Monday, March 3, 2008

The Importance of Reminders - Part 1

This post is built on my sermon at church today, so those who were there will recognize the material right away. In order to avoid a post that would be too long for the average reader, I will divide it into two parts and post the second part in a few days.

In 1879, J.C. Ryle, an English Anglican bishop, wrote a book titled Holiness. It has been republished and is available today. In fact, I discovered a couple of weeks ago that the entire book is available to read on-line for free at, so I would encourage you to take the time to read it. I want to quote some excerpts from it in which Ryle wrote about the condition of the church of his day. He wrote this almost 130 years ago, but I think you will agree that except for the older style of writing, it sounds like it was written yesterday about the American church. Ryle wrote:
There is much in the attitude of professing Christians in this day which fills me with concern and makes me full of fear for the future. There is an amazing ignorance of Scripture among many, and a consequent want of established, solid religion. In no other way can I account for the ease of which people are, like children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine. There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is truth. There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational and exciting and rousing to the feelings…Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and as long as the preacher is clever and earnest, hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully narrow and uncharitable if you hint that he is unsound.
That was from the first part of the book. Let me quote from the last part:

The times require at our hands distinct and decided views of Christian views of Christian doctrine. I cannot withhold my conviction that the professing church of the 19th century is as much damaged by laxity and lack of distinctness about matters of doctrine within as it is by skeptics and unbelievers without. Today a myriad of professing Christians seem utterly unable to distinguish things that differ. Like people afflicted with color blindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound…They are destitute of spiritual sense, apparently, and cannot detect error…These people live in a kind of mist, or fog…They are eaten up with a morbid dread of controversy, and an ignorant dislike of ‘party spirit’, and yet they really cannot define what they mean by these phrases.

The explanation of this boneless, nerveless, jelly-fish condition of soul is not difficult to find…Above all, the natural heart generally likes the praise of others, shrinks from collision, and loves to be thought charitable and liberal…For your own soul’s sake, dare to make up your mind what you believe. Dare to have positive, distinct views of truth and error. Never, yes never, be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions. And let no fear of man, and no morbid dread of being thought party-spirited, narrow or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colorless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.

Mark what I say! If you want to do good in these times, you must throw aside indecision, and take up a distinct, sharply cut doctrinal religion. If you believe little, those to whom you try to do good will believe nothing.

I would echo those words regarding our churches today. That is the same danger that today’s believers face in those churches where they get very little biblical teaching. They are going to raise a generation that believes nothing. J. C. Ryle continues:

The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct, doctrinal theology…But depend on it: If we want to do good things and shake the world, we must fight with the old apostolic weapons and stick to dogma. Without dogma there will be no fruit. Without positive evangelical doctrine there will be no evangelization.

This is a reminder that things have not changed. These comments sound as if they were written to the church at the beginning of the 21st century, not at the end of the 19th century. And we are reminded that the devil does not change his tactics. He is constantly working to move the church of Jesus Christ away from its solid, doctrinal, biblical foundations.

That was the same concern of the apostle Peter as he wrote his second letter. He was concerned about the infiltration of false teaching and false doctrine. He was concerned enough to remind believers of the truth that is been given to them, because the best defense against error and false doctrine is a thorough knowledge of the truth, which we are to implement every day of our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:12-15, Peter places a strong emphasis on his responsibility to remind these believers of biblical doctrine and of their responsibility to remember it. In this passage, Peter’s focus is that God’s plan for His people has not changed. His plan is that we are to be continually focusing on the truth that He has given. We need nothing new. We need nothing more. We need nothing else. Rather, we need constant reminders of the old truth.

Notice how Peter starts verse 12. He says, “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things...” He is using the future tense when he says, “I will always be ready to remind you of these things.” He is saying, “Whatever ministry I have with you now, or will have to you in the future, will be a continuation of the ministry I had to you in the past. It will be a presentation of the same truths. I am going to be reminding you. I will always be ready to remind you.” And in verses 13-15, Peter tells them that he will constantly remind them of the truths that Christ has made clear to him so they will be able to remember those truths after he dies.

The term “these things” refers to the things of verses 1-11. That doesn’t mean that those verses contain everything that could be said, but that this is a basic summary of God’s truth—from God’s salvation, right on through our growth as believers in preparation for the coming eternal kingdom. These are the things on which Peter wants us to focus.

Verse 12 continues: “...even though you already know them and have been established...” in them. Peter uses two participles: “even though you know them” and “are established in them.” Those are what are known as perfect participles. In the Greek language, the perfect tense denotes something that has happened in the past, but the results continue in the present. This is truth they have known and continue to know; that they have been established in and continue to be established in. But Peter still wants to tell them of this truth again and again.

