salvation, a breastplate of righteousness. His feet are fitted with the readiness of the gospel and in his hand is put a sword and shield.
This armor would be tested right away. Upon leaving the house he promptly met up with the great dragon Appolyon. And on coming to the ferocious beast Christian found himself terrified. He trembled at its rage and feared that he would be overcome by the fiendish monster. His initial thought was to turn back and run. But he realized that if he did turn he would surely be dead for he had no means of protection on his back. The armor that he wore did not cover his back. The only strategy that it safeguarded was a forward progression.
The point that Bunyan was making was the point the Bible makes with the armor of God: We must always be on the advance. We are called to maturity and there is no turning back. At every point we must charge ahead and face the attack head on.
And that is the same point that Peter makes in this passage. Peter tells us that Pilgrims are to make progress. We are to always be advancing in the faith. There is not to be any stagnation. We must always be moving towards maturity and gaining greater ground in our Christian walk.
So today I want to talk about the Pilgrim’s Progress. Our progress. I want us to consider what Peter says regarding the goal of our progress and the grounds for our progress in the faith.
The first question that comes to mind regards our goal. For what are we to be shooting? What is it we are to be aiming for as Christians?
I. When it comes to progressing in the faith, what is to be our goal?
Peter talks about this in the first two verses, and he renders our goal in both a negative and positive way.
On the negative side Peter says that our aim should be to “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
If I might summarize it, your aim ought to be to cleanse your motives. Every item listed here deals, not mainly with overt, external actions, but with the intentions and motives of your heart.
For instance, malice is wanting someone’s harm or downfall. In other words, you want this guy to suffer some sort of setback. But you all know that you don’t just walk up to someone and punch them in the nose or take him out. No, you know that you can’t do that. You know you have to be more crafty than that and hide it a little. So normally, it means wrapping their undoing in the garb of doing something nice for them.
So kids, here’s an example of Malice. You walk in the house and say to your little brother that you’ve just raked a big pile of leaves for him to play in the back yard. And your brother can’t believe it? He thinks, “That’s so nice! That’s great!” And he’s so happy, he can’t wait to get out there and jump in it. As he runs out that door you just smile because as you raked up the leaves, you raked up all the sticks and thorn bushes into the pile too. He’s been on your nerves all day long, and now he’s going to get it.
Now that’s malice: It’s wanting someone to be hurt. It’s wanting someone to suffer, but you go about getting it in a way that actually looks like you are helping. So basically malice is all about the intentions of the heart.
The same is true for envy. Envy is something that happens in your heart. It’s that jealousy you experience because someone else has what you want, and you don’t want them to have it because you can’t have it.
You young people know what this is, don’t you? When your brother or sister has a toy, all of a sudden you want that toy don’t you? So you start fighting over it. And when mom comes in she takes it away. And you’re happy now because your brother or sister doesn’t have it. That’s envy. And envy is something that occurs deep down inside your heart.
The same could said for deceit and slander. When you lie (deceit) it’s because deep down inside you don’t want people to know the truth. And slander is saying something about someone to someone else. And why do you do that? It’s because, down inside, you want to see them cut down. It doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not. You pass on that little tid-bit of information. You don’t want to see them get the promotion, elected as an elder, or receive special attention from the friend you are talking to.
So Peter says that our goal as Christians is to take all these impure motives and put them away. Your main objective is to discard them and have nothing but the purest and best of intentions all the time.
Now I really like what Peter is doing here, because this is a congregation that needs to hear this kind of thing. We all have our sins, for sure. But from what I’ve seen, we’re not involved in a lot of gross sins. There’s very little murder going on here. I don’t know of any of you who are rapists. And I would suggest that we don’t have a lot of overt sins in general. No one to my understanding is a flagrant sinner. But there are people in this congregation that are jealous. You come to church with a smile on your face, but on the inside you are just brimming with discontent. And I’m sure you would never say anything to someone’s face that would provoke them. But in hushed voices and behind closed doors you are not afraid to vent your views about good old so & so.
And my friends, you need to put that away. Right now, there are people who are taking their Halloween decorations, putting them in a box and throwing them in a closet or in the attic. And that’s exactly what you need to do with your hypocrisy, your envy and your gossip.
If you want to advance in your walk with the Lord, then the place you need to begin is deep within your very own heart. Peter says that as Christians our aim ought to be discarding the ill intentions and impure motives that lurk in our hearts.
But if you look at the second verse, you’ll see that he states the goal in a more positive light.
He says, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that you may grow up unto salvation.”
We as Christians are to have an insatiable hunger for the Word of God. Because it is by the Word of God that we are made more holy and more obedient.
