The Tale of the Two Husbands

contrastOnce upon a time, in a far away land, there lived two doting husbands; Peter and George. From the outside, they were similar in every possible way. Peter was a successful businessman in the city, and George an executive at a large bank. Both were still younger men, around 40 years of age. Both had been married about 15 years. Both had two children. Each was blissfully unaware of the other’s existence.

They lived and worked in the same city, commuted to the same suburb, and, quite unwittingly, frequented the same café every Tuesday morning (at nine sharp). They moved in the same circles, in overlapping orbits, but their lives never touched . . . until yesterday.

On that day, after a particularly hard day at the office, Peter and George each found their way to a upscale florist in the city. It was an expensive place, with scandalous prices. Peter and George didn’t care – they were on a mission. Flowers and chocolates were the order of the day, and a quick trip home to the wife. Fences needed to be mended, sores patched up, an armistice signed.

You see, Peter and George had each treated their wives in a beastly fashion lately, and it was time to make amends. Battles had been fought, blood had been shed; unforgivable things had been spoken. Now, both men were prepared to surrender, and flowers and chocolates were the first tentative steps towards a cease-fire.

Home they went, fighting the same traffic, the same commuters, even (ironically) each other at one point. Finally, they arrived home, steeled themselves for marital combat, and plunged into the arena, ready to set things right so peace could reign in their households once more . . .

What happened, you ask?

Peter’s wife forgave him for his sins. George’s wife smacked him across the face, flung his dinner at him, stuffed the flowers in the toilet, and raced away to her mother’s house for the night, bringing the children with her.

Why the different reactions?

  1. Peter was genuinely sorry for his sins. He told his wife he was sorry, and outlined what, exactly, he was going to do to fix things – starting now. He didn’t just talk; he acted. He proved his sincerity by his actions, and together, they built their marriage stronger and forged ahead.
  2. George wasn’t sorry. The flowers and chocolates (hazelnut chocolate, of course) were a bribe, a holding action. He didn’t want to change at all. But, he figured he could buy some time and (why not?, he figured wickedly), some “affection” with this peace offering. It didn’t work, of course. His wife saw through him; he’d pulled this trick one too many times. George sat alone, in the dark, and thought pitiful thoughts while his wife sobbed at her mother’s.

Why the parable?

This parable illustrates two completely different approaches to a relationship with God; one Christian and the other pagan.

  1. Peter is the man who truly loves God. He admits when he does wrong (i.e. “confesses his sins”). When he says he’s sorry, he means it. Not only that, he proves his sincerity by concrete action (i.e. “repents”). He serves God because he loves Him, and when he makes mistakes (which are often), he is genuinely sorry.
  2. George is the man who doesn’t love God. He claims he’s sorry, but he lies. He doesn’t mean it, because nothing ever changes. He’s an empty suit, a man who lies out of habit. He’s never sorry. He’s just anxious to bribe his way out of trouble with false promises and false assurances.

Any wife can tell the difference between these two men. And, to extend the analogy of the parable, God can tell the difference between them, too.

The divide here is about motivation.

  1. Why do we serve God?
  2. What is our aim, our motivation, the self-conscious outcome we’re looking for?
  3. Do we seek cheap favor with God by bribery, or do we seek to serve Him because we love Him?

There is a chasm between these two positions.

What difference does it make?

It makes all the difference in the world. It certainly made a difference between Peter and George, didn’t it? Some confessing Protestants seek to blur these lines, as if they’re irrelevant. One of those people is Matthew Bates.

I’ve mentioned Bates several times in the past few weeks, because I’m reading his new book Salvation by Allegiance Alone. Bates has a PhD from a Roman Catholic institution, and teaches at a Roman Catholic school. In his book, he’s deliberately trying to build a bridge that Protestants and Catholics can cross together. He’s wrong.

Consider the Tale of the Two Husbands, and the motivation Peter and George had for their actions. They had the same outward actions, but completely different goals and objectives. Now, consider what Bates wrote:[1]

As nearly all Christians agree, perseverance in allegiance is required. If the union were to be severed by an unrepentant cessation of pistis (allegiance to Jesus as Messiah-king), then the continuing presence of the union-securing and fruit-producing Spirit would be decisively ruptured; the born-again person would experience spiritual death. That individual would no longer be justified, righteous, or innocent before God; eternal life would no longer be a present possession.

