Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 20

Originally posted March 31, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

In last week’s lesson, we studied Peter’s discussion of the apostolic witness to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This week we will look at how that train of thought flows into his discussion of the divine origin of Scripture. Remember, this is important to Peter’s readers—and to us—because of the false teachers who were—and are even still—infiltrating the church with subversive doctrines and attempting to woo believers away from the truth.

knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. (20)

Our first question asks us why Peter emphasizes that “above all” or “first of all” (20), believers must understand the origin of Scripture? Considering the context, and that, in his very next breath Peter will be warning his readers against the false teachers who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, it is evident that he wants his readers to anchor their faith in truth rather than speculative imaginations. For Scripture is God’s Word, and Jesus himself said, “your word is truth” (John 17:17). The false teachers’ message is not of divine origin, but a creation of man, “cleverly devised myths” (1:16), and it leads to sensuality, exploitation, blasphemy, and ultimately destruction.

Scripture, as Peter is here teaching, originates with God himself, not “by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (21). In stark contrast to where false teachers will lead, Paul teaches that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). God’s Word leads to life and love, trains us to be holy, and prepares us for Heaven! Above all else, Scripture is the good news of the gospel, the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:23, 25).

Furthermore, because of its divine origin, Scripture speaks into our lives with authority. The Bible isn’t just a book like any other, with good ideas and suggestions for living well. Oh no, as it is God’s Word, to ignore the commands of Scripture is to disobey our holy God.

“What makes Scripture authoritative is the divine authorship of Scripture, and it is of divine authorship because it is inspired of the Spirit; it is God-breathed.”[1]

Let us remember this above all, for we forget at our peril.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (21)

Though scripture does not originate with men, God used men in the production of scripture. Peter tells us things that did not happen in that process. Scripture is not cleverly devised myths (16), and it did not come by anyone’s private interpretation (20), nor was it produced by the will of man (21). What did happen, according to Peter, is that men spoke (which is active) from God (the origin) as they were carried along (passively) by the Holy Spirit (the actor) (21). The word that Peter uses to describe the men being “carried along” is a nautical term, which describes the movement of a ship across the water, carried by the wind. The ship itself does not generate its own movement, for without the blowing of the wind it would be dead in the water. So it was with the men who wrote the scriptures: they did not generate the content of their message, without the Holy Spirit “carrying them” they had no message to write. As the Holy Spirit filled and breathed his word into them, they wrote. As R. C. Sproul put it:

“The Holy Spirit guided the human authors so that their words would be nothing less than the word of God… Inspiration does not mean that God dictated his messages to those who wrote the Bible. Rather, the Holy Spirit communicated through the human writers the very word of God.”[2]

We cannot fully understand this, but as we read the Bible we can see that it is one story, told by one Author, though with the different accents of the diverse men who put pen to parchment. R. C. also taught that, “The Bible clearly calls attention to its many human authors. In a careful study of Scripture we notice that each human author has his own peculiar literary style, vocabulary, special emphasis, perspective, and the like.”[3]

Studying God’s word draws us closer to him because the words in this book are like no other. Of the billions of books in print, none but the Bible has words that are living and active, meant to pierce our hearts of stone and breathe life into our dry and dusty bones. This is the living and abiding Word of God which is the good news of the gospel. By this gospel we learn how very wretched is our condition apart from Christ. We are dead in our trespasses and sins until he brings us to life with the new birth—because of his great love for us. His word may be hard for us to hear, difficult, at times, to swallow, but when his mercy and grace have been shed abroad in our hearts we dare not run from him, but cry out with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68).

