Bad Maps and Thick Fog
In the early part of my sabbatical, I read a biography of Captain James Cook. He is famous for sailing the southern seas and mapping many of the islands of the south Pacific. He was also the first to map in excellent detail the coastline of
Newfoundland in . Canada
As Captain Cook ventured far south, even as far as the waters of the Antarctic, he faced incredible challenges that on more than one occasion almost brought him and his crew to ruin. They were going into areas not previously mapped. Even in areas that had been mapped, he soon discovered that previous cartographers had at times been dreadfully imprecise or altogether inaccurate. On other occasions, good map or bad, they would find themselves in dense fog which hindered their view of shores, reefs, and fellow ships. It's dreadfully hard to advance safely when you don't have a clear view of where you are heading.
One of the great blessings of the Christian life is that God has given us a clear view of where we are heading. That view is in the character, the life, the teaching, and the ministry of Jesus. In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter writes these remarkable words: "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence." Let me lay out several helpful practical applications from this one verse:
· Ability - "His divine power had granted to us...": You have probably heard someone cheer: "You can do it!" Well, that is absolutely true when it comes to growing in godliness. However, it is only true by means of the power of God.
Growing as a Christian is not about academic ability. It is not a privilege for the super-intelligent and the philosophically erudite. It is a God-given ability to those who will humble themselves and seek Him. There are very intelligent people who haven't a clue or even a care about what Peter calls "life and godliness". If they do have some concern for morality, they are blind to how to define it, to produce it in their own lives, or to reproduce it in the generation to come. So, our culture continues to deteriorate.
On the other hand, there are others who have struggled with academics all their lives. They would be seen as simple and naive by those more intellectually astute and informed. Yet, daily, they humbly bow and pray over the Scriptures. The Bible tells us that God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. Therefore, their lives, though a work in progress, shine with the growing qualities of kindness, love, forgiveness, and patience. You could build a kingdom with people such as these. In fact, that is exactly what God is doing.
To those that come to faith in Jesus Christ, God has given the miraculous ability to grow in godliness. The beauty of God's power is that it is harnessed by fatherly love to bring about in His children an understanding of Himself and His purposes. That understanding effectually transforms that son or daughter into His very likeness. What a gift!
· Sufficiency - "All things that pertain to life and godliness...": God hasn't held back anything that we need in order to become the son or daughter that He wants us to be. There isn't some crucial hidden secret that is missing that somehow destines us to spiritual frustration and futility. Everything that we need to live for God and to grow in godliness has been given to us in the knowledge of Jesus.
This is an important guard against the numerous religious cults that rise up and claim to have found that elusive secret key hidden down through the ages that is essential to knowing God and reaching spiritual enlightenment. From the Gnostics of the early centuries to the Mormons of today with Joseph Smith's miracle spectacles, their false claim is to have discovered the secret missing truth to knowing God. They have some additional discovery that transcends all others. There is no possible way, they teach, to truly know and to please God without their hidden gems.
This also stands as a correction to those Christians who prefer to emphasize the "mystery" of God. Somehow, they feel it is more honourable to God to put the accent on what is not known about God than what is known. While it is true that God is infinite and that we are finite, God's majesty is to be found in what He has revealed to us, not in what He hasn't. It is a deterrent to true godliness to continually say to ourselves "Well, you don't want to put God in a box." I agree that you don't want to put God in a box if that refers to reducing our understanding of God to limitations set more by human unbelief than Scriptural truth. However, there is a huge difference between defining God by limited human expectations and not defining God by very clear Biblical revelation. Some people don't want to limit God. However, the way that you don't limit God is to actually believe His Word and to dive deep into the fathomless depths of His revelation in Jesus Christ. Let the knowledge of Christ that we have been given produce in us what nothing else can or ever will until we see Him face to face!
What Peter declares here is that the complete truth is not found on some hidden page. It is found in a revealed Person. The apostle John opened his gospel with these words "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). God has given us everything that we need to know Him, to live for Him, and to grow like Him, in the person of His Son.
· Clarity: "through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence." I love this truth. If you ask Jesus the question, "What do you want me to become?", Jesus will always answer "Look at me." He never answers "Do as I say, but not as I do." If you read that you are to grow in humility, how does it look? How do I define humility? The apostle Paul says that we are to have the same attitude in ourselves as was found in Jesus (see Philippians 2:5-11)
Jesus' perfections make him the perfect and final definition of everything that God intends us to be. He calls us to His own glory and excellence. When we seek to define what "love" truly looks like or what "faith" really means, we are meant to calibrate our definitions by comparing them to the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus' disciples do this. The apostle John, for example, formulates his definition of love with specific reference to Jesus in 1 John 4:10 - "In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." In John 14:6, Jesus affirms that truth is found in Him when He asserts, "I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, but by Me." Jesus is the truth. He is the living Dictionary who defines perfectly the life to which we are called by God.
We must also recognize that when Jesus calls us to His own glory and excellence, He is not merely giving us a definition of Christian life and godliness. He is also giving us a destination of Christian life and godliness. We will become like Him. This is our calling in Christ. This is His agenda. We are called to share in His glory and excellence . In Romans 8:30, we are told that the calling of Christ upon our lives is effectual: "... those who God called, he justified, and those he justified, he glorified."
This is intended to bring great clarity to the confusion of our souls. When the fog of ignorance begins to cause us to feel overwhelmed, we are to look to Jesus. When the smog of false ideas and corrupted standards begin to cloud our minds, we are to simply look to Jesus. When we look at those who have gone before us and we realize that they may have charted the map wrong at certain points, we are to fix our eyes upon Jesus. He never fails to point in the right direction. Those who trust in Him never fail to reach their appointed harbour.