Think about the imagery that is being used here. That’s where the real meaning of the verse is. Elizabeth and I have a wonderful little baby in the house now. And this little girl is fantastic. We’ve been really blessed with this one because she is what you would call a “good baby.” By that I think you know what I mean. During the day she’s quite easy going. She hardly ever cries and she does a fantastic job of sleeping at night for being only 3-4 months old. But there are times when she gets herself in a real tizzy. When she wakes up in the morning, she’s hungry! And she lets us know it! She can’t wait to get to that bottle. When you come into the room shaking that thing, she knows exactly what is going on. And you can see her starting to get excited, sometimes she’ll even start fussing because she knows its right there. Then when she gets it in her mouth, she just sucks and sucks on it because she wants it so bad.
Then when you go to burp her, and pull it out of her mouth, she really gets mad. She’s normally a very good baby. She’s usually all smiles. But when you pull that thing out, boy does she get upset. She immediately breaks into the most pitiful cry you ever heard. And she won’t’ stop until you put it back in her mouth.
And Peter uses this imagery of intense longing to say that this is the kind of craving you should have for this book. This is to be what we are shooting for. Our goal ought to be that our strongest desire is for the truth of the Scriptures. Our deepest yearning is to be getting to church so we can find out what God wants us to believe and do.
And the reason for this is because it is by this book that we come to grow up unto salvation. It is through regular contact with the Scriptures that we grow in the faith.
I can use Geneva as an example again. Just by looking at her you can see that she hasn’t missed too many meals. The girl is only 4 months old and she’s starting to outgrow the 3-6 month clothes. Now that wouldn’t happen if we skimped on her feedings. She couldn’t grow up if she didn’t have the proper nutrition.
The same is true for your soul. If you want to grow in the faith then you need to feed on the nutrients that God has provided you. You need to crave the Scriptures and seek to satisfy your soul with them. This is to be one of your highest priorities.
A Quick Excursus for Practical application
Before I go on to the next point, I want to give you a tip on how to develop this craving. That is what Peter is telling you to do. You are to crave it. But how do you make yourself crave it? I believe that the passage gives us some practical advice on how this is done. The way this passage is constructed in the original language is quite unique. It is actually quite difficult to translate into English accurately. Literally, it reads something like this “Putting away all malice, and all deceit, and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk.”
Though it doesn’t come out well in the English, the idea is that our craving for the Word of God is dependent upon our putting away the evil intentions of your heart. That is to say, as you put away these impure motives, you will be more able to crave the word of God.
To put it another way: If you let your heart be clogged with all these vices that he mentions here, then you won’t be able to crave Scripture like you should.
At the beginning of the year I began a new diet. I became convicted that I was consuming too much sugar. So I cut way back on how much sugar I was consuming, and I started eating more fruits and vegetables. And after a while I found that something quite interesting happened. The fruits and vegetables actually started tasting better. Because I cut out that load of sugar, my pallet could more readily sense the flavors of the fruits and vegetables. But lately, I’ve fallen off in my little food regiment. And you know what? I am finding that the fruits and vegetables don’t taste as good as they did. And as a result, I don’t seek them as much as I did.
That’s exactly what is being said here in this passage. If you let these vices clutter up your heart, you will not have the hunger that you ought to have for the word of God. If you cut these vices from your life, your spiritual pallet will be freer to seek the truth contained in Scripture.
That is what you are to be striving for. You are to make it your aim to cleanse the intentions of your heart, and by doing so, create within yourself a strong desire the word of God.
I know that was a bit of an excursus, but I thought I would bring that out and just emphasize how important it is to be seeking to purify your inward desires. But let’s now move on.
After Peter states what our goal is he gives us a reason why we should make that your aim. And he says that the grounds for your progress in the faith is found in your own experience.
II. What is the proper grounds for our progress?
He says in verse three that you should do this, “if indeed you tasted that the Lord is good.”
In other words, each and every person who has personally become acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ will want to do this because Jesus is so appealing. If you have experienced his grace and forgiveness, you know you can’t help yourself. You won’t be able to stop yourself.
His grace is so magnificent. His person and presence is so tantalizing to the spiritual pallet that you are forcefully drawn to him.
A while ago the potato chip company Pringles had a commercial that said, “I bet you can’t eat just one.” It was a pretty audacious claim. They were so confident in their chips and how good they were they were willing to make the claim that one just wasn’t enough. If you ate just one chip, there was no doubt in their minds that you would be back for more.
