Is 2 Peter written to believers or unbelievers? Listen to this lesson to learn seven lines of evidence that the recipients were believers who were divided into two categories. Find out what makes the difference between them and hear from several passages that teach how we can be overcomers. Enjoy a description of Pastor Dean’s recent trip to Egypt and how the country’s history relates to biblical truth.
Please see 2 Peter lesson #062 for further clarification on 2 Peter 1:10.
Richly Entering into the Kingdom
2 Peter 1:8
2 Peter Lesson #027
January 16, 2020
“Our Father, we’re so grateful we can come before Your throne of grace. You are the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. You are our Redeemer. You are our Creator who created us in Your likeness to represent You on this earth and to glorify You.
“Yet, because of sin, there is so much corruption and evil in the world that You loved us in such a way that You sent Your Son to die on the Cross for our sins, to pay the penalty for our sins, that we might have everlasting life by simply trusting in You for our salvation.
“We’re so thankful for our salvation. Now, we need to continue to pursue the growth of that life You have given us to grow to maturity and to glorify You and to carry out Your will in our lives. We pray You might motivate us, challenge us, and encourage us as we study tonight. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
Let’s begin by opening our Bibles to 2 Peter 1. We will review a little bit where we’ve been in the previous lessons. It’s been over a month since we last were in 2 Peter because I have been gone. I was sick the last week and by the way, there was a lesson that was played last week because it provides good background for what we’re studying.
I’m assuming that if you’re here and you regularly come on Thursday night, that you went through that lesson last week. It is important. It is something that is critical, and I didn’t want to reteach it again tonight. We’ll touch on it a little bit since it’s something we all need to be reminded about.
As we get into this particular passage, I want to just bring us back to focus on this first chapter of 2 Peter. What we’re looking at tonight is the phrase in verse 11, “richly entering into the kingdom”.
This is a significant phrase and it brings to the foreground several important teachings of Scripture related to rewards and judgment and God’s motivation in our lives. It deals with some issues that even people that are very, very close in their understanding of the Word have trouble with. A lot of friends that we know may differ on how some of these passages are understood. I’m going to try to shed some light and less heat on this because I think it’s very important to come to this particular understanding of what is going on in the background here.
Let’s just remind ourselves of the context of 2 Peter 1:5–9. Peter here is talking to them as believers. We’ll come back and look at that when we get a little further into this. He is going to challenge them to press on in their spiritual lives.
He says, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith …” Right there we see they are believers because they have faith. “Add to your faith, virtue, to virtue, knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love.”
He has this list of spiritual qualities here, spiritual virtues and character traits that are similar to other lists. None of these lists, such as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:20–21 are exhaustive lists, but they all overlap one another. It’s the result of walking by the Spirit. It is not morality.
Unbelievers can be moral. Religious unbelievers can be exasperatingly moral, self-righteously moral. You run into people like that. This is not necessarily something that is produced by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual life goes beyond simple morality. It goes to the spiritual virtues which we can’t produce in ourselves.
They’re supernaturally produced by God the Holy Spirit. In these three verses we know that first of all Peter is talking to them as believers and he’s motivating them through his command to press on to spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. Then in 2 Peter 1:8–9 there’s a contrast. He says, “For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither unproductive nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He connects these qualities to being fruitful. That’s important because a lot of Christian teaching thinks that fruit means how many people are coming to your church, how many people are in your congregation, how many people are saved, and how many people you’ve witnessed to. They try to quantify the Christian life.
This is part of the problem in the movement called “lordship salvation”. They try to quantify faith and they try to quantify the spiritual life so it’s somehow measurable. They say you can look to your works to determine whether or not you’re saved.
There’s a contrast between verses 8 and 9. In verse 9 we read, “For he who lacks these things …” Verse 8 is discussing that those who have these things and abound continue to grow, while verse 9 is discussing that those who lack these things are not growing. Their lives aren’t any different from the unbeliever next door or down the street or in the next cubicle at the office. They lack these things. What things? They lack fruitfulness in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they lack these virtues that are listed in 2 Peter 1:5–7.
“For he who lacks these things is shortsighted—spiritually myopic—even to blindness—completely ignorant of spiritual truth—and he has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” This is another statement that makes it clear that Peter’s readers are understood to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
With that for background we have to develop this a little further in order to make a more significant point and that question is: Are these recipients of this letter believers or unbelievers? That’s a really important question.
You would be surprised how many people take this to mean those who aren’t quite there are unbelievers. That will change some as you see how they handle certain things in this Epistle. It’s not just significant for what we read in 2 Peter. It’s important for what we read in its companion Epistle, the one chapter of Jude, as well as other passages.
Let’s just look at the evidence, just as we’ve seen in the first ten to twelve verses that support this. First of all, Peter addresses this to those who have obtained like precious faith with us, “us” being the apostles. So, they are clearly saved. They have the same belief that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, that He is undiminished deity and true humanity, united in one Person together. They believe He died on the Cross as a payment for sin and He was our substitute and by faith in Christ alone you have eternal salvation. Right there he is clear that they are believers.
