevere in the faith and flourish in the faith in triumph. Instead, isn’t Peter urging rather to be so understanding the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and living out of that grace of God and by that grace of God and in promotion of the grace of God as revealed in the one and only Saviour of sinners and all His gospel word? Remember how he wrote already in chapter 1:3&4 about God’s divine power giving to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Christ by Whom are given to us exceeding great and precious promises in our every need with seeking and serving the Lord? The basis for an all-out ever diligent and zealous Christianity is not from within ourselves or of ourselves but from God Triune and though God Triune, and all to the glory of God Triune in Christ Jesus. While the world may promote self-determination and desperation as motives for achievement and success in the Christian life, it is not self-desperation and our own human determination that makes the difference that brings victory. It is God’s grace and humbly and heartily depending on Christ the Saviour and the riches of His grace in justification and sanctification and glorification. Does this all make sense to you now, looking at our text passage in the last verses of II Peter 3? Peter knew from personal experience that as a child of God the way forward and onward in the Christian life is never in self-dependence, and cocky unguardedness in the faith. No, we fall from our own steadfastness the moment we take our eyes off of Christ and the grace of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Peter’s two letters therefore are all about exhorting his readers truly to look to Christ, the only Saviour of sinners, and always to cling to Him and abide in Him. To follow Him, and to grow in knowing Him and testifying of Him, Jesus Christ the Lord, the crucified and risen Saviour. The Bible’s gospel message proclaims that in the Christian life no one ever adds to Christ’s work or glory but we live out of His work and for His glory. Peter thus most fittingly ends his whole letter saying in regards to Christ the Savior as given by God the Father and made known to us in our minds and hearts by the Holy Spirit, “To him be glory both now and now for ever.” The Christian life in view of Christ isn’t a matter of desperation dependent on ourselves ever. It is a matter of diligently depending on God always, God our Saviour as revealed in Jesus Christ and receiving daily out of His fullness grace for grace. Are you into knowing Christ and knowing Him better and better and loving Him more and more? Isn’t this what Peter is actually lovingly urging us in and about? And isn’t this such great gospel tidings and blessed good news as we begin another new year? God’s people don’t need to be desperate in the faith but diligent in the faith, ever looking to Jesus the Saviour and abiding in Him and His word. Having considered the basis of his Spirit-inspired exhortation for living earnest Christian godly lives, let us move to our second main point and consider the behavior of earnest discipleship. Or you might say, the conduct of true and living Christians. Here, let us go back to vs.14. What does Peter say there? “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace without spot, and blameless.” The verbs “looking for” and “being diligent” relate back to what Peter says also in vs.12. In fact, Peter uses the same verbs in both cases in the Greek. He writes at the end of vs.11 and on to vs.12 about what manner of persons we ought to be as confessing Christians, living “in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto [or eagerly awaiting and seeking for] the coming of the day of God.” From these verses and the verses following too, will you notice with me five characteristics of true Christian behavior that goes along with true discipleship when following zealously after the Lord? For one, doesn’t true discipleship show itself in being diligent to be found in Christ and heartily following after Him? Diligent in the sense of not ever taking that as a matter for granted, but daily conscientiously confessing this as your prayer and care, asking the Lord so to guide you by His Spirit and word every moment and step of our lives? True and steadfast Christians don’t stop examining themselves whether they are in the faith and ask regularly with the psalmist of Psalm 139, “Search me O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Do you reflect this humble attitude before God and others, and really believe of yourself as that Christian who testified, O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above. Let us always be alarmed when this is not our mindset and attitude reflected in our lives from day to day. Again, Peter’s humble warnings, learned painfully in his own life experience, is something we should never think we don’t have to take most seriously all the time. All Christians who have fallen deeply, but returned by God’s grace, will tell you their going astray and falling badly even was in a time of lack of humility and watchfulness in God’s ways. Peter again would be the first to tell us this and therefore he so stresses the matter for our wellbeing. Secondly, in connection with the behavior consistent with diligent and zealous following after Christ, doesn’t Peter make clear that, as he puts it, our lives must be spotless and blameless before God and man? We read of the false teachers in chapter 2:13 that they were “spots and blemishes”, holding not only to false teaching but living also in sinful and ungodly lustful ways. But when confessing Christians in truth, then we must not allow in our lives any inconsistency from God’s ways, not a single transgression