Christian traditions disagree about whether or not such a severance is possible. Reformed and some Lutheran Christians prefer to speak of the impossibility of rupture (“eternal security”).

Meanwhile, Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant traditions believe that it is possible for an individual to enter decisively into saving union but then to depart through an unrepentant turning away.

This debate should not, however, obscure the larger point about which Christian theologians are nearly unanimous: it is necessary for an individual to persevere in pistis throughout the course of her or his lifetime in order to attain final salvation.

Bates says something true, and something terribly wrong:

  1. Obedience is a necessary result of saving faith. You can’t have faith in Christ, then deliberately not obey Him. Actions prove where your heart is. It did for Peter, and it did for George, too.
  2. But, Bates claims that, if a person stops being loyal to Jesus and stops being obedient to His word, then that person “would no longer be justified, righteous, or innocent before God; eternal life would no longer be a present possession.”

Bates advocates a scheme where the person obeys Christ in order to retain eternal life. No matter which way you “nuance” this, you have works salvation. I don’t believe you can argue otherwise.

Typically, Reformed Protestants have argued that loving obedience is a natural result of union with Christ. That is, because our hearts, minds, and souls have been changed, because we have a new nature, and because we now honestly seek to please God, we’ll naturally desire to obey His word. So, in that sense, “good works” are not meritorious for salvation; they’re just the fruit of it.

Elsewhere in his book, Bates rejected this view. I don’t want to go into his reasons here. However, I do want to argue that it does matter which position you take on “good works.” I’ll quote him again:

This debate should not, however, obscure the larger point about which Christian theologians are nearly unanimous: it is necessary for an individual to persevere in pistis throughout the course of her or his lifetime in order to attain final salvation.

I disagree. This is about self-conscious motivation. When the Christian does what the Bible says, what is his reason for doing it? What outcome does he expect from his “good work?” What result does he expect to achieve by it?

The Protestant (i.e. the Christian) understands salvation is a present, permanent reality, and his “good works” are merely the inevitable and grateful response of the believer to God’s grace. He loves God, and wants to serve Him.

The Roman Catholic, however, sees God’s initial grace in salvation as a gift given to the Christian, which enables him to then merit for himself eternal life:[2]

Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life . . .

The Protestant says a Christian simply will persevere in faith and good works until the end, because he loves God and wants to serve Him. The Roman Catholic (and, apparently, Matthew Bates) says the Christian must persevere in order to attain eternal life.

This is not a minor point of doctrine. It’s the difference between Jesus’ Gospel and “another Gospel” (cf. Gal 1). It’s a difference in self-conscious motivation. It’s the difference between Peter and George – and we all know how that turned out . . .

Notes

[1] Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017), 190-191.  

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1995), Article 2010.

Why Should Christians Be Happy? (1 Peter 1:1-12)

This is the start of a series of messages through the Books of 1 & 2 Peter. These are essentially sermon notes that have been expanded for a reading audience. I hope these messages will be helpful!

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INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT:

In the military, everybody’s favorite duty station is always (1) the place they’re heading to, or (2) the place they just left from. You might get shipped to a pretty horrible duty station in the military, but you know that it won’t last forever – because eventually you’ll get on that plane and go back home. I can still remember the joy I felt whenever I came home in leave when I was stationed overseas in the U.S. Navy. I looked forward to that magic moment when I would step off the plane and see Starbucks waiting for me in the terminal!

From a spiritual standpoint, I can get really down sometimes because I forget that, just like when I was in the military, I’ll be transferred to glory one day – because I’m a child of God! I forget to take the long view. I forget what’s waiting for me at the finish line and get caught up feeling sorry for myself in my problems – whatever they may be.

I’m not minimizing whatever you may be going through or have gone through. This is a world filled with sin, ruined by the Fall, and bad things happen. What I want to do is encourage you today about some very basic truths about the Christian life, and why you ought to smile and be happy today – no matter what kind of valley you’re in the middle of right now! So, here are some reasons from Peter why Christians ought to be happy . . .

crazed smiley

#1 – BECAUSE GOD HAS GIVEN YOU A HOME! (V.1):

 

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

 

Peter wrote this letter to the “strangers” who are scattered all around Asia Minor (what we know as Turkey). Did you know that the Bible says that Christians[1] are “strangers and pilgrims” in this world? Jesus said that He was going to prepare a place for us in heaven (Jn 14:2-3). The writer of Hebrews said that all the Old Testament believers counted themselves as strangers and pilgrims who looked forward to being citizens of a heavenly country. While they were alive they didn’t see this heavenly country, but they sure looked forward to it! 