Then in 2 Peter 1:3 Peter says that God’s omnipotence, His divine power, has given to us—now he includes himself in the “us”. He’s not just talking about the apostles. He’s talking about his readers including himself. He says God has given all of us as believers all things that pertain to life and godliness. Again, God does not do that for unbelievers.
God does that for believers. When they are saved, He gives all of these things. They are part of all the different things that God provides at the instant that we are saved. God just does a spiritual dump on us in an instant and we receive all these spiritual values and assets that are ours and that will continue to be ours for all eternity.
Then the third piece of evidence comes from 2 Peter 1:4 where Peter says, “By which have been given to us—once again, Peter and his readers, all believers—exceedingly great and precious promises.” He wouldn’t be saying that if he thought he was writing to unbelievers. He’s convinced that his audience is made up 100% of believers. “That through these you may be partakers of the divine nature.”
Being a partaker of the divine nature is not regeneration. You’ll run into people who will say that, that it’s getting this new divine nature. He’s already said they have like faith with the apostles, so they’re already saved. Being a partaker of this divine nature is an indication of growth. It’s what Paul describes in Romans 8:28–30 as being conformed to the image of God. It’s bringing into your life and my life the spiritual qualities of Jesus Christ’s character described by the fruit of the Spirit and the list of the virtues in 2 Peter 1:5–7.
The verb here “through these you might be” is an aorist subjunctive. Sometimes when I throw these terms out that people don’t know, or their minds just go foggy because it’s grammar. The aorist tense simply means it’s a past tense.
More important is the mood of the verb. It’s subjunctive. A subjunctive mood is the idea that it might be. It could be. It expresses the possibility of something or the potential of something. So, we’re given everything pertaining to life and godliness at the moment of salvation. We’re given God’s precious promises. This all relates to our potential to live a life where we can grow to spiritual maturity, demonstrate the character of Christ, become partakers of the divine nature, and glorify God through spiritual maturity.
Not every believer is going to do this. They might do it. Peter doesn’t say that through this, you will. That would confirm the Reformed or Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which says the true believer, the one who is truly elect, will automatically continue to grow spiritually through their lives. They’ll manifest fruit, something measurable, quantifiable, observable, by which you can know that you were saved.
In other words, the object of faith for assurance, according to them, is on your works, not on the promise of God. That’s part of the problem with the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. There are many others.
What Peter is saying here is that you “might” be a partaker. It’s a possibility. It’s not a necessity. It’s not inevitable. That’s the doctrine of perseverance, that you will inevitably grow means you are truly saved. If you don’t grow, then you probably weren’t saved. You just think you were. You’re just confused and think you had a faith in Christ that was saving, but it was a faith in Christ that wasn’t saving.
You have a number of Reformed theologians, John MacArthur would be one of them, that clearly state that you can have a non-saving faith in Christ. They say the only way you can tell the difference between a saving faith in Christ and a non-saving faith is by your fruit. We’ll get back to that a little later when we talk about fruit in Matthew 7.
So, it’s a potential here in 2 Peter. There are going to be some believers who don’t activate that potential. They will not grow. There’s potential that never develops in their spiritual life and you have others that will activate that.
I believe, as you’ve heard in the lesson in Revelation #64 last week that those who grow and mature are called overcomers. Those who don’t grow and don’t mature are not called overcomers. They don’t overcome anything. We’ll get back to that a little later.
In 2 Peter 1:5 we have a fourth evidence of their salvation when Peter says, “Therefore for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue …” The starting point is their faith. They have the same like faith as the apostles back in verse one. They are believers. They trusted in the gospel. They trusted in Christ as Savior and now they are to add to that faith, but the subjunctive mood from the previous verse means that it’s just a potential, not inevitable. Peter is motivating them.
Then he’s going to continue to motivate them. This is the fifth line of evidence that they’re believers in verse 8 because it says, “If these things are yours …” Those of you who have been around a little while or have heard me teach for a while know that there are three different ways that the Greek language can express the concept of “if”, but this is another way.
This is expressed through a participle. The other three ways are “if and something is assumed to be true”, “if and something is assumed to not be true”, or “if and we’re not sure whether it’ll be one way or the other way.”
This probably follows in that “if, maybe it will and maybe it won’t” category, but it’s just expressed through a participle so that’s what you have here is this HUPARCHO. It’s a present active participle and it’s conditional. It says “So if this exists or if you possess this. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But if they’re yours”…
If you see these virtues developing in your life, then you have the promise that you will be “neither barren nor unfruitful”. Actually, it’s a present tense verb there so it should be translated that you are neither barren nor unfruitful. You’re growing. You’re maturing. That’s fruit in your life. “… in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That fruit is characterized by, in this case, character qualities, which are not always observable. Sometimes it is but sometimes it’s not. 2 Peter 1:8 indicates this contrast between those who have these virtues.
