As we dive into a new series through 2 Peter called "Hold Fast" Todd teaches us about the threat that influenced Peter's writing of the letter. In spite of obvious persecution from without, Peter warns the church of the more dangerous threat of poison from within.
A Diligent and Right Response to "These Things"
A Reminder of How and When "Joy to the World" Comes
Saints and Scoffers Running out of Time
False Teaching and False Teachers: the Difference and the Danger of Both
False Teaching is a Trap
Lot: the Trampled Spring That Is Wonderfully Saved and a Horrible Warning
The Grace and Truth False Teachers Miss and the Judgment They Won’t
The Words and Ways of the False Teacher and What to Do about It
Stirring Truth That Makes Men Useful
The Choreographed Christian Life
Persecution From Without Is Not Near the Threat as Is the Poison From Within
Good evening. We are glad to be with you. We are going to dive into a series probably all the way up through Christmas looking at 2 Peter. It's always interesting, I think, to figure out why we choose the books we do for us to look at together. It's interesting, this week, to figure out why Peter chose to write his last letter on the topic he wrote on.
It might be a little surprising when you look to see why Peter wrote 2 Peter, because it's not a book about what was the prevailing threat of his day in the person of Nero. There was a lot of persecution that was happening to those who took the name of Christ and were seeking to live faithfully in the Roman Empire.
Nero was a bit of a quack. History, pretty much, is absolutely unanimous on this idea of what he did to feed his narcissism and his desire to make Rome greater still and to further his building projects. When you're in a very populated area, it's tough to find land to build on to make your kingdom that much more impressive. Nero needed to clear some land. The way he did it was by setting fire to some of the more highly populated areas where there were homes that were built, mostly out of wood, and populated, usually, by the most under-resourced in the region.
Nero just went and set it all on fire. It burned for three continuous days. They finally got it under control, and then it came back with a vengeance. The people were pretty convinced Nero was behind this, given the way he, as they say, fiddled while Rome burned. He even went back out and had different arsonists continue to spread it throughout the city.
They were not very happy with their emperor. As public opinion continued to rise up against him, he decided to come up with a rather convenient scapegoat. The scapegoat he chose was the Christians, because Romans didn't like Christians. They considered Christians atheists, cannibals, and incestuous people, because they did not worship at the temples of Rome.
They didn't worship Rome's gods. Rome had as many gods as the Greeks did. You guys know this from your middle school studies. They just named them differently. Christians would not worship at those temples and participate in the pagan practices, so they thought they were atheists.
Secondly, they said they were cannibals because they ate the bread, or the body, and drank the blood of Christ. They thought they were incestuous because they called themselves brothers and sisters, gave themselves in marriage to one another, and raised families. This incestuous, cannibalistic, atheistic people were hated by the Romans.
They were also hated by the Jews, which was a protected class of believers within Rome. You were allowed to be a Jew in Rome. The Jews were not wild about Christians because they were depleting their numbers, as a number of Jews began to trust specifically in Jesus as the Christ and the Messiah and they no longer participated in the festivals and practices that defined Judaism.
It was easy to make those Christians a hated class. In order to let people know he was committed to dealing with these hated people who were setting their city ablaze, Nero put them ablaze. He would actually skewer them from head to toe, run a pole right through the individual while they were still alive, roll them in pitch (tar), and light them to keep the city lit at night.
The people would make their way to Nero's circuses and great parties he threw for the commoners in order to entertain them and get them distracted from the problems of their day, not the least of which was their mad emperor. He would clothe them in animal skins and set his hunting dogs loose with them. We know much conversation about the lions and the Christians, but it was often Nero's hunting dogs themselves that would chase them as they were clothed in bloody animal skins and devoured alive.
Peter himself knew it was probably only a matter of time before he, one of the leaders of the early church, was found by Nero's henchmen and was put to death. In fact, he was put to death in a place we now call Vatican City, or St. Peter's Basilica. Right there in that area, history holds that Peter was crucified upside down because he did not feel he was worthy to die the same way his Savior did.
You might think, in the midst of this being the treatment of believers, he would talk about not shrinking back in the face of persecution, but you're going to find out that's not at all what Peter ended his life speaking about. He had actually written about that earlier, not just with the madness of Nero and making Christians the scapegoat for the fire that burned down most of Rome. He had written earlier to believers all over the Roman Empire that they should not be surprised the world hates them if they hated their Master before them.
I don't think even Peter himself imagined what believers would go through, eventually. When it got to 2 Peter, he wrote about something that was consistent with what James and Jude wrote about, too. They were half-brothers of Jesus who were leaders in the early church. What Paul wrote about in his very last letter, Peter wrote about in his last letter. Of what is it that you think leaders of the faith would say, "On my death bed, I'm not going to mince words about things that are unimportant. This is what you need to know and beware of."
To set up 2 Peter, I'm going to read extensively from Paul. If you have your Bibles, turn to 2 Timothy. We're going to spend some time looking at what Paul had to say. What's really interesting, as we get set to do this, is it's been a common, observable fact in history that persecution has typically led to the advancement of the gospel more than the cessation of it.
Listen. Persecution is a big, big problem, but it's not even the major problem the church has. There are more people who have died for their faith in the last 100 years than the previous 2,000 years combined. Persecution is on an uptick. It is not winding down. We do need to know we should not fear rejection of men or persecution by men more than we should fear God himself, who can not just destroy the body but can cast souls into hell forever. Let me give you one example of what I mean about the fact that persecution is not typically our greatest problem.
