Souls Unstable in Their Vision of Heaven
In his Second Epistle, the apostle Peter warned of apostasy that would befall the church (2 Pet. 2:1ff). As such, he endeavored to undergird Christians with the stability necessary to withstand the alluring “great swelling words of vanity” that false teachers would speak to lead brethren into error (verse 18). Those with whom such false teachers would find success would be “unstable souls” (verse 14). One way in which souls would be “unstable,” and thus easily seduced by sin, is in their failure to maintain a clear vision of their heavenly hope:
But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins (1:9, emphasis LM).
“These things” are the Christian graces enumerated in 2 Peter 1:5-8—faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience (or steadfastness), godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity (selfless love). Adding these graces is crucial to Christian living. Failure to add these graces is the result of a failure to “see afar off.” The word in the original for “cannot see afar off” is my?paz?, from which we get the English word myopia, the medical term for nearsightedness. As the American Optometric Association says, “Nearsightedness, or myopia, as it is medically termed, is a vision condition in which close objects are seen clearly, but objects farther away appear blurred.”i Here the Holy Spirit portrays this nearsightedness as an affliction with fatal spiritual consequences. But what is that far-away object that Christians need to ensure never becomes blurred in their vision? It is that realm “beyond the gate of life eternal.”ii
For human beings to perform at a high level, and especially over a prolonged period, requires a high level of motivation. A high school athlete who has hope of earning a college scholarship, and perhaps eventually playing professionally, will in all likelihood train harder and otherwise show greater determination to improve than his teammates who have no aspirations of playing beyond high school. A student who keeps thoughts before him of a future successful career will doubtlessly be more diligent in his studies than others who are simply trying to get through school. And the child of God who remains mindful of the reward of the righteous is infinitely more likely to remain faithful than one whose mind is not upon heaven. The Christian walk is a demanding life, demanding complete self-sacrifice. But in His promise of heaven, God provides more than ample motivation.
Paul “laboured more abundantly” than even his fellow apostles (1 Corinthians 15:10). He willingly endured a litany of hardships where most would have wilted (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Knowing that his execution lay shortly ahead, he was able to say, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). What provided Paul such calmness and confidence? The first factor providing this was the fact that he could say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (verse 7). From the time of his conversion to Christ, Paul lived a life without regret. The second and even greater factor providing Paul’s calmness and confidence was that he could say, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (verse 8). Paul knew that life lay beyond the executioner’s sword. Paul knew that although unrighteous Nero Caesar might declare him “guilty,” the righteous Judge would declare Paul “righteous.” Paul knew that relative to the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” the most agonizing and gruesome torture was merely “light affliction, which is but for a moment” (2 Cor. 4:17). This is why he had lived a Christian life without regret before God, and this is why he could speak of his death as a “departure” (2 Tim. 4:6), an exodus from the bondage of earthly existence to paradise, and ultimately to the land of eternal euphoria in the Godhead’s presence.
Not only did Paul constantly keep before his mind thoughts of his own eternal bliss, but also of others’ entrance into the comprehension-defying land: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:19). Our perseverance can help others receive the eternal reward. When we think in such a way, it cannot but affect how we conduct ourselves toward others, and it cannot but give us motivation to persevere in the faith.
Sometimes Christians simply grow weary of living the Christian life. Some can no longer stand against pressures to conform to temptation. Some find yielding to temptation less taxing than resisting. I have heard of older preachers moaning, “I’m just tired of fighting error.” However, if all these brethren would look up and see the shining light at the end of life’s tunnel, it would not be nearly so demanding to travel the final length of that tunnel. “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36). Indeed, “Heaven will surely be worth it all”!
The problem is that too many suffer from chronic “nearsightedness,” a fatal focus on the world. Whether it be a focus on the aforementioned struggles, on illness, on material wealth, on career advancement, on hobbies, on leisure, on worldly family and friends, or on alluring pleasures, it is this worldly focus that transforms a dedicated child of God into one who “cannot see afar off.” Demas forsook Paul—and, apparently, the Lord—because he “loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). But Demas has long since died, and what can the world offer him now? What could it ever have offered him to compare with the comfort he could presently be enjoying in paradise (cf. Luke 16:22-25; 23:43), much less with the endless rapture to commence on the great Resurrection Day? Sadly, too many people either do not know, or forget that “to live is Christ, and to die”—for the faithful Christian—“is gain” (Philippians 1:21, emph. LM). But for the disobedient, to die can only mean tragic, terrible loss (Matthew 7:21-23). Since, unless the Lord comes first, we all will die, why would we not choose to have our death lead to gain rather than loss? Why would we choose to lay up for ourselves perishable, fleeting treasures upon earth, when there is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”? (1 Peter 1:4; cf. Matthew 6:19-20; Luke 12:15-21).
Those mansions the Lord has gone to prepare the faithful should constantly be in our thoughts. Such thoughts provide stability. Such thoughts prevent Satan from snatching the souls of God’s people, because they know the wicked one can offer nothing to compare with the splendors of heaven. I have occasionally heard some object that a disproportionate number of the hymns sung in churches sing about the Christian’s heavenly home. While it is certainly possible that the songs of the church neglect important subjects, it is not possible to sing too often about the heavenly home or for Christians to encourage each other too often in their hope of heaven. Christians should frequently sing about heaven, pray about heaven, read and reflect upon the Scriptures speaking of heaven, and encourage each other in the hope of heaven. As those who persevere faithfully are assured, “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11).
Far too many once-faithful Christians and churches have fa llen victim to faithlessness and apostasy. This has happened due to a lack of Biblical stability. Innovative human doctrines and pressures to compromise to the world will continue to beset the church. However, as brethren stabilize their souls in their faith in God, on the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, on the Biblical age of the earth, in their commitment to Bible study, on the essence of unity and fellowship, in their commitment to moral living, and in their ever-present vision of heaven, they can secure their position on the immoveable foundation of Christ.
Brethren now as much as ever need to approach their lives with resoluteness and to approach the Father’s throne in prayer, lest their souls be destabilized and ultimately victimized.
i American Optometric Association, “Myopia (Nearsightedness),” Glossary of All Eye & Vision Conditions, http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/myopia?sso=y.
ii Guy N. Woods, Commentary on Peter, John, and Jude(Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1991), p. 153.
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