Listen to John as he illumines for us this truth:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

We are also drawn closer to God through the activity of the Holy Spirit as we read the Scriptures. First, as Peter has pointed out, the Holy Spirit is the author of the book, and it is an aid to our understanding to have the author by our side as we read. Paul discusses how the Spirit helps us to understand the Word at length in his first letter to the church at Corinth.

and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:4-14)

Paul is writing here of how the Spirit enables us to understand the truth contained in the words of Scripture, also known as the internal testimony of the Spirit. I must confess that this is one portion of Scripture that still carries for me whispers of the voice of a false teacher from a former church we attended long ago in a life that now seems far, far away. Because this passage has in the past been lifted out of its context and displayed to me in hues of error I want to be very careful when I handle it (as, for that matter, any passage of the Bible) for others now. I therefore turn to a trusted source to explain it for us, John Murray, former professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

“The knowledge and discernment of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 implies the opening of our mind to discern the excellence and appreciate the truth of the things of the Spirit of God. It is regeneration in its noetic [intellectual/of the mind] expression because it is the affinity with the things of God implanted in regeneration coming to expression in our understanding in the response to the evidence Scripture contains of its divine character.”[4]

What he is saying is that when God causes us to be born again—regeneration—our spirit isn’t the only thing born anew, but our minds are also made new. The shackles that kept us intellectually bound in the dark concerning the truth of God’s word are removed. This new birth of our minds expresses itself in not only understanding intellectually the words on the pages of our Bibles but believing them to be true and divinely spoken from our holy God. As we read, the Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts, “This is true! This is my word of love and life and I wrote it to you!”

When the Holy Spirit resides in our hearts, God adds his power to his words as we read. For 1 Cor. 2:4-5 and 1 Thess. 1:5-6 speak of the power of the Spirit which accompanies the gospel itself. This power is not inherent in the words themselves because unbelievers can read the Bible all day long and not be moved by it. But when the Holy Spirit accompanies the reading of his word and supplies faith to believe it, full assurance or conviction always result.

“There should be no question therefore, that it is an additional attestation indispensable to the faith that rests not upon the wisdom of men but upon the power of God. It is the ever-recurrent power exercised by the Spirit in conjunction with the gospel … There is a compelling power which can be explained only in terms of the presence and authentication of God himself, and the effect is irresistible conviction.”[5]

John Murray adds the following cautions, which, because of my own history seeing the misuse of Scripture, I greatly appreciate:

  • “The internal testimony does not convey to us new truth content. The whole truth content that comes within the scope of the internal testimony is contained in the Scripture… [there is] no ground whatsoever for new revelations of the Spirit.”[6]
  • “There is no truth-content in the Spirit’s operation, the truth-content is wholly in Scripture. He illumines our minds in truth objectively presented.”[7](meaning, the truth is already there; the Spirit doesn’t make it any more true than it already is.)
  • The internal testimony of the Spirit has as its sole purpose the recognition of the divinity, authority, and finality of Scripture. It is a witness to the truth of the Word.[8]
  • “The Scripture [is a] product of the Holy Spirit and through which he speaks. The expression ‘the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture’ is used in order to stress the fact that Scripture is not a dead word but the living voice of God the Holy Spirit, addressing itself to the various situations that arise for the individual and for the church.”[9]
  • The Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture is to be sharply distinguished from the Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. The Holy Spirit speaks in Scripture because it is his word but he does not continue to write Scripture.”[10]

And now, let’s take a closer look at these false teachers who were twisting the Scriptures for their own benefit.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2:1-3)

Peter begins his discussion of false teachers by contrasting them with the men who were used by God to write the Scriptures. The “men who spoke from God” were obedient servants of God whose inspired words bring life and light because they are not their own, but God’s. The false teachers against whom Peter is warning his people are bringing destructive heresies, motivated by their own greed and sensuality, blasphemers who deny Christ, spreading destructive heresies, and are stoking the fires of their own condemnation.

If those sound like harsh words, check out what the Lord has to say—through his true prophet, Moses— about those who would lead his people astray:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, underline mine)

God pulls no punches when it comes to false prophets and teachers who lead his people astray. At the heart of their message is rebellion against the God who redeemed them, tempting people to adultery with false gods and away from loving the Lord with all of their heart and soul. This is exactly what the false teachers Peter points to are doing, denying Christ and luring his bride down dark alleys of lies which will create a wedge between her and her holy Bridegroom.

True believers will not be lost from their blood-bought salvation, but their relationship with the Lord will be damaged, hindered by the half-truths and whole-lies with which the false teachers shackle them. What we believe about God is the most important thing about us, and if our beliefs are infected with the lies of the enemy our grip on him to whom we are to hold fast will be loosened. Our God takes this very seriously indeed.

