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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30am service, 2004-02-15%sC/p>

Text: 2 Peter 1:2-8

Thus far, we have been having messages on spiritual growth, based on the passage of scripture that we read from 2 Peter, that gives us a list of eight qualities that we should seek to build in our character: Faith, Virtue (moral excellence), knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity (or love). 

These qualities are the characteristics of the divine nature (v.4) that we can partake of. They are like eight stages in the spiritual progress of a believer, which begins with faith and ends with love. We can think of this as the construction of an 8-storey building, which has Saving Faith as its first leve,. When a person becomes a Christian he is saved through faith in Christ. But he cannot just remain there at the first level. He must begin to grow spiritually, by building the second level, which is virtue or moral excellence on top of this. He should then progress to build the third level, adding knowledge or to his virtue. Then he should go on to build the next level on top of that, and the next, and the next, until he has completed building the top level, which is love. When all of these qualities are present in a Christian's life, then according to the apostle Peter (in vv.8-10), his profession of faith is not barren nor unfruitful and he gains greater assurance of his calling and election to salvation.

We could say that the presence of these eight qualities is an indicator of a Christian's spiritual maturity. They can reveal to you how much you have grown spiritually toward Christlikeness, how far you have progressed in the process of sanctification, since the day you came to know Christ. And as we study each of them, the question to ask is where are you now in the whole process? What stage have you reached? How far have you progressed in building your Christian character? These qualities provide a kind of spiritual growth chart against which you can measure your spiritual stature.

I have a little growth chart stuck to a wall in my where I can measure the height of my children. And you know, every child loves to be measured to see how tall they have grown. You can see how happy a child is when you measure him and tell him, 'Hey, you have grown about 4 cm. since last month!' But if you tell him 'Nope, you are still the same height as you were three months ago.' You might detect a little disappointment in him, and you may also feel a little concerned about that. What has gone wrong? Why is my child not growing?

In the same way, if you find that you lack any of these qualities that we are studying in this series of messages, you should be quite concerned about your own progress too. It may show that you have stopped growing to maturity, and become spiritually stunted. Thi3 problem of stunted growth affects many Christians today, just as it affected many in New Testament times. There were many who have known Christ for a long time, but were still babes or infants in Christ as the Apostle Paul calls them in 1 Cor 3:1. They still needed to drink spiritual milk even though they had been Christians long enough to have matured into teachers (Heb 5:12-13). This is abnormal! The Lord wants all of us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We cannot remain where we are, but must keep on growing spiritually, 'unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.'

I trust that the Lord will use these messages to stir up your heart not only to assess your own spiritual growth but also to take the necessary steps to boost your growth toward spiritual maturity. And thiskmeans a lot of hard work and strict discipline. Look at v.5 and you will notice that the apostle Peter says 'giving all diligence.' This means that we must make every effort, and that we must overcome our lethargy and push ourselves hard to build these eight qualities into our lives, with God's help, namely - faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly love and charity. Let us study them diligently with the worthy objective of committing ourselves to build them into our character, with God's help, in order to grow into the image of Christ. In the past two weeks have already studied the first two qualities which are faith and virtue respectively.

This morning we look at the third quality that we should add to our life in order to grow in the image of Christ. Knowledge is the grace that we must add to virtue. In v.5, the Greek word used is gnosis. It is used 29 times in the New Testament and depending on the context, it can mean knowledge in general, or science, or religious knowledge. The quest for knowledge is familiar to us here in Singapore as we live in a knowledge-based economy. We understand the need to keep on learning and upgrading our knowledge and skills by attending more courses of study.

But the kind of knowledge that is referred to in v.5 is not just any knowledge, but a rather specific kind of knowledge. To find out what kind of knowledge it is, let us look at the other verses in this epistle where knowledge is mentioned. 

1:2 'Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,' This verse shows us that the knowledge that Peter is talking about is the knowledge of God. We can see this also in the next verse: 1:3 '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' According to this verse, It is through the knowledge of God that we receive all things that pertain to life and godliness. 

Another confirmation is found in 1:8 '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.' Here we are told that our knowledge of the Lord Jesus should bear fruit. 

This is confirmed once more in 3:18 'But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.' When we look at all of these verses, we now understand that the knowledge of the Lord is the beginning, the continuance, and the goal of the Christian life. In John 17:3, Jesus said, 'And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.' We should all seek to know God and the Lord Jesus Christ fully, and deeply. This thought is echoed in Jeremiah 9:23,24: 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.'

Now, in the process of spiritual growth given in v.5 of our text, we notice that knowledge is to be added to virtue. This raises the question: Why does virtue require us to know the Lord? You may remember that when Pr Mark Chen spoke on the quality called virtue, we learnt that it has to do with moral excellence. He also mentioned that moral excellence must to be defined by the right kind of knowledge. If not, it only leads to self righteousness (Romans 10:2,3). If we were to trace the source of moral excellence all the way back to its origin, we would find that it originates in God's character. Thus, it is God's own character that sets the standards of moral excellence for us. 