Then the sixth line of evidence is those who don’t have these things. They’re the opposite. So on the one hand you have believers who are growing, are maturing, and you see character transformation. Christ changes the character and then you have those who don’t. They’re not activating their potential for spiritual growth.
God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. These are saying they’re going to go have fun. They’re like the prodigal son and they go live in the pig sty.
“For he who lacks these things …” That’s the word PAREIMI which means these virtues are not present. There are three things here. He’s shortsighted, that’s nearsighted, actually blindness is the first one listed in the Greek. First of all, he’s spiritually blind. Second, he is nearsighted. He can’t look beyond the end of his nose. He can’t live in light of eternity. Third, he is forgetful of the fact he’s been cleansed from his sins.
That third category is very important. It indicates these people had been cleansed from their old sins. They were forgiven. They were justified. They were declared righteous and they were regenerate believers. There’s no question about it with these things. We’re going to see there’s one more and we’ll get back to that in just a minute and that has to do with what comes up in the following verses.
2 Peter 1:12 then says, “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things …” What is he saying there? He is saying he needs to repeat this over and over and over again so you will not forget it and so that you will be reminded that God has given you all these things and it will motivate you to keep pressing on to spiritual maturity.
“Though you know and are established in the present truth.” Once again, Peter could only say that if they were believers. The reason I’ve gone back and belabored this a little bit to make sure that we all understand this is that in these twelve verses what we see is that there are clearly two categories of believers, those who are going to press on and activate what God has given us at the instant of salvation and those who could care less and don’t activate what God has given them.
We can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make them drink. As pastors, as spiritual leaders, you can only do so much. I was having a talk with another pastor the other day and we were talking about some other pastors. He was telling me about some of the things these other pastors are engaged in. They’re young pastors and hopefully they’ll learn and grow out of this. I think it’s one of the many pitfalls pastors fall into. They’ve become helicopter pastors.
Most of you know what helicopter parents are. Parents that are always hovering around the kids and want to protect them from everything and overly attentive to every detail in their children’s lives. They just hover.
Well, there are pastors who do that. When they see people in their congregation not doing what they’ve taught them to do, they start getting involved in their lives and try to get them to make application. I think that’s going to get them into trouble.
You have to teach people and leave it up to them just like those of you who are parents have learned that at some point you teach your kids what to do and you have to leave it up to them. They’re either going to fall flat on their face or they’re going to listen to what you have to say. Usually we have all fallen on our face a few times.
Pastors can’t hover that way. We have to teach the truth and it’s up to the hearers to learn it, to figure it out, to apply it. You’ve got the Holy Spirit. You’ve got all the same resources that God has given a pastor and so it’s your job to take it and to apply it and to learn it and to grow.
You have the growth believers on one side. You may get saved and go through a period where you don’t grow. Then you may go through a period where you really grow a lot and then you think your life is all straightened out and all the problems you had before you were saved have gone and you’ve got life by the tail and God is blessing you.
Then you’re failing the prosperity test and you’re going to start regressing before long and then maybe God is going to have to get your attention the hard way.
You have two kinds of believers. You have the one who grows, on the one hand, and then you have the one who just doesn’t. That doesn’t mean they weren’t saved. It means that’s all they wanted was to just end up in Heaven. As someone once told me, “I don’t care if I’m in the gutter or in the golden streets in Heaven or if I’m in a mansion.”
I said, “I think when you get there, you will.” There are going to be differences. Some people think that God’s a Marxist and there won’t be any differences. They believe everyone will receive all the same things, but that’s not what I see in the Scripture. We’ll talk about that a little more.
This is really a huge, huge debate in hermeneutics, in interpretive Scripture. The debate is whether or not the passage that is being studied is contrasting growing believers with carnal believers. There are a lot of passages about this and you’re familiar with some of them.
Then there are others who approach the Bible and they believe that all of these passages are describing believers versus unbelievers. Of all the New Testament Epistles—I would say the poster child for this issue is 1 John.
1 John is an Epistle that is dealing with, in my opinion, a contrast consistently, all the way through, it is a contrast between growing believers and carnal believers. You will find that’s not the predominant interpretation of 1 John.
In the Reformed camp and in the lordship camp it is interpreted as a contrast between unbelievers and believers. When he talks about those walking in darkness, he is talking about unbelievers but those who walk in the light, he is talking about believers, they believe.
You’ve heard some people say that if you’re a believer and you’re saved, and you’ve been cleansed from all sin you don’t need to confess your sins. I’ve heard that from some people who otherwise are pretty straight, and they understand grace and they understand the grace gospel. That’s a lordship position.
That’s a conclusion that is consistent with the lordship interpretation of 1 John that it is contrasting believer with unbeliever. If you say you don’t need to confess your sin what you’re assuming is that the person who is an unbeliever doesn’t admit his sin, but the believer does. Eventually you can work yourself into what many people have that this is a description of salvation.