In 1949, when the Communist Party was quickly rising to power in China, it pushed out many of the missionaries from the West. The China Inland Mission was taken away, and all the folks who were there sharing the hope of Christ with the Chinese people were ushered out of the country. People believed the church and the work of Christ in China was sure to be wiped off the map. There were an estimated 4 million Chinese who knew Christ in 1949.
There's a book that was just released by a sociologist at Purdue University. Based on his study of the church in China and what has happened since the increase in persecution of the church in China, it has become one of the fastest-growing places on earth for followers of Christ. Now there is upwards of 130 million believers in China, and they project by 2030 there will be almost 250 million. It will be the most Christian nation on earth.
There are 300 million people, roughly, in America, and they're saying within China, because of the discipleship and the seriousness with which they must take their faith, the church is growing wildly. Let me tell you what has happened. When I've talked to believers from the Middle East, Romania, Albania, and some of the places like China and others where they're still being persecuted, I typically say to them, "We're praying for you. We know the extreme duress you live under."
They look at me, and they've said this. They go, "Todd, you tell your people we pray for them. Of course we love Jesus. We see the effects of an atheistic, godless society. We see Islam and Sharia law are not hopeful. We see the oppression of people. We all dream we could live in the freedom you live in. What we marvel at is that you, living in the prosperity of the West, have not chosen to give yourselves away to the love of pleasure and the love of self."
Persecution always drives and forces clarity. Prosperity fosters love of comfort. Prosperity provides distraction. They said, "We are amazed that your faith is growing and remaining strong and that you are not loving all that the freedoms your country, founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, has fostered for you but that you are still true to the purposes of Christ and willing to live faithfully with him. You tell the church in the West we pray for them and marvel at their faithfulness." They understood there was something more dangerous than persecution.
One last story. If you don't know who Pastor Saeed is, you should know him. There's a website I want to make you aware of. For three years, Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran. His three-year anniversary was just last year. He was raised a Shia Muslim in Iran. He was being trained to be a suicide bomber.
At the age of 20, somebody shared the gospel with him and he came to be a believer in Jesus Christ. Eventually, as Saeed continued to build into different countrymen, and as he was part of the church in Iran, he was given some asylum and came to the United States of America, met a woman, and married her.
He and his wife felt a need to go back to Iran and to share the hope of Christ with them. He went back, and he worked with the church in Iran. When he went back three years ago to develop a government-approved orphanage in order to care for children, they found him, once again, sharing his faith, and they convicted him of sedition. They believe as the church grows, there will be more and more people who will not give themselves to Islamic law, and Sharia law won't rule their land. They believe it's the way the West is trying to undercut their authority.
He's been imprisoned for three years. When Pastor Saeed was first put into prison for his faith, he started, obviously, to share Christ with those whom he was in cells with. They did not like the fact that the church was growing and advancing in his cell, so they moved him to another cell, which just gave him another mission field and another opportunity.
They beat him, deprived him of certain privileges, and continued to trump up his charges until there were many, many believers. Political prisoners, hardened criminals, and others were coming to faith. They moved him to another cell, and more people came to Christ, so they shifted him to another prison and put him in a cell block with the most notorious murderers and terrorists, in Iran's eyes, that were in their land.
He prayed, "God, protect me." These prisoners would say, "I had a dream last night about this man named Jesus." Saeed said, "Let me tell you who he is." They've come to know Christ, and now they are sworn to protect his life, because even though they are in prison Saeed has helped them see how they can be free.
This man, who has been kept from his children and his family and who wanted to see the gospel go forth in Iran, probably didn't want it to happen. I know he didn't want it to happen, and we shouldn't want him to be imprisoned and persecuted the way he's been, but the gospel is advancing.
A United States diplomat told his wife, "The problem is, your husband won't stop sharing his faith. He making Iranian officials increasingly mad that he will continue to spread Christianity in Iran, even though that's why they arrested him." To that, she said, "Well, why don't they let him go? Then he'll stop sharing his faith in Iran. Get him home."
Go read the articles about Pastor Saeed, learn from his example, read the letters he has written to his daughters from prison, and know that, while persecution is increasing, and there are individuals who are suffering around the world, and you should be mindful of them… I don't mean to burst your bubble.
Some of you are involved in prison ministry. I'm so glad you're involved in prison ministry where you go and minister to those who have made choices that have, deservingly, gotten them incarcerated. Maybe because of a lack of a father being present, generational sin, and the brokenness that was in their particular part of the city, they follow in the footsteps of those before them.
It's wonderful that we go and minister to those who are in prison, but when the Bible talks about doing prison ministry, just so you know, it's not talking about the way we typically do prison ministry in the West. It's talking about believers, brothers in Christ, who have been incarcerated for their faith, who were living righteously and who are being oppressed.
It says, "Remember those who are in prison for their faith and those who are suffering hardship, because you are one with them. You mourn with them as if you were in jail yourself, and don't be forgetful of them." You can pray for Pastor Saeed and others like him around the world who are suffering, but know this. Pray that, while they're there, like when Paul was in prison, ministry would happen.