against any of His commandments, not in our thoughts, words, or deeds. James speaks about pure religion as being full of good and loving deeds like visiting the fatherless and widow, and then he adds, and remaining “unspotted from the world”. Are you and I diligent in these matters, namely in putting down sin and pursuing righteousness in sincerity and truth? Is your and my testimony by God’s grace clear as a bell in this regard? Or do you, do I, give an unclear testimony, a mixed message to those around us, a blurred and unfaithful witness? What do our lives reflect? Are there spots or blemishes in regards to the Christian faith and gospel message, or are you and I diligent to be found in Christ in peace, and living without spot and blameless before God and our neighbor? Doesn’t Peter urge for a Christian witness in word and deed in line with all God’s commandments that is clear as a bell? In I Peter 3 the apostle urged along the same line about “having a good [or clear] conscience; that whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation [including conduct] in Christ.” I wonder in this regard if there is anything in your life, some habit or practice of yours that you know, if honest, doesn’t really help give you a ‘clear as a bell’ Christian testimony? Something that you ought to give up and turn from, by God’s grace? When it is well with our soul, shouldn’t we ask, and won’t we ask and resolve: Lord, whatever is causing me to give an uncertain gospel sound and witness in my life, help me to see it and turn from it, and to have a witness unquestionably clear as a bell, all out for Jesus and total submission to all His word and will. Isn’t a great problem in the Christian church over the centuries exactly here that all too often in doctrine and life we can be halfhearted rather than wholehearted, giving an uncertain trumpet sound for the gospel rather than a testimony clear as a bell, clear as bell, clear as a bell? Will you this year, by God’s grace, give a ‘clear as a bell’ Christian testimony in all you think, say, and do, God helping you by His Word and Spirit every day anew? Here also a third behavior trait of earnest discipleship that Peter brings out is loving God’s word and always and again placing yourself under it and watching out for any false teachings concerning it. This comes out in what Peter says when he speaks in vs.15&16 about the wisdom of Scripture to guide us as given by the apostles and prophets. It fits too with what Peter wrote in the first chapter of II Peter 1:19 exhorting us always to take heed to God’s word as a light that shines in a dark place until the day dawn and the day star arise in our hearts. God’s faithful and true people are and remain people of the book, people under the book, people with God’s word as a lamp to their feet and a light upon their path. How much we need to be submerging ourselves and submitting ourselves to God’s holy infallible Scriptures, all 66 books in the whole of the Old Testament and New Testament. Are you into God’s word and will you follow it as a lamp to your feet and a light on your path also in this new year, 2016? The only safe passage to glory is ever staying with the Bible, and asking God to lead us by His word and Spirit till journey’s end. Does your and my life reflect this love and devotion for God’s word? Or do you spend more time texting others than listening to God’s text to us? If you honestly added your hours behind television and computer, being entertained by what the world wants to tell and offer us compared to the time in God’s word and in books about His word, in study of His word with others and hearing the preaching of His word, would it be convicting to you and perhaps shocking even? Especially if you knew others would know? How many confessing Christians think they know mostly all there is to know from the Bible and the Christian faith when the facts are that the most knowledgeable and devoted believer among us knows hardly the tiniest little bit of the endless riches of all there is to learn and know. Exactly because people know their Bibles so little today, there is such an easy falling into error and false teaching quickly, left to ourselves. Let us be aware of these things and being much in the word can help us have our antennae up for false doctrine in any way. Peter urges really even the hard sections of Scripture, some of which are found in Paul’s writings too inspired by God’s Spirit, should not discourage us from the truth. Rather, we are to study and search the Holy Bible all the more, and prayerfully pray for God’s illumination and guidance in understanding and applying all God’s word by the unmistakable irresistible ministry of the Holy Spirit. Dear friends, are you resolved in this way too, not desperately so but diligently so? Don’t think you can expect blessings and peace in life when living in disregard for God’s word and the faithful preaching and teaching of His word. Oh, how important that we care much about this for ourselves and for our families. This is what Peter, the apostle of Christ, led by the Holy Spirit of God teaches us in his inspired writing as we have it in God’s word. Then a fourth characteristic of Christian behavior going with diligent and zealous discipleship is growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. Isn’t it always true, if you and I are not growing in grace and faith and godliness, we are likely stalling and becoming stagnant and living unfaithfully in creed and conduct? The “But” at the beginning of vs.18 suggests the opposite of falling away is growing steadfastly. As someone wrote: The Christian life …is like riding a bicycle. Unless you keep moving, you fall off! No true Christian thinks that he