THE FREE FALL OF TRUTH

Thirty years ago, sociologist Reginald Bibby published his book Mosaic Madness, in which he spoke of the challenges facing our country in light of excessive individual rights and relativism. Relativism is the idea that absolute truths doesn’t exist.

Canadians deserve to be nominated as ‘champions of choice. …Even if the available options are not what we would choose, we regard it as a virtue to defend the right of others to choose whatever they want. It’s the Canadian way. Increasingly, we have come to regard truth as a matter of personal preference.

…As Canadians, we are coming precariously close to worshiping choice as an end in itself. Rather than carefully examining the benefits and costs of available options and then sticking our necks out and suggesting what in fact might be ‘best,’ we instead take the easy way out. We decree – with the authorization of pluralism – that an educated, enlightened, sophisticated Canadian is a person who tolerates almost everything and seldom takes a position on anything. If a person dares to advocate a position in an ethical, moral, or religious realm – on premarital sex, marriage structure, homosexuality, or religion, for example – such a person typically is viewed as narrow-minded. The late Toronto Anglican archbishop Lewis Garnsworthy went so far as to say, ‘To speak up on anything in Canada is to run the risk of being labeled a bigot [intolerant].

            Even such a seemingly central trait as honesty runs into trouble. While some 90 percent of Canadian adults and young people say that they place a high value on honesty, they show a reluctance to label any behavior dishonest. They are socialized to think that to do is to sound judgmental. …In short, relativism has contributed to a situation in which many Canadians are not differentiating between being judgmental and showing sound judgment.

…We have been rewarded with citizens who clamor to assert their diverse choices in viewpoint and behavior. We are left with little sense of what is right, good, true. Mindless relativism has destroyed those kind of nerve endings.[i]

If nothing is absolutely true, and every choice is a person’s right, how does that affect a society of people? The issue of truth has always been the central issue in the human equation from the garden of Eden where the serpent questioned what God had told the man and woman (cf. Genesis 3:1), to the trial where Jesus stated that what was really on trial was truth. When questioned by the Roman governor, Pilate, Jesus speaks of the nature of His kingdom. 

‘You are a king, then!’, said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me’.[ii]

Pilate’s response is the response is in keeping with our day. ‘What is truth?’ (Jn 18:38).  That is still the battle ground that is being waged over our souls. Notice that Jesus declared to Pilate that His purpose was to testify to truth. In speaking to His disciples, Jesus told them that truth was not a set of propositions, but rather a person. He is the truth. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).’” Jesus is the person who brings people freedom. Trusting in Christ and his teaching gives us freedom from the tormenting lies of the enemy.  

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ [iii]

What we confess to believe is one thing, what we do with what we believe is the real issue.  Having a biblical view of life and putting that view of life into practice is what will bring freedom and joy into our lives. It is as simple as that. We need to have a renewed confidence that God’s word is truth. That is what was under attack in the garden, and has been under continuous attack since. Let us not allow the prevailing winds of relativism, which teaches that there is no absolute truth, rob us of our freedom. However, the Bible is true and has the power and authority to shape our lives. In Peter’s second letter, his message about coming judgment was questioned by false teachers in the church. Their deviation from truth was a reason for their belligerent attitudes and sinful lifestyles. We see in 2 Peter, chapter two, Peter exposes the attack on biblical truth, the lifestyle of these leaders, and their influence on people’s behavior. “Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute (2 Peter 2:2).” A little later in that same chapter, Peter outlines what motivates them and how they go about propagating their agenda. “This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority (2 Peter 2:10a).”

Peter now realizing that his days on earth were numbered wrote to remind believers that there is a need to grow in faith by allowing moral virtues to become of first importance in our lives so that we will be able to stand. Peter is concerned about strengthening us by teaching us. Here in 2 Peter 1:12-21, Peter leaves us with three powerful challenges to stand on the truth and not be deceived by seductive lies.

THE FIRST CHALLENGE TO STAND FOR BIBLICAL TRUTH COMES IN THE FORM OF A PERSONAL REMINDER (12-15)

Peter wants followers of Christ to remember some very critical truths that will keep believers from stumbling and straying away. So, what are the pressures that can come when we are least expecting them, that challenge our faith? He begins by telling them that these are some of his final words. Peter knows he is about to pass from this world into eternity.

