In your life, God brings the message of Jesus to you, and that’s his way of inviting you into relationship with Him. He gives you information, which is used by God the Holy Spirit for your transformation. Regeneration is when you receive a new heart. God changes you in the essence of who you are. You change from the inside out. The Hold Spirit indwells the Christian to live a new life patterned after Jesus, connecting to the Living God forever. This means you get a new mind, you think differently, you get a new appetite, you want to read the Bible, you get new deep desires to hate sin, and love Jesus, a desire to preserve with Him into eternity.
This leads to conversion. This is your response to the changes that God has created in you. Notice that up until now, God does everything (as you let Him). God works all things in you, and then with God, you work all these things out. This means spirit-enabled faith and repentance from the new heart. Those are the marks of a Christian: faith and repentance. Here’s what happens: the Holy Spirit comes in, you have faith, you love Jesus and trust him; then repentance, you hate sin because you love Jesus. All of a sudden, you want your life to change and you want to be like Jesus. Just like a newborn baby hunger and cries, a new Christian has faith and repentance.
Accompanying this is justification. This has to do with your legal standing before God. The doctrine of justification is, in many regards, the dividing issue between Protestant and Catholic. How can someone who is a sinner by nature and choice stand before a Holy and righteous God (the Holiness of God is mentioned more times than any other attribute in scripture), and be declared just and righteous as a guilty, condemnable person? How can God remain just and declare us to be justified? The answer is what’s called the doctrine of justification. Jesus, on the cross, accomplished something you could call the Great Exchange, where all my sin went to Jesus, he suffered and died in my place, paying the penalty of death for my sin. Additionally, he gifted to me his righteousness. So, now I can stand in front of God righteous and justified. (This is amazing!) Not because of how I lived, but because of how HE lived. Not because of what I have done, but because of what HE has done. Not because of the perfect sinless life I have lived, but because of the perfect sinless life HE lived. He takes my sin; he gives me His righteousness.
This is mind bending. Religion tells you what you do for God. The Gospel tells you what God has done for you in Christ. He gives you his righteousness.
If you who are living to impress God, the good news is you can stop. And you can enjoy the righteousness of Christ, and live by the power of the Holy Spirit, not so that God will accept you, but because in Christ, he already does. The pressure’s off.
Again, notice that out of all of this “religious” blabber, only one thing is actually done by us (choosing to let God have his way in us). God does everything else. This is contrary to our thinking. Our thinking is always saying: we must save ourselves. We must try harder, do better, be moral, be religious, and the answer from the Bible is: no, God needs to save you. God needs to save me. We don’t save ourselves. God has a plan for us. It started before we were born, it’s happening now in our life, it will culminate in eternity future.
People will say “Jesus saves” and that is true, but when you look at it, it is simply mind blowing and has much more depth than those two words can convey.
Adoption. It is not that it’s just you and Jesus forever. You become part of a family. You have brothers and sisters in Christ. You are not alone. The church is called God’s “beloved.” It means God can’t love us anymore, can’t love us any less. It is fatherly, parental love. For many, people come from broken homes, etc, people think “am I enslaved to my family?” God provides a new family through the church. This doesn’t mean that your biological family becomes any less valuable in your life, but it explains why sometimes people feel closer to people who are also part of the family of Christians.
The longer you are a Christian, the more you realize how messed up you truly are. The more you learn your Bible, the more you get to know Jesus, the more you examine yourself in light of the character of God, the more you realize you are in far worse shape than you ever anticipated. And you need far more work than you would have ever feared. And you are far more loved than you ever dreamed. God does love you, he does save you, God still does forgive you, and he’s still working on you because there’s still a lot of work to be done. That’s sanctification. It means you are asking: “God, what are you trying to teach me? What can I learn?” Everything becomes a teachable opportunity to learn about God, and others, and yourself, and what God has to change in you to make you more Christlike, more like Jesus.