The church is thriving in the midst of persecution that we ought to seek to see stopped in every way we can. Where the church doesn't typically thrive, though, is where there's prosperity, and specifically, perversion. Do you want an answer to question, "Why did Peter write 2 Peter?" It wasn't to protect the church from persecution without. It was to warn the church about poison from within.
It's exactly what Paul said at the end of his life: "The most dangerous thing that can happen to a Christian is they would not be attentive to truth. The message of the faith, once and for all delivered to the saints, could be watered down, made convenient, and not firmly embraced. That will be the death of the church, even though it freely operates."
Watch this. Let's move quickly through some of these passages. This is Paul in 2 Timothy 1. He says, "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you. You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes." Phygelus and Hermogenes were false teachers.
Sometimes I mention the names of individuals up here, and people go, "You can't do that." I go, "I just did, and I will continue to do that." When I hear men who talk about different ways to be reconciled to God, when I talk about individuals who take God's Word and tell you, "This is what it means," when it's not what it means at all, I will, as lovingly as I can, stand up and say, "Whoa."
Make sure you hold fast to the faith, and you're not led down a road by these individuals who promised you'd have your best life, health, wealth, and prosperity now, or that the way to God is through some mixture of what Jesus did plus what you do in obedience to the church. That is error, and anybody who teaches that gospel, the Bible says, is to be anathema, or accursed.
Paul is naming names. Watch this. In chapter 2, verse 14, he says, "Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."
Here's the deal. In our country, the Bible is still a venerated and celebrated book, so much so that, even though we don't really care if we make laws consistent with it, we take some comfort when people are going to lead us, put their hand on it, and say they will tend to things the way they should, "…so help me God."
The Bible is a very respected book people are largely ignorant of, and that, my friends, is the dangerous cocktail which can easily get you into a lot of trouble. Peter wrote at the very end of his book in 2 Peter 3, "Listen. I know this book, which is venerated by you, and rightly so. Much of what Paul wrote is very difficult to understand, and the untaught and unstable distort it to their own destruction. You had better make sure…" Now he's using Paul's language. "…you are a workman who doesn't need to be ashamed who can accurately handle the Word of Truth."
I mentioned it before, and I'm going to mention it to you again. If you don't have the Watermark app, download it. If you don't have The Porch app, download it. All our messages we do at both of those places and all our different ministries are on those apps for free, so you can listen to them.
I was with my friends at The Porch recently, and I talked to them about what I believe is the most misunderstood verse in your Bible. It comes in Matthew 7, where they tell you to judge not, lest you be judged. People tell you all the time, "You don't have to judge me. Don't go judging me."
Because we don't want to be intolerant, because we don't want to be called bigoted, because we don't want to be individuals who do the thing Jesus said we should do without understanding what it is Jesus was talking about, and we don't accurately handle the Word of Truth, we're intimidated into silence.
When the people who are to be salt and light, who are to preserve truth and sanctity, and who are to provide instruction, leadership, and light, are intimidated into silence by a false understanding of what the Scripture says, then why are we surprised when we see decay and darkness? We have to understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Don't judge," and we have to understand what he didn't mean when he said, "Don't judge."
Go look at that message. I talked about the danger of ever reading a Bible verse. The Bible is not little bullet points, zingers, or tweetable truth. It is a compendium of knowledge. If you jerk something out of that knowledge and revelation and think, "Judge not, let you be judged," means you never make a judgment, especially when you're a people whom Jesus calls to speak lovingly and prophetically in the land, the land will suffer. Go track down that message, I beg of you, and listen to it.
Be diligent to handle the Word correctly. Don't be intimidated by false teachers. There are false teachers everywhere. When somebody says, "Don't you judge me by commenting that what I'm doing is somehow not right," you have to know how to answer to that. If you care, I put it in a 5-minute little short for you on Real Truth. Real Quick. as well. Listen to them both.
He says in verse 16, "But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are [two other local leaders] , men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some." Then he says these words in verse 20 down through the middle of chapter 3:
"Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work."
You go, "I'm supposed to cleanse myself up, Todd, so I can be useful to the Master." Immediately, you think, "Well, I have to cleanse myself of bad TV shows, porn, and activities that are not righteous," and well you should, but that's not what he's talking about.
What Paul is talking about is, "You cleanse yourself from the way that seems right to men, from those who don't accurately handle the Word of Truth. Cleanse yourself from perversion of the text and leaning on your own understanding or leaning on your own interpretation of truth that rightly studied can be rightly understood. Don't be those people. Cleanse yourself from error, and then you'll be useful to God."
This is what Paul says a little bit later. He says, "Listen, Scripture is from God. It's breathed by God, and it's profitable to teach you, to reprove you, to correct you, and to train you in righteousness so you can be adequate and equipped for every good work." It's the exact same language.
He says in verse 22, "It is true you should flee from immorality, but we're not a bunch of people who go, 'I'm not going to go there. I'm not going to do bad things.' No. God calls us to run to him and to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on God from a pure heart." That's our commissioning. We are called to be with others who are moving us toward intimacy with Jesus.
When you got married, or if you do get married, the goal is not that you wouldn't divorce. The goal is not that you would not have an affair. That's not the bar. By the way, the way to have a great marriage is not to go hang out on Lower Greenville, look at and chat up a bunch of good-looking, and go, "You know, I'd love to go home with you. I'd love to sleep with you. You're shapely, young, and beautiful, but I'm married, so I can't go there. I'm going to leave now."