It goes deeper than that. 1 John is an extremely difficult epistle to interpret. I remember spending many years both when I was in seminary and afterwards just working through all of these particular issues.
What opened it up for me was when I went to Connecticut and was teaching through the Gospel of John. When I hit the Upper Room Discourse in John 13 and especially getting the subsequent chapters and coming to John 15, I realized that abiding in Christ—another key section that is so critical—that abiding in Christ is either considered to be a synonym for believing—those who abide are believers, those who don’t abide are not believers—or the other view, that those who are in fellowship abide and those who are not in fellowship don’t abide.
Those are two contrasting, totally different positions. As I got into this it really opened things up. Then I went from teaching the Gospel of John to teaching 1 John and realized all of the language in 1 John reflects the language of Jesus in the Upper Room Discourse in the Gospel of John.
The vocabulary is the same. John talks like Jesus. A young man often will imitate or sound like the person who he idolized and taught him, and they will sound like him. I’ve had several people tell me that I sound sort of like so-and-so and I’ve had other people tell me I sound like someone else, both of whom were very influential in my background. That tends to come out and people can hear certain commonalities in vocabulary and that type of thing.
In 1 John, I believe, are John’s reflections on what Jesus taught in the Upper Room. Jesus taught that before He went to the Cross and that was in AD 33. John probably wrote around AD 90. We’re talking about approximately 60 years later. He’s had a lot of time to think about what Jesus said.
If you misinterpret John 15, you’ll misinterpret 1 John. What I’ve seen over the years is that there’s a constant similarity, that those who interpret John 15 as fellowship will see 1 John as fellowship, contrasting spiritual believers with carnal believers. Those who interpret John 15 as salvation will take 1 John as contrasting unbelievers with believers.
Let me just summarize this. I don’t have this on a slide. I’ve mentioned two passages already: 1 John and John 15. Other passages are in the same pattern are James 2:14–26 that says that faith without works is dead. Is that whole epistle contrasting believer versus unbeliever or is it contrasting spiritual growing believers with those who are not spiritual and are not growing or are carnal?
Hebrews 6:1–6 is a noted difficult passage along with all the warning passages of Hebrews, which are difficult. You have those who apply all those warning passages to unbelievers and others who see them as warnings to believers so they don’t fall into complacency and go into neutral and regress in their spiritual life.
In fact, a Greek professor who taught at Capital Bible Seminary was in many ways free grace and believed in a free grace gospel, but when it came to any of these passages he always interpreted them as if he was lordship, but he wasn’t lordship. He just didn’t understand, or he hadn’t come to a point where he saw it that way. He took all these passages as contrasting believer and unbelievers.
There’s a lot of confusion by some very bright men who know Greek and Hebrew. It all comes down to hermeneutics and interpretation.
You also have the Sermon on the Mount. That’s another issue. We’ll get into some of these things, but let’s just talk about 1 John a little bit before we go on. When I covered that lesson last week in Romans about overcomers, one of the things I pointed out is that when you look at those seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, at the end of each one of those epistles there’s a motivational statement and there’s a promise of some sort of reward to those who overcome.
Contextually I believe that those overcomers’ motivational statements are all preceded by an identification of certain spiritual problems in each of those congregations with the exception of two. Then they’re told that the one who overcomes, contextually it’s overcoming those sins, is growing in maturity.
There are others, though, even free grace people who believe that all of those overcomers are the saved people. To understand that you have to recognize that in 1 John 5:5 it talks about the fact that those who are born again overcome the world.
I went through that last time showing that the way John uses that phrase “to be born again” doesn’t mean being regenerated. That’s hard for people to get their minds around this. One example, John says those who are born again don’t ever sin. How many people here never have sinned the day they were regenerated?
Not one of you! Not one, then none of you are saved, if that means those who are born again. John uses it in a different sense. He’s uses it in the sense that those who are living in light of their regeneration don’t sin.
That’s the same thing Paul says over in Galatians 5:16 that if you walk by the Spirit you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. So if you’re not walking by the lusts of the flesh, then you’re not sinning. When you stop walking by the Spirit, you’re going to sin.
Those who are born again in 1 John are those who are living like they’re born again. Those who are living like they’re born again are overcomers. Those who are not living like they’re born again are not overcomers.
Let’s see this contrast in 1 John. In 1 John he contrasts the believer who is growing with the believer who is not growing, who is carnal. In 1 John believers may walk in the light or they walk in darkness. They have fellowship with one another or they don’t have fellowship with one another
If they’re not walking in the light 1 John says they can’t have fellowship with one another because a carnal believer cannot have fellowship—that gives you a new sense of what fellowship means, that it’s an intimate partnership. You can’t really have fellowship with someone who is not walking by the Spirit, not walking by the light.