That’s the claim right here. If you have tasted that the Lord is good—If you have had a real and personal encounter with the saving work of Jesus Christ, if you have embraced his atoning sacrifice with true faith, if you have had your own soul resurrected from its spiritual deadness, and if you have witnessed his providential activity in your own life where he has preserved, protected and pitied you—then there is no possible way that you can go on savoring sin in your life.
Of course, if you have not tasted the Lord—that is to say, if you have not made a personal application of Christ’s mediation to your life or truly put your faith in him or had your heart changed by his Spirit, then you won’t have this automatic draw. You could care less about the Bible and see no real need to make any headway in putting off sin.
This verse speaks to the fact that there are some within the church that are false professors. They may profess Christ, but they do not really possess him in their heart of hearts. Some people will come into the church and become members, but they really have no real spiritual acquaintance with Christ.
And you will hear people talk this way sometimes. You will hear someone who has left the church say, “I tried that.” At some point in their life they “did the church thing.” They tried religion. But they found it unpalatable. They couldn’t stand it, so they left the church.
But the truth is, they never really tasted Christ. And these people might make a show of piety. But the piety that they have was driven by their own carnal desires, and not by their familiarity with the gospel. That kind of person never had a true and vital union with him. They may have tasted the church. They may have “tried religion.” But they never had any real acquaintance with Jesus Christ. I tell you, if you try religion without ever having really tasted the sweetness of the gospel (or never really savored Christ), then there’s every reason to leave the church! That would be the most distasteful thing in the world! I tell you, there is nothing really all that palatable about the church. The church is going to disappoint you and mere formalized “religion” is not a turn on at all.
But Christ is!
And if you have truly been united to Christ by faith and do have that relational bond with him, then he is exceedingly sweet to your soul and sin is exceedingly distasteful. And if this has happened, then you will savor him. And that taste will so entice you that it will create within you a burning desire for more.
And here is where you need to examine yourself. You need to ask yourself if you have become so acquainted with him. Are you feeding upon him? Is his grace a delight to your soul? Do you crave him and savor him as the only one who can satisfy the thirst of your soul?
Better yet, ask yourself this, “Does he impel me to seek righteousness? Am I driven to the Scripture by the thought of him and because of what he means to me?” If that is not true, then you have not really tasted Christ. If from time to time you do not lift up a prayer and say, “Lord, show me my sin and help me be rid of it,” then you are not really a Christian.
And my only recommendation to you is that you truly seek to partake of him in a living and active way. For the goodness of Christ is a delectable thing. It’s something you cannot get enough of and it provides you with the greatest delight.
Whenever we have deserts at our house, it is a wonderful thing. This time of year is always good because we may have a slice of pumpkin pie or apple crisp. And its so sweet that when we get done, I’ll sit there wiping up the plate so that there’s not a crumb left. And the whole time I’m running my finger through the remaining morsels, I’m thinking how much I’d like another sliver of it. Finally, my wife will say, “Would you like another piece, dear?” And I’ll say, with a great deal of self control, “sure.” Then, when we are done we’ll start cleaning up the dishes. And I’ll take my plate into the kitchen. And while everyone else is busy in the other room, I’ll nab another little bite out of the dish.
It’s just so good, that I can’t get enough.
My friends, that is the way it is with Christ. Even if you only get a little taste—and really, that’s all we’ll ever get this side of heaven! But even if it is just a droplet upon your tongue, it will be enough to whet your appetite and make you inclined towards more.
In the book “The Miracles of Missions” it was recounted that a missionary to the South Seas was once approached by a crippled man. Disease had greatly afflicted him so that he lost the function of the lower part of his legs and hands. He had to walk upon his knees and use his arms to drag himself wherever he went. Yet, when the missionary came by the lame man rose up and went to meet him. And upon coming to him he shouted, “Welcome, servant of God, who brought light to this dark island!” The two men began to engage in conversation regarding the lame man’s experience. And the missionary was quite impressed with the lame man’s knowledge of the faith. He asked, “You have become quite well acquainted with the things of the Lord. Where did you obtain all this knowledge? I do not remember ever seeing you at the settlements where I preached. And besides, your hands and feet have been eaten off by disease and you have to walk upon your knees!” The lame man answered, “As the people return from your services, I sit by the road and beg from them as they pass by for a bit of the Word. One will give me one piece and another will give me another piece. I gather them together in my heart and think over what I thus obtain, praying to God to make me know and understand.”
Though this man could not go very far due to his condition, he was able to make a great deal of progress in the faith. He had tasted of Christ, and so he craved any crumb or scrap of Scripture that he could get. And such morsels so fed him that his life could turn the eye of a missionary.
May Christ so enthrall us that we crave His Word with the same fervor and strive with the same zeal for purity in heart.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.