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.[iv]

It is at first sight somewhat surprising that Peter should address his readers as established in the truth you now have.  From what he has already said, and what he is yet to say about them, it is very evident that their lives left a lot to be desired – and yet they were established Christians. Surely this is a solemn warning that it is all too easy for those who have been Christians for some time to lapse into serious sin or doctrinal error. There is no safeguard against this except living in direct touch with the Lord and Savior.[v]

A. Peter begins by warning us against carelessness as believers.

The idea of being refreshed doesn’t reflect the gravity of what Peter is saying. The Greek word means to stir up or arouse as from sleep.

The word translated ‘stir you up’ was used when someone had to be rousted from sleep. In our slumber we are unconscious of holy things.[vi]

We can easily take our faith for granted and become dull and spiritually listless. We can develop a false sense of security, and be seduced simply because we are living on past experiences or becoming spiritually indifferent. Here we are reminded to stay close to Christ and pay attention to his words. Remember it was when Peter thought he was strong that he fell. Peter knew that there were challenges ahead as Jesus warned him, and even though he felt prepared to die for his faith, he faltered in the hour of crisis. Even being forewarned by Jesus didn’t keep him from faltering. Peter was found sleeping in the garden of Gethsemane.  

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

But he replied, Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.

Jesus answered, I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.[vii]

Once Peter is restored, he becomes a pillar in the church, constantly encouraging and reminding believers that they must be watchful. Here in 2 Peter we find Peter faithful to that charge. Challenges can come unexpectedly or the intensity can overwhelm us. The only safeguard to keep us from falling is a life of preparation, and constant vigilance.

B. Peter’s concern for others extended beyond his life.

He left them a written legacy of truth of what he had experienced and the sure word of the prophets. “And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things (2 Peter 1:15).” How? He was leaving them a written record. The ancient church fathers like Irenaeus and Clement [who both lived in the second century A.D.] believed that what Peter meant here was an allusion to Mark’s gospel.

It seems probable that Irenaeus knew this passage in 2 Peter, and took the implicit promise to refer to Mark’s Gospel. In recent years a fascinating discovery from Cave 7 at Qumran has emerged which may support Irenaeus’ assumption that 2 Peter 1:15 refers to the Gospel of Mark.[viii]

However, we do know that this letter was certainly a part of Peter’s written legacy to those he was leaving behind, which has been a blessing to the church for two thousand years.

THE SECOND CHALLENGE TO STAND FOR TRUTH COMES IN THE FORM OF A PERSONAL REPORT (16-18)

Peter shares his own experience with the truth, the person of Jesus Christ. This was not a cleverly invented story, but God revealed Himself to chosen men. In Jesus they saw the very nature of God. Now thirty years have passed since Jesus left. The church has waited for thirty years for Jesus to return. David Helms explains the challenges now facing the aging Peter, who knows his time is short.

Other more enlightened teachers have arrived on the church scene, and they have begun to question, ‘What is all this dark talk about Jesus coming again to judge the living and the dead? Certainly this must be false. After all, the apostles themselves are all passing away before our very eyes, and there is no sign of his return?

…to summarize the accusation against Peter and the apostles this way: The apostles’ belief in the final judgment, a day when Jesus will hold each of us accountable for moral and ethical infidelity, is simply the stuff of fairy tales that stems largely from the fertility of Peter’s imagination. Therefore, the strict ethical and moral force of his faith is unnecessary.[ix]

It is to this challenge of faith, that Peter is now addressing. The false teachers were misleading and deceiving God’s people. Peter spoke in defense of the gospel that was entrusted to him.

We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.[x]

Peter then goes on to give a specific example of being a witness of Christ’s majesty. Peter reports his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.

He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.[xi]

Peter takes us back to that event on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. Jesus’ Divine nature was revealed to Peter, James and John. 

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.

But Jesus came and touched them. Get up, he said. Don’t be afraid.

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.[xii]

Peter is pointing out that the gospel he has been preaching is not a cleverly invented message, but a power revelation of the nature and work of Jesus Christ, who came to fulfill the law and bringing grace and truth to humanity. Peter, like Paul, was not ashamed of the gospel for they both knew it was the power of God that would bring salvation to the human heart.