Believers may admit their sin to God, but carnal believers do not admit their sin to God. They deny that they have sinned. Most of this is just in the first chapter of 1 John. For example, 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” He doesn’t say if they have no sins. He says if we say that we have no sin, we’re in self-deception and deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
He doesn’t mean we’re not saved. He means we’re living according to a lie. We’re walking in darkness. We don’t have fellowship with one another. We continue to have these sins.
In 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I write to you, so you may not sin.” He is writing this Epistle to believers so that they can have an experience at times in their lives so they don’t sin. Lots of people say that sounds like legalism to them.
No, it’s talking about someone who is consistently walking in the light. He’s reached a certain level of maturity. He’s not sinless but he’s going to go more than a nanosecond without getting into carnality again like many of us.
The believer who is walking in the light may not sin, but the believer who is carnal is going to be sinning continually. We also have the fact that he goes on to say in 1 John 2:3 and following that the believer who is walking in the light knows God, but the one walking in darkness does not know God.
We studied this before in John 14 after Jesus tells His disciples that He’s going to go to Heaven. Peter asks how do we get there and then Jesus says He’s going to the Father. Phillip tells Jesus to show the Father and then Jesus asks how long has he been with Phillip that he doesn’t know the Father. “If you see Me, you know the Father.”
Phillip is saved but he hasn’t grown very much. So, the spiritual believer knows God. The carnal believer does not know God. The spiritual believer abides in Him. The carnal believer does not abide in Him. The spiritual believer loves his brother. The carnal believer hates his brother. The Word abides in the spiritual believer. The Word does not abide in the carnal believer.
Then we get down to 1 John 2:14 and he’s praising the young men in verse 13 and in verse 14 and he says, “You young men have overcome the wicked one.” That’s an important term. They’re not the young children.
The little children are the brand-new baby believers. The young men are more intermediate, adolescent believers and Jesus says they have overcome the wicked one. Therefore, those who are not at that stage of maturity have not overcome the wicked one. That’s the opposite meaning of that sentence.
That would indicate again that they’re not overcomers. 1 John 5:5 talks about those who have overcome the world. They’re the ones who are born again and living in light of being born again. The Bible uses this term about overcoming the world. Jesus used it in John 16:33 when He said He had overcome the world, using a perfect tense verb, meaning that in His life to that point He has completed that work of overcoming the world.
He has not yielded to the temptation to be conformed to Satan’s thought system, Satan’s philosophies, or Satan’s modus operandi. He has completed that work of overcoming the world.
The object of overcoming is the wicked one and the world. It is not overcoming your sin nature. It never says that. It’s not a justification issue. It’s a sanctification (phase 2) issue because Jesus, before He goes to the Cross distinguishes His work of overcoming the world from what’s going to take place the next day when He bears the sin penalty in His own body on the Cross.
That means that overcoming is a phase 2 spiritual life issue and not a phase 1 issue. That’s the purpose of the overcomer statements at the end of each of the seven letters to each of the seven churches in Revelation. It’s motivational.
There’s one problem with this. I read a recent book that’s just been published by an individual who takes a free grace position and it’s on the Judgment Seat of Christ. At the conclusion he talks about this issue of identifying the overcomers. He says there are two views. He’s wrong. He’s ignorant of the third view.
The first view is that all believers are also overcomers. The second view, he says, is that some believers are not overcomers and they will be cast into outer darkness during the Millennial Kingdom. Now that is what I believe is an extremely false doctrine that is taught by some members of the GES crowd.
The reason they get there is that those statements about those who are cast into outer darkness where there’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth are completing statements at the end of several parables in the Gospels. They’re all kingdom parables and all kingdom parables relate to Israel. They don’t have anything to do with Church Age believers.
Zane Hodges is one of the GES crowd who did this. He was one of my first-year Greek professors. Others in GES take that position and they’re just dead wrong. They have misinterpreted the passage, every single one of them.
One of the hidden interpretative realities is that Zane and Bob Wilkin and others put the Rapture in the middle of Matthew 24. If you put the Rapture in the middle of Matthew 24, around verses 32 or 33, now you’ve gotten the church into Matthew 24. Whatever happens after that you can switch it to judgments at the end of the Tribulation to judgments that occur at the Rapture, that is the Bema Seat, the Judgment Seat of Christ.
I had a great quote when I gave a presentation of a paper at the Pre-Trib Conference a few years ago. I actually had an audio of it. I had Lewis Sperry Chafer say out loud what he said in class. He said no matter who you are you can’t put the church into Matthew 24 or 25. He said even good friends of his, like Ironside and others whom he had confronted to their face, were confusing Church Age truth with truth related to Israel. Matthew 24 and 25 is all truth related to Israel.
Those outer darkness passages in the Gospels all relate to eternal judgment on those who have failed to respond to the gospel of the kingdom. That’s been very confusing, but this author thinks that everyone who has a view of an overcomer and those who don’t think that automatically those who are not overcomers get sent to where there’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
He’s wrong! I never heard that view until the late 1990s or 2000s. I grew up under a pastor who did not teach that. I’m not sure I even heard him teach on that. I was young. You know, you catch the big ideas and not always all the small ideas. I don’t think he ever taught that so I can remember.