That's crazy. We're told to pursue oneness with our wives, to delight in the breasts of the woman we committed ourselves to when we were young, and to have a relationship that pursues oneness. Oneness is the goal, not just not doing bad things. The reason so many folks struggle in the Christian life is they try to not do bad things instead of deepening their love and intimacy with Jesus Christ with others who can remind them they have found the God who is life and is good.
It says, "Pursue righteousness. Don't just flee immorality." That is only half of the equation, and frankly, it's a very small part. The way you build up a transformed life is by having your mind changed. Changed lives come from changed minds who don't just focus on the negative but who meditate on the truth. Listen to what he goes on to say.
"But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."
Listen to this. This next verse I'm about to read is often a verse that is pulled out by social commentators to talk about how bad things are in certain parts of our culture. The context of this, though, is, "Let me warn you of something. In the future, the church is going to become corrupt. This stuff is going to happen in churches." Listen.
"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…" And you're going to be in Community with them. They're going to say, "I want to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with you."
When people come to Watermark, we get this all the time: "Hey, I think I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe he died on a cross. I think that fact statement is true. I am a follower of Jesus." Guess what? They get here, and they're haters of good. They're haters of their parents. They're lovers of money and lovers of self. They come up in conflict, and they're irreconcilable. They're malicious gossips. They're without self-control.
Our job is to call them to and remind them of what it means to yield to the Spirit and to deal with our flesh, and some of them go, "I don't want to do that." If you go, "Do you know what? The more we call people to radically follow Jesus Christ, the fewer people really want to jump in with us here. We have to back this truck up a little bit and come up with a little bit more relevant faith. Let's pick certain sin issues we can talk about that, frankly, won't offend my constituency, and let's agree we'll pick that sin most of us don't struggle with and focus on that."
One of the reasons people love to be church-attenders but not tend to the Word of God in their lives is it gives them a form of godliness, yet they deny it's power. Those aren't my words. Let's finish reading here, and I'll wrap up that idea. Verse 5: "They hold to a form of godliness, although they deny its power. Avoid such men as these."
In other words, there has to be a division put in at some point, because these guys say they want to be God's people, but they're irregular attenders who don't regularly tend to God's business. They don't devote themselves daily to the Word. Not only are they not capable handlers of the Word of God, but they frankly don't spend much time with the Word of God at all.
Because you devote yourself daily, pursue them relationally, and live authentically with them, when you seek to counsel them biblically, they go, "No, no, no. I'm not really down with that. I think God would not want me to do anything but be happy, and I'm not going to be happy if I stay in this relationship. Are you crazy? Nobody, really, is practicing chastity right now. Are you crazy? You really want me to order my life in that way and not do the things all my friends are doing?"
When you start to give them biblical counsel, we find a lot of people go, "I'm not looking to really pursue righteousness here. I'm just looking to say I'm okay with this Jesus thing." The Bible says when we let that become who we are as a people, we have a real problem. There's poison within. Our problem is not persecution without. Frankly, the world won't persecute us because they can't even tell we're any different than they are. Our charge is to be faithful, to do what it says in 2 Timothy 4.
"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled…""This can be your best life now." "…they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths."
We still have a nation that largely calls itself Christian. We have leaders in our land who call themselves Christian, and it seems they are most passionate when they go and represent us overseas, saying, "You guys need to stop caring so much about this particular issue of human relationships. We don't really need to protect human dignity and life, and frankly, we're fine with however you want to worship, but don't drag the way you worship into society."
That is a form of godliness that denies it's power. That is a nation whose national motto is, "In God We Trust," but not whose national manner is to trust God. We got there because we never studied 2 Peter. We didn't heed the warnings of 2 Timothy. We didn't listen to James, and we didn't listen to Jude.
Let me show you a little chart. This chart is of the historic cigarette consumption in America. You'll notice in the 1900s, we started smoking a little bit. World War I had us fire some more tobacco up to our lips. World War II increased it. In the 1950s, we saw there was a link between this larger understanding of this disease called cancer and this practice of tobacco intake.
In the mid-1960s, the surgeon general issued a report on smoking and health, and we started to slap labels on cigarettes that looked like this: "Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema, and it's going to mess with your children. We're going to recommend you slow down this practice. By the way, we're finding out now this behavior is very addictive. It's not just that you want a smoke; your body will begin to crave nicotine."
That was the 1960s. It started to change the way America perceived smoking. It got a little bit worse in 1980 when we said, "By the way, even though fewer of you are smoking than before, you need to know something. You don't want your kids to smoke, but your kids don't need to smoke if you smoke, because the dangers of secondhand smoke are going to kill your kids. Secondhand smoke can cause problems with emphysema and create lung cancer in them." Smoking came down another ratchet, because people were speaking the truth.
Then we gave them some help to deal with some of their addictions. Then we said, "We're going to make you pay what we call a sin tax or a stupid tax. If you want to kill yourself, that's fine. We're just going to make you pay extra for it." You can see the number of Americans who have been smoking has been slowly changing, primarily, though, because there was a pivot point where truth entered in and stemmed the tide.
In this series, my prayer is, in this life of sin, sadness, and compromise, as your days go forward, and this form of godliness, this churchianity, has been rising early on while you're there at church, that something would happen right here, that this would be the day that, all of a sudden, 2 Peter shows up, and it becomes a pivot point in the life of this church and our country. As our days continue, I pray there is a declension in our sadness, our sin, and our form of godliness, and that our righteousness increases. That's why we're looking at 2 Peter.
