People can struggle, especially in the current church climate, with the question of what does being a Christian look like. So many claims and counterclaims are made on our lives it can be daunting trying to simply walk in faithfulness. Two areas in particular are problematic for people, Bible reading and prayer. I will have something practical to say about that, but first I want to build on the question I addressed in my last post; where do you stand in the daily battle of faith? (Eph.6:13)
Of especial concern throughout the New Testament is the threat of error from within the church. Paul, in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, warns of false prophets who will arise ‘from your own number,’ (Acts 20:30); He warns the church in Corinth not to be taken in by ‘false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ,’ (2 Cor.11:13)
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes of some who will ‘abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons’ (1 Tim.4:1) Jude solemnly warns of ‘certain men…who have secretly slipped in among you…godless men…’ (Jude 4) Jesus himself warns, ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’ (Mt.7:15)
Peter’s second letter warns of false teachers and evildoers within the body of Christ: ‘But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…’ (2 Pet.2:1) Perhaps you agree with the many who say the greatest threat the church faces today, as then, comes from among our own number. We need hope, a solid foundation on which to stand.
The Knowledge of God
Peter prays in his opening greetings, ‘May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.’ (2 Pet.1:2) He goes on to write:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…’ All we need to stand is granted to us in the knowledge of Christ, who has come so ‘whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ (Jn.3:16) Peter gives us three things necessary to life and godliness, three things to hold on to.
It is in God’s power that we are saved from this world’s corruption (vv3/4) Paul makes it clear in his Ephesian letter that sin kills us, ‘you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you once walked,’ but grace saves us, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ (Eph.2:1, 8/9) This is the only way to gain the true knowledge of Christ and the power of God.
As Paul writes to the Galatian Church, ‘But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed’ (Gal.1:8) This applies to our pulpits, small groups, and teaching programmes every bit as much as it does to the cults. We need to apply there, as anywhere, Jude’s counsel, ‘to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3)
Gaining Godly Qualities
Having established the foundation of saving grace, ‘having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires’ (1 Pet.1:4) Peter goes on to describe how we build the Godly life:
'make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective, or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1:5-8)
What is striking in Peter’s letter here is his determination to keep teaching these same things, knowing repetition builds us up, while continual novelty, surely, confuses and misleads us:
‘Therefore, I intend always to remind you of these qualities though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in the body, to stir you up by way of reminder…’ (12/13)
Trusting the Word
Finally, Peter goes to lengths to ensure we understand that the truth about Christ, our knowledge of him, is anchored in the sure word, the prophetic word of Scripture. He assures us his testimony is not based on myths and fables but on eyewitness reports:
‘For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made know to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (16)
Nevertheless, he goes on, ’we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which we would do well to pay attention as to a lamp in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…’ (19)
Most significant to our present concerns is Peter’s ranking Scripture over experience, even his own on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is Scripture that Christ fulfils, Scripture that brings us God’s ‘precious and very great promises,’ and Scripture ‘to which you would do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…’
Bible Reading and PrayerHave you broken any New Year's resolutions yet? I don't make them myself, I don't like them. They tend to be resolutions of the 'from now on' kind and, making them, we set ourselves up for failure and its attendant guilt. If they are not that for you then bless you, but I don't make them.
My wife and I, however, have been concerned for some time about these issues we are discussing. We decided on a course of action that sees us paying attention to the Scripture 'as to a lamp shining in a dark place.' You must find your own way, of course, but I encourage you to do it. Every day we read together a chapter of the Bible; we started with Acts.
Once a week we spend an hour or so of an evening looking at something from our own reading that has struck one of us as encouraging, or challenging. Several things happened as a consequence of this simple exercise:
- We spent more time together because we spent more time together in the Word.
- We found we were rediscovering truths we hadn't thought about for awhile, rather like meeting old friends we hadn't seen for some time.
- We discovered new insights we hadn't considered before, rather like making new friends that made us richer in their company.
- We found ourselves better equipped to discern truth from error, to identify and avoid false teachers.
- We decided initially to pray only thank you prayers. This focussed our minds on what we had just read, reinforcing it in our hearts.
- We had something to pray about beyond the usual shopping list prayers so common among Evangelical believers.
- Our daily walk became less about me and my needs, more about Him and his calling on my life.