This 15 part expository study of 2 Peter was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 2009-10. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
Peter wants his readers to be firm in the foundation of their faith, which is to know God more deeply through Jesus Christ as made known through the apostolic witness. The theme of 2 Peter could be summed up by saying, “Growing Christians will be knowing Christians.” We will be growing to know sound doctrine. (Peter shows that holding to false doctrine always results in final judgment.) But also, we will be growing to know God as He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, through the apostolic witness to Christ, contained in the New Testament.
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Sometimes you will hear people say, “I wish that the church now could be like the early church in the Book of Acts!” Thousands were coming to faith in Christ. The gospel was going out to new frontiers. The church enjoyed the powerful teaching of the apostles. Miracles were commonplace. It must have been wonderful! The implication is that it was an ideal church, with relatively few problems.
But a more careful reading of Acts or the epistles shows that the early church faced multiple problems. When you’ve got people, you’ve got problems! Those from religious backgrounds, such as the Jews, brought their baggage, which often included legalism and spiritual pride. Those coming to Christ from completely pagan backgrounds brought other sorts of problems. But all of the early churches had problems. That’s why the New Testament epistles were written—to deal with numerous problems. We face many of these same problems.
In 2 Peter, the apostle is about to die (1:14). As he sees his life and ministry coming to a close, he is deeply concerned for the churches. In 1 Peter, he wrote to strengthen the saints to endure persecution from without. Many were suffering and dying for their faith. Peter wanted them to endure and stand firm. But in 2 Peter, he writes to steel them to withstand what he sees as a growing, insidious threat from within: false teachers who will seduce many into destructive errors. These false teachers professed to be Christians, but they were dangerously deceptive. Their lives were marked by sensuality and greed. They promised their followers freedom, but they themselves were slaves of corruption (2:19). They scoffed at the idea of Christ’s coming in judgment (3:1-7).
Peter wants his readers to be firm in the foundation of their faith, which is to know God more deeply through Jesus Christ as made known through the apostolic witness. He begins by writing (1:2), “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” He ends by saying (3:18), “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Throughout the letter, two Greek nouns and verbs for “knowledge” or “know” occur eleven times (1:2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 20; 2:20, 21 [2x]; 3:3, 18). Knowledge is a key theme.
So we could sum up the theme of 2 Peter by saying, “Growing Christians will be knowing Christians.” We will be growing to know sound doctrine. (Peter shows that holding to false doctrine always results in final judgment.) But also, we will be growing to know God as He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, through the apostolic witness to Christ, contained in the New Testament.
J. Sidlow Baxter (Explore the Book [Zondervan], 6:309, italics his) writes that the purpose of the letter is, “by reminder and re-emphasis, to ground its readers more firmly in the epignosis or ‘full-knowledge’ of saving truth as it is in Christ Jesus; and thereby to reinforce their faith against the imperiling counterfeits of that time.” Kenneth Gangel (The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books], 2:862) writes, “The purpose of 2 Peter is to call Christians to spiritual growth so that they can combat apostasy as they look forward to the Lord’s return.”
With that as an overview of the purpose of 2 Peter, here is a basic outline of the flow of thought:
Opening greeting: The foundation for our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, through whom we receive all the blessings of salvation (1:1-2).
For the rest of this message, I want to zero in on the introduction (1:1-2), which is far more than an opening greeting. Peter is laying out the foundation for our faith:
The foundation for our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, through whom we receive all the blessings of salvation.
He makes four points that we need to understand:
He begins (1:1), “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” There is good manuscript support that the name here should be Simeon, rather than Simon. It is a common Hebraic form of the name, stemming from Jacob’s second son. The only time it is used of Peter in the Bible is by James (Acts 15:14). Peter means “rock” in Greek. The Aramaic is Cephas. Jesus gave Simon that name after he made the confession about Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16-18).
Alexander Nisbet (An Exposition of 1 & 2 Peter [Banner of Truth], p. 222) applies the use of both names by saying, “it is very necessary to carry with us to the end of our time the sensible remembrance of what we were before Christ manifested Himself to us, and of what His grace has made us, that we may go to Heaven both humble and thankful.”
The use of Peter’s name at the beginning of this letter draws us into a huge scholastic controversy. Second Peter is the most disputed book, in terms of authorship, of any book in the New Testament. It was one of the last books to be accepted into the canon. It is first specifically mentioned by Origen (ca. A.D. 240), who wrote (cited by Everett Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 386), “Peter has left one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is disputed.”
The reasons for it being disputed then may have to do with the fact that there were numerous writings during the second century that purported to be written by Peter and other apostles, but were false (called pseudepigrapha). So the early church was cautious about accepting anything claiming to come from an apostle. Also, the style of Greek between 1 and 2 Peter varies so much that many critics say that the two books could not have been written by the same man.
A third major issue is that 2 Peter seems to depend heavily on Jude, or Jude on 2 Peter. Most scholars think that 2 Peter depends on Jude, and that an apostle of Peter’s stature would not have done such a thing. Also, they say that this would put the dating of 2 Peter after his lifetime. But who is to say whether Peter would have relied on Jude or not? Even if he did, Jude could have been written before Peter’s death. And, a good case can be made that Jude relied on 2 Peter (see John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 Peter and Jude [Moody Publishers], pp. 145-146; Daniel Wallace, “Second Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline,” p. 8, on www.bible.org). Peter seems to be predicting that these false teachers were about to come, whereas Jude indicates that they have arrived.
There are many other arguments that you can read in commentaries or background works on the New Testament. Suffice it to say that many New Testament scholars deny that Peter wrote 2 Peter. They would date it from sometime late in the second century, written by someone using Peter’s name. For sake of time (and because it would bore most of you), I will not go through all these arguments.
For me, it comes down to this: Peter claims to have written it and he claims to be an eyewitness of the transfiguration (1:16-18). Either Peter wrote it (as claimed) or it was written by an imposter falsely claiming to be Peter, in which case we need to remove it from the New Testament. As Charles Simeon argues (Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible [Zondervan], 20:285), “no bad man would have written it; and no good man could have been guilty of such a forgery as that of assuming the name and office of this inspired Apostle.” (John Calvin and John MacArthur make similar comments in their commentaries.) As for the difference in style between 1 and 2 Peter, it is easily explained by the fact that Peter used Silvanus to help him write 1 Peter (5:12), whereas in 2 Peter he either wrote it himself or used a different secretary who had some freedom to put Peter’s thoughts onto paper.
It also should be noted that the church fathers in the fourth century, such as Athanasius, Jerome, and Augustine, who were aware of the difficulties surrounding 2 Peter, came to full agreement that it was authentic (Harrison, p. 389). Harrison adds (p. 390), “When II Peter was accepted as canonical by church councils of the fourth century, this can hardly have been done with eyes closed to the objections raised against it.” So I think there are solid reasons to affirm that Peter wrote the epistle as stated.
Before we leave this opening statement, note that Peter identifies himself further in two ways: “a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” “Bond-servant” is a bit weak; the word (doulos) means, “slave.” One scholar writes that the slave in New Testament times “owed his master exclusive and absolute obedience…. His work earned him neither profit nor thanks…. The distinctive thing about the concept of the doulos is the subordinate, obligatory and responsible nature of his service in his exclusive relation to his Lord” (R. Tuente, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Zondervan, 1978], ed. by Colin Brown, 3:595, 596).
So Peter is demonstrating humility in calling himself a slave of Jesus Christ. He did not say, “I am His Holiness, Pope Peter. You may kneel and kiss my ring.” He recognized that first, above being an apostle, he was a slave of Christ. He had been bought with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Thus he was not his own. He had to serve Christ, no matter what the cost or inconvenience.
We need to understand and apply this today. We have the wrong concept when we think that we should “volunteer” to serve the Lord. Volunteers have a choice in the matter. They can be selective. They can serve when it is convenient or opt out when they’re too busy. Volunteers expect recognition for their service. But slaves have a different mindset. They must obey their master. True, they can’t do everything and they need to figure out where the Master wants them to serve. But for those who have been bought by Christ’s blood, serving Him isn’t an option. It isn’t done for recognition or personal gratification. It is the obligation for every slave of Jesus Christ.
Peter also calls himself an “apostle of Jesus Christ.” In some instances, the term refers to those who are sent out by the church (“apostle” means “sent-out-one”). But here it refers specifically to those whom Christ called and appointed to preach the gospel and found the church (Eph. 2:20). It carries with it the note of authority. Peter is not writing his opinions or suggestions, which we’re free to take or leave as we see fit. He is giving us the Lord’s authoritative, inspired Word. The inspired apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, which we possess in the New Testament, is the foundation for our faith (see John 20:30-31; 1 John 5:9-12).
“To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours” (1:1). Peter does not identify his readers geographically, although in 3:1 he mentions that this is his second letter to them. If we assume that the first letter was 1 Peter, then the recipients were mostly Gentile churches scattered around the various provinces of modern Turkey (1 Pet. 1:1).
Rather, Peter says that his readers “have received a faith of the same kind as ours.” “Faith” could refer objectively to “the faith,” the body of truth centered on the gospel that every Christian must believe. But probably here it refers to the subjective sense of faith, the personal faith in the gospel that is necessary for salvation.
By “ours,” Peter could be referring to the Jews, but almost all commentators take it to refer to the apostles. The Greek word translated “same kind” (NIV, “a faith as precious”) means “equal standing.” It is the only time the word is used in the New Testament, but it was used elsewhere to refer to foreigners who had been granted equal privileges of citizenship (Gangel, 2:863). The idea is that although Peter is an apostle, his readers’ faith was of the same kind as his faith. Saving faith links us with the person of Jesus Christ. When we believe in Him, we receive the same eternal life, the same “precious and magnificent promises (2 Pet. 1:4), and the same access to the Father. Granted, some believers are stronger in faith than others, and thus enjoy the privileges of salvation to a greater extent. But we all share the same faith in the risen Savior.
Note, also, that we receive this faith. The Greek verb is a rare word that means to receive something by lot or by divine will (since God controls the outcome of the lot, Prov. 16:33). It means that faith is a gift that we receive from God. It is not due to human effort, intelligence, or merit, but rather due to God’s sovereign grace. In our natural condition of spiritual death, we may hear the words of the gospel, but we won’t understand it unless God opens our ears to hear and our blind eyes to see (Matt. 13:14-15). He must raise us from the dead and grant us the repentance and faith to believe (Eph. 2:1-9; Acts 11:18; 16:14). So while we must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved (Acts 16:31), if we do believe it is not due to anything in us. Rather, we received the gift of faith from God. We cannot boast in our faith.
Thus the foundation of our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. The beginning of our faith is when we receive a faith in Christ of the same kind as that of the apostles.
Peter continues (1:1), “by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The word “by” may also be translated, “in.” The phrase may mean that our faith comes by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who perfectly obeyed God and died as our substitute on the cross. That is, it comes to us through His righteous life and sacrificial death, which satisfied God’s justice.
Or, it may mean that our faith is “in the righteousness” of Jesus Christ, not in our own righteousness. When we trust in Christ, His perfect righteousness is credited to our account. So we stand before God as righteous as Jesus is because our faith is in Him. Peter knew and agreed with the writings of the apostle Paul (2 Pet. 3:15-16), who set forth this doctrine so clearly in Romans (1:17; 3:22) and Galatians (3:6-14). If your hope of heaven rests in your own righteousness, you’re in trouble! Saving faith lays hold of Christ as your righteousness.
Maybe you say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus.” That’s good, but make sure that your faith is in the Jesus of the Bible. Peter here describes Him as “our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The Greek grammar is clear that Peter is calling Jesus God. In verse 2, Peter distinguishes Jesus from the Father, but here he plainly asserts His deity. (There are a number of other New Testament texts that plainly declare Jesus to be God: John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8.) If Jesus is not fully God and fully man, then He cannot save us from our sins. He had to be fully God for His death to satisfy the perfect justice of God. Bishop Moule once said that a Savior who is not God is like a bridge broken at the farther end. But, also, Jesus had to be fully man for His death to atone for the sins of fallen people (John 1:29).
“Savior” is one of God’s names in the Old Testament (Ps. 106:21; Isa. 43:3). Here, Peter applies it directly to Jesus, whose very name means, “Yahweh saves.” The angel told Joseph to give that name to Mary’s son, adding (Matt. 1:21), “for He will save His people from their sins.” Thus when Jesus was born, the angels announced to the shepherds (Luke 2:11), “for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Peter uses “Savior” to describe Jesus five times in this short book (1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18). It means that Jesus rescues us from God’s wrath and judgment on our sins (1 Thess. 1:10). We cannot save ourselves. Our good works can never save us. Only our God and Savior Jesus Christ can save us when we trust in His sacrificial death and resurrection as our righteousness.
So the foundation for our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. We must believe in Him as our God and Savior. But Peter goes on to enumerate some of the blessings that flow to us when we believe in Him:
“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (1:2). As I said, in verse 1 Peter calls Jesus God, but here he distinguishes the Father and the Son. By calling Jesus “Lord” here, Peter clearly attributes full deity to Him. Yet, He is distinguished from the Father. In verse 21, by the way, he mentions the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament is clear that God is one God, yet He subsists in three distinct Persons, each of whom is fully God. Peter may distinguish Jesus from God the Father here because he is talking about knowing God and the only way we can know the Father is through the Son. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus made the astounding claim, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” In John 17:3, He said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
Grace is the means by which we come to know God. It refers to God’s undeserved favor. We all, by virtue of our many sins, deserve God’s judgment. But by grace, He raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life and bestows on us all of the riches of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-9). Peace is the result of experiencing God’s grace in Christ. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1; see Eph. 2:14). These qualities are multiplied, or grow, as we grow to know God better. This knowledge involves both the content of knowing God in Christ as revealed in His Word and also the experience of fellowship with Him as we trust Him each day.
Since Peter is here laying the foundation for the rest of his letter, he wants his readers to be experiencing multiplied grace and peace in the knowledge of God and of Jesus as Lord. He will devote all of chapter 2 to warn about the danger of false teachers. As Michael Green states (The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 62), “A deeper knowledge of the Person of Jesus is the surest safeguard against false doctrine.”
Make sure that these truths are not just theoretical for you. Have you received genuine faith in Jesus, the same kind of faith that the apostles had? Have you trusted in Him as your only basis for being righteous in God’s sight? Do you know Him as your God and Savior? Are you submitting to Him as your Lord and Master? Do you experience His grace and peace on an increasing level? Are you growing to know God through knowing Jesus as Lord? This is the foundation for our faith: the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, through whom we receive all the blessings of salvation.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2009, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Many years ago, Crowfoot, the chief of the Blackfoot confederacy in southern Alberta, Canada, gave the Canadian Pacific Railroad permission to cross the Blackfoot land from Medicine Hat to Calgary. In return, the railroad gave Crowfoot a lifetime pass to ride on the railway. He put it in a leather case and wore it around his neck for the rest of his life. But there is no evidence that he ever used it to travel anywhere on the Canadian Pacific trains.
We may chuckle at the chief’s neglecting to use his pass, but many Christians are just like him in not availing themselves of the unlimited promises of God. They may put them on a plaque on the wall, but practically they never actually use God’s promises in their daily lives. But in our text, Peter wants us to know that…
God has granted to us everything we need for life
and godliness through knowing Christ and
trusting in His all-sufficient promises.
That statement sounds pretty good. You wouldn’t think that among Bible-believing Christians it would be controversial in any way. But, sad to say, it is. Back in 1991, John MacArthur published Our Sufficiency in Christ [Word Publishing]. In the preface, he anticipated that the book would be controversial due to a widespread lack of confidence in Christ’s sufficiency in the contemporary church. He wrote (p. 19), “Too many Christians have tacitly acquiesced to the notion that our riches in Christ, including Scripture, prayer, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and all the other spiritual resources we find in Christ simply are not adequate to meet people’s real needs.”
He goes on to lament that many evangelical churches and seminaries put more of an emphasis on psychotherapy than on God’s Word. To support his point, he says, listen to any call-in talk show on Christian radio or visit a Christian bookstore and note the proliferation of so-called “Christian” recovery books. The counsel dispensed through these means may have a few biblical references scattered throughout, but it doesn’t encourage Christians to avail themselves of their riches in Christ. MacArthur writes (p. 31),
“Christian psychologists” have become the new champions of church counseling. They are now heralded as the true healers of the human heart. Pastors and lay people are made to feel ill-equipped to counsel unless they have formal training in psychological techniques.
The clear message is that simply pointing Christians to their spiritual sufficiency in Christ is inane and maybe even dangerous. But on the contrary, it is inane and dangerous to believe that any problem is beyond the scope of Scripture or unmet by our spiritual riches in Christ.
I can affirm MacArthur’s words from my own ministry experience. Almost always when I have spoken on this subject, I have received intense criticism. I have been accused of not caring about hurting people. I have been told that my message about the all-sufficiency of Christ is dangerous, because it will discourage hurting people from going for the counseling that they desperately need. They might even commit suicide because rather than referring these hurting people to a trained therapist, I have encouraged them to trust in Christ. I have been told that I don’t understand the deep-seated problems that some people are wrestling with. So when I say that Christ is sufficient, I am giving pat, simplistic advice to complicated problems.
To clarify, I am not against counseling. I encourage mature, godly Christians to offer biblical counsel to less mature believers who are hurting. And I am not against the proper use of medication in some situations. My problem is not with giving counsel, but with giving unbiblical counsel. On more than one occasion, people who have come to talk to me about their problems have volunteered that they went to a professional “Christian” counselor in town, but he didn’t help them. I asked, “Did he pray with you?” No. “Did he open God’s Word and show you how to apply it to your situation?” No. “Well, did he at least talk about God’s Word, encouraging you to read it and explaining how it could help you?” No. “Well, then, you did not receive Christian counsel!”
Also, when people accuse me (or anyone who holds to the all-sufficiency of Christ) of being uncaring and of keeping people from getting the help they really need, they are assuming that Christ can’t really help hurting people! The implication is, people’s problems are too-deep seated and entrenched for the Bible to do any good. The Bible may be nice to refer to once in a while for an uplifting thought, but when you’re struggling with deep problems, you need the expertise of a trained therapist! And so, they set aside as superficial and impractical the inspired words of our text.
But if the words of Scripture mean anything, they mean that God has granted to us everything we need for life and godliness through knowing Christ and trusting in His all-sufficient promises. A younger believer may not be aware of God’s promises and so he needs a godly counselor to help him understand and apply those promises to his situation. But he doesn’t need anything in addition to what God has provided for us in Christ. It’s all there; we just have to understand what we have and how to apply it.
It’s like when an international student comes here and does not understand our banking system. He needs someone to explain the system and to go to the bank with him for a few times, until he knows how to set up and then use his account. Well, we have an inexhaustible account in Christ! Either it is sufficient for our every need or the Bible is untrue. It is the job of more mature Christians to help newer Christians know how to use the Bank of Heaven. So I pray that rather than be controversial, this message will help you understand and use the precious and magnificent promises that are yours if you are in Christ. Our text makes two main points:
The flow of thought here is not easy, but let me try to explain it (Thomas Schreiner provides help in The American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman], p. 290). In verse 2, Peter states his desire that grace and peace would be multiplied to us in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Verse 3 then explains the resources that bring multiplied grace and peace. God has granted these resources to us through knowing Christ, whom Peter further describes as the one “who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (The New KJV follows a textual variant that omits one Greek letter, changing “His own” into “through” or “by.”) “By these” (v. 4) refers back to Christ’s glory and excellence. By or through these qualities, He has granted to us His precious and magnificent (or “very great”) promises so that by them, we become partakers of the divine nature, thus escaping the corruption that is in the world by lust. There are three points to explore in verse 3:
I understand “life” to refer to the eternal life that we receive at the moment we trust in Christ (John 3:16). The Bible teaches that all of us are naturally dead in our sins, under God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). Dead men do not need a moral code to live by. They don’t need some helpful hints for happy living. They need life! God imparts new life—eternal life—as a free gift through Jesus Christ, whose sacrificial death paid the penalty for all who believe in Him.
If you do not possess eternal life in Jesus Christ, nothing else I say in this message matters to you. Christianity is, as Henry Scougal put it in the late 1600’s, The Life of God in the Soul of Man. The apostle John put it (1 John 5:11-12), “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” So make sure that you have received eternal life as God’s gift through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ!
But this eternal life is not something that pertains only to heaven, but is useless now. Rather, it begins at the point of trusting in Christ as Savior and it continues throughout eternity. Thus eternal life impacts in a most practical way how we live daily life here and now. Peter is asserting that God has granted to us everything that we need to deal with life’s problems, whether major or minor. His Word tells us how to deal with suffering and how to face death (whether our own or that of a loved one). It tells us how to work through relational difficulties. It tells us how to manage our finances. It gives us instruction on how to handle our emotions. It tells us how to gain wisdom for every situation in life.
We would be here all day if I listed all the verses that claim the sufficiency of God’s provision for us in Christ, but consider just a few. In 1 Corinthians 1:4-5, Paul told that problem-plagued church, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge.” In verse 30 of the same chapter he states, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” In 2 Corinthians 9:8, he wrote to the same congregation, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” Later (2 Cor. 12:9), he reported how in his intense trial, the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
In Ephesians 1:3, Paul says that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” In Ephesians 3:8, he mentions “the unfathomable riches of Christ.” He goes on in that chapter (3:19) to pray that we “will know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” In Colossians 2:10, he says that we have been made complete in Christ. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, he says that Scripture makes us adequate for every good work.
For thousands of years the Bible has been adequate to equip the saints to go through unspeakable tragedy, to face persecution and even martyrdom. Our problem today is not that the Bible is incapable of dealing with our problems, but rather that we do not know the vast resources that God has put there for us. As John MacArthur wrote (Our Sufficiency in Christ, p. 27), “To seek something more [than what we have been given in Christ] is like frantically knocking on a door, seeking what is inside, not realizing you hold the key in your pocket.”
Peter not only says that God has given us everything pertaining to life, but also to godliness. Godliness is inextricably bound up with eternal life. If you possess eternal life in Christ, you will be growing in godliness, or Christlikeness. While we will never attain perfection in this life, we should see evident growth in obedience to God’s Word, as summed up in the two great commandments of love for God and love for one another. Peter goes on in chapter 2 to describe the ungodly behavior of the false teachers, who profess to know Christ, but deny Him by their deeds (Titus 1:16).
But, how does God grant us everything pertaining to life and godliness? Peter shows that…
In other words, we are not talking about some techniques or principles that you could find in Reader’s Digest or in a popular self-help book. Peter is talking about something that requires divine power. There is some ambiguity as to whether “His” refers to God the Father or to Jesus Christ. John MacArthur (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 Peter & Jude [Moody Publishers], p. 26) argues that it refers to the Lord Jesus. If it referred to God, the word divine would be superfluous, since deity is inherent in God’s name. Also, using divine to refer to Jesus’ power emphasizes His deity. In verse 16 Peter again refers to Christ’s power, which Peter had seen.