In your Watermark News today, there was a young girl who was given great beauty when she was born. She was given intelligence and a family who took her to church. She had athletic ability. She was a great dancer. She was part of the pom squad and the cheerleading groups in high school. She went to college at TCU, and her friends knew she could dance. They saw her beauty and said, "Why don't you try to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader with us?" She said, "Why not do that?"
She was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader for two years. She wasn't just any Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. She was on the cover of their calendars. She was having a great deal of success, but what was happening was, just like somebody who smokes and they don't know they've become addicted to the lifestyle and the affirmation that comes from it, there was a yellowing in her life, just like the teeth of a smoker get yellow.
Finally, she ran into somebody who, in biblical community, loved her enough to say, "Hey, Ryan, while you're doing what you're doing, and you're experiencing more and more success and celebration by the world, I see a form of godliness increasing in your life and a lack of real righteousness and goodness. I see compromise, sin, and sadness, and it's killing you. Here's the truth."
The story in your Watermark News is that became a pivot point for Ryan, who sits here now with us this morning and is in the process of having a life that not only do we say is not getting sicker, but we hold her up as an example of what it means to run all her days toward Jesus. My prayer is that this is going to be a moment for us.
Let me tell you why this is so important. When the church loses its way, it doesn't lose its way, typically, toward persecution. It finds its way, because it determines who its God is. In our country, we just went through a lot of conversations about what will become the future definition of family in our land, what forms the fabric of strength and dignity in our land, where children will be raised and how the family unit will be lived out.
I told you I don't believe the reason marriage is being redefined is because of the celebration of gay marriage from the LGBT community. It's not the lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender communities' great victory. It's the church's great shame. The reason we are where we are as a culture today is because the church is not who it should be. It needs 2 Peter.
I remember, in 1991, I walked into a Presbyterian church. There was a paper there, and I picked it up. Typically, when I'm in other houses of faith, I pick it up and say, "What are they saying to the people? What's going on in their denomination?" This is the very first paragraph from January and February of 1991.
"The General Assembly Task Force on human sexuality will recommend the Presbyterian Church of the USA [not PCA, PCUSA] eliminate its ban on the ordination of persons who practice homosexual activity." Notice this. It's not talking about people who struggle with homosexuality.
Your pastor struggles to keep his sexuality consistent with Scripture. From the day I can remember being a sexual person, I've never wanted to be moral. I've always wanted to use my sexuality to advance my own pleasure and purposes. For me, it's always been in a hetero way, but that is no less or more of a problem than somebody who goes, "Do you know what? For me, Todd, it's always been in a homoerotic way."
To that I say, "Great, we both struggle with our sexuality and having it be a source of life, and that brings us under the control of a loving God. I can't practice my heterosexual rebellion, and you shouldn't practice your homosexual rebellion. Together, we should become creatures who aren't defined by our sexual lusts. We can escape the corruption in this world by lust according to his magnificent promises as we become partakers of his divine nature. We can still be sexual beings, but not in a way that's destructive to ourselves or our society."
You have the church saying, "We recommend the church make room for adultery and responsible sex among singles in a revised ethic designed to make the church more relevant to a contemporary life." That was 1991. Fast-forward 15 years, and the PCUSA has made it a standard part of their doctrinal belief that marriage is officially defined, now, by either one man and one woman, two women, or two men, in every congregation.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church allows a pastor to bless, condone, and marry same-sex couples. The Episcopal Church named a gay leader. Not somebody who struggles. You have somebody who struggles as your pastor, but he doesn't live according to the flesh. The life he now lives in the flesh he lives by faith in the Son of God who loves him and delivered himself up for him. He's walking in the blessing of finding a God who is not my flesh.
The Episcopal Church says, "Hey, we're going to name people who don't conduct themselves in righteousness, and we're going to encourage and allow priests to do gay weddings." The United Church of Christ, all the way through…
We have a man who is running around the United States right now who is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church has come up with this fanciful idea called annulment. If you get into a marriage, and you find out that marriage is not the marriage you wanted to be in, there are certain potential hoops you can get through where that marriage can be annulled.
Watch this chart. Only 7 percent of the world's Catholics live in America, but 50 percent of Roman Catholic marriage annulments happen in this country. Roman Catholic churches have been denigrating the idea of covenant marriage long before gay, lesbian, and bisexual couples said they wanted to redefine marriage. The church redefined marriage first.
It's no surprise people said, "Why are you upset if we redefine it this way? You don't really care about covenant marriage. You don't really care about one woman and one man being married, because you have all these activities going on." It is true that the marriage and divorce rate between "Christians" and non-Christians has been 50/50. There is a 50 percent success rate with both professing Christians and non-professing Christians.
They don't tell you the dirty little secret of that statistic, which is if you are a church-attender, if you're somebody who says you are a Protestant but you're not abiding, you don't pursue faith, love, and purity with those who call upon God with a pure heart and you're not actively engaged in biblical, communal living, your divorce rate is 20 percent higher than the national average.
You call yourself a member of God's church, but you only have a form of godliness and deny its power. You're in bigger trouble than those who don't know Christ, because at least they might consider the church or Christ as part of the solution. When you have a said faith, you don't need to go back and look to see if the faith is a solution, because you already think you have it when you don't have it.