If something is right in His sight, then it is right. If something is wrong in His sight, then it is wrong. And thus, if we want to know about right and wrong, we need to know Him well. This is why we need to know God well if we are going to live in a manner that is pleasing in His sight and that conforms fully to His standards of right and wrong.

The next question that arises is: How do we know God? and how can we know Jesus Christ? Through all the ages of history, men have been seeking to know God, but not all finally arrived at the right knowledge of Him. In the time that the apostle Peter wrote this epistle, there were in fact a group of false teachers who claimed to have a special knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. They were called the Gnostics (cf. the Greek word gnosis in 2 Peter 1:5). According to them, God could not possibly have created the world, because God is spirit and cannot have any dealings with the world of matter which is inherently evil. The world was created by an emanation that came out of God. Some Gnostics believe that Jesus could not possibly have been God, because God can never take on a material body. 

Others said that Jesus was God or one of the emanations of God, but He did not really take on a real physical body. He just appeared to have a body. But it was just an illusion. Then according to church history, there was one false teacher named Cerinthus who taught that God came and took over the body of a man named Jesus at his baptism and then left his body just before he was crucified. 

Now in our time, we still have many conflicting teachings about God and Jesus Christ circulating the globe. If you were to surf the Internet and do a search on the keywords 'God' and 'Jesus Christ' you will find about 2.3 million web sites. But the majority of them have very strange doctrines. Some of them claim that God is a higher evolved being from outer space who comes to earth to check on how us lower life forms are progressing. Others say that Jesus was an avatar, or one of the many great teachers sent by God to teach us how to live together in peace and harmony. 

If you were to ask people what they know about God, you would also get a whole lot of varied information much of which is false and untrue. Some may even tell you that they know God because they have seen Him or Jesus Christ personally in a vision. But then they will also say that all men regardless of whatever religion they are from, are right with God. Once you accept 'extra-biblical messages' as valid spiritual knowledge even if they are not contrary to the Bible, it is not long before you will be accepting so-called revelations which directly contradict God's Word. That is happening even today in the Charismatic Movement. 

Some Charismatics claim to have a special gift of supernatural 'knowledge' which is from God. They try to defend these new revelations by saying that, 'New winds of the Holy Spirit are blowing.' They say, 'Who knows what the Holy Spirit may do?' 

You may have heard of a person named John Wimber, the late founder of the Vineyard Signs and Wonders Movement. He claimed that there is nothing wrong with adding to God's Word because: 'God is greater than His Word' This phrase means two things. First, there is truth in extra-biblical sources of revelation. Man is not to add to His Word, but God Himself can add to it. Secondly, what he means when he said, 'God is greater than His Word' is that God can actually contradict what He has already written in His Word. Therefore the Scriptures are no longer the strict standard we must use for authenticating anything.

According to Wimber and other Charismatics, the only authentication that is required for an experience or thought to be the product of the Holy Spirit, is for you to have had it. Can you see what's wrong with this? Man becomes the final arbitrator of truth, an oracle of God of equal merit and authority with the Word of God. Let us not be fooled by this kind of false reasoning. Psalm 138:2 tells us '. . . for Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy name.' and 1 Peter 1:19 tells us '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.'

Therefore for us, there is only one authoritative, valid source of the knowledge of God. And that is the Bible: The Bible alone is the infallible and inerrant Word of God! All the knowledge of God that we need is found right here in this book. This is what we should read and study well in order that we may have the right knowledge and full knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.

Do you realize how blessed you are to live in this present age, an age when you can easily own a personal copy of the Bible? Before the invention of printing, Christians hardly had such a great privilege that you have. Besides that, we also have all the resource materials for Bible study within reach: concordances, guidebooks, Bible dictionaries, commentaries, etc. 

If we do not make full use of these resources, then perhaps one day those Christians who have lived long before us who would have given anything to have some of our privileges would rebuke us when we meet them in heaven! 

The teachings in the Bible on God and Jesus are also called doctrines. This word means 'teaching' and that with regard to who God is, what He has done, who Christ is, what He has done. Hence we have the doctrine of God (theology), doctrine of Christ (Christology); doctrine of the church (Ecclesiology), doctrine of the Last things (Eschatology). There have been a number of books of theology that systematise the teachings of God's Word under these departments or headings. 

As for us, the standard theological work of the Bible-Presbyterian church are the Westminster Standards. These comprise of the Confession of Faith (33 chapters), the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism. There is also a catechism for children known as Questions and Answers on Eternal Life.