Peter says these false teachers are seeking to influence the church by “secretly bring[ing] in destructive heresies.” These were “doctrines designed to destroy the spiritual and moral lives of Christians.”[11] I found Simon Kistemaker’s definition of heresy illuminating:

“The word ‘heresy’ derives from the Greek verb which signifies to take something for one’s self, to choose, of to prefer. It refers to a chosen course of thought or action that an individual takes or that a group of people adopts as an article of faith or way of life. The inevitable result is the act of separation which gives ‘heresy’ an unfavorable connotation.”[12]

Heretics want to choose their own way to believe; to choose their own way to apply and live out their supposed ‘faith.’ They don’t declare, as their first assault on true faith, that “We should all go worship Baal!” No, their attacks are subtler than that. Heretics have picked from the scriptures, using the word of God as their point of entry, and said, for instance, that Jesus was actually a created being, not the co-eternal Son of the Father, but as the “Firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15), God made him first (this is Arianism). Other heresies obscure or deny the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, and so forth. Do you hear the echo from Eden, “Did God really say?”

Before I go further I am going to insert a thought not included in the study questions. Here it is—Heresy has been beneficial for the church—pick yourself up from the floor and I’ll explain (and if you quote me on this, keep it in context, please!). God hasn’t allowed these heretical teachings to surface without turning many of them to his purposes. “In the history of Christian theology, we often find that the church comes to its clearest understanding of the Word of God when it is forced to confront error.”[13]

Because of various heresies from the times of the early church to the present, godly theologians have had to closely examine their doctrines in the light of Scripture and clarify what is true with more precise language than it was taught before the questions arose. Many of our creeds were written in response to heresies. With Christ being the focal point of many early heresies, the creeds spend much of their declarations on him. Next time you read the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed, notice how full it is of precise descriptions of our Lord Jesus. These were clarifying responses to heresy.

Now, this does not dilute the fact that heresy is destructive. I merely bring it up to teach a teensy bit of history and to highlight the mastery of our great God over everything which he allows to come our way, turning even bad things to good purpose. These teachers were a problem nevertheless, and Peter warned his people in no uncertain terms.

“When we consider the false teachings that the early church faced, we can understand Peter’s desire to encourage the believers to be strong in their spiritual lives. Peter provides all the necessary ammunition for the Christians so they may successfully oppose the false teachers and defeat their purposes. He alerts Christians to the war they must fight and equips them with spiritual armor to resist and dispel the anti-Christian forces.”[14]

Jesus also had strong words for false teachers. Look for what he says will be the distinguishing feature of whether their teachings are true or false:

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:15-23)

As with Deuteronomy, so with Matthew: the distinguishing mark of a false prophet or teacher is not whether their prophecies came true or they performed miracles (supposedly) in his name, but whether the fruit of their teaching directed people toward or away from Christ. As John Calvin teaches on this passage, “Under the fruits the manner of teaching is itself included, and indeed holds the chief place: for Christ proves that he was sent by God from this consideration, that, ‘he seeketh not his own glory, but the glory of the Father who sent him’ (John 7:18).”[15]

According to Peter, and also Jude, the marks of a false teacher are sensuality, blasphemy, greed, false words, exploitation of the believers, ungodliness, denial of Christ, reliance on dreams, defilement of the flesh, rejection of authority, blasphemy of the glorious ones, grumbling, malcontented, following desires, boasting, favoritism, and seeking their own advantage (2, 3; Jude 4, 8, 16). Looking at this list, it’s no wonder that one of the results of their teaching was to bring the church’s reputation down into the mud, as Peter writes in verse 2, “because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” ‘The Way’ is a term used often in the New Testament for the teachings and life of the New Covenant church.

In his first epistle Peter wrote that our lives ought to be exemplary, so that the watching world would have no reason to revile or accuse us of evildoing, but rather they would see our good deeds and bring glory to God (1 Peter 2:12; 3:16). But what the false teachers are doing is bringing shame instead of honor, not only on the church, but on the Lord who died to save her. This is heartbreaking in the extreme and underlines the seriousness of their crimes against our Bridegroom, and therefore the justice of his promised vengeance.