In verse 3, Christ’s power is primarily the power of imparting new life at the moment of salvation. In Ephesians 1:19, Paul prays that God would enlighten the eyes of his readers’ hearts, so that we would know “what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” He goes on to relate it to God’s mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him above all other powers. This means that conversion is not primarily a human decision that everyone has the ability to choose. Conversion requires God’s resurrection power, calling us from death to life. Just as Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43) and that dead man came back to life, so He must call us out of death into eternal life. The instant that we are alive spiritually by His power, we also receive everything pertaining to life and godliness. And we receive the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to produce godliness in us.
Many commentators refer “Him who called us” to the Father, not to Christ, because they say that divine calling is always attributed to God. But, Jesus said (Luke 5:32), “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” So here it may refer to Christ. “His own glory and excellence” refers to the majesty and moral perfection of Christ.
We come to know Christ personally when He effectually calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9; see, also 1 Pet. 1:15; 2:21; 3:9; 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:10). The Bible speaks of a general call of the gospel that goes out to all (John 7:37), but also of an effectual call that always results in salvation (Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:26). Christ’s calling us by His own glory and excellence means that we are effectually drawn to Him when He opens our eyes to see His majesty and beauty. All of Jesus’ earthly life displayed His glory and moral excellence, so that John could say (John 1:14), “And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Peter refers to seeing Christ’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Pet. 1:16-18).
But the cross is the supreme demonstration of the glory and moral excellence of Jesus Christ (John 12:27-28; 13:31-32; 17:4-5). It was there, as the sinless Son of God bore our shame, that the sky was darkened, the earth quaked, and the tombs were opened so that the dead were raised. It was there that the Father’s perfect love and justice met. It is at the cross that we see the glory and virtue of Christ, “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:22-23).
We come to know Christ when He opens our eyes to see His glory and excellence at the cross. At that point, we begin a lifelong quest to know Him more deeply (Phil. 3:8-10). That growing, personal knowledge of Christ as our all in all supplies us with all that we need for life and godliness.
But we still must look at the all-sufficient resources of verse 4:
As I said, “by these” refers back to Christ’s glory and moral excellence,” especially as seen at the cross. When we come to salvation by seeing the glory and moral perfection of Christ who died for us, we inherit all of His precious and very great promises. These promises especially relate to salvation—things like forgiveness of sins, perfect acceptance before God, a personal relationship with God through Christ, where we experience His abundant love, the certain hope of eternity in heaven, and much more. But they also include all of the promises of the Bible that relate practically to life and godliness—victory over sin, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and strength to deal with trials, and peace that passes understanding. As Paul says (2 Cor. 1:20), “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes.”
In verse 4, Peter mentions two benefits of God’s all-sufficient promises, one positive and one negative:
Peter says, “by them [God’s promises] you may become partakers of the divine nature.” He is referring not only to a future possibility, but also to a present reality. When God calls us to salvation, He imparts to us His life, eternal life (Col. 3:3; 1 John 5:11). We are born again, so that we become children of God (John 1:12-13; 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:23). Part of the gift of eternal life includes the indwelling Holy Spirit, who works over time to produce holiness in us (1 Cor. 6:19; Gal. 5:16).
So when Peter says that we are partakers of the divine nature, he does not mean that we become “little gods,” as some false teachers assert. There is always an inherent difference between the eternal Creator and His finite creation. Rather, Peter means that we share in the very life of God, so that His moral excellence progressively becomes ours. Finally, when we see Jesus, we will be like Him, apart from all sin. In the meanwhile, we are to be growing in holiness (1 John 3:2-3). In verse 4 Peter states what God has done for us, imparting His very life to us so that we may become holy. In verses 5-7, he spells out our responsibility to grow in godliness.
At the moment that we are born again, so that God’s life dwells in us, we are set apart from this evil world unto God. We now belong to Him. We share in His nature, which includes moral excellence. Due to sin, the world is morally like rotting garbage. People in the world live for their lusts, whether it be sex or greed or self-centered pride. But God’s precious and great promises deliver us from that corruption (Col. 1:13).
Does Peter mean that believers in this life are completely free from the corrupting lusts that characterize the world? No, because in 1 Peter 1:14-15 he exhorts us, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” In 1 Peter 2:11 he adds, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” The difference is, before we were saved, we didn’t fight against these fleshly lusts. In fact, we loved them and wallowed in them. But now, we hate them and fight against them.
So it’s an “already, but not yet” sort of thing. Already, we have been set apart from the world unto God through His life within us. When Jesus returns, we will be totally free from sin. In the meanwhile, we must fight against the lusts that wage war against our souls. It’s a constant battle, but one that we can win because we are partakers of the divine nature through the precious and magnificent promises of the gospel. God’s power that imparted new life to us is available to give us victory over the lusts of the flesh.
Peter’s point in our text is that God has graciously given us everything that we need for life and godliness through knowing Christ and through trusting in His wonderful promises. If you are defeated by sin, either you do not understand the all-sufficient resources that God has freely given to you, or worst case, you do not have His new life dwelling in you. His promises give you unlimited resources in Christ. Don’t be like Chief Crowfoot and put them around your neck, but never use them! Grow in your knowledge of Christ and His promises and He will satisfy your soul!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2009, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
The late Ray Stedman told of asking a boy how old he was. Quick as a flash he said, “I’m twelve, going on thirteen, soon be fourteen.” That boy was eager to grow up!
Most Christians want to grow in the Lord, especially when they are new in the faith. But often, as time goes on, the enthusiasm to grow begins to fade. We settle into a humdrum routine and grow spiritually complacent.
We’re like an old farmer I read about (“Our Daily Bread”), who often described his Christian experience by saying, “Well, I’m not making much progress, but I’m established!”
One spring when he was hauling some logs, his wagon wheels sank down to the axles in mud. As he sat there viewing the dismal situation, a neighbor who had always felt uncomfortable with the farmer’s worn-out testimony came by. He called out, “Brother Jones, I see you’re not making much progress, but you must be content because you’re well established!” It was a way of pointing out, “You’re stuck!”
If you’re stuck spiritually, God wants you to grow. Even if you’ve been a Christian for many years, the New Year should be a year of growth in godliness. Until you’re perfectly like Jesus Christ, which won’t happen until you see Him, you still have room to grow. In our text, Peter gives us some wise counsel about growing in godliness.
But you won’t grow without deliberate discipline and effort. It’s interesting that Peter, a man known in the gospels for his impetuosity, here sets forth a deliberate, disciplined approach to spiritual growth. If Peter the impetuous fisherman could become a disciplined, godly man, then anyone else can do the same. He’s saying,
Because God has imparted new life and spiritual riches to us in Christ, we should be diligent to grow in godliness.
Let’s look at four practical lessons in these verses:
Peter begins (1:5), “Now for this very reason also….” This takes us back to verses 3 & 4, where Peter told us that when we believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, God also “granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (1:3). Through the glory and moral perfection of Christ, “He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (1:4). “Now for this very reason also,” grow in your faith.
Do you ever marvel at why people don’t just flock to Christ by the droves? He offers complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life as a free gift to all who will believe. What could be better? Why aren’t people lined up at the door of churches all over the world asking, “What must I do to be saved?”
The answer is (2 Cor. 4:4), “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Or (1 Cor. 2:14), “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” Or, to use another biblical analogy, before God imparted new life to us, we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3). If you have trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord, it was not because of your keen insight or brilliant powers of logic. It was because God mercifully opened your blind eyes to see (Acts 16:14).
The point is, you cannot begin to grow as a Christian until you have received new life from God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the life of Christ in you that gives you the motivation and power to change and grow spiritually. The instant you trust in Christ, God graciously gives you the key to the unfathomable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8), which supplies you with everything you need for life and godliness.
In the list of qualities that follow (2 Pet. 1:5-7), some writers refer to eight virtues, with faith being the first. But I think that is mistaken. Peter does not tell us to supply faith, as he does with the other things on the list. Rather, he says, “in your faith supply moral excellence,” etc. He assumes faith as the foundation on which the other virtues rest and from which they grow. We receive faith in Christ as God’s gift (1:1), but then we supply the other qualities, which are the fruit of faith (1:8). So, to grow in godliness, make sure that you have trusted in Jesus Christ and His gracious promises. Faith is the essential foundation for growing in godliness.
I am still focusing on Peter’s opening phrase, “Now for this very reason also….” The reason that we should apply all diligence and supply these seven qualities to our faith is that God has graciously made us partakers of His nature and has granted to us everything that we need for life and godliness through His precious and magnificent promises (1:3-4).
Right motivation in the Christian life is essential! It’s easy to have the wrong motivation. Maybe, for example, you want to grow as a Christian so that everyone will think, “My, what a great Christian he is!” That’s pride, which is the wrong motivation! Or, maybe you want to grow as a Christian so that you’ll be successful in your family life or in business. That may be better than pride, but it’s still wrongly focused on self.
It is right to desire God’s blessing on your life, your family, and your business, but the motivation behind that desire should be, “God, I want Your blessing so that my life will bring glory to Your name! You set Your love on me and saved me when I was in the gutter of sin. You called me out of darkness into Your marvelous light. Now, Lord, I want to grow in godliness so that my life proclaims Your excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9)!”
In other words, God’s grace as shown to us in Jesus Christ is the right motivation for applying diligence to grow spiritually. The apostle Paul said that God’s grace was his motivation for serving (1 Cor. 15:10), “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them [the other apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” He also sets forth God’s grace as our motivation in Romans 12:1, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God [which he has been setting forth in chapters 1-11], to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” He uses the same pattern in Ephesians, where in chapters 1-3 he sets forth our spiritual riches that God has graciously given us in Christ. Then in the last three chapters he tells us how to live in light of God’s abundant grace.
So, here, Peter is telling us, “To grow in godliness, which will require some diligence and hard work, keep in mind the glorious truth that God has imparted new life to you in Christ and that He has given you all of His precious and magnificent promises to equip you for life and godliness.” That’s the right motivation!
Peter says (1:5), “Applying all diligence….” The word “applying” occurs only here in the New Testament and means, “to bring in besides.” The idea is, “God has given you His life and all of His promises. Now, you bring in diligence so that you may grow.”
D. A. Carson explains (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church [Zondervan], p. 228), “… the dominant biblical pattern is neither ‘let go and let God’ nor ‘God has done his bit, and now it’s all up to you,’ but rather, ‘since God is powerfully at work in you, you yourself must make every effort.’” As Paul said (Phil. 2:12-13), “… work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” In other words, spiritual growth involves God’s resources as the foundation, but also our responsible effort in addition.
“Diligence” sometimes has the meaning of haste or speed, but here it probably means, “eagerness, earnestness, or zeal.” Peter is saying, “Make every effort to add” the qualities that follow (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by Walter Bauer, ed. by William Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed. [University of Chicago Press], pp. 763-764). The word “supply” is an interesting Greek word from which we get our words “chorus” and “choreography.” It referred to a wealthy man who would give everything necessary to put on a stage play or musical performance. It meant to give lavishly, because such donors did not want people thinking that they had been stingy in supplying the chorus. So putting it all together, Peter is saying, “Make every effort eagerly and lavishly to supply these qualities on the foundation of your faith in Christ.”
When I was a younger Christian, I was taught that we are not to exert ourselves or work hard to grow spiritually: “If you’re striving or exerting yourself, you’re not resting in Christ. The Christian life is the faith-rest life. Just rest in Christ and He gives you victory over sin and He produces holiness in you.” Sometimes these writers would appeal to the analogy of the vine and the branches (John 15). The branch doesn’t struggle or strive to bear fruit. Rather, it effortlessly abides in the vine and the life of the vine flows through the branch, resulting in fruit. It all sounds so easy!
But that approach to the Christian life ignores many other Scriptures that talk about struggle and effort on our part. Granted, we struggle and work according to God’s power in us, but still we must struggle and work! As we saw (in 1 Cor. 15:10), as a result of God’s grace, Paul worked hard. In Colossians 1:29, he says, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” (See, also, 1 Tim. 4:10.) Hebrews 12:4 talks about our striving against sin. In many places, the New Testament uses the analogy of warfare or fighting to picture the Christian life (Eph. 6:10-20; 2 Tim. 4:7; 1 Pet. 2:11). Fighting is not effortless! You must exert yourself to the point of exhaustion.
Are you applying “all diligence” to grow in Christ? Do you give it mental effort? Do you make time to grow spiritually? Do you wrestle with where you need to grow? Do you work out a plan to get there? Do you read books on theology or important doctrinal matters that stretch your mind to think about the hard questions in the Bible? If you’re on spiritual autopilot, you aren’t applying diligence. You won’t grow spiritually if you don’t deliberately work at it.
But, what does growth entail? Where should we focus? This brings us to the heart of our text:
Faith is the foundation; to that we must supply moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. This list raises some questions. Why did Peter pick these qualities and not others? Why does he put them in this order? Does he mean that we must work on them in this order, so that we become proficient in the first one before we start working on number two, etc.?
Many writers point out that these sorts of lists were a common literary form, both outside and within the Bible. Adolf Deissmann (Light from the Ancient East [Baker], pp. 317-318), for example, mentions a first century B.C. inscription from Asia Minor that honors a man for having, “faith, virtue, righteousness, godliness, and diligence” (all of which, except “righteousness,” are in Peter’s list). Paul lists nine qualities as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). He tells Timothy (1 Tim. 6:11) to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Four of those qualities (godliness, faith, love, and perseverance) are in Peter’s list. So Peter’s list here is not exhaustive, but illustrative or suggestive for starters and easy remembrance.
Why did he choose these qualities? Probably, he chose them because they are the opposite of the evil characteristics of the false teachers that he will expose in chapter 2. They did not have moral excellence, or Christlikeness. They claimed to have knowledge, but they didn’t know God, who is holy. They lacked self-control and indulged the flesh (2:2, 10, 14, 18). They were not persevering in godliness, but had gone astray. Rather than demonstrating true brotherly kindness and love, they were simply exploiting people for their own gain.
As for the order in which Peter arranges these seven qualities, some see no logical order, whereas others do. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Expository Sermons on 2 Peter [Banner of Truth], p.26) sees three headings: (1) the character of our faith (virtue, knowledge); (2) our inward dispositions (self-control, perseverance); and, (3) our relationships to others (godliness, brotherly kindness, love).
I propose that there is a sensible flow of thought that goes as follows: “Faith” is the bedrock foundation. Without faith we are not Christians. “Moral excellence” (virtue) is necessary next, because without that, we cannot have a clear conscience. If we live in known disobedience to God, He will not reveal spiritual truth to us. Thus, virtue precedes “knowledge.” “Knowledge” follows closely, because we must know the Word of God to inform our conscience and guide us in all our thinking and behavior.
But knowing the truth does not help if we do not exercise “self-control” to practice the truth. Thus self-control is next. But self-control on a few occasions will not help if we then yield and ruin our testimony. So we need “perseverance” when trials and temptations come. As we persevere, we develop “godliness,” which refers to living in reverence to God in every situation. But true godliness is not just a private matter between the individual and God. It manifests itself in godly relationships. Thus we need “brotherly kindness” and self-sacrificing “love.”
This is a logical order, not a chronological order. In other words, it would be wrong to think that you must perfect virtue before you go on to knowledge, or gain vast amounts of knowledge before you develop self-control. Rather, they are all interrelated in the manner that I just mentioned. With that as a background, let’s look briefly at the seven qualities.
We saw this word in 1:3, where it refers to the moral perfections of Jesus Christ. Peter uses it in 1 Peter 2:9 to refer to “the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” It was used “to denote the proper fulfillment of anything. The excellence of a knife is to cut, of a horse to run” (Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 67). Since Peter uses it just two verses before to refer to Jesus Christ, we could say that here he means, “Christlikeness.” We are to grow in the character qualities that marked Jesus. Just as He always obeyed the Father and lived to glorify Him, so should we.
This refers to practical wisdom that is gained in the exercise of moral excellence (Green, p. 68). We gain the knowledge of how God wants us to live through His Word. It tells us how to think, how to use our tongue, and how to behave in just about every imaginable situation. As we put this knowledge into use, it helps us to grow to know Jesus Christ better (as verse 8 says).
This quality is also the final item in the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). God works it in us as we walk in the Spirit, but we must also work to practice it. Paul uses the word in reference to an athlete, who exercises self-control in all things so that he might win (1 Cor. 9:25). It is also a necessary qualification for elders (Titus 1:8). By definition, self-control means that you must go against your impulses or feelings in order to attain a higher goal. An athlete must say no to junk food in order to keep in shape. He must work out when he doesn’t feel like it. It applies to controlling all desires, including greed, sex, food, emotions, and the use of our time. (See my message, “Learning to Control Yourself,” Dec. 31, 2006, on the church web site.)
This refers to the ability to endure hardship and distress. Thayer (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Harper & Brothers, 1887], pp. 644) defines it as “the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” It is often used with reference to suffering (Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 6:4; 1 Thess. 1:4; James 1:3). It means that we keep following Christ even when it results in persecution or hardship.
“Godliness” refers to “a very practical awareness of God in every aspect of life” (Green, p. 70). It refers to awe in the presence of God and the obedience that befits that reverence (William Barclay, New Testament Words [Westminster Press], pp. 106-107). It is “the attitude which gives God the place he ought to occupy in life and in thought and in devotion” (ibid., p. 107).
This is the Greek word, philadelphia, which means, “brotherly love.” It is the feeling of kindness or mutual understanding and care that should exist among family members. It could apply to how we are to treat every human being, since we are all members of the human family. But it especially refers to the love that we are to show to others in the family of God. We must accept all whom Christ has accepted (Rom. 15:7). We must be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). We must “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10).
This is the Greek, agape, which is a self-sacrificing commitment to seek the highest good of the one loved. Since Peter exhorts us to apply all diligence to supply brotherly kindness and love, these qualities are not spontaneous. We must work at them. We must often go against our feelings of pride or laziness or self-centeredness to demonstrate love for others.
You can practice it each week at church: instead of keeping to yourself, which you may prefer, look for others who may be new or alone and go out of your way to make them feel welcome. If the person is hurting, pray with him. If he seems lonely, arrange to get together later in the week. And so the list that begins with faith ends with love (Gal. 5:6).
As we’ll see next time, one result of growing in these godly character qualities is that you will be useful and fruitful in knowing Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:8). Because He gave Himself on the cross to save you from God’s judgment, you should desire to be useful and fruitful as His blood-bought servant. But to be useful and fruitful, you must be growing in godliness, which requires diligent effort.
Spiritual growth is a long process, not a quick fix. It’s like a diet or exercise program. It only shows results when you practice it consistently and stick with it over the long haul. If you’re not making much spiritual progress, then you’re not well established—you’re stuck in the mud! Set some spiritual goals for the New Year. Make it a year when by God’s grace, you grow in godliness!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2009, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
My ninth-grade English teacher pulled off a phenomenal feat: she motivated a bunch of teenagers, who at first couldn’t care less about expanding their vocabularies, to learn 120 vocabulary words. I think I could score 100 on a test on those words today, almost fifty years later! I still know the meaning of sesquipedalian (a person who uses long words), erudite (scholarly), osculate (to kiss), pensive (thoughtful), and many more.
How did she do it? She used several methods. For one thing, she would use the words in a humorous way, so that you had to know the meaning of the word to understand the joke. She also used the words in sentences with students’ names. If she used your name, you wanted to know what she was saying about you: “I saw erudite Steve osculating with pensive Pam.” Steve and Pam (and the rest of the class) wanted to know what that meant!
Also, she had the equivalent of a contest, where we had to find all 120 words in print, cut the sentences out (this was before the copy machine was invented!), and paste them into a notebook. So we all competed with one another to find sesquipedalian, osculate, cogitate, petulant, and all the other words. Years later, in my thirties, I went over to her house and thanked her for being such a great teacher. She knew that motivation is a key to learning and she was a master motivator!
That leads me to ask, why would anyone want to spend significant time and effort in this New Year to read and study God’s Word? Why expend the energy and discipline to set your alarm early enough to get out of bed and spend time with the Lord each morning? Why say no to temptation when yielding would feel so good? Why be patient, kind, gentle, and self-sacrificing towards others, especially when they don’t seem to appreciate your efforts? In short, what motivation is there to be diligent to grow in godliness? What’s in it for us?
Perhaps you think that it’s wrong to ask those questions. Shouldn’t we do those things apart from any benefit to us because they’re the right thing to do? But Peter asked essentially the same thing and the Lord did not rebuke him. Peter said (Matt. 19:27), “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” Jesus replied (Matt. 19:28-29),
“Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”
Jesus was saying that the eternal benefits should motivate us to endure whatever hardship we now encounter in following Him. In our text, Peter is spelling out the benefits of growing in godliness to motivate us to persevere in the process. He’s saying,
The benefits of growing in godliness are fruitfulness,
assurance, perseverance, and eternal blessings.
In verses 1-4, Peter sets before us the resources that God has graciously provided for us: He has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness through knowing Christ and through His precious and magnificent promises. Then in verses 5-7, he shows our responsibility to grow in godliness, as summarized by seven qualities that we are to add to our faith. Now (8-11) he shows the results or benefits of growing in godliness to motivate us to hang in there when it would be easier to go with the flow of the world and the flesh. If we grow in godliness, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that our lives are fruitful in light of eternity. We will enjoy the assurance of knowing that God has called and chosen us as His own. We will not fall away from the faith. And, when we step into eternity, there will be a grand welcome!
“These qualities” refers back to the seven qualities that we are diligently to supply on the foundation of our faith in Christ (1:5-7): moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Peter explains why (“For”) we should apply all diligence to supply these qualities (1:8): “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then he explains further and warns (1:9), “For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” Note three things:
Peter states his point negatively to call attention to what happens if you do not grow in godliness: you will live a useless, unfruitful life. Nobody in their right mind would set out at age 20 and say, “I’d like to waste my life!” Nobody writes out a plan for a wasted life: “I think I’ll devote three hours per day, 21 hours per week, to watching television!” (That is the national average!) “I also plan to become addicted to alcohol and drugs. I plan to live so selfishly and with such disregard for others that I will shred all of my relationships. Also, I plan to spend far more than I earn so that I will run up huge debts.” No one plans to be useless and unfruitful! And yet, many people end up that way!
But, to put it positively, how can I be useful and fruitful in my Christian life? How can I use the time, talents, and treasure that God has entrusted to me so that one day I will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? It’s easy to be busy in the Lord’s work, but I don’t want to be just busy—I want to be useful and fruitful.
As a pastor, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that fruitfulness is measured in terms of numbers: “If I can pastor a large, growing church, write best-selling books, and travel all over the world to influence thousands of other Christian leaders, I will be fruitful.” Ministering to large numbers may indicate success in human terms, but we need to measure fruitfulness by God’s criteria. In church history, there are a few well known men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. But there are thousands of faithful, fruitful men and women whose names are known only to God. What distinguished these faithful saints to God and made them fruitful was that they devoted themselves to growing in godliness.