So, how can we handle the challenge of our seductive culture? We need to be reminded to stay close to Jesus. We need to have confidence in the report of the apostles, their testimony which we now have as a written document. We have God’s message in the New Testament which is revealing what was previously concealed in the Old Testament; God’s promises being fulfilled in Jesus Christ.         

THE THIRD CHALLENGE TO STAND FOR TRUTH COMES IN THE FORM OF THE PROPHETIC REVELATION (19-21)

Not only do we have the testimony of the apostles to their encounter with God, but also we have the written Scriptures, coming from the hand of the earlier prophets.

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.[xiii]

A. The light that shines in our darkness.

Who is the morning star that brings guidance to us? It is none other than Jesus. Jesus, in Revelation 22:16, is called ‘the bright Morning Star.’ The whole Old Testament was pointing to Christ. The tragedy in Jesus’ hour was the blindness of many of the religious leaders to the truth of the Scriptures. What was true then is equally true in our own time. There are people reading and studying the Scriptures but missing the key ingredient of the message.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.[xiv]

But God’s word has the ability to make Christ known to us.

B. Peter now gives us some insight into the nature of biblical inspiration.

How did God get His Word to us? How did God make His will known to us?

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.

For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.[xv]

The relative parts played by the human and the divine authors are not mentioned, but only the fact of their co-operation. He uses a fascinating maritime metaphor where the word for “carried along”, is used in the book of Acts 27:15, 17 for a ship being carried along by the wind. The prophets raised their sails, so to speak (they were obedient and receptive), and the Holy Spirit filled them and carried their craft along in the direction he wished. Men spoke: God spoke.[xvi]

God spoke through the Old Testament prophets. It was their thoughts that they were forwarding. It wasn’t their interpretation of what God was saying. These two verses have been misapplied at times to state that we cannot interpret the Bible. That is not what these verses are addressing. They are speaking to the origin and inspiration of the Scriptures. The original writers did not give their own interpretation, but rather they communicated what the Holy Spirit inspired them to say.

This explanation of inspiration stands in stark contrast to what many in the Progressive Christian movement understand. In Brian McLaren’s book, ‘A New Kind of Christianity, he makes a very forceful attack on ‘historic Christianity.’ In the process he diminishes the authority of the Scriptures as an objective standard. He describes those who are ‘traditionalist’ in their approach to the Scriptures as seeing it as a ‘constitution.’

In addition, I hope you will understand that, just as you cannot in good conscience cease to see the Bible as a constitution, many of us can no longer continue to do so in good conscience; that’s why we are on a quest to find other ways to cherish, understand, and follow the Bible.[xvii]

The Scriptures are attacked by everything else that Christians have historically stood for.  Regarding the nature and person of God, Himself, McLaren relates that what is transpiring in the progression of biblical writers is a maturing view of God. It is not so much that God changes, but the characters in the narrative portray God as more gentle and loving over time. The premise of these teachers is that the progression of revelation came to a better understanding as to the nature of God.

And finally, if we were studying the Bible together over a period of time, we could trace the maturation process among biblical writers regarding God’s character. In some passages, God appears violent, retaliatory, given to favoritism, and careless of human life. But over time, the image of God that predominates is gentle rather than cruel, compassionate rather than violent, fair to all rather than biased toward some, forgiving rather than retaliatory. In this more mature view, God is not capricious, bloodthirsty, hateful, or prone to fits of vengeful rage. Rather God loves justice, kindness, reconciliation, and peace; God’s grace gets the final word.[xviii]

The problem with McLaren’s portrayal of God is simply an imposed understanding. God, right from the opening pages of Scripture, is seen as not only just, but also loving, forgiving and compassionate. We see that consistently throughout the Scriptures. We see times of judgment expressed in the New Testament, where Jesus himself states that unless we repent we also will experience God’s judgment (cf. Luke 13:1-8). McLaren is imposing his own understanding of the nature of God. Rather than seeing the biblical text as God’s messaging to humanity, McLaren sees the imperfections of the human authors imposing their own understanding of the nature of God upon the text.