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city,” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Think of the border crisis. Think of a legal alien, who has a green card. What do aliens and foreigners in the U.S. have to endure? They don’t have the same rights, privileges or comforts of citizens. They can’t vote, can’t be elected to office, can’t bring family members to the U.S., and can’t get government jobs! Why not? Because they’re not citizens!

If we’re just strangers and pilgrims here, that means this world isn’t our permanent home!

  • No matter what evil or wickedness we endure in this world . . .
  • No matter what people do to us or say to us . . .
  • No matter how hard or depressing our circumstances can be . . .

We have this sure promise – we’re heavenly citizens and we have a room waiting for us there right now![2]

 

#2 – BECAUSE GOD CHOSE TO SAVE YOU (VV.2-3):

 

2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

 

I want you to know that the fact that God saved you means that you’re special to Him! Every single Person of the Godhead was personally involved in your salvation and rescue from hell:[3]

  1. You were individually chosen (“elect”) by God the Father before the world even began
  2. You were made holy (“sanctified”) by the Spirit when you were born again – your heart was made clean and washed
  3. Your punishment was paid by Christ when He died for you in your place; His blood atoned for your sin. In the Old Covenant, a priest had to take the blood of your sacrificial animal and sprinkle it on the altar to atone for your sins. Christ took His own blood and sacrificed Himself to atone for all our sins[4]

You are special to God, and I think we sort of lose sight of that fact in our day to day life. You ought to praise God for your salvation![5] Peter says that it’s because of His “abundant mercy” that you were born again. “Mercy” means that God took pity on us when we didn’t deserve it. You have a living (“lively”) hope in eternal life. Just like Christ was resurrected and went to heaven to be with God the Father, so will you . . . and it’s all due to God!

“To God be the glory, great things He hath done! So loved He the world that He gave us His Son!”

#3 – YOUR SALVATION IS SECURE! (V.4-5):

 

4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

 

Your inheritance in God’s Kingdom . . . 

  • Is incorruptible. It won’t rot and wither away like a piece of fruit
  • Is undefiled. It’s pure; it doesn’t become contaminated by anything we do
  • Doesn’t fade away. The freshest flower will fade away and die – your inheritance in God’s Kingdom won’t. Christ has prepared a place for you; it’s got your name on it, and it’s waiting for you!

 

#4 – ALL THIS IS WHY YOU CAN KEEP GOING (VV.6-9):

 

6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

 

God saved you. The Holy Spirit helps you every day through life. Jesus promised to come back for you. That means you can keep on fighting each and every day, living Christ-like lives while you wait for God to make good on His promises. Why? Because you’re going to transfer home one day – Jesus has promised to prepare a place for you.

Peter knew what it was to suffer persecution; so did all these early Christians. Peter is writing this letter from Rome, where the insane Emperor Nero was on the throne! This idea of looking towards the end as a way to get through the present wasn’t some pie-in-the-sky idea to him, and it shouldn’t be to you, either! Peter told them to rejoice in what God has done and will do for them, as they struggled through problems, persecutions and everyday temptations.[6] Look past your struggles, whatever they are, and know that God has an eternity of rest waiting for you.

 

7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

 

One thing God does is allow trials to challenge and grow our faith. Peter compares it to gold. One method to refine gold is to melt it and use some kind of gaseous chlorine to attract all the impurities, which float to the top. The impurities are skimmed off, and you have 99.5% pure gold. Peter says, like gold, we go through bad times and suffer through terrible events, and all the while our faith is being strengthened.[7] We see things in our Christian walk we need to fix. Impurities, bad attitudes and un-Christian mindsets are skimmed off, leaving a more authentic and real faith behind; a refined and stronger faith and a more pure faith. The gold is never destroyed by this process; it only removes the impurities.

Through it all, we keep going so we can glorify the God who saved us from hell and has done so much for us. Every single time we persevere through any struggle with our testimony and our faith intact and even strengthened – we bring praise, honor and glory to our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ![8] When He returns for us we’re finished struggling, and we can say we’ve done our part in honoring Him!

