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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Secure in the Knowledge


“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

2 Peter 3:17-18

We have started looking at ‘Two Peter’. It is the second letter that Simon Peter wrote which has found its place within our Bibles. Verses 13-14 of the first chapter, leave us in no doubt that this was written at the end of Simon Peter’s life. Much had happened over the course of this man’s life. However, by far the most important thing that took place, was his meeting with a man named Jesus. Last time, we considered some of the Bible’s record of Simon Peter’s life from that point on. His life was changed when he began to follow Jesus. His name was also changed, by the authority that Jesus had. Whereas he had previously been known as ‘Simon’, he would now have a new name as well. He would be called ‘Peter’.

This isn’t an isolated incident in Bible terms. There were Old Testament characters that received new names by God’s authority. ‘Abram’ and ‘Sarai’ had become ‘Abraham’ and ‘Sarah’ (Genesis 17:5 & 15), and Jacob had been renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28). Peter is renamed right at the end of that Old Testament period, when Jesus was ending that era with his good news of something better; a new agreement between God and humankind, a New Testament. And Peter’s renaming points us towards a very New Testament principle. When people turn back to God, and repent of their sins, and trust in his Son to save them, they are all given a new name that they did not have before. What do I mean by this?

Well, there are a couple of names that the Bible uses to describe followers of the risen Jesus. One is ‘Christian’. Actually, though, this is very rarely used in the bible. In our NIV translation, the words ‘Christian’ or ‘Christians’ appear only three times, twice in the book of Acts (Acts 11:26 & 26:28) and once in Peter’s first letter (1 Peter 4:16).

Last Sunday, Tim dealt with the ‘sharp dispute’ (Acts 15:2) that took place in the developing New Testament Church about the place of the Old Covenant rules, such as circumcision. This happened in the city of Antioch. The record of Acts 11 gives a certain fame to that city. We are told that ‘the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch’ (Acts 11:26).

The name of ‘Christian’ is often misused, though. People think of themselves as ‘Christian’, because they were perhaps christened as an infant, or because their parents went to church. This isn’t the Bible’s teaching of what a Christian is. In fact, the Bible’s teaching is radically different. It is personal. To be a Christian, in the Bible sense, is to be a true ‘disciple’, or follower of Jesus. We must believe that he is the Saviour (one who saves people from their sins). In fact, we must be believe that he is our Saviour. And this brings me to the Bible’s preferred way of naming the followers of Jesus. When we believe, we become ‘believers’. By contrast to the three appearances of the word, ‘Christian’, our NIV uses the words ‘believer’ or ‘believers’ over fifty times to describe the followers of Jesus Christ.

It is a wonderful name. We should delight in it. The only people who can rightly be called believers are those who believe. We receive this new name when, and only when, we believe the gospel message for ourselves; when we have ‘faith’, which is another Bible word which has a very similar meaning. To have faith is not just to believe that Jesus can save us. To have faith is to believe that Jesus has saved us.

Peter is writing this second letter to believers. I mentioned this last time. We find it in verse 1 where he tells us that he is writing to those who, ‘have received a faith as precious as ours.’ To be called a ‘believer’, is to be given a wonderful name. Why? Because it means that you have a faith. Faith is a precious thing. Indeed, faith is a priceless thing.

So, why is Peter writing this letter? For a similar reason that he wrote 1 Peter. 2 Peter 3:1-2 tells us. ‘Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.’ Peter then directs believers to ‘recall’. He wants them to remind themselves what the scriptures teach, both Old Testament and the emerging New Testament, which he refers to as, ‘the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.’ Peter sees danger ahead. He is writing to believers so that they might consider the danger.

We may have heard of the saying, ‘Forewarned is forearmed.’ Peter wants the Church to know. ‘Knowledge’ is one of those words that appears several times in this letter. He believes that if we know about the threat then we have a tactical advantage. Peter has written both of his letters as warning letters, but the dangers that he focusses on are different in each letter.