The divorce rate among professing Protestants is 20 percent higher than the national average. The divorce rate among abiding Protestant believers who pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call upon God from a pure heart is 35 percent lower. The conglomeration of that makes it look like church and non-church divorce rate is the same. It's not.
People who walk with Jesus have different marriages, but beware. In the last days, there are going to be lots of people who say they're in the church, who may attend church every now and then, who do not tend to God's business in their own hearts. I pray this series is a pivot for you, that you start to tend to the business of God and not of a form of godliness by being a regular attender without living the one anothers of Scripture.
The gay and lesbian community (GLAAD, specifically) has been very forthright about their wanting to push their agenda onto society. We showed this during the Head, Heart, Hands series we did here where we talked about the fact that the way you change a culture is by making sure that culture's mind is changed. You give them different truths.
Here is GLAAD celebrating: "Listen, we've worked with Hollywood for more than 25 years in order to increase and improve LGBT-inclusive storylines." In 2003, there were just a few, but we get up all the way to 2012, and there are 111 different gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters, many of whom are greatly celebrated.
This is one man's observation: "According to Hollywood, gay men are just fabulous. You can hardly turn on a sitcom, read a novel, or watch a movie without seeing the gay man abstraction, a guy who's funny, cute, and kooky, has great taste in clothes, and will always solve the straight female protagonist's problems by the end of the episode. You would do well to have a gay friend, and maybe to be one." That has been a rather consistent message that has been sent out there.
Here's my question. This last week, where did you invest your time? I went and looked at the top 10 shows on television, according to Nielsen ratings from 2014-2015. Interestingly enough, 5 of the 10 were Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, the NFL pregame show, and the NFL postgame show. Truth.
In addition to that, you had Empire. Has anybody ever taken in some of that? I haven't ever taken in Empire, but I watch, every now and then, sports on TV. If I'm on the channel Empire is on, I've caught a few of those ads starting to float across my face, and I can tell it's about illicit relationships, power, and personal indulgence.
Another show is Scandal. Have you ever watched Scandal? I haven't, because I don't have time, but I've seen the ads, and I get a sense that it's about illicit relationships, power, personal pleasure, and intrigue. Have you taken in Game of Thrones at all? It's filled with sexual violence. They write those storylines in because they say they know people will watch it when they can show them the kind of sex they fantasize about.
My question is…Are we, ourselves, focusing and meditating on and living vicariously out through these people ? We can't believe the scandal of the person who's trying to build their own empire and enthroned their flesh the way they are. Do we think, somehow, that's not going to affect us?
Maybe you're just like those Romans who don't really care about what's ultimately true as long as you have your circuses and your free bread. "Let's let Rome burn, and let's let our night be lit with the Christians. Just give me my NFL football and make sure you don't jack with my fantasy league."
Have you spent more time being distracted by fantasy and your comfort or exploring fantasy through other people's lives than you have been tending to God's Word this week? There is a good chance most of you in this room have been taught more by watching TV and having the value of fame, sex, and intrigue than you have been studying the one thing that will help you hold fast to life. When that happens, we have a world of hurt.
That's why, a number of years ago, a Scottish statesman said this: "Let me write the songs of a nation, and I don't care who writes its laws." You might well say today, "Let me write the sitcoms and the series on TV, and I don't really care who preaches in their churches, because we get them in our pews more than you do, and we will influence them."
The guys who ran MTV said, "We don't try to influence your kids. We try to own them." They are taking you to church. Peter is saying, "You have to hold fast." Watch this. Let's read 2 Peter 1:1-4. What Peter is going to talk to us about these next weeks is that the poison that comes from within, compromised faith, is more dangerous to who we are and what God has done for us than persecution from without. I'll read it to you, and we'll come back and look at it.
"Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."
You just read that, and it didn't sound quite as tantalizing as Sunday Night Football, did it? It wasn't even as clear, in some ways, as Paul. It certainly wasn't as intriguing as the storyline in Empire or Scandal. Let me see if I can make it more interesting. This is what's going on. This is Simon Peter, Simeon Petros. Simeon was a very common name.
Peter says, "I'm a common guy. You need to know there are two sides to my story. I'm just Simon. Simon was a loudmouth man with little faith. Simon was a quick to jump in but slow to stick to it kind of guy. Simon was certain he would not fail, yet he consistently failed those who were close to him. Simon fell asleep instead of being watchful and praying, but I'm not just Simon. I'm not just named after one of the sons of Jacob, of Israel. I don't just have a common name. I have been given a new name, and I have been made a new man. I am Petros."
That was the name Jesus gave him when he finally recognized who Jesus was. He said, "You are the Christ. You're the Son of the Living God." Jesus said to him, "You are right, Petros." Petros is a word used of a stone that is pulled from the quarry that is strong and will be used to build. He said, "You are Petros, and on this petra…" Petra is the word for quarry, the bedrock, the solid foundation.
There's a lot of debate about what that solid foundation was. The pope, who was just here, believes the foundation is Peter, and there has been this thing called apostolic succession so that the pope can speak ex cathedra, from the throne, and be infallible, and what the pope says is something you should hold fast to.
