How Then Shall We Live?
T. A. McMahon
The Bible is an amazing book. Although this is certainly true, it’s also a huge understatement. All accolades fall short; no adjectives come close. Yet that should hardly be surprising since God is the author. As we’ve written elsewhere, the Bible is God’s direct communication to mankind. And since He is infinite, apart from His Word there’s no way that finite man can know in truth anything beyond God’s general attributes that are revealed in creation (Rom:1:20). Everyone can surmise that the material world, from the sweeping expanse of the universe to the intricate complexity of a cell, could not have created itself. A Designer had to have been involved, and the Designer must have attributes of astonishing intelligence, power, and presence. Observation and logic are enough to lead anyone to that conclusion.
On the other hand, the specifics regarding God’s character, as well as His purpose and plan for those whom He created, cannot be arrived at through human opinions, speculations, and guesses. Finite man is basically clueless when it comes to the specifics, which is a major reason why there are so many different religious beliefs and practices in the world. God must inform humanity about things it cannot figure out, which He has done clearly through the Scriptures. One of those things (which is the focus of this article) is the way that a biblical Christian, one who has believed the gospel for salvation and desires to obey the instructions of God’s Word, should go about living his life.
The Bible is sometimes referred to as the “Manufacturer’s Handbook,” which is a good description regarding the overall content of Scripture. However, not too many people care to read instruction manuals. This attitude doesn’t serve them well when it comes to the functioning of their latest kitchen appliance or video entertainment device, leading to the inevitable frustration of “why isn’t it working?” The same attitude regarding the Bible will cause a believer to reach that exasperation stage and far worse. As Proverbs states in two verses: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (14:12; 16:25; emphasis added). “Death,” in this case, means separation from God. In those areas of a believer’s life where he hasn’t looked to the Scriptures for God’s instruction, he has to supply his own ideas. That causes him to go his own way, thus separating him from God’s “way.” The “end thereof” ultimately leads to a condition that at best is devoid of God’s grace and at worst is destructive physically and spiritually.
Recently I’ve been reading the Apostle Peter’s Epistles and found the first chapter in his second letter to be a compact volume of God’s instruction for believers as well as a great exhortation to do what it says. Though it’s not God’s full counsel regarding His instructions for everyone who claims to follow Jesus, it’s an excellent self-evaluation piece for us to consider, no matter our degree of maturity in Christ.
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.
Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as, they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter:1:1-21)
These are indeed God’s words, relayed by His Holy Spirit, and written through the human instrument whom He chose to pen them, Simon Peter. Although Peter was gloriously transformed at Pentecost from the hit-or-miss Peter we read about in the Scriptures prior to that event, these were God’s words and not Peter’s own ideas but expressed through Peter’s manner of communication. This is made clear at the end of the chapter but needs to be underscored at the beginning: the declarations are from God himself.
Verses one through four assure us that Jesus is God and that He has supplied believers in Him with precious faith through the knowledge of Him, empowering us with all things that pertain unto life and godliness. “All things” means all things. That phrase asserts the sufficiency of God’s Word. What source other than God could supply anything that pertains to life and godliness? There is no other source. What Jesus has fully supplied enables every believer in Him to join in His divine moral nature, His godliness. As we are reminded in 1 Peter:1:15-16: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of [conduct]; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” That is the only way that the sinful, lustful corruption of the world can be overcome.
If, as His Word proclaims, the Lord has given us all that is necessary for us to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Him, what then is our part? This involves a willingness to do what He has instructed. That answer may seem obvious, but it is either resisted or avoided by many Christians today. Verses five through seven of 2 Peter 1 exhort the believer to cultivate what our Lord has provided, helping our faith to grow. For a mature faith to flourish, we must add virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity, i.e., love. Love, of course, is the chief quality of godliness and must superintend all of God’s promises.
Too often we read those words and blow past them as if they were simply platitudes or spiritual clichés. On the contrary, there aren’t many verses that are more practical in their fruitfulness. If we will only put them into practice, “they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter:1:8). This, by the way, is not “head knowledge” but knowledge that produces godly fruit. Those individuals who miss that, for whatever reasons, the Scripture characterizes as blind and forgetful as to what Jesus has already done for them by paying for their sins.