The apostle Paul once likened the believer’s journey of faith to a sea voyage by boat. Sadly, in Paul’s metaphor, the boat met a wretched end. It is found in 1 Timothy 1:19, where he is pressing his younger friend, Timothy, on the importance of a clear conscience. Paul says, ‘holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.’

The NLT’s rendering of this verse starts, ‘Cling to your faith in Christ’. It reminded me of Tim’s message a few weeks ago on David’s poem in Psalm 63. Tim talked of David’s clinging to his God in the wilderness of life, and of our need to do the same. Otherwise, the consequence is dire.

‘Shipwreck’. How can we avoid it? Well, how would we go about avoiding shipwreck if we were travelling the oceans? We would gain local knowledge in advance from people that already had experience of operating vessels in that area. We would consider the forecasted weather reports. We would heed warnings. If we were on the seas and saw a lighthouse warning us of rocks, what would we do?

Peter’s letters are like lighthouses to the spiritual vessel; the good ship ‘Hope’ if you like. They are warning letters. Peter’s first letter warns about the dangers that will arise from suffering and persecution. He is warning about these severe storms that will be experienced in the Christian life. They threaten to break us up and leave us ruined, if we hit them unprepared. This second letter has a major focus on the danger of false teaching. It is like a beacon pointing out where we are and where we should be. What is the danger of false teaching? In terms of shipping, it is the risk of misnavigating. False teaching will lead us from the correct channel.

How can we avoid going the wrong way aboard the good ship, ‘Hope’? Well, if we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, how could we be sure where we were? We could look at a chart and compare it with the position of the heavenly lights, such as the moon and stars and sun. As believers, it is the same. We need to observe the heavenly light from the word of God, looking at God’s chart, God’s map-book, the Bible.

That is what Peter instructs us to do when he reminds us in 2 Peter 3:1, ‘I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.’ I used the word ‘forewarned’ earlier. Peter uses it too, at the end of this letter. 2 Peter 3:17 says, ‘Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position…

So, is the believers position secure, or isn’t it? This is really important for us to know. Has anyone seen the film ‘Titanic’, with Leonardo Decaprio and Kate Winslet? It is a dramatized account of the true story of a ship that sunk in 1912. For me, the most eerie scene is the one with the two lookouts stood on night time, iceberg watch. The binoculars that they should have used had been left in Southampton. Visibility is reduced by sea mist. But, in order to keep to a set time schedule, and despite warnings, the vessel is travelling at full steam ahead through an area known as iceberg alley.

The Titanic had only enough lifeboats to carry about half of those on board. The crew had not been trained adequately in carrying out an evacuation, and believed that the amount of people, that could be safely carried by each lifeboat, was around half of their actual capacity. The temperature of the surrounding sea water was −2°C (28°F). We may think that to end up in the sea at this point would mean hypothermia, but apparently not. In those temperatures something else comes first. It’s death – by cardiac arrest, or cold incapacitation and drowning within minutes. Scary? It wasn’t at the time.

Very few were concerned. The ship’s captain, Edward Smith, wasn’t. This was the largest liner afloat in the whole world. Captain Smith had stated that he, ‘could not imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.’ He wasn’t concerned. He was secure. Because the Titanic was ‘unsinkable’.

Except it wasn’t. It would have been virtually unsinkable, if existing knowledge, and sense and reason had prevailed in that set of circumstances. If would have remained afloat if warnings had been heeded. But it didn’t, because they weren’t. Over 1500 people, more than two thirds of the people on board that ship, perished.

There is a danger that, as believers, we can behave exactly like this. We latch onto the concept of eternal security through Jesus Christ, which is very much a feature of the Bible’s teaching, but we fail to see that it goes hand in hand with the vital warnings of scripture. We ignore them, believing that the good ship, ‘Hope’, is unsinkable.

I have seen this in recent days. ‘Christians’ behaving as if they are invincible. Private interpretations (2 Peter 1:20 (AV)) of scripture have trumped the clear teaching that the word of God gives to govern the lives all believers. Reason has been cast aside. Warnings have been dismissed. As a direct consequence, the prospect of ruin and death appear close at hand.