I would tell you you should not hold fast to what the pope says or what Todd Wagner says or what Joel Osteen says or what Matt Chandler says or what John Piper says unless it's consistent with the Word of God. In fact, if I had my way, in every pulpit in America there would be another warning, and it would look like this. It would be the Divine Physician's Warning. Everybody would see: "Ingesting false teaching will complicate your life, possibly eternally. Examine the Scriptures to see if the things you hear are true." That's what you need to do.
Every single one of us needs to make sure we don't listen to some person and treat them like a rock star. We don't need to listen to some rock star podcast or somebody because they have a megachurch or a megaministry. You listen to them because they point you to the Man, Jesus Christ, and the Word he taught. You learn to follow him. If that teacher accurately handles the Word of Truth, exalts Christ, and tells you to hold fast to him, that will be the pivot point in your life. You make Jesus your hero.
Peter is saying, "Let me tell you who I am. I'm just a common man, but I am Petros. I'm a part of the building God is going to give you." Jesus did say, "Hey, man, I'm going to send you my Word, and the Word is going to bring to your remembrance everything I taught you. This Word, this profession of who I am, this belief in who I am, this gospel is going to be the foundation we're going to build on, the foundation led by Christ and the apostles." That is the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.
Peter says, "Do you know who I am? I am a guy who was a coward but now is courageous. I was clueless, but now I'm made wise. I'm a guy who was impulsive, but now I'm steadfast." Just like Paul, he was a terrorist who was consumed with the law, and God humbled him and consumed him with grace.
David was an adulterer, and God brought truth into his life and had him be a worship leader. Matthew, a tax collector who was consumed with money, met Jesus and wrote more about the proper handling of money than any other gospel writer. He said, "I'm not just Simon. I'm Peter, and Jesus has changed me, so I am his bondservant."
A bondservant was a slave, but not just any slave. Slavery in the Bible, by the way, is not what we had in America and England in the 1700s and 1800s. Typically, biblical slavery had more to do with indentured servitude, where, through debt and choices, you could not provide for yourself anymore, and you'd go work for the man.
You owed the man money, so you had nothing left except to pledge your life in service to him. It wasn't people who were grabbed from another civilization because they were different than you, and you made them slaves. There was that kind of slavery in Rome, but when the Bible is talking about slavery, it's typically talking about the way they're treating one another. That's why, every seven years, there was this Shemitah, this abolition of debts. There was a setting free.
At the end of that time when you were set free to go back and the debts were erased, if, because of the way the master had treated you, you loved him and were grateful to him, you saw the discipline, kindness, and grace he brought into your life led to prospering, and you chose not to return, but to stay there and serve him, you would become a doulos. In the Greek language, it was a word for bondservant, and it was a slave who willfully chose to serve their master because of the master's kindness, wisdom, goodness, and love.
Peter is saying, "You make no mistake about who I am. I have been sent forth…" That's what the word apostle means. "I have been sent forth by Jesus Christ, and I am gladly his slave because he has changed me. I am no longer Simon. I am Peter, and God has used me to build into this land steadfast truth. If you know anything about me, I was anything but a steadfast man."
He says, "I'm writing to all who have received this gospel of Jesus, the fact that he changes you." The faith there is not just some belief. It's actually a noun that represents the entire gospel message Christ came to bring. It's not an idea. It is truth that will set you free.
He says, "The story you have heard about who Jesus is, what he's done, the cross he's gone to, the punishment he bore, and the resurrection that's sealed the fact that he was God's Man is the same faith that changed me. I went from being Simon to being Petros at the moment I had clarity on who Jesus is." If you have clarity in who Jesus is, then your life can have radical change. You can go from being Simon to being Peter.
"Everything I have is available to you and has been given to you by the righteousness…" Watch this. "…of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ." Right here, he's saying, "Make no mistake. I knew Jesus. Jesus wasn't just a good prophet or a good teacher. Jesus was God." "He was the visible image of the invisible God," Paul would write. Peter's buddy John said, "In the beginning, Jesus was with God, and he was God."
The Bible is very clear about who Jesus said he was and about who the people who knew him thought he was. Just so you might not be confused, Peter, this fisherman who became a great man of faith but was not a great theologian, wants you to know while Jesus was God, God the Father and Jesus are two very different people.
If you keep reading right there in verse 2, it says, "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord…" Our God and Savior Jesus is somehow different than God and Jesus. Peter understood that the Trinitarian view, as we would call it today, has always been something the Bible has revealed. Jesus said, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father. I'm not the Father. I and the Father are one."
There is unity in the Godhead. There's only one God. There is no contradiction in saying there is one God who is eternally existent in three persons. It's a logical contradiction to say there is one person who is three people. That's a contradiction, but Peter knew there is one God, and there is unity in them. There is diversity, distinctiveness of persons, and equality. They are the same essence.
He's saying, "I know God through Jesus. Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me." If you will believe what I have believed, it can be a pivot point for you, Ryan, and every other Simon in this room. God can change you, and he will change you. He says, " You've received the same faith as mine, by the righteousness of this God, Jesus Christ."
He says, "Grace and peace…" Grace is everything a Jew could want, and peace is everything a Greek would seek. "It's going to be multiplied to you, as you have a deep heart knowledge of who God and Jesus our Lord is. We are changed by him. What Jesus did for us by his divine power has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness."
We don't need anything else but to be reunited with God, because if we're reunited with God, and God is the Sovereign in the heavens, then everything we need for life and righteousness is ours. Jesus, according to his kindness, has given us peace. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God…" Romans 5:1 says.