Then when I was at seminary, I never went in to it. When I was out of seminary going to Tomball Bible Church where Harry Leafe was the pastor. Harry ordained me. Harry held the same position I hold. He was a really strong Calvinist, but he rejected most of the stuff on the Reformed view of the spiritual life.
I just never heard this. I was thinking all the people I heard teaching me as a young man. Not one of them held to this view that failures at the Judgment Seat of Christ go to weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, some sort of spiritual purgatory, during the Millennial Kingdom.
Let’s look at this quickly. 1 Corinthians 3 gives us the best description of the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul says we’re God’s fellow workers. He compares the building of your spiritual life with the construction of a building.
In 1 Corinthians 3:10 he says that God lays the foundation and that foundation he says in verse 11 is none other than Jesus Christ. But he says, “But let each one take heed how he builds on it.” So it’s your responsibility how you build on that foundation of the gospel.
Some Christians don’t build anything on that foundation of the gospel. Others build just their own morality and their own good works and that’s described as wood, hay, and straw. Believers who are walking according to the Spirit, walking by means of the Spirit, which means God the Holy Spirit is producing fruit in them.
Those believers’ lives are not barren or fruitless and so they are producing gold, silver, and precious stones. Then at the Judgment Seat of Christ “the day will declare” each one’s work will become evident.
The focus here isn’t on the things you do wrong, but on the things God the Holy Spirit produced in your life. So, the metaphor that’s used here is a bonfire. All your works, works produced by the Holy Spirit and the works produced by your sin nature, are all piled up and God strikes a match and lights it on fire.
That which you did by your own effort, works of the flesh, gets burned up. Nothing left. But fire doesn’t destroy gold, silver, and precious stones. What’s left, what’s made evident, is that which has eternal or enduring value. That’s the gold, silver, and precious stones.
It’s revealed by the fire and the fire tests or evaluates, DOKIMAZO, evaluates each ones work of what sort it is. Then in verse 14 we have a contrast with verse 15. Verse 14 is the overcomer. “If anyone’s work on it endures—that’s the word MENO translated abide; those who abide in Christ are going to have works that abide—he will receive a reward but if anyone’s work is burned he will suffer loss yet he will be saved as if through fire.”
See, he suffers loss. What does he lose? He loses rewards. He doesn’t have any rewards. Is he still saved? Yes. Is he going to be punished? No. He just doesn’t have rewards. He doesn’t build the capacities for all of the things he will experience in Heaven.
I always like the illustration that everyone’s cup is going to be filled to overflowing at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Some people are going to have a Texas-sized mug, others are going to have a demitasse cup. The issue is which one are you going to have? Which one am I going to have?
Are we going to be standing there with a huge Texas-sized mug or are we just going to get a little bitty thimble as those who suffer loss. They are not going to receive the rewards that they have the potential of receiving.
This goes on a little further. The next two verses are not disconnected from those verses before Paul reminds them of something that should motivate them. “Do you not know that each of you are a temple of God?” God the Holy Spirit is living in you.
1 Corinthians 3:17, “If anyone defiles the temple of God …” How are they defiling the temple of God? By not walking by the Spirit. “God will destroy him.” That’s not talking about eternal judgment. This is another of those passages that’s either talking about two different kinds of believers or it’s talking about believer versus unbeliever.
He’s been talking about two different kinds of believers ever since the beginning of chapter 2. He says that if you defile the temple, if you’re a carnal believer like back in 1 Corinthians 3:3, God is going to bring judgment into your life.
He’s going to bring discipline into your life and there’s going to be loss, but you’re not going to go through additional penalties for sin because Christ paid the penalty for sin on the Cross. There’s just a loss of rewards, but you still have a resurrection body.
You still have joy. You still have eternal life. You’re still going to be in the presence of God in Heaven and you’re going to be in the kingdom, but you may not be ruling and reigning with Christ in the kingdom.
This is why Peter says in verse 10, “Therefore brethren be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.” We’re to be diligent about it. We’re to work and focus on it. We’re to make it a priority. This is what life’s all about.
It’s not about getting your PhDs. It’s not about joining whatever group you need to join professionally. It’s not about making your name professionally. It’s about doing everything to the glory of God and being diligent to make your call and election sure.
That idea of election is your commission. Your goal in life is to make your commission certain so you can look at your life and see that you’re a growing believer. It’s not for us to judge other people but you’re showing in your life that you’re a growing and maturing believer. That’s the context.
The idea of the elect doesn’t mean that God selects some for salvation. It has the idea of being choice, someone who has certain qualifications for tasks. That’s how it’s used in Judges 20:16 where it talks about the army of Benjamin that had seven hundred specially trained left-handed soldiers who used sling shots. They’re qualified for the position. They’re choice because they’re qualified, they are expert marksmen.