In 1981, I read the two-volume autobiography of C. H. Spurgeon. He was an amazing man whom God used mightily. One day as I was jogging in the woods, I asked the Lord one of those “far beyond all you can ask or think” prayers. I prayed, “Lord, use me as You used Spurgeon!” I didn’t hear any voice, but almost instantly the thought popped into my mind, which I believe was from the Lord, “Which Spurgeon? Charles or John?”
I stopped jogging and just stood there so I could think about the implications of that question. John Spurgeon was the father of the famous Charles. He was a faithful pastor in England for many years. He actually outlived his famous son. If it had not been for the famous Charles Spurgeon, no one would have ever heard of John Spurgeon. Yet, he and thousands of others like him were godly, fruitful servants of the Lord. It was as if the Lord was saying to me, “You focus on being as faithful and godly as John Spurgeon and leave it to Me as to whether you become as influential as Charles Spurgeon!” Peter is telling us, “Focus on growing in godliness and you will be fruitful in your Christian life.”
When Peter says, “in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” is he talking about growing to know Christ more deeply as you grow in godliness, or is he talking about coming to know Christ at the point of conversion as the basis for growing in godliness? There could be some of both here. Peter later talks about growing to know Christ more deeply (2 Pet. 3:18). But since Peter has talked about “the true knowledge of Christ” in reference to conversion (1:3), I understand him here (1:8) to be saying, “If you have truly come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be growing in godliness and seeking to be useful and fruitful in serving Him.”
John Calvin observes (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on 2 Peter 1:8, p. 374), “For the knowledge of Christ is an efficacious thing and a living root, which brings forth fruit.” In other words, if God has opened your eyes to the glory of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), so that you have come to know Him, your life will show it. You will be growing in the godly character qualities that Peter lists (1:5-7). And you will be seeking to make your life useful and fruitful to the Master who shed His blood to redeem you. If you’re not living with a view to how God can use you to bear fruit for His kingdom, then you’re wasting your life.
This does not mean that you must go into so-called “full time Christian ministry.” Rather, it means that in whatever situation you find yourself, whether at home, at school, or at work, you have the mindset that you want to be useful and fruitful for the Lord Jesus Christ. Life is a vapor (James 4:14)! Don’t waste it living for selfish pursuits or for things that will perish. Live so as to grow in godliness so that you will be a clean vessel, “useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21b).
Some understand verse 9 to be referring to those who are not truly saved, who may have been following the false teachers. One reason for this view is that Peter changes from the second person in verse 8 to the more impersonal third person in verse 9, but then reverts back to the second person, along with the warm “brethren” (the only time Peter uses that word) in verse 10. Also, the word “blind” seems to fit the unbelieving, but not true believers. But to say that those in verse 9 are not truly saved, you must say that they were never really purified from their former sins; they only claimed to be purified, perhaps through baptism.
I think, rather, that Peter was talking about some in the church who truly had been purified from their sins, but now they were drifting. Peter shifts from “you” to “he” so as not directly to accuse the majority of his readers. But if his word of warning applied to some, they should take heed. “Blind” and “short-sighted” are used somewhat synonymously. The literal translation is, “they are blind, being short-sighted.” These people were so focused on their present circumstances that they were not growing in the qualities mentioned in verses 5-7. They had become virtually blind to what Christ had done for them in cleansing them from their sins. This forgetful and willful blindness, due to their temporal focus, quenched their motivation to be diligent to grow in godliness.
So Peter brings us back to motivation. To grow in godliness requires applying all diligence, because you won’t grow effortlessly. Growth in godliness requires hard work and discipline over the long haul. What motivates you to keep at it? Answer: Remember what Christ did for you! He shed His blood on the cross to purify you from your sins. Remembering God’s grace shown to you at the cross will motivate you to apply all diligence to keep growing in godliness. Without keeping the cross in view, you will drift into ungodly living and will waste your life in light of eternity. So the first benefit of growing in godliness is fruitfulness in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 10 follows from and applies verses 8 & 9: “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you.” “Brethren” shows that Peter is talking to Christians here. “Be diligent” is the verb related to the same noun in verse 5. Peter is saying, “One way to be certain that God has called and chosen you is to be diligent to grow in these godly character qualities.” The same message sums up the book of First John, but is stated specifically in 1 John 2:28, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (see, also, 1 John 3:18-21).
We will look at assurance next. But here, Peter again is emphasizing that growth in godliness requires diligence. It doesn’t happen without deliberate, concentrated effort. If you’re cruising on spiritual autopilot, then take heed to Peter’s exhortation to be all the more diligent to make certain about God’s calling and choosing you. The way you do that is to be diligent to grow in godliness.
There are a lot of mistaken notions about assurance of salvation in our day. Most evangelicals think that if you prayed to receive Christ, you are eternally secure and should never doubt that fact. But they overlook the clear biblical truth that new life in Christ always manifests itself in the fruit of godliness. As a result, there are thousands of professing Christians who are not growing in godliness, but they think that they are eternally secure in Christ.
In verse 10, Peter brings together two things that we often separate: God’s sovereignty in calling and choosing us and our responsibility to be diligent to grow in godliness so that we grow in assurance about God’s calling and choosing us. In chronological order for us, God’s calling comes first. This means that we heard the gospel and God opened the eyes of our darkened understanding and imparted new life to us so that we believed in Christ (1 Pet. 2:9; 2 Pet. 1:3). Then, after believing in Christ, through His Word we come to understand that the reason God called us to salvation is that He first chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5). Our salvation is totally from God. If He had not chosen us and called us, we would still be lost in our sins.
How, then, do we gain the assurance that God has called and chosen us? First, have you heard the call to repent of your sins and believe in Christ and did you obey that call? Second, how do you know that your repentance and faith were genuine? The answer is, God changed your heart so that now you desire to grow in godliness so that you will grow to know Him better. You desire to please and obey the Lord who gave Himself on the cross to rescue you from judgment. As 1 John 2:3 says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” And, you take none of the credit for your salvation. You realize that it is all due to God’s sovereign grace in calling and choosing you while you were still in your sins.
So, the benefits of being diligent to grow in godliness are fruitfulness—you won’t waste your life; and, assurance that God called and chose you to eternal life, as confirmed by your desire to be diligent to grow in godliness.
Peter further explains the idea from 1:10a: “for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” “These things” refers back to verses 5-7. But, does Peter mean that if you are diligent to practice these qualities you will never sin? That seems unrealistic, in that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The Lord’s Prayer tells us to ask forgiveness for our sins often. So Peter does not mean that we can attain to sinless perfection if we practice these things.
Rather, in the context of the false teachers who had turned away from the faith, Peter means that if you are diligent to grow in godliness and thus confirm your calling and election, you will not turn away from God and commit apostasy as the false teachers had done (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman & Holman Publishers], p. 305).
Believers who are cultivating the godly qualities listed in verses 5-7 are walking closely with the Lord. They are seeking to know Him better and to please Him every day. As they practice these things, it will safeguard them from stumbling in the sense of falling away from the faith. Jude, which parallels 2 Peter 2, ends his short letter (Jude 24), “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy….” The means that God uses to help us persevere in the faith is to motivate us to grow in godliness.
Verse 10 also teaches us that moral failure is almost always at the heart of false teaching. False teachers come up with their wrong doctrine to justify their immoral lifestyles. Whenever someone starts teaching weird doctrine, almost always something is wrong morally in his life. Finally, Peter gives us an eternal benefit:
Verse 11 explains (“for”) verse 10: “for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” “Supplied” is the same word that we saw in verse 5, which meant to richly supply as a philanthropist would supply the chorus or theater. Peter means that if we are diligent to grow in godliness, God will welcome us into our eternal dwelling with Him in heaven. Thomas Schreiner explains (ibid., p. 306, italics his), “Peter was not concerned here about rewards but whether people will enter the kingdom at all. He insisted that people cannot enter it without living in a godly way.”
This is not to say that salvation is by works, but rather that genuine salvation always results in a life of growing godliness. If you’re not applying all diligence to grow in godliness, you need to examine yourself. Maybe, like those in verse 9, you have forgotten what Christ did for you at the cross. If so, confess your sin and take steps to grow in godliness. But if you can shrug off the cross, then you aren’t headed for heaven.
The abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom (this is the only time “eternal” is used with “kingdom”) may have behind it the picture of a returning war hero who is welcomed into the city with great fanfare. In the same way, “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (this designation of Christ is only used in 2 Peter [here], 2:20; 3:2 [Lord and Savior], 18) will welcome those who have been diligent to grow in godliness into the eternal city.
So Peter is motivating us to be diligent to grow in godliness by showing us the benefits. Looking back, see what God has done for us in Christ. By His divine power, He has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness (1:3). He has granted us His precious and magnificent promises so that by them we have become partakers of His divine nature (1:4). We have the very life of God in us. And, He has cleansed us from all our sins (1:9). He took the initiative to choose us and call us to salvation (1:10). In light of these great benefits, be diligent to grow in godliness.
In the present, growing in godliness will give us the joy of being useful and fruitful to the Lord, so that we don’t waste our lives. It will give us assurance of salvation. It will keep us from stumbling and falling away from the Lord. In the future, the Lord will welcome us into His eternal kingdom, where we will dwell with Him in indescribable blessedness forever. In light of these great benefits, be diligent to grow in godliness.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
People pick churches for the most superficial reasons. The following are all reasons that I have heard, some for why people come to this church and some for why they go to another church: “Our kids like it there because it’s fun.” (The same thing could be said about the circus.) “Our friends go there and there is an atmosphere of acceptance.” (The same could be said of the local bar.) “The music rocks.” (The same could be said of a performance of a hot musical group.) “I get a good feeling when I go there.” (I could say the same thing about my favorite restaurant.)
Of course, children’s programs at church should have an element of fun to them. We shouldn’t bore kids with the truth. And, churches should be friendly. Fellowship is important. I’m not so sure that the music should “rock,” but it should be spiritually uplifting and musically pleasant. I don’t know what to say about the “good feelings” comments. I want you to feel good about church, but for the right reasons. Occasionally, but not often enough, I hear, “I go to that church because they preach the Word of God clearly and without compromise.” That should be the primary factor in deciding which church you will join.
But due to the pervasive postmodern thinking that there is no such thing as absolute truth, especially in the spiritual realm, sound doctrine has taken a back seat to many other things. Also, there is a strong cultural emphasis on inclusiveness and accepting everyone, no matter what the person thinks or believes. Our city even has a sign as you drive into town, “We’re building an inclusive community.” But doctrine often is divisive, not inclusive. Holding to sound doctrine seems opposed to love and acceptance. So even many popular pastors chant the mantra, “They will know we are Christians by our love, not by our doctrine.”
But the apostles were very concerned that the churches be steadfast in holding to sound doctrine. In his final three letters (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus), the apostle Paul repeatedly emphasizes the need for Timothy to hold to and preach sound doctrine. John, the apostle of love, emphasizes sound doctrine in his three epistles. Jude (v. 3) appeals to his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
And Peter will spend all of chapter 2 and a good part of chapter 3 warning about false teachers. He ends this short letter exhorting his readers (2 Pet. 3:17), “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” “Steadfastness” is related (in Greek) to the word in verse 12 of our text, “established in the truth.” Peter is emphasizing the need for believers to be firmly grounded in the essential truths of the gospel, so that we don’t fall prey to false teachers.
There are three basic purposes for verses 12-15 (I am indebted here to Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude [Eerdmans], p. 191): (1) Peter underscores the importance of the opening verses (1-11), which are a summary of the gospel and the Christian life. (2) Our text sets up the whole letter as Peter’s final testament, thus emphasizing its authority and importance. A great man’s dying words should be listened to carefully. (3) These verses form a bridge into the rest of the letter. Peter acknowledges that he is not going to say anything new, which his readers don’t already know. This serves as an antidote to the false teachers, who draw in the unsuspecting with their novel ideas. Peter wants his readers to be satisfied with the essential truths of the gospel and to come back to these truths again and again, even after he is gone.
We can sum up Peter’s message:
No matter where you’re at in the Lord, you need sound teachers to remind you often of the basic truths of the faith so that you stay on course.
Peter models for us four characteristics of sound teachers. While these are not comprehensive, they should help if you’re looking for a solid church or giving advice to others who are.
In verse 12, Peter says, “I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them….” In verse 13, he says, “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder.” In verse 15, he repeats, “And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.”
Peter reminds me of my college physics professor. Every class he would repeat his teaching method. He would say, “Class, I’m going to tell you what I am going to tell you. Then I’ll tell you. Then, I’ll tell you what I told you. Then, I’ll review.” He knew that repetition is a key to learning.
Have you ever noticed how often the Bible repeats the truth? Deuteronomy 5 repeats the giving of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20. First and 2 Chronicles go over much of the same history that you find in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Several Psalms (or portions of them) are repeated, plus many of the psalms go over the same themes. The Old Testament prophets preach similar messages of God’s judgment on sin, judgment on the wicked nations, and His faithful promises to His people in spite of their sins.
The New Testament begins with three gospels that are very similar in content. Jesus often repeated His messages and parables. He told us to partake of the Lord’s Supper repeatedly in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19). Romans and Galatians deal with similar themes, as do Ephesians and Colossians. Jude and 2 Peter have overlapping messages. Paul told the Philippians (3:1), “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Then (in 4:4), he repeats, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” He reminded Timothy to stir up the gift which Timothy already knew about (2 Tim. 1:6). (See, also, Rom. 15:15; 1 Cor. 15:1; 2 Tim. 2:14; Titus 3:1; Jude 5.)
If you’re a parent, you’ve done the same thing with your children. You have said, “How many times do I need to tell you?” Answer: At least once more, because your child hasn’t got it yet! Years ago, I saw a Henry Brandt video on child rearing where he asked, “How long does it take to teach Johnnie to make his bed?” (Pause) “Twenty years!” He was humorously emphasizing the reality that a large part of parenting is to remind your child of what he already knows. The fact is, even as adults we often don’t get it at first, or if we do get it, we easily forget it. And so we need frequent reminders of basic spiritual truths that we already know, so that we don’t drift off course.
I’ve already been touching on this, but to remind you (!), although Peter was an apostle and could have focused on some esoteric aspects of the faith, he brings his readers back to the basics. He reminds them of essential truths that they already knew. The false teachers may have been luring people by talking about new, secret truths that sounded very interesting. But sound teachers stick to the basic truths. Peter knows that his readers (v. 12) “have been established in the truth which is present with you.” But that doesn’t keep him from saying it again.
Peter’s statement about being established in the truth shows that there is a body of definable, knowable spiritual truth that is foundational for the Christian life. Without knowing these things, your Christian life will be shaky, at best. Contrary to those in the “emerging church,” who say that doctrine is not important or that we can’t really know spiritual truth for certain, Peter says that there is a body of truth and that such truth is foundational or strengthening (the meaning of the Greek word). It is the same word that Jesus used when He told Peter that after his denials, when he was restored, he should “strengthen” his brothers (Luke 22:32).
“Therefore” and “these things” (v. 12) take us back to verses 1-11, where Peter lays out the essentials of the gospel and the entire Christian life. The gospel involves a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which we receive “by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (1:1). At the instant that we are born again, God gives us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge of Christ, who calls us by His own glory and excellence (1:3). God gives us His precious promises, which make us partakers of the divine nature, so that we escape the corruption that is in the world by lust (1:4).
Given these all-sufficient resources, we are responsible to add to our faith and grow in seven qualities, which Peter sets forth (1:5-7). Then (1:8-11), Peter motivates us by showing us the results or benefits of growing in these qualities, namely, that we will be useful and fruitful, assured of our salvation, and headed for a glorious eternity in heaven. All believers who have received a basic grounding in the faith know these things. But, we need reminders of them.
Thomas Schreiner (The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman], p. 309) says, “Believers know the gospel, and yet they must, in a sense, relearn it every day.” Milton Vincent has a helpful little book, A Gospel Primer [self-published], in which he makes the point that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. Jerry Bridges makes the same point (“Four Essentials for Finishing Well,” in Stand, ed. by John Piper and Justin Taylor [Crossway Books], pp. 22-28). Let your heart be warmed often by the gospel and by other essential truths, such as those that Peter rehearses for us here.
Peter writes (1:13-14), “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.”
Some say that the Lord must have given Peter a special word that his death was near, and that is possible. But I think Peter probably is referring to the incident after Jesus’ resurrection when He told Peter (John 21:18), “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” John adds (21:19), “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.”
Now that he was older, Peter knew that his time was short. Nero was intensifying his persecution of believers. Peter sensed that Jesus’ words were about to come true. Tradition (recorded by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:1, 30) says that Peter was crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to be crucified right side up, as Jesus was. Peter’s words here teach us three important lessons about life and death:
Twice, Peter uses the word for his body, translated “earthly dwelling.” It’s the Greek word for “tabernacle,” or “tent.” Tents are temporary dwellings, used by nomads or travelers. It points to the shortness of life and the fact that we are only pilgrims, traveling through to our heavenly home. Peter emphasized this theme in his first letter. He begins it (1 Pet. 1:1), “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout” a number of provinces in Asia Minor. He continues the theme (1:17), “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” He adds (2:11), “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” Our stay on earth is short. We’re pilgrims and aliens here.
A pilgrim views life differently than a permanent resident does. He is just passing through. If you’re staying in a hotel, you don’t get too attached. You don’t move in your own furniture and put your own pictures on the walls. You’re just there for a short time and you’re gone. For us as believers, heaven is our permanent home. All of us will shortly be laying aside our earthly tent. Paul makes the point (2 Cor. 4:16-18) that since our bodies are decaying, we should be focused, not on the things that are seen, but on the things which are not seen, which are eternal. (See my sermon, “The Pilgrim Life,” on 1 Pet. 2:11-12 [8/23/1992], on the church web site, for more on this theme.)
Peter’s words teach us several things about how we should view death. For about 30 years at this point, Peter had been living with the knowledge that he would die an unpleasant death as an old man. And yet, he is not worried or upset about it! He views it as laying aside his body, a temporary tent, as he would take off old clothes. He wasn’t complaining that as a faithful apostle, he deserved better treatment in how he would die. He was at peace with God’s sovereign plan for his life. He demonstrated this same peace when he was supposed to be executed by Herod the next morning. The delivering angel found him so sound asleep that he had to hit him on the side to wake him up (Acts 12:7)! Peter was subject to the Lord’s will about when and how he died, so he was not anxious about his death.
Also, we learn that death is not cessation of existence, but rather separation of the soul from the body. At death, we lay aside this tent. The real you is not your body, although you dwell in it here on earth. The real you is your soul. To be absent from the body is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). (Paul, by the way, uses the same analogy of our bodies being a tent in 2 Cor. 5:1.) When Christ returns, we will receive our new resurrection bodies that will not be subject to aging, disease, or death (1 Cor. 15:20-23, 35-57).
Also, death is a departure or exodus from the slavery of this body of sin to a glorious eternity with the Lord. Peter’s word (1:15), “departure,” is literally, exodus (Heb. 11:22). The only other time it is used of death is on the Mount of Transfiguration (which Peter refers to in verses 16-18), when Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus about His departure (Luke 9:31). We should view death as departing from this earth to be with the Lord in heaven.
Although Peter was probably in his sixties by this time, he wasn’t looking to retire and spend his final days on the golf course or taking videos of the national parks. These verses convey a sense of urgency and effort. He says (1:12), “I will always be ready….” “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up…” (1:13). “I will also be diligent…” (1:15). “Diligent” is the same word that Peter used in verses 5 & 10. Peter’s awareness of the shortness of life spurred him on to work all the harder. He knew that eternal matters were at stake (1:11), so he was all the more diligent to fulfill his ministry.
His words remind me of the Puritan, Richard Baxter, who said, “I preached, as never sure to preach again, and as a dying Man to dying Men” (“Love Breathing Thanks and Praise,” in Christianity Today [1/13/92], p. 32). Like Peter, Baxter was in earnest because he knew that life is short.
I confess that as I get older, the stress created by the constant demands and deadlines of ministry gets to me at times. The thought of kicking back sounds good. On my study leave, I read Stand, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. The subtitle is, “A call for the endurance of the saints.” Piper writes a provocative chapter, “Getting Old to the Glory of God,” where he says (p. 37),
Getting old to the glory of God means getting old in a way that makes God look glorious. It means living and dying in a way that shows God to be the all-satisfying Treasure that he is. So it would include, for example, not living in ways that make this world look like your treasure. Which means that most of the suggestions that this world offers us for our retirement years are bad ideas. They call us to live in a way that would make this world look like our treasure. And when that happens, God is belittled.
If you are financially in a position where you no longer need to work, ask the Lord how He would like to use your remaining years for His purpose and glory.
We’ve seen that sound teachers are always ready to remind their students of what they already know. They emphasize the basic truths of the Christian life. They are in earnest because they know that life is short, so they use their time to serve the Lord. Finally,
In verse 13, Peter considers it right to stir up his readers by way of reminder. “Stir up” means to arouse or awaken from sleep. Peter himself had learned this the hard way. Jesus warned him in advance that he would deny Him. Then, in the garden, Jesus told Peter, James, and John to stay alert and pray so that they would not enter into temptation. But they all fell asleep and, just a short time later, Peter denied his Lord (Matt. 26:36-46).
Because of our fallen nature, we’re all prone to be spiritually sluggish and lazy. Because of this, we need sound teachers who are spiritually alert to prod us to wake up to the essential truths of God’s Word. To cite Richard Baxter again, who was writing to pastors, he said (The Reformed Pastor [Banner of Truth], p. 148),
What! Speak coldly for God, and for men’s salvation? Can we believe that our people must be converted or condemned, and yet speak in a drowsy tone? In the name of God, brethren, labor to awaken your own hearts, before you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners. … Oh, speak not one cold or careless word about so great a business as heaven or hell.
When Peter says that after his departure his readers will be able to call these things to mind, he was probably referring to this very letter, which he left to them as his legacy. While none of us can leave that kind of legacy behind, we can leave the legacy of the seed of the gospel sown in the hearts of our children and others with whom we have contact. We can leave the legacy of a godly example and good deeds, so that when others think of us, they will be drawn to our Savior and Lord.