Rather than Scripture, the origin of the false teachers’ message is their own greed (3). In his letter to the Colossians, Paul connects greed to idolatry (Col. 3:5), which is a sin that has plagued God’s people from the beginning and is no small matter. “People who have fallen into the sin of greed exclude themselves from the kingdom of God, for they have severed the bond between God and the creature.”[16] The certain outcome of their denial of the truth is swift destruction; their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (1, 3). As Peter wrote in his first epistle, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (2:8) and, “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (3:12).

Another point not covered in the lesson, but which must be addressed here, is the status with Christ of these false teachers. After all, there is mention in verse 1 of their denial of “the Master who bought them.” Clearly they have been members of the church, but are they blood-bought believers who lose their salvation and fall from grace because of their teachings? “With his blood Christ has bought his people that they may do his will, but these—who refuse to obey him demonstrate the height of insolence toward the sovereign Lord. They are apostate Christians who have disowned their master.”[17]

We must tread carefully here, for we do not want to denounce as apostate those who are securely in Christ, but have sinned—even, at times, grievously—or have been led astray by the doctrines taught by false teachers. For true believers are not immune to false doctrine, which is the reason for the strong warnings found in passages such as the one we are studying. Even the term “apostate Christians” is confusing. Simon Kistemaker speaks very clearly to this concern:

“Although Christ’s death was sufficient to redeem the whole world, its efficiency comes to light only in God’s chosen people. Were the false teachers recipients of God’s saving grace? Apparently not, for they repudiated Christ. If we look at the words “denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” in the light of the broader contest, we discover a clue. We notice that at one time these false teachers professed the name of Christ, for they said that they knew him and the way of righteousness (2:20-21). They made it known that Jesus bought them, but they eventually rejected Christ and left the Christian community. As John writes, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us” (1 John 2:19); and see Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-29). Hence their denial of Christ showed that they were not redeemed.”[18]

A true blood-bought Christian may believe things about our Lord which are in error, but a true Christian will not, in the end, deny their Master.

Sisters, as you read this you may very likely have the faces of loved ones before your mind’s-eye; perhaps a child you reared in the truth who has turned away from Christ, maybe a sibling, a parent, or a spouse. Do not read in this that all hope is lost while they yet live. They may break your heart with every conversation about faith, but while there is life left in their bodies, there is hope. I know this, for our Lord himself told us so:

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:25, 26)

Remember, we who now believe were also once dead in our own trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), but Peter reminds us that “this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). Keep praying, for their salvation and for your own heart in this painful circumstance, “Humble yourselves… under the mighty hand of God… casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6, 7). We serve a mighty God, dear sisters, who is a changer of hearts and a giver of life. Hope in him.

Finally, as we learned last week, the best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the real thing intimately. We do not want to be gullible Christians who believe everything that comes our way. God has told us how to keep our minds and faith sharp, to guard us against false messages.

I have stored up your word in my heart, / that I might not sin against you. (Ps. 119:11)

 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)

Memorize, study, dig in, handle with care! This, again, is why we study the Bible together! We need God’s Word to protect us from those who willfully mishandle it for devious purposes, seeking to lead us astray. God’s Word is its own best defense. I am ever so grateful for each of you joining me as we sharpen one another in Bible study. From the bottom of my heart, Thank You.

[1] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 2: Systematic Theology, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 249-250.

[2] R. C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Pub. 1992), 15.

[3] Ibid., 15.

[4] Murray, 246.

[5] Ibid., 247.

[6] Ibid., 247-248.

[7] Ibid., 249.

[8] Ibid., 248.

[9] Ibid., 249.

[10] Ibid., 249.

[11] Kistemaker, 281.

[12] Ibid., 281.

[13] Tabletalk Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Ligonier Ministries, Inc.: Sanford, FL, March 2018), 59.

[14] Ibid., 281.

[15] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Vol. III, translated by the Rev. William Pringle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, reprinted 2009), 365.

[16] Kistemaker, 284.

[17] Ibid., 282.

[18] Ibid., 282-283, italics mine.

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