has ‘arrived’. Peter and Paul (Philippians 2:13f) both urge others to press on as they themselves do. The Christian life is a developing life for it consists in getting to know at ever greater depth an inexhaustible Lord and Saviour. It is the mark of false teachers and hypocrites that they think they have it altogether and need no more teaching and guidance and instruction, etc. Are you and I taking care to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ? This is what identifies the true and thriving believer. Does it identify you too, by God’s grace? Does it show also in you making use of the means of growing, thinking of attendance at the churches services, the Bible studies, and the fellowship times? The good books that can be read and the countless opportunities of Christian service at home, and in the church, and in the community and world around us? Can your life be described as Peter urges in I Peter 2:15, living “with well doing” by God’s grace, for “so is the will of God” Peter says in that verse. Which Christian wanting to live in zealous pursuit and testimony of God won’t accept the need continually to be exhorted and encouraged in this way of constant “well doing” and pray and work steadfastly not to become weary in “well doing”, trusting also as Paul says in Galatians 6:10, “for in due season, we shall reap, if we faint not.” Saying that brings me yet to the last point to mention in regards to Christian behavior when living in diligent and zealous Christian discipleship before God and our neighbor. That is living in the light of Christ’s return and the last judgment day to come. Your posture and mine needs to be, if it is well, always keeping in view the certainty of Christ’s sudden climactic return one day and the necessity to be ready whenever He should appear, and to live calling others to be ready too. Are you and I living with second coming conscientiousness, and aiming always by God’s grace to be ready to meet Him? False teachers deny Jesus’ second coming and also live wicked and immoral hypocritical lives in one way or another. But Peter here stresses in his final verses to let there be a constant look of hope in view of Christ’s return with a life of pursuit of holiness in thankful trust and praise of Christ Jesus, the one and only Saviour of sininers. Indeed, just as the apostle John wrote too in I John 3:3 saying, “And every man that hath this hope in him [of Jesus’ glorious return and going to heaven by grace through faith in Him], purifieth himself even as he is pure.” Are you looking to that final day and living in humble and expectant anticipation of that coming day of God? How terrible that day will be for all the wicked and unbelieving but how wonderful for all the trusting and faithful followers of Christ the Saviour. If you are not yet saved, won’t you listen to the gospel tidings while it is yet the day of grace? In short the gospel message is, whoever believes in Christ, repenting of sin and trusting and following Him as only Saviour of sinners and Lord of our lives shall be saved. Whoever will not repent nor believe will perish in their sins and be cast into eternal hell, there to suffer the punishment for sin justly and forevermore. Oh, that everyone hearing this message now will truly listen to the gospel call while it is yet the day of grace and before Christ suddenly returns, as will happen even when we might think and say it will never happen. Are you and I diligent and zealous followers of the Lamb in our lives and in our times? The five traits of the behavior of godly faithful disciples of the Lord as we have thought about them from the text, are they traits you and I have and desire to have more and more by God’s grace and Spirit in our lives? This is what Peter is surely urging as he closes off his writings. And he does this also in view of our third main point yet, very briefly, about the blessedness of so living and dying. The blessedness of so living and dying diligent and zealous Christians is that in this way God is glorified as is His due, and we become such a blessing to others too. It is also the way of experiencing such assurance of faith and delight in God’s ways. Yes, when you and I, by God’s grace alone, live heartily and holily before the Lord and seek to love Him and our neighbor as God commands, and not less and less so as time goes on, but more and more so, God helping us day by day. When our aim thus becomes ever to please the Lord, God Triune will not shortchange His people in this desire but both truly bless us and make us a blessing to others. Why, we might even be the means of being instruments of the gospel to others and helping bring this city and country and world to pay attention to the one and only gospel message for this perishing world of so much suffering and misery on account of sin. Namely, the gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and His marvelous grace for whoever confesses their sins and trusts and follows Him. To such a calling and way of life Peter would call the Christians in his day and still today knowing, as one put it: “Our principal business on earth is to please God. This is the grand end of our creation—we were formed to glorify Him. This was the great design in our redemption—to show forth His praise. On this one object—our attention should be fixed! To this one end—all our efforts should be directed!” Even so, may God bless also this short series of five messages based on II Peter, leaving none of us unsaved, and causing us by His Spirit and word to be faithful and zealous Disciples of Christ Jesus as only Saviour and Lord. Amen! Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor
Read 1257 times Last modified on Monday, 04 January 2016 11:23