For those who truly are Christians, there is a learning that takes place throughout the totality of their life. God uses their experiences to sanctify them and make them more like Jesus. This includes perseverance. The true Christian continues to walk with Jesus. Of course, this doesn’t mean perfectly. It doesn’t mean we never stumble, never fall, never sin. It means, when we do, we inevitably come back to Jesus, back to repentance because of our faith. Jesus is not angry at you, he hasn’t stopped loving you, he gladly waits for you to come to him. We persevere because God perseveres with us. The book of Peter talks all about this perseverance up until the last day, which is the best day (the day of our death). It’s living by faith, which is trusting what the Bible says, until you enjoy sight, seeing Jesus.
We will rise from the death, just as Jesus rose from the dead, To a new heaven and new earth (talk about reincarnation!). And what a place! There will be no more death, no abuse, no hurt, no tears, no sin, no destruction, no fears, no mourning, no weeping, nothing but joy for God’s beloved. It’s a living hope, because Jesus conquered death we can follow him in death.
If you understand salvation, you won’t quit in the middle! You won’t stop reading your Bible, you won’t stop praying, you won’t stop repenting. Why? Because of the cosmic plan God is unfolding! You can feel God’s work in your life, and there’s nothing in you that wants to waste that.
Therefore, in light of all this, you are waiting for the conclusion, the climax of salvation, the joy, the reward, the completion. As Jesus died to put your sin to death, so you can be at peace, be in joy in your relationships, relationship with God, relationships with others, relationship with yourself. Persevere because God is not done with you. You are not done learning. Continue. You still have a lot to learn.
One aspect of the Christian perseverance is to persevere in learning. Now, learning requires humility, the acknowledgement that you don’t know everything, I can’t solve everything, and I need instruction. I need to be preached at, I need read books, I need God’s people to speak into my life, I need to prayerfully read the Bible. I need to receive the following statement in love: “You are not as smart as you think you are. Your education is not as good as you think it is. You discernment’s not as discerning as you have assessed and surmised. You’re not as spiritual as you think you are. You are in fact blind to your own blind spots. Some of the things you read, you shouldn’t read. Some of the things you believe, you shouldn’t believe. Some of the people you esteem, you shouldn’t esteem. Some of the counsel that you have acted upon is foolishness. Rather than defending yourself, talk about how intelligent you are and judging everyone and everything else, humility says, ‘teach me.’ I have things to learn.” And this doesn’t change until death.
Peter is good example of being still humble, still teachable, even as a writer of part of the Bible. He is learning from Paul, who wrote more books of the New Testament that anyone else. He is learning from the same Bible we are, and he agree that some things that Paul wrote, i.e. some of the Bible, is just plain hard to understand! 2 Peter 3:16 “Some of his[Paul’s] comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters around to mean something quite different from what he meant, just as they do other parts of Scripture[Bible]—and the result is disaster for them.”
Let me tell about Paul’s letters and some initial thoughts from people doing their Bible reading:
Headcovering? What? I do not know what to do with that.
Speaking in tongues? Casting out Demons? These are gifts? Doesn’t sound like one.
Only a man can be an elder. Seriously?
The husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is head of the church and he should lovingly, humbly, sacrificially lead his family.
Wives should submit to their husbands. Are you serious? There must be a footnote with an exception for the guy I got.
Homosexuality is wrong. Seriously?
If we have sex before marriage, that’s fornication. That’s wrong? Are you serious? God really has things to say about my sex life?
Anyone who worships a spirit other than Jesus, worships a demon.
Not all religions go to heaven, only Jesus saves. What about my nice, good friends who are all good people?
Christians read the Bible in general, then talk about Paul specifically. All topics debated in Christianity come from Paul’s letters. Some things are going to be hard to understand. Predestination, love before time, speaking in tongues, gender roles. What you should do is not rush to a position. What you should do is study. Read books, read commentaries, listen to different pastor’s preaching’s on the topics. Be a student. Work hard to try and answer your questions to arrive at Biblical, thoughtful, prayerful conclusions. Some things will take time. There are some questions I’ve been working on for 15 years.