This is the same thing we’ve studied in the past in the conclusion to the parable in Matthew 22:1–14 that those who are invited to the wedding feast are those who respond to the invitation. The only people who make a choice in that whole parable are those who rejected the first invitation so they’re not there, and those who responded to the second invitation and they’re there. They receive the correct wedding garments, which is the righteousness of Christ.
The conclusion there should be translated, “Many are invited, but few are choice.” They’re not chosen. The lord of the house does not choose who will be there and who won’t be there. The only ones who make a choice are the individuals, but because they possess the righteousness of Christ, which is the appropriate garments, they are considered choice.
So we’re to make sure in our lives that we bring out that evidence that we’re growing. If you do those things, you’ll never stumble. You’re not going to fall to the wayside. You’re going to grow and become an overcomer.
Then verse 11, “For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
It’s interesting here because the verb that is translated “supplied” is a verb we also see in verse 5 in this passage. It’s EPICHOREGEO.
It’s a word that comes from the Greek meaning a chorus in a Greek drama and the issue there was that some benevolent individual would supply the financial needs for these who were going to be in the Greek chorus. It came to reflect the idea of a gracious supply being given. It’s used as an active form verse in 2 Peter 1:5 where “we” supply the virtues. It’s up to us, to our volition to grow and to walk by the Spirit, and as we do these virtues are added to our life.
In 2 Peter 1:11 the verb is passive. The entrance will be supplied to us. God is the One who will richly reward us and God is the One who will praise us as we enter into the Kingdom. Notice that phrase, “entrance into the everlasting kingdom”.
I want you to turn in your Bibles to Matthew 7. I got a call from my good friend, Dan Inghram. I do hope you continue to pray for Dan as he goes through all these different things that happen as a result of chemo. He really needs that prayer.
He called me and we were talking about this particular passage. Someone had asked him what it means to enter by the narrow gate. “For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.”
Jesus is talking here to His disciples. Most people take the narrow gate to mean the one way to salvation and the broad path is the way to try to get to Heaven on your own. That’s not consistent with the context. If you look back at Matthew 5:1, Jesus sits down with His disciples.
He goes away from the crowd. He sits down with His disciples who are already believers and He starts to tell them how believers are supposed to live, giving His interpretation of the Mosaic Law rather than the interpretation of the Pharisees.
Matthew 5, 6, and 7 is all about believers in that dispensation are to live consistent with the Mosaic Law. It’s not talking about believer versus unbeliever, once again. It’s talking about the spiritual believer who is being a faithful disciple versus the carnal believer who is not a faithful disciple.
Let me just point out a couple of things contextually so you don’t get too confused on this. Matthew 7:3–4 says, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not consider the plank in your own eye or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye and look, a plank is in your own eye?’ ” This is a brother, talking about believers.
Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be open to you.” You can’t say that to an unbeliever. He is talking to them as believers. “For everyone who asks receives and He who seeks finds and to him who knocks it shall be open.”
He’s continuing to talk about the kind of behavior for believers. Then look down to Matthew 7:11. Jesus is talking to His disciples, some of whom He loves like John. These are his close companions. He walks the hills of Samaria and Judea with them. He camps out with them. He eats with them.
Then He says something to them that if I said it to you, you’d probably be offended. He says, “If you, then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children …” If I said that to you, you’d probably say, “What do you mean, I’m evil?”
See, He’s talking to His disciples and He says they can be evil. Why? Because the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
He’s contrasting two different kinds of believers all through this section. What’s interesting is when you look down here in Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to him.” That second word is you, but it should be translated y’all. It is a second person plural. He’s talking to a group.
So, in verse 12 it’s very clear in that context that He’s talking to them as believers. He’s not talking to the crowd. There are a few other people who’ve come around by then. He’s not talking to them. This is a major hermeneutical flaw. At this point a lot of people will say that now Jesus has started talking to unbelievers. No, He’s not because you have the same language.
He’s talking to His disciples clearly. Saying that whatever they want men to do to them, they should do to men because this is the Law and the prophets. Then He says with a second person plural command, which means He is still talking to y’all.
He says for them to enter by the narrow gate for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many that go in by it. The meaning of y’all hasn’t shifted in this whole context. He’s still talking to the same group of “y’all” and they’re the disciples, who are believers.
He says to believers to enter by the narrow gate. The narrow gate is the walk of discipleship, of following Jesus, doing what He said as it comes out later. So, He says that wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many that go in by it. These are believers who aren’t overcomers. These are believers who won’t have rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life and there are few who find it. Then He immediately goes into a warning saying, “Beware.”
Again, this is a second person plural imperative. He’s talking to “y’all” again. He’s talking to believers. He says to them, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they’re ravenous wolves.”