So, no matter where you’re at in the Lord, Peter is saying that you need sound teachers to remind you often of the basic truths of the faith so that you stay on course. By way of applying his words, I would encourage you to do several things: (1) Read the Bible through over and over. The godly George Muller is said to have read it through over 200 times! (2) Memorize key portions of the Bible through frequent repetition. (3) Regularly sit under the faithful ministry of the Word. We have so many wonderful resources available online! (4) Read solid books that will help you grow to know Christ better. I know—none of these suggestions are original or new. I’m just reminding you of what you already know!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone about Christ in which the person said, “I’m glad that you believe in Jesus and that that works for you, but I’m into [fill in the blank]”? It could be a religious cult, or some method for achieving your greatest potential, or whatever. Maybe you responded by saying, “But let me tell you how Jesus changed my life.” The other person listened politely, but still said, “That’s great for you! I’m happy that Jesus helped you like that. But I’ve found great help in [fill in the blank]. Why should I believe in Jesus?”
In 1969, I was one of ten seminary students who spent the summer in West Los Angeles, working at the Jesus Christ Light and Power House, a ministry center near the UCLA campus. In the evenings, we often walked around the streets of Westwood where we encountered hordes of enthusiastic young people who invited us to come to meetings where they promised that our lives would be changed. They would give miraculous-sounding testimonies of ways that their lives had been changed. One young woman told me that she needed a car. She pointed to a brand new Corvette and said, “There it is!” Another told me of how she had been alienated from her mother for years, but now they had become close friends.
Was Jesus Christ the key to these changed lives? No, not at all. Rather, these enthusiastic witnesses had all begun to chant a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist chant. I did not attend any of their meetings, but some of my friends who did said that it reminded them of a Campus Crusade College Life meeting, where glowing testimony after testimony told of how lives had been dramatically changed—not by Jesus Christ, but rather by chanting this Buddhist chant.
This leads me to ask, “How do you know that your faith in Christ is true?” If someone says that chanting a Buddhist mantra works for him, is that equally true? In other words, what is the foundation of our faith? Does it rest on personal experience: “Jesus changed my life”? While I hope that Jesus has changed your life, I also hope that you see that your faith needs a more substantial foundation than that. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, and many with other belief systems can point to changed lives. How do we know that biblical Christianity is the only truth that will get us right with God and give us eternal life?
In 2 Peter 1:16-21, the apostle gives us two elements that make up a sure foundation for our faith: (1) the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ (1:16-18); and, (2) the written prophetic revelation of God in Scripture (1:19-21). Since we now have the apostolic witness in the New Testament, the two elements are just one foundation, the Word of God. But today we will only look at the apostolic witness. In verses 16-18, Peter is saying that…
The foundation of our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ.
Peter lays this foundation before he deals directly (chapter 2) with the false teachers that were plaguing the early church. One error of these false teachers was to deny the apostolic teaching that Jesus would return bodily to earth. They scoffed (3:4), “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”
So in our text, Peter boldly counters these scoffers (1:16), “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” The word “for” connects the thought with Peter’s previous words. The sense is, “I want you to always be able to call these things to mind after I’m gone, because they are true. We didn’t make up clever stories. We were eyewitnesses of what we are handing off to you.” So the foundation of our faith is the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. We can note four things about this apostolic witness:
Is Peter responding to the charges of the false teachers, that he was following cleverly devised tales, or he is referring to the cleverly devised tales of the false teachers in contrast to the eyewitness testimony of the apostles? Perhaps there is some of both, that the false teachers were accusing the apostles of following cleverly devised tales, but Peter is turning it back on them, saying, “It is not we who are following cleverly devised tales (as they assert), but rather they are following cleverly devised tales. We apostles are following and proclaiming what we have seen and heard.”
In verses 12-15, Peter uses the first person pronoun, I, but in verses 16 & 18, he shifts to the plural, we. He is bringing in here the testimony of the apostles, in particular, of Peter, James, and John who were with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration where they saw His majesty and glory. In verse 18, “we ourselves” is emphatic. The plural pronouns make it clear that this was not a subjective vision or dream that Peter experienced by himself. Rather, it was an actual experience that Peter, James, and John all saw and heard.
Peter explicitly denies that they were making up or following cleverly devised tales. In that day, as in every age, there were religious charlatans who made a nice living by claiming to have some new revelation that would help their followers get whatever they wanted. Like the guru in Sedona who recently came into the public eye when three of his followers died in a sweat lodge ceremony, these false teachers invariably charge a substantial fee for their services (2:15). Often they use their followers for sexual gratification (2:14, 18). They lure people by promising them something, such as freedom from their problems (2:19). But their teaching is false and so their promises never truly deliver.
The Greek word translated tales is the word from which we get our word, myths. It was often used in the Greek culture to refer to stories about the Greek gods. These stories were not literally true, but they conveyed a message that contained helpful instruction (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman and Holman Publishers], p. 313). Perhaps they were fables with a moral lesson, but the stories were not true.
Paul used this word negatively to refer to other false teachers. He told Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3-4) to “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.” He warned him (1 Tim. 4:7), “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.” There is nothing wrong with grandma telling her grandkids the story of Little Red Riding Hood, but it’s not true and it has no place in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul also instructed Titus (Titus 1:13-14) to reprove his hearers severely, “so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.” He was referring to unbelieving Jews who added fanciful embellishments to Old Testament stories. And in his final charge to Timothy, where he strongly exhorts him to preach the word, Paul adds (2 Tim. 4:3-4), “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
Each time he contrasts the truth with myths. Myths are made-up stories or fables. The truth refers to revelation from God through His chosen apostles and prophets as recorded in His Word (John 17:17). Such truth supremely focuses on God’s revelation in His Son who said (John 18:37), “for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.” He also said (John 14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The truth about Jesus is made known to us through the witness of the apostles. They were not making up tales. Rather, they report to us what they saw and heard about Jesus.
Peter is referring here to one specific occasion, namely, when he and James and John were with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. We will look more at that in a moment. But for now I want you to see that Peter here exalts Jesus Christ as the glorious, majestic Son of God, equal with the Father. (He will mention the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, in verse 21.)
Majesty can also be translated “splendor,” “greatness,” or “magnificence.” It is used once to refer to the greatness of God (Luke 9:43) and one other time, in the mouth of Demetrius, the Ephesian idol-maker, to refer to their “great goddess Artemis,” who was in danger of being “dethroned from her magnificence” (Acts 19:27). Here (1:16), Peter uses majesty to refer to Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, when (Matt. 17:2), “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” Moses and Elijah appeared there with Him (we don’t know how the three disciples identified them). Peter says (2 Pet. 1:17) that Jesus “received honor and glory from God the Father,” whom Peter also identifies as “the Majestic Glory,” who said (1:17), “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.” Glory refers to the shining brightness of Jesus’ face and clothes. Honor refers to the words of approval that came from heaven (Schreiner, p. 315).
Just prior to the experience on the mount of transfiguration, Jesus had predicted His impending death on the cross. Peter had rebuked Jesus for such a thought, only to have Jesus strongly rebuke Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matt. 16:21-23). Jesus went on to affirm that His disciples, too, would have to deny themselves and take up the cross to follow Him.
So the disciples were undoubtedly confused. If Jesus is the Messiah, then why all this talk about death on the cross? What about His reigning in power and glory on the throne of David? In that context, Jesus said (Matt. 16:28), “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” The account of the transfiguration immediately follows, where the three apostles saw Jesus in the glory that He will have in His future kingdom.
When the Father said of Jesus, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased,” it identified Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. The phrase about Jesus being God’s Son comes from the Messianic Psalm 2. In Psalm 2:6, God says, “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” Peter here refers to the mount of transfiguration as “the holy mountain,” because they met with God there. (We do not know exactly where it was, but it may have been somewhere on Mount Hermon.) In Psalm 2:7, Messiah says, “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’” The psalm goes on to promise to give the Son the nations as His inheritance and that He will break them with a rod of iron (Rev. 19:15).
The part about Jesus being beloved and well-pleasing to the Father comes from another Messianic prophecy, Isaiah 42:1 (note the O.T. reference to the Trinity here), where the Father says, “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.” So in the context, the experience of seeing Jesus transfigured told the confused disciples, “Jesus is the glorious, majestic promised Messiah and King. His impending death on the cross does not negate His future reign in power and glory.”
Jesus is the eternal Son of God who laid aside His glory and took on human flesh through the virgin birth. As such, He is fully God and fully human, apart from sin. He did not and could not surrender any of His divine attributes, or He would have ceased to be God, which is impossible. But, He voluntarily laid aside the use of some of His divine attributes as He took on the form of a servant and became obedient to death on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). As Charles Wesley put it in “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity.”
So on this one occasion, the veil was lifted and the disciples saw the intrinsic glory of Jesus that He shared with the Father before the creation of the world (John 17:5). The apostolic witness reveals this unique, glorious, majestic Son of God to us.
When Peter says (1:16), “we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” a few commentators understand it to be referring to Christ’s first coming, where His power was especially revealed in His miracles and in this revelation on the mount of transfiguration. I used to think that that was the meaning. But the word translated coming (parousia) is always used elsewhere in the New Testament in reference to Christ to refer to His second coming. Since Peter was dealing with false teachers who scoffed at the idea of Christ’s second coming (2 Pet. 3:4), almost all commentators understand “the power and coming” of 1:16 to refer to His second coming.
The meaning of verse 16, then, is that the apostles had not devised the idea of Christ’s second coming as a clever tale. As we’ll see in a moment, their experience on the mount of transfiguration was a prophetic glimpse of what it will be like when Jesus returns in power and glory. Jesus had specifically predicted that He would come again to receive His followers unto Himself in heaven (John 14:1-3). Also, when Jesus ascended into heaven after the resurrection, the angels said to the disciples (Acts 1:11), “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” Since He ascended bodily, He will return bodily. Since He ascended visibly, He will return visibly. Since He ascended suddenly, He will return suddenly.
While Christians differ over many of the details of Christ’s return, all who believe the Bible as the Word of God affirm that He will return bodily in power and glory to judge the wicked and to bring final redemption and eternal glory to His people (Heb. 9:28). All who have tasted of God’s grace in Christ are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13). This is not a minor theme in the New Testament. If anyone denies the second coming of Jesus, he denies the gospel and a major part of biblical revelation. As His redeemed people, we should be living daily in the hope of His coming, longing for the day when He will appear (2 Tim. 4:8).
So the apostles specifically deny making up tales about Jesus Christ, especially with reference to His second coming. The apostolic witness centers exclusively on the person of Jesus Christ as the glorious, majestic Son of God, equal with the Father. The apostles also clearly proclaimed that Jesus Christ will return in power and glory. Finally,
The apostles witnessed Jesus’ glory and majesty from the time of His baptism to His ascension. As the apostle John put it (John 1:14), “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” So the question is, why does Peter here bring up the transfiguration as the prime example of seeing Jesus’ majesty, rather than the resurrection or the ascension?
For one thing, the transfiguration was the only time Peter saw Jesus in His majesty and glory. Stephen looked into heaven and saw the glorified Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). Paul saw the glory of Christ in the blinding flash of light on the Damascus Road, when he heard His voice (Acts 9:3-8). He also had the experience of being caught up into heaven, where he heard things which a man is not permitted to speak (2 Cor. 12:4). John would later see the glory of Christ on the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:12-20). But this was Peter’s only experience of seeing the glory of Christ, and he could never forget it.
But his main reason for referring to the transfiguration here is that it guarantees Christ’s coming again in power and glory, which the false teachers were ridiculing (3:1-4). It was a brief, prophetic display of what it will be like when the kingdom of God comes in power (Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). If the transfiguration was a historical event, so the second coming will be historical. It is not just a “spiritual” coming. While Jesus’ first coming presented Him as the humble, gentle, suffering servant, His second coming will be as the conquering warrior, ruling the nations with a rod of iron, judging all of His enemies (Rev. 19:11-16; Matt. 26:64).
As you consider this amazing revelation of Jesus’ glory on the mount of transfiguration, the question comes to mind, “Why did Jesus only pick Peter, James, and John to witness this event?” If it happened today with a future political leader, his press aides would have staged the event before a full stadium, with the cameras rolling. But Jesus excluded nine of the twelve and then commanded the three who saw it not to say anything about it until after He had risen from the dead (Matt. 17:9).
We can’t know the exact reasons why the Lord limited this revelation to these three, but His choice reveals His abundant grace for sinners. Jesus had just rebuked Peter by calling him Satan! He also knew that Peter would deny Him on the night before His crucifixion. James and John clamored for first place among the twelve. But the Lord picked those three, perhaps to teach us that if we know Him, it is not because of our worthiness, but rather because of His grace.
Also, the other disciples had to rely on the witness of these three. That required humility on their part. They had to set aside the pride that would have caused them to say, “Why do these three get the special revelation? They aren’t any better than we are!” True, they weren’t any better. But God chose to reveal the glory of Christ to them, and the others had to accept their witness. So do we. Have you done that?
Some think that faith means closing your eyes to all evidence and leaping blindly into the dark, hoping that somehow it will turn out well. That is stupidity, not faith. Faith is only as good as its object. To have faith in a broken-looking airplane, where the wings are held on by baling wire and the motor barely runs would be really dumb. You should put your faith only in a plane that shows evidence of being trustworthy.
In our text, we have the testimony of a man who spent more than three years with Jesus Christ. For most of those three years, he saw the humanity of Jesus. He saw Jesus hungry, tired, and finally, rejected and crucified by sinners. But he also saw Jesus feed the 5,000, walk on water, heal the sick, and raise the dead. He saw Jesus in His glory on the mount of transfiguration. He saw Him risen from the dead and he saw Him ascend into heaven, with the angelic promise that He is coming again in power and glory. This apostolic witness to Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith.
The question is, do you accept the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ? Have you bowed before His majesty and trusted Him as your Savior and Lord? If not, why not? There is more than sufficient evidence for your faith.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
If you’re going to base your entire life on something, you want to know that it is solid. If you’re going to stake your eternity on that same thing, you really want to be sure that it is the truth. It would be utterly tragic to spend your life on a path that you thought led to heaven, only to find out too late that you were wrong!
As Christians, we build our lives and stake our eternity on the truth of God’s Word. But, how can we know that it’s true? How can we be sure that it isn’t just a collection of quaint writings from a bunch of Jewish guys who lived thousands of years ago?
And, since even Christians interpret the Bible in so many different ways, how can we know that our interpretation is correct? Even some who claim to be evangelical Christians say that we cannot know the exact meaning of Scripture. They would say that if you claim to know what the Bible says, you are dogmatic and arrogant. To claim that your view is the only right view is divisive. Are they right? Can we know for sure that what the Bible says is true and that we are correct in our understanding of it?
As we’ve seen, Peter knows that he is about to die (1:14). He wants to leave his readers with a solid foundation so that after he is gone, they will not be led astray by false teachers, who are already plaguing the churches. That solid foundation is the revealed Word of God. The central focus of all Scripture is the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1:16-18, Peter boldly states that the apostles were not following cleverly devised tales when they made known the power and coming of the Lord Jesus. Rather, the experience that they had on the mount of transfiguration, when they saw Jesus’ majesty and glory, was a prophetic glimpse of the truth that He is coming again in power and glory to reign. The apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, which we now have in the New Testament, is one leg of the foundation of our faith.
The other leg is (v. 19), “we have the prophetic word made more sure.” I’ll explain this phrase more in a moment, but I think his meaning is that the apostles’ experience on the mount of transfiguration confirmed and clarified the truth of the Old Testament, that the Messiah will come again to judge the world and to reign in glory over His redeemed people. Therefore, Peter tells us to pay attention to that word as a lamp shining in the dark, until Christ returns. Also, we must be careful to interpret God’s Word correctly (v. 20), because it is not the word of man, but rather the inspired Word of God (v. 21). Thus,
Since we have the solid foundation of God’s inspired Word, we must pay careful attention to it and interpret it correctly.
Ironically, these verses challenge us with some difficult interpretive issues, so I will try to explain the text as we work through it, so that we can apply it correctly.
We not only have the apostolic witness to Jesus as they saw Him on the mount of transfiguration (1:16-18), but also (v. 19 in Greek begins with “and”) “we have the prophetic word made more sure.” “We” refers first to the apostles (as in 1:16-18), and by extension to the church. In the context of the Lord’s coming (v. 16), the “prophetic word” refers to the Old Testament prophecies relating to “the day of the Lord,” the day of judgment and salvation (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman], p.319). By extension, it applies to all of the Old Testament, since the Scriptures all tie together. But the idea is that the Old Testament prophecies about the coming day of the Lord are confirmed and clarified by the transfiguration, where the disciples saw a prophetic preview of Jesus in His glory.
But, what does Peter mean when he says “more sure”? Some follow the King James Version, which translates, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy ….” The idea is that the written word is more sure than the disciples’ experience on the mount of transfiguration was.
For example, John MacArthur (The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible Updated edition [Nelson Bibles], p. 1924; also, see, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 Peter & Jude [Moody Publishers], pp. 61-62) argues that the Greek word order favors that translation. He thinks that Peter is saying that Scripture ranks even above his experience of seeing the transfigured Christ. He states (Study Bible, ibid.), “the Word of God is a more reliable verification of the teachings about the person, atonement, and second coming of Christ than even the genuine first hand experiences of the apostles themselves.”
While I greatly respect John MacArthur, I have to agree here with Thomas Schreiner, who argues (p. 320), “this would subvert the argument in vv. 16-18, for Peter then would be suggesting that his appeal to the transfiguration is not quite convincing, so he needed something better, namely, the Old Testament Scriptures. But vv. 16-18 demonstrate that Peter believed that the transfiguration was decisive proof for his view, not questionable in the least.”
So it seems preferable to understand that Peter is saying that the Old Testament prophets gave us a sure word about Christ. They predicted His sufferings and the glory that would follow. But the apostles did not understand how it all fit together until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then Jesus explained how it was necessary for Him “to suffer these things and to enter into His glory” (Luke 24:27; see, also vv. 44-45). The three disciples then recalled their experience on the mount of transfiguration, where seeing Jesus’ glory was a prophetic glimpse of His coming again. So in this sense, the Old Testament prophetic word was made more sure. The transfiguration confirmed and clarified the truth that was there, but which they did not understand until after that experience.
Before we leave this point, consider for a moment just some of the prophetic Scriptures with regard to Jesus Christ. I have heard that there are over 300 prophecies about Christ in the Old Testament, but let’s take just a few: The Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14), of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), of the lineage of David (2 Sam. 7:16), in the city of Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). His ministry would be introduced by a forerunner, who would speak in the spirit and power of Elijah (Mal. 3:1; 4:5; Isa. 40:3-5). This was fulfilled, of course, in John the Baptist. Other prophecies speak of His ministry (Isa. 42:1-4; 61:1-2), His miracles (Isa. 35:5-6), and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9).
Psalm 22, written hundreds of years before crucifixion was known as a means of execution, describes His death on the cross. That psalm also describes the taunts of His accusers (v. 8) and the soldiers casting lots for His garments (v. 18). Isaiah 53 also describes Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins. It mentions specifically (v. 9) that His grave would be assigned with wicked men, yet that He would be with a rich man in His death. As you know, He was crucified between two criminals, but buried in the tomb of a rich man. All of these, plus many more prophecies, were specifically fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.
Years ago, a math professor named Peter Stoner wrote a little book, Science Speaks [Moody Press, 1963]. In it, he assigns probabilities to a number of biblical prophecies and then calculates the odds that these things could have happened by sheer chance. In one chapter, he takes just eight prophecies concerning Jesus Christ and uses very conservative estimates to determine how probable it is that anyone who might have lived from the time of those prophecies down to the present could have fulfilled them all. His answer is, 1 in 1017.
How big is that number? To illustrate, Professor Stoner says (pp. 106-107), take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover the entire state two feet deep. Now mark one of those silver dollars, stir it into the whole mix, blindfold a man and tell him he can go as far as he wants, but he has to pick just one. His chances of picking the marked silver dollar are the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing just these eight prophecies (apart from divine inspiration) and having them all come true in one man. He goes on to show that if you take 16 prophecies, the odds increase to 1 in 1045, an unimaginably huge number. It would involve a ball of silver dollars extending 30 times as far as from the earth to the sun! And that’s just 16 prophecies, not the 300 which Jesus fulfilled!
So Peter’s first point is, we have the solid foundation of the prophetic word, which was further confirmed by the apostles’ experience of seeing Jesus’ glory on the mount of transfiguration.
Peter continues (1:19b), “to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” The flow of thought from the context is, “Since the Old Testament prophets predict the power and glory of Christ in His coming and since our experience on the mount of transfiguration confirmed those prophecies, pay close attention to the Scriptures.”
Peter compares the Bible to a lamp shining in the darkness, much as Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” This is the only New Testament use of this Greek word for “dark.” It has the connotation of being not only dark, but also dirty or squalid. To navigate this dark, dirty world safely, you need the lamp of God’s Word.
Last fall, my son-in-law, his two boys, and I hiked to the end of the Lava Cave north of town. When you get beyond the entrance, it’s pitch black in there and there are a lot of places where the footing is uneven and there are low overhead rocks. Even with my headlamp, I hit my head hard on one of the rocks.
The Bible says that the world is like that. It is a morally dark place. There are many hazards where you can conk your head or fall into a pit. When we come to know Christ, the Bible becomes our light to show us how to live to please Him in view of His coming, so that we can avoid temptation and sin.
The day dawning (v. 19) refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ. That end time is called “the day of the Lord.” It will be a day of gladness and hope for believers, because our redemption draws near (Luke 21:28). But it will be a time of terror and awful regret for those who have rejected Christ.
But, what does Peter mean when he says, “the morning star arises in your hearts”? This also refers to the coming of Christ, who calls Himself “the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16; see, also Rev. 2:28; Num. 24:17). But, what does Peter mean when he says that the morning star “arises in your hearts”? This almost sounds as if the second coming is not an objective, outwardly visible event, but rather an inward, subjective experience in believers’ hearts.
But Peter clearly believed in the objective, bodily, personal return of Christ. So he probably means that now, in the darkness, the prophetic word shines to illumine our path. But when Jesus, the morning star, returns, we will have the light of His presence so that we will no longer need the prophetic word. The One of whom the prophecies spoke will be with us personally, shining fully into our hearts. As Peter Davids writes (The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude [Eerdmans], p. 210), “One treasures a love letter while the beloved is absent, but once he or she is present, the letter is laid aside and exchanged for the personal contact.”
Before we leave verse 19, let’s apply it by asking, “Are you paying attention to the lamp that is shining in the darkness?” Do you read the Word regularly to gain the light that you need to live in a manner pleasing to the Lord? Are you living in light of His coming, when we all will stand before Him to give an account of how we have lived (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10-12)? We have the solid foundation of God’s Word, but we must pay attention to it in view of the coming day that surely will dawn.
The NASB usually gives an almost literal rendering of the Greek text, but in verse 20 it errs. It adds the word “but” (which is not in the Greek at all) and begins a new sentence. The ESV gets it right by continuing the sentence from verse 19, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” Peter is explaining that we should pay close attention to Scripture by interpreting it correctly, because we are dealing with the inspired word of God to us through these human authors.