Peter says, ‘Be on your guard’. Heed the warnings that God’s word gives and be consciously on the lookout. If you were in the wilds of Africa, journeying on foot though an area inhabited by big cats; tigers, panthers and their like, you wouldn’t let your guard down. So it should be for the believer. When we follow Jesus, we begin a journey through a spiritual landscape where there is real and present danger. Peter, in his first letter, tells us, ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).

Does this make us feel insecure? Should believers be uncertain because of these Bible warnings? Can the believer have a sense of security, a hope that is certain? They can indeed. In Hebrews 6, the writer talks about two things that should assure the believer. The unchanging, faithful nature of God gives us certainty. Also, what he has promised to do, and the proof that his word gives us that he always does what he says he is going do, should bolster that hope. God does not change, neither does the value of his promise. Hebrews 6:18-19 says this, ‘God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.’

Our hope is firm and secure. The warnings of the Bible serve to bring about our security. In life, if I am unaware of a threat to me, then I may not behave appropriately. My response to danger, or my lack of response, may be the very thing that leaves me vulnerable. A warning is not the thing that brings danger. It reduces the risk that the danger presents by increasing our awareness. Also, warnings often come with further instruction. Not only do they tell us what to avoid doing, but also what we should do instead.

It is like a warning sign on a cliff-top path which tells me that the cliff edge is crumbly. It may tell me to stay at least 3 metres from that edge. Is the danger increased by that sign? Would the danger be there without the sign? The warning sign reduces that danger. If I follow its instruction then I can feel secure. I’m only 3 metres away from the risk of death, but I am rightly confident and secure.

The Bible does not just warn of danger, it also provides us with instruction on how to remain safe, despite the peril. We are provided with a great deal of instruction in this second letter by Peter. We will look at these instructions in more detail in future weeks. In the first chapter, at the end of a list of things that Peter instructs believers to practice, he says, ‘If you do these things, you will never stumble’ (2 Peter 1:10). ‘Never stumble’! That is the kind of security I want when walking on a dangerous path.

The apostle Paul gave similar warnings to believers. In 1 Thessalonians 5:6 we are told to ‘be awake and sober.’ He then gives instruction (v.8), complete with another metaphor, to illustrate the Christian life. ‘Let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.’ Why should we follow this instruction? Because there is an appointed result to obedience. Paul says (v.9) ‘For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ

Paul uses the same metaphor in those well-known verses in Ephesians 6:10-20. He tells us to ‘put on the full armour of God’ (v.13). Paul mentions those items found in 1 Thessalonians, and extends that list. There are shoes made from a material more wonderful than Gore-Tex; manufactured from readiness; ‘the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.’ There is a shield that is so solid that it can, not just deflect some, but ‘extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.’ It is fashioned from Bible Kevlar, which Paul calls ‘faith’. There is a ‘belt’, not fabricated from the skin of a dead animal, but made from the ‘truth’ that comes from a Saviour slain for sin.

Don’t be disturbed that Paul is likening the believer’s life to warfare, or that we need to be dressed ready for battle. Because Paul’s warning contains instruction and certain promise as well. Yes, you need to be dressed for the battle. But, if you are, then you will be ok. It is appointed that you will be safe, as he says in 1 Thessalonians. And, in Ephesians 6, Paul gives this reason for putting on the armour, ‘so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.’

These are ‘very great and precious promises.’ Not my words. Peter says this in 2 Peter 1:4. In verse 2 he has already given a conclusion. Because of these things, ‘Grace and peace can be (ours) in abundance through [this] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.’

But, we may ask, what if I don’t have the Christian armour that I need? You do, and you will. Because Peter says this in verse 3, ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.’ Hopefully, we can consider how this is indeed true, over the coming weeks.

At the start of this letter, we have this wonderful revelation that we do have ‘everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of [Jesus].’ And, at the end of the letter we find instruction (2 Peter 3:18). Instruction, within which lies eternal security. ‘But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! Amen.’


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