Now are these false prophets believers or unbelievers? I bet if I took a poll some of you would say believers and others would say unbelievers. Y’all would all be right. Like the old saying on a difficult passage, “Well, some people say this. Some of my friends say this and some of my friends say that, and I’m with my friends.”
In Acts 20 remember Paul warns the Ephesian elders about false teachers, false prophets. He says in verse 29, “For I know this, after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock.” Jesus uses the phrase ravenous wolves to describe the false prophets in Matthew 7:14.
“Savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” The indication there is they’re coming in from outside so maybe they’re not believers. Also, “among yourselves men will arise up”. These are believers. So, some are going to be unbelievers, and some are going to be believers.
Those from among yourselves are going to speak perverse things to draw away the disciples after themselves. The disciples that follow these false prophets are not going to be overcomers. They’re going to be failures.
We continue going in 2 Peter 2:1 where we get into the topic of false prophets and false teachers where Peter says, “But there were also false prophets among the people.” Who are the people there? That’s Israel he’s talking about in the Old Testament.
You don’t have false prophets in the Church Age because you don’t have prophets outside the period of the Apostles. You have false teachers. But there were false prophets in Israel and there will be false teachers among you who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them and bring on themselves swift destruction whether they’re a believer or an unbeliever.
The destruction will be different. If they’re an unbeliever their destruction is eternity in the Lake of Fire. If they’re a believer there will be divine discipline in time and loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. They’ll all get some kind of destruction, but what it is depends on whether they are believers or not.
Then we look at Matthew 7:16, which says you will know them by their fruits. Remember we talked about lordship salvation evaluating by their fruits. There’s this whole discussion about these false prophets, but what their fruit is what they prophesied. It’s not how they lived. It’s not their character qualities like the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and also in 2 Peter 2.
Here it’s talking about the fruit of their lips, what they’re teaching. “You will know them by their fruits.” If they are teaching that which is consistent with the Law, then they are speaking the truth. If not, it is something that is false and there will be judgment.
Matthew 7:19, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” That doesn’t mean Lake of Fire. If a tree is not producing fruit, you cut it down and throw it in the fire. It’s just talking about the analogy. The idea of destruction is going to be different for believer and unbeliever.
Jesus concludes, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Then in Matthew 7:21 He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Aren’t we studying something like that in 2 Peter 1:11, that those who are abounding in these things will have a richly supplied entrance into the kingdom?
Entering the kingdom in some contexts doesn’t mean getting into Heaven when you die. It’s how you get into the Messianic Kingdom when the time comes, whether you will be richly supplied or not. There are going to be some believers who come up to Jesus calling Him Lord and they’re not going to have a rich entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s the one who does the will of the Father.
That’s not how you get into Heaven by doing the will of the Father, unless you restrict it to responding to the gospel, but Jesus doesn’t restrict it that way. He’s talking about disciples and how disciples live. After you’re saved you need to do the will of the Father for this rich entry into Heaven.
Then Jesus says in Matthew 7:22, “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in your name?’ ” In other words, all the signs and wonders crowd and all the charismatic crowd who sometimes get the gospel right are not going to have a rich entry into Heaven because they’re teaching false things.
So, Christ will say, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” You’re going to lose rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It’s not that you’re going to be thrown into outer darkness. Then Jesus says, “Whoever hears these things and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who builds his house on a rock …” That’s contrasted with the foolish man who builds his house on sand.
A believer, after salvation, can build his house on the rock of Scripture or on the sand of human viewpoint, just like an unbeliever can. The long-term consequences, the eternal consequence, will be different, but they’ll both suffer negative consequences because they haven’t listened to what Jesus has taught.
That’s why everyone was so astonished when Jesus finishes that. We have to have rewards. Rewards motivate. Rewards develop character. We live in a world where people are given participation prizes just for doing something, just for participating.
I thought when I first became aware of this in the 1980 that that’s when it began with the rise of the self-esteem movement. The idea that every little kid who goes out to play, everyone gets a trophy because we don’t want anyone to feel bad about themselves.
I kind of think that those who teach that everyone gets the same rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ and that everyone is an overcomer is like telling everyone they’re going to get a participation prize. I ran across this. I thought it was a little amusing. “Giving your child a trophy for not winning pretty much guarantees he will be living in your basement, applying for jobs as a superhero until he’s forty.”
There are a lot of believers who think when we get to Heaven everyone’s going to get the same package. That destroys motivation and they don’t grow or mature. It makes a difference.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study Your Word this evening and to be encouraged and motivated by what the Scripture says. Father, as we contemplate this, may we be motivated as the Scripture intends, to live for You, to walk by the Spirit, to walk in the light, to study Your Word, and to make what we learn here part of our life and part of our thinking.
“Many times we take two steps forward and a step and a half backwards, but we grow and God the Holy Spirit enables us as we respond positively to His work. Ultimately, we desire to glorify You and for us to hear at the Judgment Seat of Christ, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’
“Challenge us with these things in Christ’s name. Amen.”