But, again we must deal with some interpretive problems in order to understand verse 20. It has been interpreted in three main ways. First, the Roman Catholic Church uses verse 20 to teach that individuals are not permitted to interpret the Bible for themselves. Rather, they must depend on the official teaching of the church. The practical result of this has been that many Roman Catholics have never read or studied the Bible on their own. For many years, the Church opposed translating the Bible into the common languages of the people for fear that they would misinterpret it. So Catholics had to depend on the priests as the correct interpreters of Scripture. But this view reads into the text all sorts of things that are not there. The question is, is the church over the Word or is the Word over the church?
Second, some understand the verse to be referring not to the interpretation of Scripture, but rather to its origin. The NIV gives an interpretive translation, “no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.” In favor of this view is that the word “is” (NASB) means, “comes” or “came about.” Also, verse 21 seems to support this view by further explaining how the prophets got their message. But, against this view is the meaning of the word “interpretation,” which only occurs here in the New Testament. It means to untie a knot or solve a puzzle. So it more likely refers to the proper interpretation of prophecy after it was given, not to originating the prophecy (Schreiner, p. 323).
The third view is that Peter is saying that we aren’t free to interpret Scripture according to our own personal whims. Scripture is not to be interpreted subjectively, according to my feelings or preferences, but rather, objectively, according to the meaning of the text. To interpret it according to your subjective feelings would be to twist the Scriptures, something that the false teachers were doing (2 Pet. 3:16; see also, 2 Tim. 4:3-4). So while Peter could be referring to the origination of Scripture (the second view), because of his concern about the false teachers (2:1; 3:16), I favor this view.
Peter puts this as a priority (“first of all”) because if Christ is coming again in judgment and His Word is the standard for judgment, then we’d better understand it correctly! You can’t stand before the judge after you’ve been driving 100 and say, “I didn’t understand that sign with the 25 on it!” Nor would it do to ask the judge, “What does 25 miles per hour mean to you? For me, 100 feels more like 25.” Sorry, but 25 mph is not a subjective feeling; it is an objective standard by which anyone may be judged.
I don’t have time to go in depth into the proper principles for interpreting the Bible, but I’ll quickly mention a few key things. First, we must always interpret a text in light of its context. Second, the Bible interprets itself, especially, individual authors interpret themselves. If you let Paul in context interpret Paul on justification by faith and James in context interpret James on justification by works, they do not contradict each other. Third, interpret the Bible based on grammatical, linguistic, and historical considerations. Words mean something and languages put words together in structured ways. We must seek to determine what the text meant to the original author and readers in their historical setting before we ask how it applies to us in our culture. So, Peter’s point is, we are not free to interpret the Word in any way that we please. Why not?
Peter continues, “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The idea is, you are not free to interpret the Bible according to your feelings or to take or leave parts of it as you like, because (“for”) the Bible is the very word from God to us through these inspired men. It carries God’s authority and wisdom for how we should live. It is the word of the Sovereign of the universe, to whom we will give account. So we had better take care to understand it correctly and obey it completely!
Verse 21 is one of the key verses explaining the inspiration of Scripture. It shows that Scripture comes to us through human authors, but that they didn’t make it up themselves. Rather, they were moved or carried along by the Holy Spirit. The verb is used of the wind carrying along Paul’s ship in the storm at sea (Acts 27:15, 17). Charles Hodge gives one of the best explanations (Systematic Theology [Eerdmans], 1:154). He wrote, “inspiration was an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men, which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will. They were in such a sense the organs of God, that what they said God said.”
While certain portions of Scripture were dictated directly by God, in most places He used the personalities and experiences of the authors to shape their language and message, but the final product is, as Hodge puts it, “what they said God said.” (See 2 Sam. 23:2; Jer. 23:16-22; Ezek. 13:2-3; Acts 28:25; Heb. 3:7; 10:15.) In the Old Testament alone, the writers refer to their writings as the words of God over 3,800 times (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1924).
Have you ever watched footage of when they want to take down an old skyscraper? Engineers put dynamite at strategic places in the foundation. When they set it off, the building implodes.
It’s not surprising that Satan relentlessly tries to blow up the foundation of our faith, which is the Word of God. His very first temptation challenged Eve (Gen. 3:1), “Indeed, has God said …?” He has attempted to bring down our faith through liberal theologians, who undermine its veracity. Our higher educational system (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded to train men in the Word) is now dominated by skeptics who sneer at God’s Word. Evolution, which (against all reason) is accepted as fact in our public educational system, does away with the need to submit to the Almighty Creator.
Yet, in spite of the attacks, the Word of God endures forever (1 Pet. 1:25). It gives us a solid foundation on which to build our lives and to stake our eternity. Make sure you pay attention to it by spending consistent time reading and studying it. Be careful to interpret it correctly. Walk by the light that it gives you to avoid the pitfalls in this dark world. Then you will rejoice when the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
When you think of cruelty, you probably think of terrorists blowing up innocent people or of evil parents abusing a little child. But you probably wouldn’t think of heresy. Some years ago I read a book with the intriguing title, The Cruelty of Heresy [Morehouse Publishing, 1994], by FitzSimons Allison. While in my estimation, he focuses too much on the temporal rather than the eternal consequences of heresy, his title is still provocative: heresy is cruel. It destroys lives for time and eternity.
In the same vein, John MacArthur (The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Updated Edition [Nelson Bibles], pp. 1924, 1925) writes, “Nothing is more wicked than for someone to claim to speak for God to the salvation of souls when in reality he speaks for Satan to the damnation of souls.” Those who promote heresy are the ultimate terrorists in that they deceive people to follow a path that leads to the eternal terrors of hell.
At the end of chapter 1, Peter lays out the foundation for our faith, which is the inspired Word of God. He knows that he is about to pass off the scene and he wants his readers to stand firmly on the truth of God’s Word. But he also knows that false prophets are a perpetual threat to God’s people. So in contrast to the godly prophets who spoke for God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, he begins chapter 2 by contrasting them with the false prophets who have plagued God’s people down through the ages.
Some understand Peter’s use of the future tense in our text to mean that the false teachers were not yet present in the churches. But later (2:13, 15, 17; 3:5) Peter indicates that they are already there. So by using the future tense Peter probably is alluding to prophecies by Jesus that pointed to the coming of these false teachers (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2, Peter, Jude [Broadman Publishers], p. 327; Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 93). The Lord knew that they would come. Their presence does not negate His sovereign control over His church.
It’s interesting that in 2 Peter 2 there are no direct exhortations or commands. Rather, Peter just describes the false teachers and their evil ways at length. It’s as if he is holding up a Most Wanted Poster with some hideous, evil-looking characters, saying, “This is what these guys look like, so watch out for them!” So chapter 2 serves as a warning. In our text, Peter is saying,
Beware of false teachers because they leave a trail of spiritual devastation in their wake!
Peter gives us seven reasons to beware of false teachers:
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you ….” The first phrase refers back to the history of God’s people in the Old Testament. Satan is a liar and the father of lies. He deceived Eve in the garden and he has used false teachers to deceive the unsuspecting ever since.
In Deuteronomy 13, Moses warned Israel about false prophets who would deceive by performing signs and wonders to get people to go after false gods. He sees this as so severe a threat that he says that even if it is your brother, your child, or even the wife you cherish, you must not follow him or her after these false gods. Rather, you must not have pity on him, but must expose him so that he can be put to death (Deut. 13:6-10). That seems extreme to us, because our age is so tolerant of false doctrine. We shrug it off as not being a big deal. But Moses knew that false teachers would infect many, causing irreparable damage to God’s people.
It’s significant that Peter says that these false teachers will be “among you.” Paul warned the Ephesian elders of the same thing (Acts 20:29-30), “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” He goes on to warn them to be on the alert. False teachers arise from within the church and often do a lot of damage before they are confronted. If they leave, they invariably take a lot of people with them who are angry at the church for being so unloving and judgmental.
It is true that Christians have wrongly divided over minor doctrinal disputes, personality conflicts, and other petty issues. Such divisions are sin. But it is also a sin to minimize doctrine to the point where in the name of love and unity, we tolerate false teachers who deny the fundamental doctrines of the faith. These foundational truths include the triune nature of God; the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ; His virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary atonement on the cross, bodily resurrection, ascension, and personal return. Also, we cannot waver on the essentials of the gospel: that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Underlying all of these truths is the divine inspiration, authority and complete infallibility of the Bible.
J. C. Ryle, the godly 19th century Anglican bishop, wrote (Warnings to the Churches [Banner of Truth], pp. 110-111),
Controversy in religion is a hateful thing. It is hard enough to fight the devil, the world and the flesh, without private differences in our own camp. But there is one thing which is worse than controversy—and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest …. Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with—a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin.
So just because someone claims to be an evangelical pastor or evangelist does not mean that he is sound in the faith. False teachers have always arisen from within the church. Beware!
Peter says (v. 1) that these false teachers “will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” They will use (v. 3) “false words.” We get our word “plastic” from the Greek word for “false.” It meant, “made up,” or “fabricated.” The false teachers were accusing Peter and the apostles of following “cleverly devised tales” (1:16), but Peter counters by saying that they are making up their own stories and doctrines. In contrast to the inspired prophets and apostles, who wrote down God’s revealed truth in His Word, these false teachers were tools of Satan to promote deception.
The Greek word translated “secretly introduce” means to bring in from outside. They add worldly concepts to the Bible and give them the same authority as Scripture. One example of this from recent years is the concept of “self-esteem,” or “loving yourself.” That idea did not come into the church from the Bible. You will search in vain for any verse that encourages you to build your self-esteem or to love yourself more than you do. Sometimes advocates of this teaching will use as a proof text, “love your neighbor as yourself.” They argue that you must love yourself before you can properly love your neighbor and even before you can love God. But a glance at the context (Matt. 22:37-40) will show that there are two great commandments, not three, namely, to love God and to love our neighbor. Love for self is assumed as the minimal standard. If we would just love our neighbor as much as we do in fact love ourselves, we would fulfill the command.
False teachers often use Scripture, but they twist it by bringing in teaching from outside to pervert the true meaning of Scripture. Often, they are not up-front about their agenda. They cleverly work in a little error here and another error there, until they have taken people into a complete denial of the gospel. Paul warned that just as Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, even so his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15). But they use subtlety and deception to gain followers.
Peter calls their teaching, “destructive heresies.” The word heresy originally was a neutral term that referred to a school of thought or a teaching. It can also refer to factions or divisions within the church (Gal. 5:20; 1 Cor. 11:18; Titus 3:10). But by adding the word “destructive,” Peter shows that he is talking about seriously wrong doctrine that destroys lives and churches and, if unchecked, leads to eternal judgment.
Peter takes us to the root of their destructive heresy when he adds (2:1), “even denying the Master who bought them.” Master is a strong word for Sovereign or Owner. We get our word “despot” from it, but in New Testament times it did not have the negative connotation that “despot” has in our language. It was used for the earthly master of slaves or to emphasize God’s absolute lordship.
Here (and in Jude 4) it refers to Jesus Christ. These false teachers were denying, both by their teaching and lifestyle, the lordship of Jesus Christ as the rightful owner of His people. If someone claims that you can believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and yet not submit to Him as Lord, it is destructive doctrine. It deceives people into thinking that they are saved because they “accepted Christ.” But Jesus said that He will say to such people, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). They will be damned because their lives denied “the Master who bought them.”
But that phrase plunges us into a world of theological controversy! Some would argue that it supports the view that those who are saved can lose their salvation. But there are many Scriptures that affirm that God keeps all whom He saves (John 6:39; 10:27-29; Rom. 8:1, 29-39). Peter himself had denied the Master who bought him, yet the Lord did not cast him off.
Others use this phrase as proof that Christ died for all people, even for those who ultimately reject Him. The Master bought these heretics who end up in eternal condemnation. In other words, the verse seems to teach what is called “unlimited atonement.”
I thought about taking an entire message to deal with the extent of the atonement (many books have been written on this subject!), but instead I’m going to try to clarify things in a few paragraphs here. I used to think that Christ died to pay the penalty for all people, but that the benefits of His death only apply to those who trust in Him as Savior and Lord. In other words, Christ’s death made salvation possible for everyone, but actual only for those who believe. It’s like a gift that has been paid for and is being offered. But to be effective, the person must receive the gift. This is the most common view among evangelicals today.
But by reading the Puritan John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ [Banner of Truth], I came to see that that is an inadequate view of the atonement. Owen points out (p. 61) that either Christ endured the wrath of God for “all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men.” If He died for all the sins of all men, then all men will be saved, which is clearly against the teaching of the Bible. Some counter, “But Christ died for all sins except for unbelief. Men are lost because they do not believe in Christ.” But, Owen counters (p. 62), is unbelief a sin or not? If not, why should sinners be punished for it? If it is somehow not atoned for by the blood of Christ, where does Scripture teach this? And, there are many Scriptures that say that people will be judged for many other sins (e.g., Rev. 20:12, 13; 21:8). Why would God judge them for these sins if they were all (except unbelief) atoned for?
If Christ died for some sins of all men (the sin of unbelief in Christ being excepted), then all men have some sin to atone for, and thus no one can be saved. This leaves as the only possible option that Christ died for all the sins of some men, namely, the elect. Christ came to save His people (the elect) from their sins (Matt. 1:21). He came to secure the eternal redemption of all that the Father had given to Him (John 6:39-40). His death actually paid their penalty. At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit quickens the elect sinner from spiritual death to spiritual life. He believes in Christ and Christ’s saving work is applied to his soul.
I do not have time to deal with the verses that seem to indicate that Christ died even for those who are eventually lost. (James Boice and Philip Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace [Crossway Books], pp. 126-134, give a brief treatment of this.) But let me try to explain why Peter says that these unbelieving heretics deny “the Master who bought them.”
Peter is making a comparison between the situation in Israel (v. 1, “false prophets arose among the people”) and that in the early church (“just as there will be false teachers among you”). In the context of warning Israel about false teachers, Moses describes God as (Deut. 13:5), “the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery….” Later, Moses rebuked the people, whom he calls (Deut. 32:5) “a perverse and crooked generation,” by asking rhetorically (Deut. 32:6), “Is not He your Father who has bought you?” In other words, the Old Testament refers to the exodus as God’s redeeming or buying His people (see also, 2 Sam. 7:23), even though only a remnant among them were truly saved. The redemption language was applied to the entire nation, even though not all were what we would call “born again.”
Peter applies this analogy to the church. Just as Israel as a nation were the redeemed people of God, although not all were saved, so the church is now God’s redeemed nation (1 Pet. 2:9-10), and yet there are some among them who are not truly saved. They professed to be redeemed, but by their deeds they denied Him (Titus 1:16). So Peter here is not giving a theological treatment on the extent of the atonement. Rather, he uses the analogy of God’s people being bought by the Master to show the heinous nature of the false teachers’ sin. They associated with the chosen nation (the church). The Master bought the church, just as God bought or redeemed Israel through the Exodus. Yet these heretics did not obey Him. They denied the Master who bought them and the result for them and all that follow them will be swift destruction.
So, beware of false teachers because they are a perpetual threat to God’s people; their methods are subtle and deceptive; and, their doctrine is destructive.
“Many will follow their sensuality…” (2:2). They had a large following. They were “successful!” It’s amazing how the Christian world thinks that if a man has a huge following, he must be sound in the faith. If he builds a megachurch, the Christian world looks to him as a leader, without questioning what he teaches.
These false teachers invariably cater to the flesh. They do not preach against sin. They do not mention divine judgment or hell. They avoid truths like denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Christ no matter what the cost. Rather, they soothe people with uplifting thoughts about how much God loves you and wants you to have your best life now. If they ever mention the death of Christ, they say that He did it because He believed in your great worth. Now you need to believe in yourself and ask God to help you fulfill your dreams. People follow that kind of false teaching by the droves, because it feeds their pride.
Peter shows that these men are driven by two related evil motives: sensuality and greed. At the root of both of these is their own self-centeredness and pride. They want to exploit their followers to gratify themselves.
There is always a connection between false doctrine and impure living. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out which came first, but invariably, they are intertwined. False doctrine leads to ungodly living, but the reverse is also true. If a man gets involved in sexual sin, the Bible convicts him. So he has to change the teaching somehow to dodge his guilty conscience.
Years ago, I had a roommate who came to Christ through the man who eventually founded the Children of God cult. They flourished during the hippie “free love” days. This man, who started out orthodox in the faith, fell into sexual sin. He encouraged all sorts of sexual sin among his followers. But, of course, he had to veer greatly from Scripture to do that. He got involved in demonism and all sorts of false teaching. Wrong behavior leads to wrong doctrine and wrong doctrine leads to wrong behavior.
Peter says (2:2), “because of them the way of the truth will be maligned.” The Christian faith is the way of the truth because Jesus Himself is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). But when professing Christians, and especially professing Christian leaders, do not live according to the truth of God’s Word, unbelievers mock and disregard the truth. The TV preachers who live lavishly while milking their audiences for more money and the well-known pastors who get exposed in sex scandals cause the world to scoff at the faith. Steer clear of them all!
Peter uses the word “destruction” 5 of the 18 times that it appears in the New Testament. He speaks of (v. 1) “destructive heresies” and the “swift destruction,” which the false teachers will bring on themselves. He adds (v. 3), “their judgment from long ago is not idle and their destruction is not asleep.” He also uses the word in 3:7 in reference to “the day of judgment and the destruction of ungodly men” and again in 3:17, where he says that the false teachers twist the Scriptures “to their own destruction.” And, he uses the verb in 3:6 to describe how God destroyed the world through the flood.
Contrary to what some teach, the destruction of the wicked does not refer to their annihilation. Rather, it refers to their eternal punishment in the lake of fire (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 17:8, 11; 20:14, 15; 21:8). The fact that these wicked men’s judgment is from long ago means that God declared judgment on false teachers in the Old Testament, centuries before. The phrase, “their destruction is not asleep” personifies destruction as an executioner, always ready to administer God’s sentence on those who teach and follow false doctrine. Again, Peter is not talking about minor doctrinal differences, but rather about false teachings that lead people to damnation. He does not seem to hold out any hope that these false teachers could be reclaimed for the truth. But he wrote to warn us, so that we would not be taken in by their destructive doctrines.
False teachers abound today. Years ago, I received an advertisement in the mail trying to entice me to buy a book, The Good Lord, in which the author, who went by the name of Paul Moses, claimed to have discovered the greatest thing since the church began. It was purportedly based solidly on the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The author claimed to have discovered that God is always good and thus he would never threaten anyone with everlasting torment in hell. He would never send plagues or catastrophes to wipe out thousands of people. He wants everyone to be rich and no one to be sick or hungry. He has a bright future for everyone in the world. All you had to do was buy his book to find out how you can change your view of God and get all the blessings!
I’ve never heard of that man since, but there are plenty just like him, promoting similar damnable errors, not just in the U.S. but also all around the globe. But their teachings are cruel because they lead people who follow them to eternal destruction. False teaching is not neutral. It is not just a minor deviation. It is evil to the core. Beware of false teachers!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
I heard of a pastor who was talking with a colleague about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The colleague said, “Well, if that’s the way God really is, then I’m not going to believe in Him!” That is strange logic! Not believing in God doesn’t make Him go away. Yet I’ve often heard people dismiss God’s judgment by saying, “I believe in a God of love. He would never judge anyone, except maybe the worst of the worst of sinners.”
Or, some will say, “I don’t believe in the Old Testament God of judgment. I believe in Jesus, who never condemned anyone.” Really? Jesus spoke more often and more graphically about hell than anyone else in the Bible. He used the story of Sodom’s destruction to warn about the final judgment when He returns (Luke 17:29-32). The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, reveals a God who will bring judgment on sinners, but who shows mercy to those who repent of their sins and trust in Him.
The apostle Peter wrote his second letter to help churches stand against some false teachers who were infiltrating their ranks. These teachers not only promoted false doctrine, but also ungodly living. He alludes to them (2:10) when he says that they indulged the flesh in its corrupt desires and despised authority, including the authority of the Master who bought them (2:1). They exploited people in the church with sensuality and greed (2:2-3). At the root of their false teaching was a denial of the second coming of Jesus Christ in power and glory to judge the world (3:3-13). They even encouraged people toward sexual “freedom” (2:19), assuring them that a loving God would never judge anyone.
In our text, Peter wants his readers to know that although God’s judgment may be delayed, it is absolutely certain. He uses three historical examples of judgment and two examples of God’s rescuing the righteous from judgment both to warn and to encourage. The warning is, God will righteously judge all the ungodly. None will escape. The encouragement is, God will rescue the godly from judgment. Therefore, we should have the courage to stand firm in following God in an ungodly world.
Since God judges all the ungodly and mercifully saves the godly, we should stand firm in following Him and resist all false teaching.
Our text is one long “if-then” sentence. The “if” part could be rendered “since,” because there is no doubt in view. Peter builds this part of the sentence toward the final conclusion in verse 9. The skeleton idea is, “Since God did not spare the angels when they sinned; and since He did not spare the ancient world in the flood, but preserved Noah; and since He did not spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but rescued Lot; then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly and to keep the ungodly under punishment for the day of judgment.” The examples of judgment are Peter’s warning not to follow the false teachers. The examples of rescue are his encouragement to follow the Lord, even when many around us live as if there will be no judgment.
Peter is arguing that history gives us vivid examples to warn us that God will judge the wicked. We should think about these examples and apply them to our lives.
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…” (2:4). God created the angels as righteous spirit beings, but Satan, a leader among them, rebelled and many others (now called “demons”) joined his rebellion. The Bible is sketchy about when and how this happened, although it had to happen before Satan tempted Eve. Many understand Isaiah 14:12-14 to refer to the fall of Satan, who desired to make himself like God. Also, many interpret Ezekiel 28:11-19 to describe Satan’s original perfection and subsequent fall due to pride.
Many reputable scholars understand our text to refer to a cryptic incident in Genesis 6:1-4, when the “sons of God” (interpreted as demons) took wives among “the daughters of men,” resulting in a dominant race called the “Nephilim.” This interpretation of Genesis 6 was prevalent among the first century Jews, and is explained in more detail in the 1st century B.C. Book of Enoch. In favor of this interpretation here (and in Jude 7) are that the story was common in Jewish literature; the three examples (angels, flood, and the destruction of Sodom) all come out of Genesis; and the incident in Genesis 6, which led up to the flood, would explain why some demons are now confined to “pits of darkness” (Edwin Blum, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], 12:278).
A variation of that interpretation is that the demons themselves did not actually cohabit with women, but rather they possessed powerful men who cohabited with these women (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 Peter & Jude [Moody Publishers], pp. 86, 164-165; he is somewhat ambiguous as to which of these two views he believes).
While I could accept the second view, the first view to me is incredulous and supported only by unbiblical Jewish myths. How (physiologically) could demons, who are non-human spirit-beings, procreate children? While demons (and angels) sometimes take on male human bodies, there is no biblical evidence that they can produce offspring (Matt. 22:30). What kind of genetic makeup would those children have? Would they have human souls? What about their children? It seems to me that the demons mating with humans view creates far more problems than it solves.