But just because we know these things and are established in them does not mean that we are not susceptible to being lured away and losing that stability if we become careless. We have a master opponent: the devil. He is brilliant; he is clever. We should never, ever underestimate him. That is what Peter is concerned about. He says, “You know these things; you are established in them, but I don’t want that to change.”

Notice that the end of verse 12 says they “have been established in the truth which is present with you.” What was handed down is the truth of God, the gospel of God, the revelation that God has given through His servants to His people. It is interesting to see how many times in the New Testament that God’s Word is called the truth. Remember what Jesus said in His high priestly prayer in John 17:17 as He prayed to the Father? He said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”

During the past several years, the church has been passing around this little cliché that says, “All truth is God’s truth.” You might ask, “What’s wrong with that?” The problem with that thinking is that the assumption behind it is that there is some type of valid truth about man that is found outside the Word of God.

When the people who promote that idea talk about it, they are not using that cliché to refer to things such as mathematics or physics. They are not saying, “Well, it’s true that 9 x 9 = 81, and that truth is not found in the Bible.” If that was what they meant by what they were saying, I would agree with them.

But when they say “All truth is God’s truth,” they are using it to refer to truth about man’s nature and character. In other words, they are the psychologists who are claiming that the things they have “discovered” about the character of man that are not found in Scripture are true and that it is God’s truth.

That goes contrary to the basic, foundational reality of the Word of God, so we shouldn’t even go down that road. God’s Word is sufficient. 2 Peter 1:3 says it contains “everything pertaining to life and godliness,” so we don’t need to be mixing human wisdom with divine wisdom. All we need to know is that only biblical truth is salvation truth. Only biblical truth is sanctification truth. You can’t take biblical truth and mix it with human wisdom and claim that the end result is all truth.

But many people who haven’t thought through these issues are not prepared. They haven’t carefully considered and kept before them this basic, foundational matter—that we know and have been established in the truth, which is the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. And as a consequence, all kinds of corruption have infiltrated the church under the slogan, “All truth is God’s truth.”

Verse 13 says, “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder.” Peter is saying that it is his God-given responsibility and obligation as a servant of Jesus Christ to constantly remind them of God’s Word.

That phrase, “as long as I am in this earthly dwelling” is a picturesque way of saying “this physical life.” The word translated “earthly dwelling” is simply the word for “tabernacle” or “tent.” In other words, Peter views his physical body as a temporary residence, and it will soon be folded up and set aside because He will be moving out.

Notice his attitude as he says, in effect: “As long as I am in this physical body, I must be serving my Lord. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up. I know the opportunities for serving the Lord on this earth will soon be past, so I want to take every occasion to remind you, to stir you up.”

He uses that phrase in a picturesque way, and it’s in the present tense—to be stirring you up. It is a word that carries the idea of awakening someone from sleep or to alert someone who has become drowsy. The picture is that he wants to keep them spiritually alert and ready. The danger is that spiritual drowsiness will overtake them, and they will become insensitive to the danger of the false teaching. Peter says, “I don’t want that to happen to you. These reminders are a way of shaking you, of keeping you alert, because we do tend to get drowsy. And we get drowsy with spiritual things.”

You remember how it is when you were first saved. You just couldn’t get enough of Bible teaching and listening to the Gospel. It was new and you wanted as much teaching as you could get. You were at the church every time the doors were open.

But after you were a believer for a while, you began to think, “Well, I don’t see why we need to be in a Bible study during the week. After all, there’s a lot going on with our family. The kids are busy with sports, I have to work long hours, and we are just so busy. We need some time together as a family, so I think we’ll cut out Sunday night church.”

And when we do that, we fail to appreciate that it is no less important to be reminded of the same truths after we have been Christians for 25 years than it was when we had been Christians for only two days.

But we become somewhat lax. We were willing to alienate friends and relatives left and right in those early days. But now we say, “Now that I’ve been a believer for 25 years, I realize I don’t want to alienate everybody around me. They have their beliefs and I have mine, and so it’s best that we just don’t get into it. So I’ll just be a good witness to them while we watch the game on Sunday night rather than going to church.”

That’s what Peter doesn’t want to happen. He is saying, “You keep this constantly before you. Keep constantly alert.” The apostle would not agree with those who consider gathering with other believers for the rigorous study of the Word to be unnecessary, too difficult, or burdensome. And he would insist that Christians stand for the truth in all circumstances and situations, even if the unbelievers around us find it offensive and we suffer as a result.

We'll finish examining this important passage in my next post, and we'll see how this continual focus on the truth should impact our lives.

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