He's the God who gives grace and glory. That's what Jesus has brought. His divine power has given that to us through the knowledge of him who called us. "Jesus called me. I'm just a fisherman, people, but he made me a fisher of men. I'm impulsive, but he made me steadfast. I'm a failure, but he made me faithful. I'm a coward, but he made me courageous. You can know him."
"He said to me, 'Peter, follow me.' I'm telling you, follow Jesus and hold fast to him, because he's the one who changes you. That's what he wants to start with. Don't let anybody come and bring corruption to your life, because purity about the gospel and purity about the truth of who Jesus is is everything."
" [He] called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these [his own glory and excellence] He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."
Let me make this very clear to you. There's a person, his name is Jesus, and he has come to offer you peace. Through his kindness and his power, he can take you out of the domain of darkness and call you into the kingdom of his beloved self, where you, through the promise of being forgiven and redeemed by his blood, can become partakers of the divine nature, and your life will no longer be corrupted by the lusts that are in this world. Jesus is saying, "You come get some of that."
Let me give it to you again. Here's 1-4. Are you ready? The person of Christ (verse 1) can give you peace (verse 2) through his power, which reconciles you to God. He has promised to forgive you, reconcile you to God, and make you partakers of the divine way. Having received the divine way, do you want to let go of that? I love what Peter says. He says, "He's done all this by his glory and excellence."
Someone asked me this question. I was speaking, actually, to a bunch of young college kids here, and they did a Q & A with me. They said, "Todd, if you could go back and tell your 18-year-old self anything, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?" I didn't even hesitate. I said right away, "I'll tell you exactly what I'd tell my 18-year-old self. It's the same thing I tell my 52-year-old self every morning. It has something to do with what David told his kingly self in Psalm 101."
Psalm 101 is what I call the psalm of kings, because it talks about how righteousness will reign in the land. It starts with the king having a right view of God. Psalm 101:1 says, "I will sing of your lovingkindness and justice, O Lord. I will praise your name forever." In other words, "I will believe surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life if the Lord is my Shepherd."
I would tell myself God is glorious and excellent. I would say, "The sun comes up, a new day is dawning. It's time to sing his praise again. Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, I want to be singing about him again when the evening comes. He is my everything. He is my source of life. He's the only thing that can take me from being a common man to being a contributor to goodness, strength, and righteousness in society. He can keep me from destroying myself."
I would tell myself everyday, "You are rich in love and slow to anger. Your name is great, and your heart is kind." I would tell myself everyday what Peter is trying to tell you as you get started: "You have met the Light, the hope of the world. His name is Jesus, and you hold fast to him. He has done everything for you. You, now, just need to receive his offer of love."
I would tell myself for me to not take advantage of his divine promises and his magnificent provision for me is the definition of a foolish life. I would make sure I am not entertained by circuses or scandals, but I would meditate on his Word day and night, so I might be careful to do according to all that is written in it. That's how I will escape the corruption in this world by lust.
Amen? That's what I would tell myself when I was 18 in the morning, mid-morning, noon, mid-noon, evening, and night. Let's tell ourselves that now, that if we're wise and want to bless our souls, we'll worship his holy name. Peter says, "You hold fast to him." Let's stand together.
Bless the Lord
Oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I'll worship Your holy name
Father, we do want to come to you right now, and we want to sing this song to ourselves. We believe Peter, that holding fast to the work of Christ, the person of our God and Savior, Jesus, and what he's done for us is the key to grace and peace. We thank you that, through your power, you have performed for us what we could never perform for ourselves.
You have reconciled us to you, that we might become partakers of your divine nature, Father, that we would experience the blessing that is intimacy with you. We thank you that you are not a God who is here to consume us. You're a God who came to save us. You will judge sin, but you are rich in love and slow to anger. As we start this day, or, in our case, end it, as the sun comes up, we want to start by reminding ourselves we should sing to you.
The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes
Father, we're singing, now, in the evening. Many things have come to pass today. Some of our circuses have been blown up. We're thankful you show us how fleeting infatuation with worldly things is. Lord, we are constantly corrupted by what we give our hearts to, so tonight we want to give our hearts to you, the one who, as we said, is rich in love and slow to anger. Let us meditate on that goodness and kindness of who you are.
Bless the Lord
Oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I'll worship Your holy name
Remind yourself of this truth. Here we go.
You're rich in love
And You're slow to anger
Your name is great
And Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness
I will keep on singing
10,000 reasons for my heart to find
Bless the Lord
Oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I'll worship Your holy name
Father, I pray as we leave here today those of us who know you would be reminded that holding fast to you is where wisdom is. I pray we would not give ourselves to circuses. I pray we would not be corrupted by this world, but that our eyes would be fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.
Help us, now, to worship you and to sing your song to our hearts. Again and again, you've taken us Simons and made us Peters. You have given us everything pertaining to life and godliness. Your glories, your excellencies, your divine promises, and the power of the cross have allowed us to be partakers of the divine nature so we can escape the death we march into too often.
Father, I pray for anybody who is in this room who has not known the kindness of who you are, that this would be the pivot point for them and they would come and follow the Jesus who is rich in love and slow to anger, whose name is great, and whose heart is kind. Would you bring them to you this evening? If we know you, would we go and worship you now? In Christ's name, amen.
Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.