Thus I prefer a third view that the “sons of God” refers to the line of Seth (Gen. 5) that intermarried with godless women, leading to the degrading sinfulness of the human race that led to the flood. (See my sermon, “Sin’s Full Course,” on Gen. 6:1-8, [3/3/96] on the church web site for a more thorough treatment of this issue.)
This means that 2 Peter 2:4 refers to the general fall of the angels and that God relegated some of the fallen angels to confinement in pits of darkness, being held for their final judgment when they will be cast into the lake of fire. The Greek word here translated “hell” is a verb that means, “cast into Tartarus.” It’s the only time it occurs in the Bible. It was a word from Greek mythology with which Peter’s readers would have been familiar. It referred to a place lower than Hades, where the especially wicked were consigned. Peter is not approving of Greek mythology, but rather is saying, “God judged these fallen angels by confining them in a really awful place until the final day of judgment.”
In this discussion, we shouldn’t lose sight of Peter’s point, that God is powerful enough to judge the angels that sinned. The Bible shows that these spirit-beings are powerful creatures that once dwelled in the very presence of God. Yet they sinned and God judged them. So we should be on guard against sinning, because God will judge all who sin against Him and do not repent.
Verse 5: “…and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; …” We’ll look at the preservation of Noah and his family in a moment. But for now, Peter’s point is that God brought the flood on the world of the ungodly. The flood destroyed all people and every living creature, except for those on the ark. That story is in the Bible to warn us that a day of judgment on the whole world is coming, when none of the ungodly will escape. Peter refers to the flood again (3:6, 10), where he makes the comparison that just as the ancient world was destroyed by water, even so the present world will be destroyed by fire.
I think that with the flood we often get so hung up on the geologic issues or questions of how Noah could get all those animals on the ark that we miss the main point, namely, that the flood was a horrific judgment on the entire earth. Everyone and everything that were not on the ark perished! The Bible uses the flood story as a warning to everyone since that time that a far worse future judgment is coming, when all the ungodly who are not “on board” Jesus Christ will perish eternally.
Verse 6: “…and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; …” This refers to the story in Genesis 19, when God rained fire and brimstone on the cities that were located near the southern end of the Dead Sea. Prior to God’s judgment, the area was a fertile plain (Gen. 13:10), but afterward it was an uninhabitable wasteland.
Genesis 19 shows how corrupt Sodom was. The men wanted to homosexually rape the two angels that came to Sodom to rescue Lot and his family. Even when the angels struck them blind, they didn’t repent. Lot’s future sons-in-law thought that he was joking when he warned them to flee the impending judgment. Ezekiel (16:49) also informs us that the people of Sodom were arrogant and had abundant food and ease, but they did not help the poor. Peter states that God made the people of Sodom “an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter.” In other words, the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah was not a one-time oddity. It is in Scripture as a warning of the judgment to come.
Peter adds something that the parallel in Jude (5-7) omits, namely, God’s preservation of Noah and Lot. Peter includes these stories to show that God not only will judge the wicked. Also,
The godly do not earn salvation by their godliness. Salvation is always by grace through faith apart from any good works. But those who are truly saved live in obedience to God. Their godliness results from their salvation and culminates in their eternal deliverance from God’s judgment. These stories of temporal judgment and rescue picture final, eternal judgment and deliverance. They show that God will punish the wicked, but spare the righteous.
Before we look at them, I need to clarify something that many misunderstand: When God sends temporal judgments, many godly people suffer along with the wicked. I once heard a prominent Christian leader say that the AIDS epidemic could not be God’s judgment against those who are sexually immoral. His reason was that some Christians had contracted the disease through tainted blood transfusions and that babies also get it in the womb.
But that is a misunderstanding of the nature of God’s temporal judgments. When the recent earthquake destroyed Haiti, God’s people in Haiti suffered along with the ungodly. Little children suffered along with hardened sinners. The same can be said of tsunamis, hurricanes, wars, and famines. God uses these temporal judgments to warn those who still live that eternal judgment is ahead (Luke 13:1-5). God’s rescue of Noah and Lot from those temporal judgments is to give hope that if you will repent, He will rescue you from eternal judgment. But not all of the godly are exempt from temporal judgments (Luke 21:16-19).
There are three examples of judgment, but only two examples of deliverance from judgment. But we can learn from the omission:
God provided deliverance for Noah and his family and for Lot and his two daughters, but there was no deliverance for the angels that sinned. They perished with no possibility of salvation.
There are some that rail against the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign election by saying that if He is able to save everyone but chooses only to save some, then He is immoral or unloving! That is not only blasphemous; also, it completely misunderstands the enormity of human sin and guilt. God does not owe salvation to any creature that has sinned against Him, including the fallen angels. In many ways, angels are more glorious and powerful beings than man is. But they sinned and God was perfectly just to judge them without providing any means of salvation. And, He is not unjust if He chooses some people for eternal life and passes over others, leaving them under judgment for their many sins to display His wrath and justice (Rom. 9:11-23).
But the good news for sinful people is that the stories of Noah and Lot show us that God has provided salvation for sinners. Unlike the fallen angels, there is hope for all who will trust in Jesus Christ, turn from their sins, and obey Him.
God “preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2:5). This is the only place where we are told that Noah was a preacher of righteousness, but it is not surprising. He spent at least 100 years building an ark on dry land, while everyone around him must have thought that he was crazy. Tour guides probably organized trips to see this lunatic building this gigantic boat, miles from any body of water. The people at that time were notoriously corrupt and violent (Gen. 6:11-12). Noah’s actions in building the ark and probably his words warned them to repent of their sins before it was too late.
The Genesis account tells us (6:9) that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” But he did not merit God’s salvation by his righteousness. The verse just prior tells us (Gen. 6:8), “Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the Lord.” Noah was a sinner, as we learn in the aftermath of the flood, when he got drunk and lay exposed in his tent (Gen. 9:21). But the overall pattern of his life was that he obeyed God, even when it was very hard to do. His story teaches us that if we will trust the salvation that God has provided in Jesus Christ and turn from our sin, we will be spared from the judgment to come.
Verses 7-8: “…and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), …” We can’t miss Peter’s point, in that he repeats three times that Lot was righteous, contrasting him with the sensual conduct and lawless deeds of the unprincipled men of Sodom. Their wickedness paralleled the conduct of the sensual, lawless false teachers.
But how can Peter call Lot “righteous”? The story in Genesis seems to picture him as anything but righteous. When the Sodomites want to rape his two angelic guests, Lot instead offers them his two virgin daughters to rape! He only reluctantly leaves Sodom when the angels grab his hand and lead him away. He later allows his two daughters to get him drunk so that they can commit incest in order to get pregnant by him. This doesn’t fit the biblical picture of a righteous man!
I cannot resolve this in a totally satisfactory manner, but several considerations may help. We must assume that like Abraham, who believed God and “He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6), Lot also had been declared righteous before God by faith. But in the context of 2 Peter, he is not referring to imputed righteousness, but to righteous behavior. There is a hint of an answer in Genesis 18, when Abraham gets God to agree that if there are ten righteous people found in Sodom, He will not destroy it. Abraham must have known that Lot was righteous enough not to have joined the Sodomites in their godless, sensual behavior.
Also, although we can’t understand Lot’s offering his daughters to be raped, he did so in an attempt to protect his houseguests. Hospitality to strangers was an important virtue in that culture. Lot risked his own safety to protect his guests, although in a reprehensible way. And, (I assume that Peter received it by divine inspiration, because you cannot deduce it from the Genesis account), Lot was oppressed and tormented by the ungodly conduct that he saw and heard around him in Sodom. This point should convict us: To what extent are we tormented by the wickedness of our culture (see Ezek. 9:4)? Do we enjoy watching movies that flaunt immorality, profanity, and violence? Do we laugh at the filthy jokes of godless TV sitcoms? If so, we are not as righteous as Lot was! Also, Lot obeyed God by not looking back toward Sodom, in contrast to his wife who was turned into a pillar of salt. This leads to the inferred conclusion: Since God will judge the wicked and save the godly…
In Ezekiel 14:14, God extols the righteousness of three men: Noah, Daniel, and Job. If Noah is one of the most righteous men in the Bible, Lot must barely be in the camp by the skin of his teeth. Perhaps these two are put together in 2 Peter to show us how we should stand firm against the godless culture around us. Noah did a commendable job; Lot is an example of the weakest of the saints. But God was gracious to both men and their families.
Verses 9-10a are the conclusion to verses 4-8: “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation [or, trials], and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.” The godly are not immune to temptations or to the test of living in an ungodly culture. They need God to rescue them from it. And He knows how to do it! If He has saved you from sin by His grace, He will preserve you unto heaven by His grace. So Peter wants to encourage us to have the courage, like Noah (who did it well) and Lot (who barely passed the course), to stand firm against the tide of godlessness around us. He wants us to resist all teaching that downplays holy living. As we do, even if we suffer for it, we can have the joy of looking forward to the coming of Jesus Christ and our eternal reward with Him.
Many years ago, I conducted a funeral for a man from my church. On the little brochure that the funeral home prints up for such occasions was John 3:16, printed as follows: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.” But they left out some crucial words: “shall not perish but have eternal life”!
I don’t know whether the family or the funeral home was responsible for the omission, but I didn’t let it go. I pointed out during the service that while God has provided forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who will believe in Jesus, the verse also warns that all who do not believe in Jesus will perish.
Jesus didn’t come and die on the cross just to give us warm, fuzzy feelings about God’s love. He offered Himself to pay the penalty for sin that we deserved to rescue us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). The angels who sinned, the world under the flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are there to warn us that God will surely judge all that have sinned against Him. The preservation of Noah and the rescue of Lot give us the hope that if we trust in Christ and turn from our sins, God will mercifully spare us from the judgment to come. Believe in Jesus Christ and you will not perish, but have eternal life!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
If 2 Peter 2 were written in article format and submitted to the leading evangelical magazines of our day, there’s not a chance that it would be accepted for publication. The rejection notices would say, “Too harsh and judgmental!” “Too negative!” “Too critical of others’ ministries!” “Where is the grace?” “Rewrite in a kinder, gentler tone!”
Because tolerance has become the chief virtue of our culture and because the culture always creeps into the church, the church today is decidedly against anything that smacks of judgment or criticism of those who claim to be evangelicals. I often hear the mantra, “They will know that we are Christians by our love, not by our doctrinal correctness.” The implication is that love and correct doctrine are somehow opposed to one another. If we have to take our pick, we’ll go with love and overlook a lot of doctrinal weirdness and error.
Also, our evangelical culture has followed our morally lax worldly culture by mistaking God’s grace to mean that we get a daily allotment of free passes for sin. We wrongly think that grace means that God is like an indulgent parent who isn’t bothered by our sin. Over the years I have repeatedly been accused of not understanding grace because I have taught that salvation results in a life of obedience to God (Titus 2:11-14); a lifestyle of sin is evidence that we are not truly saved (1 John 3:4-10).
In contrast to our culture’s emphasis on being nice to everyone who calls himself a Christian no matter what he teaches, the Holy Spirit saw fit to put 2 Peter 2 in Scripture. In case we missed it, He virtually repeats it in the letter of Jude. Both passages give us this extended portrait of false teachers so that we will study it carefully, like a Most Wanted Poster, so that we will be able to spot these guys when they show up and avoid them and their teaching.
And so I would remind you as we study these verses that they are a part of God’s inspired Word, given to us “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, [and] for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter paints this picture to say that…
We should know the shocking characteristics, the deceptive methods, and the pitiful state of false teachers, so that we avoid following them in their sins.
Peter focuses more on the sinful lifestyles of these false teachers than on their false doctrine. We learn from chapter 3 that one of their main errors, which always has moral ramifications, was to deny the second coming of Jesus Christ. If Christ isn’t coming, there is no need to live in light of future judgment. They also seemed to teach that since we are free in Christ, we’re free to indulge the flesh. So the warning of these verses for us is not only to be on guard against erroneous theology, but also against any teaching that encourages us to tolerate sin.
After noting that these men “despise authority,” Peter adds, “Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord” (2:10b-11).
Peter describes their arrogance and defiance by saying that they “despise authority” (2:10a) and are “daring” and “self-willed.” Three times (2:10, 11, 12) Peter uses “revile” or “reviling” (NASB), from which we get our word “blaspheme.” It points to utter disregard for that which is sacred or highly respected. These men arrogantly pontificated on spiritual matters, but they did not humbly submit to God’s Word or fear Him.
There is debate, however, about exactly what these men were reviling. The NASB gives an interpretive translation, “angelic majesties.” The Greek word, literally, is “glories.” Some interpret this to refer to civil magistrates or to church leaders. John Piper takes it to refer to the glories of God and of Christ, especially with regard to His second coming (sermon, “Better Never to Have Known the Way,” on ). He thinks that it is unlikely that Peter would use “glories” to refer to fallen angels.
But most commentators understand “glories” (in v. 10 and in Jude 8) to refer to the fallen angels. Verse 11 is then saying that the holy angels (in contrast to the false teachers) don’t even bring a reviling judgment against these fallen angels. Jude 9 is more specific, “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”
Jude is referring to an ancient Jewish story, The Assumption of Moses, in which the devil argued with Michael about Moses’ right to an honorable burial because he had murdered the Egyptian. Rather than rebuking the devil directly, Michael appealed to the Lord to rebuke him and the devil fled so that Michael could complete the burial (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2, Peter, Jude [Broadman Publishers], pp. 459-460).
We don’t know whether Jude thought the story was historically true or whether he was just using it to make his point. But he was not saying that the entire story was divinely inspired. The point is, even Michael the archangel did not dare to bring a reviling judgment against the devil. But these daring, arrogant false teachers thought that they were more powerful than Satan and the demons are, and so they had no qualms about reviling them.
The same point is also made in Zechariah 3, when the prophet saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, representing his and Israel’s sins. Satan stood there to accuse Joshua. But rather than rebuking the devil directly, the angel, who is called “the Lord,” said to Satan (Zech. 3:2), “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!” Even the angel of the Lord appealed to the Lord to rebuke Satan.
So Peter refers to these fallen angels as “glories,” even though they are evil, because they have impressive power. Jesus even called Satan “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). He is not in any sense as glorious as God or even as glorious in might and power as the holy angels. But he does wield impressive power and authority during this present evil age. We do not need to fear the devil, but we should respect his power. In Christ, with our spiritual armor in place, we can stand firm against him and ask God to rebuke him. But he is not a force to take lightly!
I don’t watch much so-called “Christian” TV, but I’ve seen enough to know that some of the charlatans on there boldly proclaim that they are going to stomp on the devil and bind all the demons. The audience applauds such daring language against the devil. But they don’t have a clue about the power of the spiritual forces of darkness with which they are dealing! They’re like the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16), who thought they could command the demons, until the demon-possessed man jumped all seven and subdued them! False teachers always exhibit this arrogance and defiance against spiritual authority. Peter next shows…
The false teachers no doubt prided themselves on their spiritual insight and knowledge, but Peter compares them (2:12) to “unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge.” (There is a verse for all of you hunters to use against PETA!) Peter means that these men have abandoned their God-given rational ability and followed their lusts like animals. They were controlled by their feelings, not by reason informed by God’s Word of truth. The last phrase, “will in the destruction of those creatures [lit., “them”] also be destroyed,” could refer either to God’s final judgment on the fallen angels, or, more likely, to the destruction of all the animals on earth when God destroys the earth by fire (3:10, 12). The point is, the false teachers face God’s eternal judgment because they have lived like a bunch of animals, following their lusts.
When Peter adds (2:13), “suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong,” he does not mean, of course, that they will suffer any injustice from God. Rather, it is a play on words (in Greek), which means, “they have harmed others by their unbridled lusts; God will inflict harm on them.” It is the same as Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
Peter further describes the lusts of these false teachers (2:13b), “They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime.” Most people who sin do so at night, when their evil deeds may be hidden by darkness (1 Thess. 5:7). But these evil teachers threw off all restraints and partied all day long! If they had lived in our day, they would be on the daytime TV talk shows, delighting to tell lurid details about their sins.
Peter adds (2:13), “These are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, …” Rather than being “stains and blemishes,” Peter later (3:14) uses the opposite words to say that believers should be “spotless and blameless.” “Carouse” should be translated, “feast with.” Peter is referring to the early Christian custom of coming together for a feast (like a “potluck”) before or after they partook of the Lord’s Supper. The parallel in Jude 12 says, “These men are hidden reefs in your love feasts.” The Greek word for “deceptions” (in 2 Peter) is similar to the word for “love feasts” (in Jude).
Probably Peter was making a word play, saying that the evil behavior of the false teachers was not worthy of being referred to as a “love feast” (Schreiner, p. 352). Rather, it was pure deception. They were deceiving the believers by attending the love feasts; but also, they were deceiving themselves by thinking that they truly were sharers in the love of Christ and the church.
Peter also exposes the false teachers’ lust by picturing them (2:14) as “having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, …” The word “adultery” is literally, “an adulteress.” The idea is that these false teachers looked at every woman as a potential candidate to go to bed with. They preyed on the “unstable souls,” newer professing Christians who were emotionally and spiritually shaky. (Peter refers to these same unstable souls again in verse 18 as “those who barely escape from the ones who live in error.”)
Not only were these false teachers living to fulfill their lusts; they also were driven by greed. The New Testament often connects these sins (e.g., Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5). Peter says (2:14) that they have “a heart trained in greed.” We get our word gymnasium from the Greek word for “trained.” The idea is, these guys have worked out to get their hearts in shape for greed! They took the normal greed that we all wrestle with and pumped it up by frequent workouts!
Thus they are “accursed children.” That’s a Hebrew way of saying, “they are under God’s curse, bound for hell.” He then says (2:15), “having forsaken the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Almost all of the Greek manuscripts and early versions read, “son of Bosor,” a name not found anywhere else. Some think it is a word play on the Hebrew word, basar, which means “flesh.”
When you read the story of Balaam (Numbers 22-24), he seems at first to be an okay guy. He is a prophet and on the surface, he claims that he won’t say or do anything unless God permits it. But, he was a cunning, self-seeking man who used his prophetic powers to line his own pocket. When God wouldn’t let him curse Israel, as the Moabite king wanted him to do, he instead advised the king to get his women to seduce the Israelite men. So the false teachers imitated Balaam both in his greed and in his enticing people by sensuality.
Peter adds (2:16) that Balaam “received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with the voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.” Peter intends some humor, in that a dumb donkey had more spiritual insight than the greedy prophet did. When Peter calls him “mad,” he doesn’t mean that he was literally insane. Rather, he means that anyone who pursues greed and sensuality is crazy, because you’re really going after “the wages of unrighteousness” (2:15), which results in God’s judgment.
After painting this shocking portrait, showing the false teachers as being full of arrogance, defiance, lust, and greed, Peter goes on to reveal their deceptive methods:
Peter describes these men as “springs without water and mists driven by a storm.” He means that like a dry oasis in the desert or a cloud that looks like rain, but just blows over, these false teachers promise to quench your thirst, but they don’t deliver. These men were eloquent and persuasive. But rather than calling people to holiness and love for God, they appealed to their fleshly lusts and greed. They told them that God didn’t want them to deprive themselves of the pleasures of sex. They said, “We’re under grace! We’re free from the law. So indulge yourselves!”
As with all false teaching, there is both truth and error mingled together in those statements. God created sex to be enjoyed between a man and a woman who are committed to one another in marriage. In that context, it is a good gift to be enjoyed. But taken out of that context and pursued just to fulfill lust, it leads to slavery to sin. The world has psychologized lust as “sexual addiction,” but Peter calls it being a slave of corruption. The same is true when a person yields to greed, often expressed by compulsive gambling or stealing. He isn’t “addicted,” as if he were the victim of a disease. Rather, he has willingly become the slave of sin.
Beware of any teaching that appeals to your fleshly desires, outside of the boundaries that God has prescribed for proper enjoyment. Sex and material things have their rightful place. But when they become the consuming object of our lives, we’ve fallen prey to false teaching.
“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2:20-22).
Do these verses refer to the false teachers or to those who follow them? Probably due to the context, the focus is mainly on the false teachers. But it also applies to those who fall for their deceptive teaching. For a while, they had escaped the defilements of the world by knowing Christ as Lord and Savior. But then they got entangled in these defilements again. This last state was worse than the first. Peter compares it to a dog returning to its vomit (Prov. 26:11) or a pig after washing returning to the mire.
These verses raise two questions: First, what does Peter mean when he says that their latter state is worse than the first? Second, is Peter saying that believers can lose their salvation?
Peter may mean two things when he says that their latter state is worse than the first. It may be worse because if a person has heard the gospel and had some experience of the Christian life, it will be more difficult to restore him to a true knowledge of Jesus Christ. If you try to talk with him about what it really means to follow Christ, he is likely to say, “Been there, done that. It didn’t work for me.” (See Matthew 12:43-45.)
Peter may also mean that their latter state is worse than the first because everyone will be judged on the amount of light which they rejected (see Matt. 11:21-24; Luke 12:47-48). These people had been exposed to a lot of truth, but they turned their backs on it to pursue their own sinful lusts. They will be judged accordingly.
In response to the second question, the simple answer is, “No, a believer cannot lose his salvation.” Those whom God saves, He keeps (Phil. 1:6). Jesus said that He would not lose any of those that the Father had given to Him (John 6:39-40). No one can snatch His sheep from His hand (John 10:28).
But, to ask if a believer can lose his salvation is really the wrong question. The right question is, “What does it mean to be a true believer in Jesus Christ?” Or, “what is true saving faith?” In a nutshell, when God saves you, He changes your heart. He imparts new life to you so that your desires are changed. You now love God and seek to please Him. You want to grow to know Him. You love His Word. You hate your sin and strive against it. In other words, genuine saving faith always results in a life of growing godliness and obedience to Christ (see James 2 & 1 John). If that is not your experience, you may need to go back and make sure that God has truly changed your heart through faith in Christ.
But, how then do we explain Peter’s words here? He says that these people had escaped the defilements of the world. They knew Jesus as Savior and Lord. They knew the way of righteousness. For a while, at least, they had received the holy commandment of God’s Word. Some would say that they were truly saved, but they would lose their rewards. But Peter’s language doesn’t allow for that. That view flies in the face of chapter 2 and the entire letter (Schreiner, p. 364).
Probably we should understand Peter as using Christian terms to describe these false Christians because for a while, they gave every appearance of being Christians (Schreiner, p. 364). Like the seed sown on the rocky ground and that sown on the thorny ground, for a while they gave the appearance of new life. But they did not persevere and bear fruit unto eternal life. Genuine saving faith perseveres on the path of righteousness. This is not to say that Christians never sin. Sometimes they sin big time. But when they do, they genuinely repent and get back on the path. False believers, like these false teachers, are like dogs that go back to their vomit or pigs that return to the mire. They cleaned up the outside, but their basic nature never changed. Eventually, they act according to their true nature. They do not love God or the way of righteousness described in His Word because they have not been born again.