And again – what is our motivation? Peter reminds us that we haven’t even seen Christ, but we:

  1. Love Him
  2. We love Him and what He did for us
  3. That means we can rejoice with “joy unspeakable and full of glory!”

 

“I have found that hope so bright and clear, living in the realm of grace!”

“Oh, the Savior’s presence is so near, I can see His smiling face . . .!”

“It is joy unspeakable and full of glory . . . Oh, the half has never yet been told!”

 

I think this is worth being happy about!

 

#5 – YOU KNOW MORE THAN DAVID AND MOSES DID (VV.10-12):

 

You know more about Christ, salvation, heaven and God than anyone in the Old Testament ever did:

“For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them,” (Matthew 13:17).

This is a reason to be happy! You have more of God’s word than they ever did.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report,” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

This isn’t blind faith, as though Abraham just took a running, blind leap out into space. He knew what salvation was. He knew how good God was – God took care of Him. God fulfilled His promises. So, Abraham believed God when He said what He would do, based on what He had done. And, as we look back on the great faith of Abraham, do you realize that we can know about God than Abraham? You have more of God’s Word! The Old Testament saints didn’t have the Gospels, Paul’s letters, Peter’s letters or any other New Testament writing. If we can know so much more about God than the Old Testament saints ever did, because we have so much more of God’s Word, doesn’t that mean that we ought to be even more joyful than Moses or David?

David wrote: “I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word,” (Psalm 119:15-16). A lot of the Psalms were written by him, and this was a man who didn’t know the details about Christ that we know now: 

  • He didn’t have the Holy Spirit living inside him
  • He didn’t have a perfect, finished sacrifice
  • He didn’t have the direct and personal, constant access to God that we do now
  • He didn’t have the details about the end-times
  • He didn’t have the details about the new heavens and the new earth
  • He didn’t have the details about eternity in the New Jerusalem, walking in streets of gold

 

10 Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

 

Daniel, Jeremiah, Hosea – all the prophets asked and searched and wondered about the Messiah who would come and set everything right.They wanted to know what we know now – it’s all the New Testament! How many Bibles do we have in our homes? How easy is it to go to Biblegateway.com, look on Kindle or go anywhere on the internet and find the New Testament – which has the answers the men in the Old Testament could only dream of having access to! We have it. You have it. You can know more about God than they did.

 

11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

 

They didn’t know how everything fit together.[9] They saw that Messiah would be sent from God. He would rule and reign, and His throne and kingdom would last forever. And yet, He would suffer and die . . . How did all this fit together? The Holy Spirit moved them to write the Scripture, but how could they make sense of it all!?

 

12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

 

They didn’t know how or when all the murky details about Christ would come to pass. They figured it wouldn’t be for them to know, but for the folks who were living when it happened:

“And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect,” (Hebrews 11:39-40).

The believers in the OT looked forward to the promise of Christ and believed in it by faith – even though they never saw Christ or read His words in the Gospels. We have something better than they did – we look back on what Christ already did!

 

CONCLUSION:

 

If you’re a Christian, you have lots of reasons to be happy. We’re all going through something – we may be going through different things, but we’re all struggling with something. There are some people who I’d never be friends with unless we both weren’t Christians! We’re not all sitting here today because we’re from the same town, went to the same school, have the same interests or even work at the same place. What ties us together is that we’re all Christians. We can all grab hold of these simple truths:

  • God has given you a home in heaven that’s waiting for you
  • God decided to save you – specifically and individually
  • Your salvation is secure; it’s incorruptible, undefiled and will never fade away
  • You have more of God’s Word, and can know more about God than any man or woman from the OT
  • Because all this is true, stay happy, and keep on keepin’ on through whatever you’re dealing with – God’s promises are real and true

Do your best to live a Christ-like life, walking worthy of our great God and Savior, while we wait for orders to ship out back home to heaven – where Christ has a place waiting for you!

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Footnotes:

[1] Some argue that Peter was writing to Jewish Christians. After all, Peter was an apostle to the Jews and his epistles are saturated with OT references and allusions. However, I follow D. Edmond Hiebert in assuming that Peter is just writing to Christians in general: “[i]t seems more natural to understand Peter’s use of the term metaphorically, as a picture of Christians scattered in various areas as minority groups in a non-Christian world,” (1 Peter, revised ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992; reprint, Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 2008], 47).