In light of this unfolding understanding of biblical revelation, when we ask why god appears so violent in some passages of the Bible, we can suggest this hypothesis: if the human beings who produced those passages were violent in their own development, they would naturally see God through the lens of their experience.[xix]

What McLaren is simply stating is that we don’t have to adhere to what is written as some of it is an underdeveloped understanding as to the nature of God. In his hypothesis, he has negated the authority of Scripture over our lives. We can now cherry pick those texts we agree with and discard what we are uncomfortable with. In essence we are now fashioning God after our own image, rather than allow God to transform our lives after His. In both Testaments we have warnings that those who add or subtract from Scripture will experience God’s judgment (cf. Rev. 22:18-19; Prov. 30:5-6). If the Scriptures are no longer the authority in life, even though McLaren states that ‘those who embrace a historic understanding of Christianity are actually in essence basing authority upon their interpretation of biblical texts’, then my question is, what are the Progressive Christians doing? Are they not deciding what they will live by, thereby making themselves the ultimate authority?

C. What are the implications of inspiration?

God has authority in our lives based upon His message for us. The Scriptures are inspired to instruct us, giving us wisdom and leading us to Christ with whom we are saved. It also warns us, and corrects us in order to prepare or equip us to grow up. In writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul points out how the Scriptures gave him wisdom. The wisdom that brought him to Christ, thereby being freed from his sin. This was also Timothy’s experience.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.[xx]

Francis Beck & Gregory Koukl remind us regarding the nature of relativism, a Canadian value: If relativism were true, this would be a world in which nothing is wrong – nothing is considered evil or good, nothing worthy of praise or blame. It would be a world in which justice and fairness are meaningless concepts, in which there would be no accountability, no possibility of moral improvement, no moral discourse. And it would be a world in which there is no tolerance.[xxi]

Intrinsically, we know that this is false. Yet, driven by moral considerations we race headlong into this free fall of truth.

According to British historian Paul Johnson, Jesus’ teaching remains of peculiar relevance today, for his ‘central theme is that God, not man, is the final authority’. God has rights.  Human beings have duties; we deny God his rights at our peril.[xxii]

How is relativism affecting people today?  I received a number of years ago, a correspondence from a younger pastor who wrote: While attending a bible college he interacted with some students who think that it is impossible to understand what the bible originally intended to communicate; that hell is a theological fiction; that God is not a Trinity; and that other ‘holy books’ are just as helpful as the bible.”

What we need to realize is that there is a God in heaven who loves us, revealed Himself to us through a special revelation called the Bible, and has made His purposes known about Himself through Jesus Christ. Here in 2 Peter, Peter reminds us, reports his incredible witness to the majesty of Jesus and assures us that we have God’s revelation needed in order to stand for the truth in an age where truth is being challenged. This is critical as truth liberates, whereas lies lead people into bondage.

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[i]     Reginald W. Bibby, Mosaic Madness, (Toronto, On: Stoddart Publishing Co., 1990), 97-101.

[ii]     John 18:37, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[iii]    John 8:31-32.

[iv]    2 Peter 1:12-14.

[v]     Michael Green, “2 Peter, Jude” Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 87.

[vi]    R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019), 200.

[vii]   Luke 22:31-34.

[viii]   Michael Green, “2 Peter, Jude” Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 90.

[ix]    David Helms, 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, Preaching the Word, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2008), 213.

[x]     2 Peter 1:16.

[xi]    2 Peter 1:17-18.

[xii]   Matthew 17:1-8.

[xiii]   2 Peter 1:19.

[xiv]   John 5:39-40.

[xv]   2 Peter 1:20-21.

[xvi]   Green, 2 Peter, Jude, 102 paraphrased.

[xvii] Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, HarperCollins e-books, 2011, 85.

[xviii]           Ibid, 101.

[xix]   Ibid, 105-106.

[xx]   2 Tim 3:14-17.

[xxi]   Francis J. Beck & Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Book House, 1998), 69 as quoted by Tim Lahaye & David Noble, Mind Siege, (Nashville, Tn: Word Publishing, 2000), 81.

[xxii] Paul Johnson, The Real Message of the Millennium, The Reader’s Digest, December 1999), 65; as quoted by Tim Lahaye & David Noble, Mind Siege, (Nashville, Tn: Word Publishing, 2000), 118.

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