You grow in holiness, you learn more about Jesus in the process, and some things fall into place. Give yourself permission not to just take a side and argue for it. Be thoughtful and careful. Realize that there are some things you will never come to a hard and fast conclusion on in this life. One of the things Paul says is that it’s like looking through a fogged window. One day, when we met Jesus, we will fully know. (1 Corinthians 13). Some of the things we thought we knew we’ll realize we’ve been wrong about. All of this process is part of growing to be more like Jesus. It’s all well and good.
Here’s what’s not okay: taking what Scripture says and twisting it to fit a conclusion that we have come to out of our own desires of what we want to believe. To say something that God never said. To mean something that God never meant. People do this all the time. They do so because they think they are enlightened and free, above the “religious nuts.” What God says is that they are ignorant and unstable. You could say, “yea, I read a book that explains away what the Bible says. “ They’re ignorant. It’s not that they are dumb, it’s that they are hard-hearted. It has less to do with the mind, and more to do with the will. It’s not that they don’t understand what the Bible says, it’s that they don’t like what the Bible says. So, they want to change what the Bible says so that they can do whatever it is that they want to do.
Paul calls this the “suppression of truth because of the unrighteousness of the deeds.” It means they are doing something sinful, you read the Bible and it says it’s a sin, so the choice is to change or change the Bible. And rather than change, they want to change the Bible. They do so in the name of being enlightened, and evolved beyond the Bible. It’s hubris. It’s what C.S. Lewis calls “chronological snobbery.” Be careful that you don’t begin with a sinful desire, and then go in pursuit of someone who will try to make the Bible legitimize who you are and what you’re doing rather than calling you to repentance. Then, you are not rooted in the firmness of Scripture. You are tossed about like a ship with the sail set and pulled in whichever way culture or your flesh or lies or temptations or trends go, you blow. You’re unstable.
Some reading this will say that God is mean. This is Peter weeping as he writes this! Being blown and tossed about, not being firmly rooted, creates destruction. Have you seen a husband who doesn’t obey the Scriptures? He destroys his wife. Have you seen a wife who doesn’t obey the Scriptures? She destroys her husband. Have you seen parents who don’t obey the Scriptures? They destroy their children. You see Christians who don’t obey the Scriptures; they destroy the church. You see individuals who don’t obey the Scriptures; they destroy their lives. It’s just carnage. It is devastating. And for anyone to think they will be the exception to the rule is ignorant and unstable.
God is good. God has good intentions. God gives good counsel. God gives good wisdom and insight. Don’t be like your first parents whom Satan came to and said, “well, that’s God’s perspective. What is yours? Surely you can think for yourself. Can you take what God said, add to it, subtract from it, edit it, make adjustment, and make it better? Use his insights as a beginning, then live as your own god, and rise above God, and his foolishness and simplicity. You’re your own person, and you have your own desires and ideas, and your own needs and feelings. You can’t trust God. Trust yourself!” All of the people who followed the temptation of that reasoning have destroyed their lives.
Peter said: not only do I write the Bible, I’ve read it. And yea, there’s some hard stuff, but that’s no excuse to twist it or to live rebelliously to your own destruction. I pray that you would have the humility to not give way to chronological snobbery, that you would not elevate any books over the Book, that you would not have iching ears, waiting for a false prophet to just tell you what you want to hear.
These are hard words intended to create soft people. We live in a day where there are too many soft words, and many of us have become hard people. There are men who do not want to lead their families, there are children who do not want to obey their parents, there are many who intend to have sex outside of marriage, and all these people think they are very smart and enlightened, highly evolved, and God is very distant and archaic, and yet they are ignorant and unstable. The Bible warns against destruction because the Bible is from God, who loves us.
God from eternity past to eternity future is nothing but parentally loving and good. To rebel against him is suicidal. So persevere, because God is not done teaching you. Humility, Repentance, Teachability are essential.
Peter’s last words: “I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends, so you can watch out and not be carried away by the errors of wicked people. I don’t want you to lose your own secure footing. But grow in the special favor and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be all glory and honor, both now and forevermore. Amen.”