The sad trend in many Christian circles today, is to regard doctrine as something dead, dry and divisive. I must confess that when I was a young Christian, I thought that doctrine was only for theologians who have their head in the clouds. I thought it was not really that important. When someone mentioned Arminianism I thought he was referring to what the Armenian Church at Hill Street teaches! I knew some portions of the Bible and some basics I had learned in Sunday School, but I did not know much doctrine. As a result my Christian life and viewpoint traveled in all kinds of directions. 

I once thought I had found the way to explain the Trinity on the basis of God existing in different forms at different times. Now I know that that is a false teaching called modalism. I also thought there was nothing wrong with the ecumenical movement, the Roman Catholic Church and the Charismatic Movement. Whatever public Christian seminar or talk that I attended influenced my thoughts easily as long as it sounded credible. You could say that I was, as Paul says, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:4).

But by the grace of God I came to a stage when I realised how little I knew the Bible doctrines. Somehow the Lord put in me the determination to know the Bible well and to learn exactly what I must believe about God, and about Jesus, and all the other doctrines. And as I went along I was shocked many times that I had believed many erroneous things.

Doctrine is therefore very valuable. But it can only be gained by making a diligent effort to know what all the verses of the Bible on a particular subject say about that subject. If you know only one small portion of the Bible and try to build your doctrine on a particular subject on just a few verses, you are apt to get into an extreme view which is wrong. And that's not all. All the doctrines of the Bible are tightly interconnected. The doctrine of man is very tightly linked with the doctrine of God. The doctrine of salvation is also very tightly linked with both of these doctrines. Therefore what you need is to develop a thorough overall working knowledge of all 66 books of the Bible.

It is quite impossible in my opinion to get this kind of comprehensive Biblical knowledge by depending only on the messages that are delivered in church worship services, or at Bible camps alone. You will get bits and pieces. But I believe that the only efficient way to get your doctrines right is through your own sustained habit of personal Bible study (this was how Dr. John Sung got his doctrines: he read through the Bible 40x!) Do you have a plan to study the Bible thoroughly, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation? 

If you realise that your knowledge of the Bible and of the doctrines of the Bible is lacking, please make plans to read and study it well. You need to put in effort to dig deeply into it. To gain maximum benefit from your study of the scriptures you can some basic steps. Firstly, you must pray before you begin. Ask God to help you understand His word and to speak to your heart through it. Pray, like the psalmist in Psalm 119:18 'Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.'

Secondly, select a passage for Bible study. A passage is a group of verses that deal with a particular point. Mark where it begins and where it ends. 

Thirdly, find out some background information on the passage: who wrote it, to whom it was written and why it was written (From a Bible handbook or study Bible.) Knowing the circumstances of writing will make it a lot easier for you to arrive at the correct meaning of a passage.

Fourth, read through the passage several times. The object of doing this is to get a good feel or grasp of the passage. As you read you may also begin to notice certain key words or key phrases that appear again and again. Take note of such things.

Fifth, Check the meanings of words you do not know, or that you are not sure of, in a dictionary. Sometimes you may need to refer to a Bible dictionary, to find out more about cultural terms and practices mentioned in the passage (eg. 'Passover,' 'Sabbath,' 'Pharisees,' 'Sanhedrin,' 'Sadducees,' etc.). You must also watch out for figures of speech. When the literal meaning does not make sense, it is probably a figure of speech.

Sixth, use questions to extract the truths that are taught in the passage. Rudyard Kipling once wrote: 'I have six faithful men who taught me all I know, Their names are What and Where and When and How and Why and Who.' 

Seventh, write down in a notebook whatever you have observed and learned from the passage. Start by writing out the main theme of the passage in one sentence. Then write out the truths that are taught in each verse. 

Eighth, check up any cross-references to other verses in the Bible that teach the same truths that are found in your passage. This is called 'comparing Scripture with Scripture.' By comparing scripture with scripture, we prevent ourselves from making errors of interpretation. At this point, you may want to consult a reliable Bible commentary for verses that you cannot understand.

Ninth, think of how you can apply what the passage has taught you. This is hard work, but until you complete this step, you will not gain very much from your Bible study. If you don't apply your Bible study, you remain only a hearer of the Word and not doer of the Word (James 1:23). 

Finally, pray that the Lord will help you to obey His Word. If you can, memorise a key verse so that you can recall what you have learnt and apply them when you need it. E.g. when you are faced with a decision, or helping someone who is seeking advice from you.

Set aside half and hour each day to do this, and you will soon benefit from your increased knowledge of God's Word. By carrying out these ten steps in your personal Bible study diligently, you will add the important grace of knowledge to faith and to virtue, and you will make good progress in your spiritual growth. May the Lord help us all to commit ourselves to study His Word well.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25