So, is Peter too harsh and judgmental of these false teachers? Should he join us more enlightened 21st century evangelicals in joining hands with them and singing, “We are One in the Spirit”? Or, did the Holy Spirit inspire Peter to give us this long, sad portrait to study so that we will be able to spot such false teachers and avoid following their sins?
Michael Green observes (The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 122), “Why has Peter expended so much powder and shot on the false teachers in this chapter? Because he is primarily a pastor. He is concerned to feed his Master’s sheep (cf. John 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 5:1ff.), and he is furious to find them being poisoned by lust masquerading as religion.” Study this portrait carefully! Your eternal destiny may well depend on it!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
A woman who worked for the Internal Revenue Service at times had to communicate with delinquent taxpayers. On one occasion she called Anchorage and was patched through to a ham operator in the Aleutian Islands. Two hours later the ham operator raised the taxpayer’s home base and from there reached him at sea with his fishing fleet.
After the woman identified herself as being with the IRS in Utah, there was a long pause. Then over the static from somewhere in the North Pacific came: “Ha! Ha! Come and get me!” (In Reader’s Digest, “Life in These United States,” 10/82)
A lot of people scoff at God and the warning of His coming judgment like that fisherman scoffed at the IRS. They somehow think that either it will never happen because it hasn’t happened yet or that if it ever does happen, they’ll be okay. And while few are so bold as openly to scoff at God and the judgment, many do so practically by living as if they will never stand before Him to give an account. The idea of facing Him in judgment is so far from their minds that it never affects how they live.
Just before the apostle Peter’s death, some false teachers were plaguing the early church by scoffing at the idea that Christ would return to judge the world. At the root of their mocking, as we will see, was the fact that they were living for their own lusts. As Peter said, they had eyes full of adultery (2:14) and they enticed others by fleshly desires and sensuality (2:18). When people who profess to know Christ decide to pursue their own lusts, they have to invent some doctrinal loopholes to justify their sins and pacify their consciences. These false teachers scoffed at the idea that Jesus Christ would return in power and glory to judge the world.
They were clever operators, as all false teachers are. They mixed their errors with some truth, so that the unsuspecting would swallow the whole package. They professed to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (2:20). For a while they gave the appearance of knowing the way of righteousness (2:21). They joined in the church life as if they were in full agreement with everything (2:13). But they were not living in submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. They were following their lusts, claiming to be free in Christ. But in reality, they were slaves of corruption (2:19), living for sensual pleasure and greed. Peter describes them as dogs returning to their own vomit or as pigs going back to wallowing in the mire (2:22).
After exposing these false teachers for what they really were (chapter 2), Peter as a shepherd now urges the church not to follow these mockers who are heading for judgment. He addresses his readers as “beloved” four times in this chapter (3:1, 8, 14, 17). He wants them to know that he cares for them. He also assures them that they have sincere (“pure” or “unmixed”) minds (3:1). But he wants to stir them up by way of reminder (as he did in 1:12-15), so that they would stand firmly upon God’s Word and not be deceived by the mockers. His message is that…
In spite of mockers who scoff at the prospect of Christ’s coming, God’s Word promises that He will come in judgment of the whole world.
Throughout these verses, Peter’s emphasis is on God’s Word. He mentions it in verse 2 as the authoritative message that we must remember. He refers to it in verses 5 and 6 as the means by which God created the world and brought the judgment of the flood on all the wicked. He refers to it again in verse 7 as the basis on which we know that there is a terrifying day of judgment to come.
Peter says (3:1), “This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder….” Scholars spill a lot of ink debating what the first letter was and whether Peter really wrote this second letter or whether a man posing as Peter wrote it in the middle of the second century. It is possible that the first letter is one that we no longer possess, just as some of Paul’s letters were not included in the New Testament (1 Cor. 5:9; Col. 4:16). But I don’t see any convincing reasons why the first letter isn’t First Peter or why Peter didn’t write Second Peter (as he claims, 1:1). Like every effective teacher, Peter knew that repetition is a key to learning. So he wrote his two letters to stir up the minds of believers to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ (see, also, 1 Pet. 1:13). Note three things:
The implication of verses 1 & 2 is that we do not need “new” truths, but rather we need to be reminded of and remember the old truths that we already possess, but tend to forget. It’s easy for our thinking to become distorted through the godless culture around us and by those who deliberately attack the truthfulness and reliability of God’s Word.
For example, the world assumes as fact that everything on earth evolved by chance over hundreds of millions of years from pond scum into the forms of life that we now see around us. The world mocks those of us who believe the biblical account of creation, as if we somehow haven’t progressed in brain power much beyond our ancestral monkeys! When you’re constantly bombarded by this mindset, it’s easy to get lulled into believing at least some of it. So we need to be stirred up (the word is used of awakening Jesus when He was asleep in the boat, Luke 8:24) to remember what God’s Word says.
John Calvin pointed out (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on 2 Pet. 3:1, pp. 412-413) that even the godly, who have some degree of biblical learning, will become dim and mentally rusty if they do not receive these constant reminders and warnings. And so the church needs faithful teachers to impress the truth on the memory of their hearers, just as Peter is doing here.
When Peter tells us to “remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets,” he is referring to the Old Testament prophets. As you know, the prophets are full of warnings about impending judgment both on Israel and on the surrounding nations if they do not repent and obey God. Peter says that we need to be stirred up to remember these repeated warnings about judgment.
So, I will again try to stir you up to read through the entire Bible, over and over again. Psalm 119:160 declares, “The sum of Your word is truth.” We need all of God’s Word to give us balance. You wouldn’t hear professing Christians say inane things like, “I believe in a God of love, not in a God of judgment,” if they were reading and submitting to all of God’s Word.
Peter does not specify which commandment of the Lord that he is referring to, but he used the same word just a few verses before (2:21) when he said that the false teachers had known the way of righteousness, but had then turned “away from the holy commandment handed on to them.” Thus I infer that Peter is talking about the ethical demands that stem from the gospel, which come to us through the apostles in the New Testament. Peter Davids puts it this way (The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude [Eerdmans], p. 261):
In Jesus the rule of God became manifest in this world, and this manifestation of the rule of God brings with it a demand that people turn from their way and submit to God’s way, that is, obey the good news and submit to the way of life that it proclaims. While often missing from contemporary preaching, this is the message of the New Testament.
By the way, “Lord and Savior” in verse 2 is governed by one definite article in Greek, showing that it refers to the same person, Jesus Christ (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman Publishers], p. 271). You cannot separate Jesus as Savior from Jesus as Lord. If you truly trust in Him as your Savior, you must submit to Him as your Lord.
So Peter’s opening comments in chapter 3 show us that when mockers attack the faith, God’s Word is our sure foundation.
Peter says, “Know this first of all,” meaning, of first importance. He wants us to be forewarned, “that in the last days, mockers will come with their mocking” (3:3). The entire age between the two advents of Christ is referred to as “the last days.” During that time, we who know Christ as Savior and Lord should be living in the hope and expectancy of His bodily return in power and glory. But we also should not be surprised when mockers attack biblical truth, including the truth of the second coming.
The early church lived with the expectancy that Christ could return in their time (1 Thess. 4:15). That is no wonder, since the 260 chapters of the New Testament have about 300 references to Christ’s coming and only four books (Galatians, Philemon, 2 & 3 John) lack any specific reference to it (The MacArthur Study Bible [Nelson Bibles], ed. by John MacArthur, p. 1928; The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 Peter & Jude [Moody Publishers], p. 117). But even by the mid-60’s, when Peter wrote, skeptics were becoming disillusioned that Christ had not returned, and some were so bold as to attack openly the very idea that He ever would return. But Calvin rightly pointed out that you cannot take away the promise of Christ’s return without destroying the very core of the gospel. He said (p. 415),
… for when that is taken away, there is no gospel any longer, the power of Christ is brought to nothing, the whole of religion is gone. Then Satan aims directly at the throat of the Church, when he destroys faith in the coming of Christ. For why did Christ die and rise again, except that he may some time gather to himself the redeemed from death, and give them eternal life?
Years ago, I knew a man here in Flagstaff who wrote a book claiming that Jesus returned in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed and so He is not coming again. He was trying to resolve the difficult verse (Matt. 24:34) where Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” But I told him that his “solution” was not only heretical, but also it robs us of any hope for the future. I did not convince him, but I stand with Calvin in saying that if we deny the promise of Christ’s coming, we destroy the gospel itself.
Briefly, note three things in verses 3-4:
We saw this at length in chapter 2, and Peter’s mention of it here indicates that he is referring to the same group. If you are living to pursue your own lusts, you do not want to believe in a future judgment! You have to do something to ease your guilty conscience. So these men looked around, saw some who were wondering why the promises about Christ’s return had not been fulfilled, and started proclaiming, “He’s not coming. Everything is going on just as it has since the beginning of creation.” As we’ve seen, sinful living always results in false doctrine, and vice versa.
To say that any of God’s promises has failed is to call God a liar. We may not understand why God does not seem to answer our prayers when they are in accord with His will and for His glory. If we do so with submissive hearts, I think it is legitimate to bring our complaints to the Lord when we wrestle with these problems, as the psalmists often did. But we dare not charge God with unfaithfulness and assert that we’re right and He is wrong! Because they attacked God’s honor, these false teachers stood condemned.
These mockers were basically deists, claiming that God created the world, but then He stepped back and has not been involved in the events of history. Note that they used Christian terminology: they referred to the time when “the fathers fell asleep.” To refer to death as sleep was a New Testament way of saying that Jesus took the sting out of death, so that those who are in Him do not die, but merely fall asleep (1 Cor. 15:18; 1 Thess. 4:13-14). This does not mean that the soul sleeps until the resurrection. To be absent from the body is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). But the point is, the false teachers used common Christian language to draw in the naïve and snare them with their deism.
Michael Green notes (The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 128), “Had they been alive today, they would have talked about the chain of cause and effect in a closed universe governed by natural laws, where miracles, almost by definition, cannot happen.” Thus the idea of God breaking into history in judgment was not possible. And, a further implication of this was that the first coming of Jesus Christ was not an act of God.
But Peter hits them for failing to note that two cataclysmic events in past history point to the final cataclysmic judgment:
Scholars are divided on the translation. The NASB translates, “For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice ….” The ESV puts it, “For they deliberately overlook this fact, …” The phrase seems to mean that in their desire to do away with the future judgment, these men failed to see two huge interventions of God in past history, namely, the creation of the universe and the flood.
Peter says, “… by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” He is referring to Genesis 1, which repeatedly states, “and God said,” as the effective power that brought the creation into existence. As Psalm 33:9 says in reference to the creation, “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.”
It is not totally clear what Peter means when he says that “the earth was formed out of water and by water.” He is referring to Genesis 1, where on the first day of creation, the earth was covered with water. “Then,” (on the second day, Gen. 1:6), “God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’” God then divided the waters on earth from the waters in the heavens, forming a sort of vapor canopy over the earth. Then on the third day (Gen. 1:9-10), God lifted up the land so that it was separated from the seas. Peter’s point seems to be that water, the agent that God predominantly used in creation, is what He then used to judge the world in the flood.
Peter is also making the point that the mockers were ignoring the implications of the doctrine of God as Creator. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the point that God created the world, including people. Therefore, He is the rightful Lord of His creation and the righteous Judge of those who do not submit to His lordship.
“Which,” (3:6) in Greek is a plural pronoun, referring to both God’s word and the water of the flood (Schreiner, p. 377). How could the false teachers claim that everything has continued on just as it was from the beginning of creation when God directly intervened in the most catastrophic judgment in history? The lesson of the flood was that God intervened in history to judge the wicked, and thus He will again intervene. All who follow their own lusts and do not repent and submit their lives to the Lord and Savior will face Him when He comes again in judgment.
Again Peter emphasizes God’s word: “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” This is the only New Testament passage (except for 3:10, 12) that states explicitly that the future judgment will be by fire. But there are several Old and New Testament passages that allude to it.
Isaiah 66:15-16 states, “For behold, the Lord will come in fire and His chariots like the whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the Lord will execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh, and those slain by the Lord will be many.”
Malachi 4:1 says, “‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.’”
In the New Testament, John the Baptist predicts that Jesus will “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12). Paul pictures the second coming as “when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess. 1:7), dealing out retribution to the wicked.
Peter’s point is that the God who created the universe by His word and destroyed the wicked in the flood by His word has also warned by His word that He will judge the ungodly in the future by fire. Those who mock the second coming of Christ so that they can continue following their own lusts are fools!
I offer two applications based on these verses for each of us to consider:
· To move away from the truth that God created the world by His word of power is to move toward skepticism and licentious living.
I am not saying that you must hold to a recent, six 24-hour day view of creation, although that seems to be the most obvious interpretation of the biblical record. But if you hold to a different interpretation, you still need to emphasize the miraculous power of God’s spoken word in the process. In other words, creation was a miracle of God’s power however and whenever He did it. If you minimize the miraculous, you move toward skepticism, which at some point undermines the authority of God’s moral standards.
· To move away from the truth that Christ is coming again to judge the world is to move toward skepticism and licentious living.
Our tolerant culture that doesn’t want to make any moral judgments has swayed many Christians to minimize the biblical truth of God’s judgment. Some deny the eternality of hell. Others believe that God will ultimately save everyone. If you move in that direction, you move toward skepticism of God’s Word and, eventually, toward moral relativism.
If you are a Christian—a follower of Jesus—the bottom line has to be, “What does God’s Word say?” It clearly says that God created the world by His word, judged the world at the flood by His word, and will judge the ungodly when Christ returns by His word. Thus we must stand firm on these truths and out of love warn everyone to flee the wrath to come.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
An atheist farmer often ridiculed those who believe in God. He wrote a letter to the local newspaper in which he scoffed, “I plowed on Sunday, planted on Sunday, cultivated on Sunday, and hauled in my crops on Sunday; but I never went to church on Sunday. Yet I harvested more bushels per acre than anyone else, even those who are God-fearing and never miss a service.”
The editor printed the man’s letter and then added this remark: “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.” (Taken from “Our Daily Bread,” date unknown.)
Do you ever wonder why God delays judgment on this wicked world? Why doesn’t Christ return to judge the world as He promised? But then you realize, “What if He had returned to judge the world while I was still an unbeliever? I would have been lost!” And so while we join millions of believers down through the centuries in praying, “Your kingdom come,” we have to be content to leave the timing in God’s hands.
Peter wrote this letter to churches where false teachers were scoffing at the promise of Christ’s coming again to judge the world. Their theological error stemmed from their greedy, lustful lifestyles. Although they claimed to believe in Christ, they did not submit to Him as Lord. Their evil views were snaring some who professed to be Christians. So Peter wrote to refute their errors by showing that if Jesus Christ is returning to judge the living and the dead, then you must live in submission to His lordship.
Thus in chapter 3:1-7, Peter shows how God’s day of judgment is certain in spite of the mockery of certain men. In verses 8-9, Peter gives two truths to help explain why God seems to delay the return of Christ to judge the world:
Christ’s return in judgment seems delayed because God has a different perspective on time and because He patiently waits for all to come to repentance.
“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (3:8). Peter again addresses his readers as “beloved” (see 3:1, 14, 17). As a gentle shepherd, he wants them to know that he cares for them. He wants them not to miss this one fact which is of vital importance to their spiritual health. If you do not understand this truth of how God’s perspective of time differs from our perspective, you will not be able to endure trials well. You will not understand why the wicked seem to prosper, while the godly suffer. You will not live in light of the coming judgment.
Peter draws this truth from Moses’ profound Psalm 90, which grapples with the shortness of life and the eternality of God. He wrote (Ps. 90:3-4), “You turn man back into dust and say, ‘Return, O children of men.’ For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.” He goes on to compare our lives to grass that sprouts in the morning and withers by evening. Our lives are short and feeble, but God is eternal!
Time greatly affects us, but it does not affect God. I have shown you before a picture of Marla and me when we first met 36 years ago. You can probably perceive a few changes in our appearance! She’s still beautiful, but I’ve lost some hair! If we live another twenty years, you will see even more changes, and they won’t be in our favor. But God never changes! He is the same now as He was at the beginning of time.
All of time is equally present with God. He sees the past, the present, and the future with equal vividness. We remember a few things from the past, but forget a lot. We’re limited by our finite perspective in perceiving the present, whereas God can see everything happening everywhere all at once. And we have no knowledge of the future, except for our clouded view of biblical prophecy. But God sees it all in great detail.
God’s view of the length of time differs from our view: “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years.” What does that mean? I think Charles Spurgeon is correct when he observes that God can make a single day as useful in His purpose as it would take us a thousand years to produce (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], “God’s Estimate of Time,” 8:247). When God sends revival, for example, thousands may be converted in a short time, whereas under more normal conditions, it would take many years. The day that God converted the apostle Paul was just like any other day, but that one day resulted in more than a thousand years’ of influence through Paul’s ministry and his inspired writings.
Also, with the Lord “a thousand years [are] like one day.” Since the late second century, some (Irenaeus and The Epistle of Barnabas, cited by Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman Publishers], p. 380) have speculated that since God created the world in six days and rested the seventh, it follows that creation would last for six thousand years, followed by the millennium. If you add up the genealogies in Genesis with no gaps, creation was about 4,000 B.C. Thus the “six days” should be up any time now!
But, as interesting as that speculation may be, Peter does not say that a thousand years equal one day, but rather are like one day. In other words, he is making an analogy, not a literal equation. Most of us can’t conceive of what the world was like a thousand years ago. But that was like yesterday to God!
Although the gap between our view of time and God’s view is far greater, we might compare it to a child’s view of time versus an adult’s view. When you tell a young child that his birthday is just one month away, he doesn’t get it. Every day he will ask, “Is it my birthday yet?” Or, when you get in the car to make a long trip, you tell the kids that it will take twelve hours to get there, but 30 minutes into it, you will hear, “Are we almost there yet?” In the same way, we can’t conceive of a thousand years. But that is only like one day to God.
This is a very practical truth to understand. It helps you endure suffering. Many years ago, I was reading through Genesis when the Lord startled me with Genesis 42:1, “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream ….” You can read that phrase in a second, but I stopped to think about it. It occurs in the context of Joseph being in prison. He had correctly interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and the cupbearer. As the cupbearer went out the prison door, Joseph pled with him to remember him before Pharaoh, so that he could get out of prison. But the cupbearer forgot!
Joseph was probably in his twenties. An Egyptian dungeon isn’t a pleasant place to be at any point in life, but especially not when you’re young, healthy, and desiring to get a wife, children, and a career. I’m sure that Joseph must have prayed fervently each day, “Lord, get me out of here! I’m here because I obeyed You and resisted Potiphar’s wife’s advances. How long, O Lord?” “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream ….” Why couldn’t God have given Pharaoh that dream after two weeks or two months? Why did God wait two full years? We don’t know God’s reasons, but Joseph trusted in God’s sovereign control of all that had happened to him, so that later he could affirm to his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
God also had a sovereign purpose when He kept Jacob’s descendants as slaves in Egypt for 400 years (Gen. 15:13; Exod. 12:40). Four hundred years is an awfully long time to be slaves making bricks in the hot Egyptian sun! But from God’s perspective, it’s less than half a day! It was also four hundred years from the last of the prophets to the birth of the Messiah, but as Paul wrote (Gal. 4:4), “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son ….” He was right on God’s schedule!
Peter is applying this truth to us as we await the return of Christ, when He will judge all the wicked and reign in righteousness. It seems as if He never will come. But it’s only been two days that He has been gone! (See, also, my sermon, “The Inefficiency of God,” 1/16/00, on the church web site.) So Peter’s point is that Christ’s return seems delayed, but only because God’s perspective on time is radically different than our perspective.
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (3:9). This is a wonderful verse with great practical application that we can easily miss, because it plunges us into some deep theological controversies!
Peter seems to be alluding to the charges of the false teachers when he says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness ….” They were saying that because Jesus had not returned yet (by the mid-sixties!), His promise to return must not be valid at all! The irony was that they were using the Lord’s patience, which was giving them time to repent, against Him! They wrongly presumed that because God wasn’t acting according to their timetable, they could sit in judgment on Him! But the fact is, although we often will have times when we do not understand the Lord’s ways or His timing, we never have the right to pronounce judgment on Him and say that His ways or His timing are wrong!
In 1 Peter 3:20, Peter refers to God’s patience during the days of Noah’s building of the ark. For at least 100 years, God waited while Noah built the ark and preached righteousness to those evil people. But none responded, except for Noah’s family. Even so, now God waits patiently while evil abounds, before He brings judgment. But at some point known only to God, judgment will fall. He is not slow about His promise, which refers to the promise of Christ’s coming (3:4), which will bring judgment. When that judgment comes, all who have not responded to Christ’s call to repentance will be excluded from “the ark.” They ignored the warnings. It will be too late!
Here is where we encounter a wonderful truth, but one which plunges us into theological controversy! “The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
There are at least two ways to “fall off this horse”! Some emphasize God’s heart for the lost to the degree that they picture Him as pining away in heaven, wringing His hands in despair because these stubborn sinners won’t exercise their free will and come to Christ. He has done everything that He can do to save them. Now all He can do is to sit in heaven and be heartsick over their sinful refusal to repent and believe. Others argue that God could not wish for all people not to perish because He has not chosen all for salvation. So they say that the only ones God does not wish to perish are the elect. The implication is that He really doesn’t care about the non-elect.
It seems to me that both of these views are out of balance with what Peter is saying here. The first view is out of balance because it pictures God as restricted and unable to save anyone because of so-called “free will.” But the Bible is clear that fallen man’s will is not free, but rather, “fast bound in sin and nature’s night,” to use Charles Wesley’s phrase. To use Paul’s words (Rom. 3:10-11), “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.” He also described the human race outside of Christ as dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1-3), blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), darkened in their understanding and excluded from the life of God because of the hardness of their heart (Eph. 4:19). So if it is up to the will of man to choose salvation, no one could or would be saved. The first view errs by picturing God as unable to save anyone.
But the second view errs by picturing God as uncaring or unloving towards the lost (except for the elect lost, who have not yet come to salvation). It correctly affirms God’s will of decree, which assures us that the Father has given a certain number of people to the Son, and that of that number, He will not lose any, but raise them up at the last day (John 6:37-40). Both Jesus and Paul referred to “the elect” or “the chosen” (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; Luke 18:7; Rom. 8:33; 2 Tim. 2:10), which does not refer to man’s choice of God, but rather to God’s sovereign choice of man. God chooses sinners in spite of themselves, so that none can boast before Him (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
But the second view does not properly affirm God’s will of desire, which expresses His compassion for all the lost. We see God’s desire that the lost would come to Him and be saved in Ezekiel 18:23, “‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (See, also, Ezek. 18:32; 33:11; Jonah 4:11.)