Some Christian writers have addressed their concern over the lack of good works produced by those who claim to follow Jesus. Sadly that is a reality of our day. However, a few authors have sought to correct that condition by teaching that true believers who lack good works will receive temporary punishment at the judgment seat of Christ where rewards are bestowed. No. That is an error and is not supported by Scripture; moreover, it creates a Roman Catholic-type of Purgatory, which involves the expiation of sin by the individual himself. It’s also a denial of Christ’s full payment for our sins, i.e., the gospel. What has been referred to as the Bema Seat of Christ for rewards and losses has nothing to do with the sins of believers. Jesus will judge our works by rewarding those endeavors that have eternal value and dismissing those that are worthless (1 Corinthians:3:13-15).
Second Peter 1:10-11 is an exhortation to diligently fulfill the ministry, the works, and the purpose that the Lord has called us to. Our willingness to do just that is a guarantee of spiritual fruitfulness: “For if you do these things, ye shall never fall.” It also encourages us to press forward earnestly that upon entrance into heaven we may hear those wonderful words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew:25:21).
Peter knew from the Lord that he was close to the time of his death, and his heart was to remind fellow believers of the things he had taught that would cause them to grow in the faith. To that end, he gives us some insight regarding a glorious event that he, James, and John had witnessed. Even beyond Peter’s personal preview of Jesus being glorified (as He will be again when He returns), the teaching stresses the foundation to all that he had written above. In conclusion, he notes that what he is relating was a fact of history, and that he was an eyewitness of what he saw, heard, and felt on the Mount of Transfiguration. Be assured that in our present times when the experiential has become the guiding authority of most people’s lives, both in the world and in the church, no one has had an experience like that (2 Peter:1:16-21).
Peter, James, and John saw Jesus glorified before their very eyes. It was no altered state of consciousness, no visualization, no conjured-up imagery produced by some contemplative, Eastern mystical method. It was a God-produced reality. None of those who teach that God cannot be known by the senses, the intellect, or the written Word but can only be experienced, have ever, nor could ever, produce such an extraordinary event. Moreover, what they do produce through their occult methodologies is fake—if not a direct demonic deception.
Peter certainly acknowledges the amazing experience on the Mount. But then he says, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed” (verse 19). Why, however, should we accept as true the personal, subjective experience that Peter described? Some modern so-called Bible scholars consider it a myth. It would definitely be questionable except for the fact that Peter’s experience is documented in the Word of God, and according to Jesus, “Thy word is truth” (John:17:17). Furthermore, the true experience is supported by “a more sure word of prophecy,” and we are exhorted to “take heed” to God’s written Word. Believers are certainly privileged to have experiences in the Lord, but those experiences must never take the place of nor diminish the authority of Scripture.
As wonderful as spiritual experiences can be, they are personal and subjective and are a byproduct of a believer’s relationship with the Lord. They lack the objective basis for one to discern whether or not they are true. For example, a Christian friend relates how the Holy Spirit was leading him in a certain situation. Although that experience was consistent with Scripture as a principle, yet because of its subjective nature, one can’t really verify that it was indeed Holy Spirit led. In some cases, the situation may be so contrary to the Word of God that it can be readily dismissed as not of the Lord.
Scripture, on the other hand, is objective. It is a believer’s plumbline against which he is to determine what he believes or is being taught. As Isaiah wrote, “To the law and to the testimony [God’s Word]: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:20).
Peter concludes the chapter by underscoring the fact that prophecy (meaning the written words of Scripture) did not originate from man (himself included), but the words came through chosen men of God who wrote them down as they were given by the Holy Spirit. Numerous other verses confirm this, including 1 Thessalonians:2:13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
So, we have the words of God! My hope is that everyone who has just read that sentence will take the significance of it to heart. God has given us His words! And, as we’ve noted here in Peter’s second Epistle as one example, His Word contains instructions for every follower of Jesus Christ that we all must obey if we are to be fruitful and productive in our lives as believers. There is no other way to please God.