[2] “Peter is writing a travellers’ guide for Christian pilgrims. He reminds them that their hope is anchored in their homeland. They are called to endure alienation as strangers, but they have a heavenly citizenship and destiny,” (Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, The Bible Speaks Today [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1988; Kindle edition, 2014], Kindle Locations 471-472).

[3] “To describe what God has done to bring about his great design, Peter refers to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus Christ. God’s choosing of his people is applied to them through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood (1: 2). It is by the Spirit that God ‘has given us new birth’ (1: 3), and it is by Christ’s blood that we are cleansed and redeemed (1: 18– 19). The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, accomplishes our salvation,” (Clowney, 1 Peter, Kindle Locations 438-442).

[4] I disagree with particular redemption.

[5] Peter’s point is not to write a theological treatise or to systematically explain soteriology. “The opening characterization of the readers as elect was meant to strengthen and encourage them in their affliction. The doctrine of election is a ‘family truth’ intended to foster the welfare of believers,” (Hiebert, 1 Peter, 46).

[6] “Peter will describe the political and social duties of the Christian pilgrim. But first the pilgrim must know his calling. It is not to pursue the mirage of humanistic hope. Neither is it to bow down to worship the imperial images of totalitarian power. It is to obey Jesus Christ until the day of his appearing,” (Clowney, 1 Peter, Kindle Locations 570-572).

[7] “God sends trials to strengthen our trust in him so that our faith will not fail. Our trials keep us trusting; they burn away our self-confidence and drive us to our Saviour. The fires of affliction or persecution will not reduce our faith to ashes. Fire does not destroy gold: it only removes combustible impurities,” (Clowney, 1 Peter, Kindle Locations 709-711).

[8] Hiebert suggests that we will be awarded praise, honor and glory by Christ at our glorification (1 Peter, 68-69). I am not comfortable with this idea. Everything we do is for the glory of God. Believers surely will receive crowns for their faithful service, and we will be glorified, but I am very reluctant to ascribe any glory and honor to us. “If we receive crowns of glory, it will be our joy to cast them at the feet of the Saviour,” (Clowney, 1 Peter, Kindle Location 729).

[9] I see the searching and inquiring by the OT prophets as being about how all the pieces would fit together, not about when. This is a major bone of contention. It also touches on the issue of the content of saving faith before the explicit revelation of Christ in the New Covenant. “The words search and inquiry imply a lack of knowledge about how the prophesies would be fulfilled, not about what they meant,” (William Baker, James & First and Second Peter, 21st Century Biblical Commentary Series, ed. Mal Couch and Ed Hindson [Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 2004], 108).

The prophets were concerned with the time of the Messiah’s explicit advent, of course, but they were worried about more than that. It wasn’t just the timing, but the manner of His appearance and the characteristics of His ministry that concerned them. John Calvin observes,

“There was a difference between the law and the gospel, a veil as it were being interposed, that they might not see those things nearer which are now set before our eyes. Nor was it indeed proper, while Christ the Sun of righteousness was yet absent, that the full light should shine as at mid-day. And though it was their duty to confine themselves within their prescribed limits, yet it was no superstition to sigh with a desire of having a nearer sight. For when they wished that redemption should be hastened, and desired daily to see it, there was nothing in such a wish to prevent them patiently to wait as long as it pleased the Lord to defer the time,” (Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010], 38–39). Calvin went on to say that “[m]oreover, to seek as to prophecies the particular time, seems to me unprofitable; for what is spoken of here is not what the prophets taught, but what they wished,” (Catholic Epistles, 39).

Not everyone agrees. Hiebert says the prophets sought only the timing (1 Peter, 75-76). So dies Tom Schreiner; “Peter’s point, of course, was that the prophets predicted these matters but did not know when they would be fulfilled, and they hoped upon hope that they would be fulfilled in their days,” (1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003], 73).

They are wrong. The confusion the disciples showed during Christ’s first advent, and the sudden flash of understanding after the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost seen to decisively tilt the argument in favor of how the prophesies about the Messiah would be fulfilled. The core issue, perhaps, is what exactly the prophets understood about Christ in the OT. I am in full agreement with Dallas Theological Seminary’s statement on this matter: “We believe also that they did not understand the redemptive significance of the prophecies or types concerning the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 1:10–12); therefore, we believe that their faith toward God was manifested in other ways as is shown by the long record in Hebrews 11:1–40.”