In the New Testament, we see God’s patience and compassion for the lost when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem in light of the people’s rejection of Him and the inevitable judgment that will result (Luke 19:41-44). We see it in Paul’s sorrow and unceasing grief for the hardened Jews. He even wishes that he could be accursed and separated from Christ, if it would mean the salvation of the Jews (Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1)! Paul also said, in similar fashion to Peter here, that God our Savior “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3b-4). In line with this, even John Calvin comments on 2 Peter 3:9 (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 419), “So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost.”
So, how do we explain the tension between God’s desire that all would come to repentance and be saved and the clear truth that He only chose some (not all) for salvation? Calvin goes on to explain that in the gospel, God with compassion stretches out His hand to all, but because of His hidden purpose, He only lays hold of those whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world. I also refer you to John Piper’s helpful discussion, “Are There Two Wills in God?” (found on www.desiringgod.org; also in Still Sovereign [Baker], ed. by Thomas Schreiner & Bruce Ware, pp. 107-131; and in Piper, The Pleasures of God, revised and expanded [Multnomah], pp. 313-340). But the short answer is, the Bible clearly teaches that God decrees some things which He does not desire.
The clearest example is the death of Christ, which required the evil deeds of evil men to accomplish. God does not desire evil and He does not in any direct sense cause evil, but His decree permits that evil will happen for a higher purpose or good. When evil people do their evil deeds, which are decreed by God, the evil people are fully responsible and cannot blame God. We see this in Acts 2:23, where Peter proclaims, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Also, in Acts 4:27-28, the disciples pray, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” There are many other examples of this in the Bible (see Piper, ibid.).
But the truth that we must hold in tension is, God decrees the salvation only of His elect, but He desires the salvation of all. When Peter states that the Lord “is patient toward you” (italics mine), he may mean towards any from the churches who had followed the false teachers. God desires each of them to repent, but He did not necessarily decree that all of them actually would repent (Schreiner, p. 382). But we can extend this to all people everywhere (in line with the other Scriptures mentioned earlier): God is patient towards all sinners, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” This leads to a final point of application:
Again, there is a tension here that we must maintain: on the one hand we know that God has not chosen all to salvation. But, on the other hand, He desires that all would be saved. We don’t know in advance who His chosen ones are. So we proclaim the good news, that God wants to save you from judgment. He doesn’t want to condemn you. He went to great sacrifice to provide salvation, namely, He sent His own Son to die on the cross and pay the penalty for all who will repent and believe. So we can plead with people to turn from their sin and trust in Christ, assuring them of God’s genuine concern and compassion for them.
But, we must also warn them that God’s patience will not last forever. They may die at any time and face His judgment. Christ may return and when He does, it will be too late to repent. As Peter goes on to say (3:10), “the day of the Lord will come like a thief….” Now is the day of salvation. Don’t presume on God’s patience!
Also, to preach the gospel truthfully, we must preach repentance. Repentance is an essential part of saving faith. Mark 1:15 summarizes Jesus’ message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The risen Lord Jesus told the disciples (Luke 24:46-47), “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
To repent means to turn from our sins. If you are driving to Phoenix and you repent, it means you turn around and drive back to Flagstaff. You cannot do both at the same time. And you cannot truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior without turning from your sins. We do not truly present the good news about Jesus Christ if we do not call sinners to repentance and faith.
The recent massive recall of Toyotas reminds me of a blurb I read years ago (“Our Daily Bread,” 11/81) about a Christian woman who held a high position in General Motors. On her office door was a sign: “One Maker ultimately recalls all His products.”
We’re all going to stand before God to give an account. Don’t let the delay in the recall lull you into thinking that it won’t happen. It only seems delayed because God’s perspective of time is radically different than our perspective. And, because of His patience, He waits for all to come to repentance. But, as Peter goes on to say, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief….” Don’t be caught off guard. Repent of your sins and come to Christ while you may.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
I’m always amazed at how fascinated everyone is by biblical prophecy. One night when I was in the Coast Guard, I was sitting alone in the bridge of the cutter on radio watch when the chief came up to get some paperwork. I was reading First Peter. The chief looked over my shoulder and asked, “Whatcha reading?” Then he answered his own question, “Oh, Peters huh? You ought to read Revelations. It’s really [expletive meaning “cool” deleted].”
I thought, “Here is this thoroughly pagan man who thinks that the book of the Bible that describes God’s awful wrath and judgment against sinners is a cool book!” People are drawn to prophecy like moths to the fire, not realizing that biblical prophecy warns sinners to repent and flee from God’s coming wrath.
As we’ve seen, Peter is writing to counter some false teachers who were denying that Jesus is coming again to judge the world. They denied that truth because they wanted to pursue their greedy, sensual lifestyle. They were drawing away some naïve professing Christians with their message of “freedom,” which was really leading people into slavery to sin (2:19).
After explaining why the Lord’s return seems to be delayed—because He has a different perspective of time and because He is patiently waiting for all to come to repentance (3:8-9)—Peter returns to the theme that he mentioned in 3:7, that the day of judgment is coming. As with all biblical prophecy, it is not given to satisfy our curiosity about the end times, but rather to motivate us toward godly living. Peter’s message is simple:
Since Christ will return in frightening judgment, we must live in holiness in light of that day.
Peter is not interested here in setting forth a detailed, chronological account of the end times, so that we can draw up prophecy charts. Rather, he is driving home one main point: This world and all that it treasures is going to burn. God is going to re-create a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. So, you need to make a basic choice: Do you want to live for everything that is certain to be destroyed, or do you want to live so that you will have an inheritance in that new heavens and earth? While I will try to explain a few details about biblical prophecy as we work through the text, I don’t want us to get distracted from the central message: Christ is coming again in frightening judgment. Are you living in holiness in light of that day?
In verse 9, Peter explains that one reason for the delay in the Lord’s coming is that He is patiently giving sinners the opportunity to repent. But it would be a huge mistake to conclude that because He delays, He will not come at all. “Will come” is first in the Greek text to emphasize that the Lord certainly will come (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman & Holman Publishers], p. 383). There is no doubt about it!
The theme of the “day of the Lord” is familiar from the Old Testament prophets. Sometimes it points to near historical judgments, whereas other times it looks ahead to a final great day of judgment. In both cases, it always uses frightening language of destruction. For example, Isaiah 13:9 warns, “Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it.” (See, also, Jer. 46:10; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Mal. 4:1, 5.) The New Testament repeats this theme (Acts 2:20; 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:2; Rev. 16:14). As I understand it, “the day of the Lord” in 2 Peter 3:10 is synonymous with the more unusual phrase, “the day of God,” in verse 12 (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible [Nelson Bibles], p. 1929, sees a distinction).
There have always been those who don’t like the “fire and brimstone” imagery of God’s judgment. They prefer a kinder, gentler God, who will be nice to sinners. Paul talks about “the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience,” and adds, “the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). But keep reading! In the next verse he adds (Rom. 2:5), “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” So while we should proclaim the good news of God’s kindness if a person repents, we also must warn that a day of frightening judgment is coming for those who do not repent. Note four things from verse 10:
“The day of the Lord will come.” There isn’t any doubt about it. It will happen personally the day we die: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). It is appointed! You’ve got an appointment with death and no one yet, except for Enoch and Elijah, has been able to dodge that appointment. There is no reincarnation, where you get another chance to improve yourself. There is no purgatory, where if enough of your relatives pray and light candles and give money to the church, you eventually get into heaven. Rather, you have an appointment to die and face God in judgment. Are you ready for that appointment?
But there is also the coming day of the Lord, when Christ returns. At that point, there will not be a second chance. Although this idea may not appeal to the intellectuals, it is the very truth that Paul proclaimed to the philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:30-31): “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” If God has fixed that day, you had better believe that it will come!
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief….” Peter is repeating the words of Jesus (Matt. 24:42-43), who said, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.” (See, also, 1 Thess. 5:2-3.)
Just as in the days prior to the flood, the people around Noah were going on about life with no thought of impending judgment, so it will be in the day when Jesus returns (Matt. 24:37-39). People have heard that Jesus will come again in judgment. Maybe they’ve seen a movie about it or read the Left Behind books. But they procrastinate from doing anything to get ready.
It’s like preparing a will. Marla and I just updated ours, which we had last done about 18 years ago. But I confess that it took me over a year to really do it, even after I committed myself to do it. But the Bible’s message is clear: Don’t procrastinate about getting right with God! Dying without Christ will have far more disastrous effects than dying without a will! Don’t let the day surprise you like a thief in the night!
When people in the Gulf States receive a warning that a hurricane is bearing down on their city, they usually have time to board up their houses, grab a few belongings, and get out of town. If we heard that Mount Humphries was threatening to erupt, we’d probably have time to escape. But if astronomers warned us that a giant meteor was heading straight for earth and it would disintegrate the entire planet, where could we go?
Peter warns (3:10) that at the coming of Christ, “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” There is a difficult textual variant on that last verb, with many reliable manuscripts reading, “will be found.” If it is original, the idea is probably as the NIV translates, “will be laid bare,” or as the ESV puts it, “be exposed.” The idea would then be that those who thought that they could hide their sins from God will be exposed. No one, no matter how clever, will get away with anything.
So whichever reading is authentic, it is clear that there won’t be any place to go to escape this judgment! If you could get in a rocket and head into outer space, it wouldn’t do you any good, because it’s not only earth, but also the heavens, that will be destroyed by this huge judgment of fire. Only those who are in Christ will be safe.
If 2 Peter were the only book of the Bible, we would have to conclude that this all-encompassing judgment by fire will take place at the instant that Christ returns. Amillennialists believe this. They argue that there will not be a literal, 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth. Rather, He will return, judge the earth, and create the new heavens and new earth, which will be the final, eternal state.
But, as I said, Peter is not interested here in giving a detailed chronology of the end times. As in many biblical prophecies, Peter telescopes the events of the future, leaving out large gaps of time (cf. Isa. 61:1-2 with Luke 4:17-21). He is trying to impress on us the need to be right with God before this awful, inescapable day comes on the whole world. When you fit together other prophecies, such as Isaiah 65 and Revelation 20, it seems to me that when Christ returns, He will reign upon earth on the throne of David for 1,000 years. During that time, there will be unprecedented peace all over the earth. But at the end of that time, Satan will lead a final rebellion. God will destroy His enemies with fire (Rev. 20:9). I understand that to be the judgment that Peter describes here.
But in trying to figure out the sequence of end times events, don’t miss the main point: Christ’s return is absolutely certain. It will be sudden, unexpected, and disastrous for all who have not repented of their sins. Thus you need to be right with God before it comes, because then there will not be any avenue of escape!
Peter not only says that the earth will be burned up (or exposed), but also “its works.” Everything that proud man has accomplished will go through this burning heat that is so intense that the very elements will melt (3:12)! Peter repeats this judgment by fire in verse 7, again in verse 10, and again in verse 12. Why does he repeat himself? Is he a forgetful old man? No, Peter knows, as the Old Testament often records, that those who need to heed the warning are prone to procrastinate or get distracted with other things and put off getting right with God.
Although there are similarities, Peter is not talking here about the same thing that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 3, where he says that our works will be tested with fire. The wood, hay, and stubble will be burned up. The gold, silver, and precious stones will survive. In those verses, Paul is talking about the judgment of believers’ works, not of believers themselves, because he adds (1 Cor. 3:15), “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” But Peter is talking about both the destruction of sinners (3:7) and their works (3:10). Everything they have worked for will go up in smoke and then they will face eternal judgment in the lake of fire!
This is not to say that everything that unbelievers work for is a complete waste. Numerous medical and technological advances are for the good of the human race. God gives us things like music, art, and literature for our enjoyment and pleasure. But if, like the city and tower of Babel, those things are done for the glory of proud man (Gen. 11:4), then they will end up in a pile of ashes in the day of judgment. As the familiar wall plaque that was by our front door when I was a boy, puts it, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” I would encourage all of you, but especially those of you who are young, to read John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life [Crossway Books]. He will help you to make sure that however you spend your life, you will not watch your works go up in the big blaze.
So Peter’s first point is, although Christ has not yet returned in judgment, that frightening day will come certainly and unexpectedly, with disastrous consequences for all who have not repented of their sins (3:10).
“Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…” (3:11). It’s not a question; it’s an exclamation! The word “conduct” means way of life, or lifestyle. Peter uses it often in his first letter (translated as “behavior”). He writes (1 Pet. 1:15), “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” In 1 Peter 2:12, he urges, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (See also, 1 Pet. 1:18; 3:1, 2, 16.) “The day of visitation” is the same as “the day of the Lord” or “the day of God.” It is the day of judgment, when we must give an account to God.
“Holy” conduct (2 Pet. 3:11) means conduct that is distinct from this evil world. It doesn’t necessarily mean being weird. I’ve seen Christians who are distinct because they’re weird. But they would be weird whether they were Christians or not. If we’re weird, it should be because we live in obedience to God’s Word. We hold to the values that the Bible teaches us to live by. We live in light of eternity, not for all of the junk that’s going to burn. We value people above things. We treasure Christ above all else.
“Godliness” has the root idea of reverence and awe towards God. William Barclay (New Testament Words [Westminster Press], p. 107) says that it is “the attitude which gives God the place he ought to occupy in life and in thought and in devotion.” Peter used this word back in 1:3, where he said that God “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” He includes it in the list of qualities that he gives us in 1:5-7: moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.
In our text (2 Pet. 3:11), holy conduct and godliness are both plurals. It may refer to repeated acts of holiness and godliness (Schreiner, p. 389), or it may mean that every part of our conduct towards God and man should be holy and godly (editor’s footnote in Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 421). In other words, we should live all of life in the presence of God, with reverence towards Him. We should always be thinking of that day when we will stand before the Lord, and govern everything we do in light of it.
Three times in three verses (12, 13, 14) Peter uses the verb, “looking for.” It is used (Acts 3:11) of the lame beggar by the temple gate, who when Peter told him, “Look at us,” was expecting to receive a gift. It is also used (Acts 27:33) to refer to the sailors on Paul’s journey, during the storm at sea, who had been watching for 14 days. In our text, it emphasizes the eager expectation that we should have for Christ’s coming, when all of His promises to us will be fulfilled. We should love the day of His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8), much as a bride eagerly awaits the day when her groom returns from the war to be with her always.
But what does Peter mean when he says that we are not only to be looking for, but also “hastening the coming of the day of God”? It may simply be reinforcing the earlier word, “looking for,” meaning, “earnestly desiring” (J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude [Baker], p. 367). But, in light of verses 8-9, that the Lord’s coming seems delayed while He waits for all to come to repentance, Peter may mean that as we live godly lives and proclaim the gospel to the lost, we have a part in speeding up the Lord’s return (ibid.).
Jesus said that the gospel will be preached to all the nations, “and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Peter preached that if people would repent, not only would their sins be forgiven, but also the Lord would send Jesus back from heaven (Acts 3:19-21). It’s not that we can change the eternal decree of God. But, in some fashion that we cannot completely understand, when we live in light of Christ’s coming, it speeds it up (from our perspective). We are to pray, “Your kingdom come.” Presumably, that prayer somehow has an effect on when God’s kingdom actually does come! As we live holy lives and take the gospel to the nations, it hastens Christ’s coming. Finally,
As Paul points out (Rom. 8:20-22), the present creation has been subjected to the fall on account of man’s sin. But God has promised to restore it when Christ returns. Isaiah 65:17-25 (and 66:22) refers to the new heaven and earth as a place where people will live much longer lives and the lion will lie down peacefully with the lamb. That cannot be a reference to the eternal state, because then people will not die at all. In my opinion, it refers to the millennial reign of Christ on earth. But John (Rev. 21:1) uses the same phrase to refer to the eternal state, after this present earth has passed away. I’m not sure how to bring these two together, except to say that the millennial reign of Christ will be a foretaste of the eternal state, when all of God’s promises will have been fulfilled.
Due to various cartoons, the common conception of heaven is that it will be an eternal bore! You’ll sit on a cloud in a white robe, strumming a harp forever and ever. It doesn’t make you want to go there! But heaven, or eternity for believers, will be living in a perfectly re-created physical world, untainted by sin. This new earth will be a place where righteousness dwells. It will then be impossible for sin to mess things up! And, we will be in God’s glorious presence forever! Hallelujah! (To whet your appetite for going to heaven, read Randy Alcorn’s Heaven [Tyndale].)
A mother once went to the youth pastor of her church and said, “I can’t get my daughter to clean up her room. Is there anything you can do to help?” He said, “I think so.” He announced to the youth group that he was going to come over unannounced and take a picture of each teenager’s room and put it on the bulletin board. (This was a few years ago; today he’d put it on Facebook or “You Tube”!) Suddenly, every kid’s room became much cleaner!
Peter is saying, “Christ is coming back suddenly and unexpectedly. Make sure that your life is clean and ready for His coming! Live in holiness in light of that day!”
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
One of the benefits of reading Christian biographies is to see how great men of God from the past persevered through overwhelming trials and difficulties to finish their course (2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1). Seeing their faith and perseverance puts my puny trials in perspective.
William Carey described himself as a plodder. But by plodding, this English cobbler went to India in 1794 and was able to translate the entire Bible into six languages and portions of the Bible into 29 other languages. He never attended high school or college, but he established the first Christian college in Asia, which continues today. He failed for two years to become ordained, because his preaching was boring. He had to overcome opposition in England to the idea of missions before he went to India. His first wife went insane after arriving in India. Both she and his second wife died, along with some of his children. His partner mismanaged the mission’s funds. He faced numerous other setbacks, including a fire that destroyed years of translation work. He survived malaria, dysentery, cholera, tigers, and cobras, laboring for 41 years in India without a furlough (see Christian History, Issue 36).
The lives of Adoniram Judson, who went to Burma in the early 1800’s and Hudson Taylor, whose mission pioneered into inland China in the mid-1800’s are also stories of incredible perseverance in the face of overwhelming trials and disappointments. You can’t read stories like these and complain about minor (or even major) trials! They help you to persevere in following Christ.
Peter was a concerned shepherd who wanted his readers to persevere. So he again addresses his readers as “beloved” (3:1, 8, 14, 17) and ends his letter with this call to diligent perseverance. He has refuted the errors of the false teachers, who scoffed at the notion that Christ will return to judge the earth. They were leading some astray with their message of sensuality and greed. Peter did not want his flock to be carried away by the error of these unprincipled men and fall from their own steadfastness (3:17). So he encourages them to diligent perseverance in light of that glorious day of Christ’s return. He’s saying,
God’s coming day of judgment should motivate us to diligent perseverance in our walk with God.
This diligent perseverance rests on four things: the hope of His coming; the holiness necessary for a clear conscience; developing a heart for the lost, and laying hold help from the Scriptures.
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, …” Peter repeats the verb “looking for” in verses 12, 13, and 14. It means to eagerly expect the promise of His coming and the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Peter assumes that his readers already are looking for these promises to be fulfilled, but he wants them to persevere in this hope.
I trust that we all subscribe to the truth that Christ is coming again in power and glory to judge the world, but how much do we think about it? Wouldn’t it affect how we live if we kept in view the fact that He is coming and we will give an account to Him? Would husbands and wives argue about petty things if they both had in view that Christ is coming? Would churches fight over minor matters if the members were living in view of Christ’s coming? Would we spend money on all of the stuff that we think we need if we were living in view of Christ’s coming? Would we waste our time in so many frivolous ways if we were living in view of Christ’s coming? To diligently persevere, maintain the hope of His coming.
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless …” (3:14). Peter was fond of this word “diligent.” He used the noun in 1:5 where he said, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence,” etc. He used the verb in 1:10, “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” He used it of his own efforts to stir up his readers in light of his own impending death (1:15), “And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.”
To be diligent implies giving our attention to something. It implies making every effort or exerting ourselves toward a goal. It doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires deliberate focus. The forces of the world and our flesh are so great that if we do not apply diligence, we will be carried along in the wrong direction.
The aim of our diligent effort is, “to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” In a nutshell, this means maintaining the holy or godly behavior that is needed to have a clear conscience. As Michael Green (The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 142) puts it, “The look of hope must produce the life of holiness.” Paul testified to the Governor Felix (Acts 24:16), “I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], pp. 422-423) understands “peace” in our text to mean “a quiet state of conscience, founded on hope and patient waiting.” He adds, “This peace, then, is the quietness of a peaceable soul, which acquiesces in the word of God.”
If our conscience bothers us because we know that we have disobeyed God, like Adam in the garden we will try to hide from God or avoid Him. We won’t be at peace with Him. The same is true in our relationships with others. If we have wronged someone, we don’t want to see him (or her). If we see him coming down the aisle at the market, we quickly turn and go the other way. Our conscience is not at peace because we have sinned. The only God-given way to recover is to confess our sin to God and to go to our brother or sister and ask forgiveness for our wrong.
When Peter says that we are to be “spotless and blameless,” he is not implying that we can be perfect in this life. Rather, he is contrasting the behavior of believers with that of these false teachers, who were “stains and blemishes” (2:13, the exact opposite words in Greek to “spotless and blameless”), and he is setting the high standard at which we must aim. We should not be aware of any sin, even sins in our private thoughts, which we have not repented of. And we should not be aware of any wrongs towards another person that we have not sought to make right. As Paul puts it (Rom. 12:18), “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” He also writes (Rom. 14:19), “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Pursuing peace has the same idea as being diligent to be found by Him in peace. It implies exerting the effort to work through relational problems so that your conscience is clear before God and before men.
Do you do that? Is your normal habit to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,” because you’re looking for the day of His coming? I often encounter professing Christians who harbor bitterness, rivalry, and anger towards others. Whether it is toward family members or toward fellow believers, it ought not to be. Think how foolish you will feel when Christ returns if you are not at peace with Him and others because you’re holding on to your sin!
So to diligently persevere, maintain the hope of His coming and maintain the holiness that is needed for a clear conscience.
Peter continues, “and regard the patience of the Lord as salvation.” He is going back to what he said in 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” In that verse, Peter is explaining one reason why the Lord’s coming seems to be delayed, namely, He is patiently waiting for sinners to come to repentance.
In both verses, the implied thought is, “Don’t get so caught up with your own problems that you’re crying for the Lord to come back and bail you out, but you’re forgetting about the lost.” The reason the Lord has not come back is that He is patiently waiting for sinners to repent. He is waiting for us to take the gospel to every nation (Matt. 24:14). Our trials are nothing compared with the eternal punishment that unrepentant sinners will experience. So get your focus off of yourself and onto those who need to hear the good news. Have the attitude of Paul, who wrote (2 Tim. 2:10), “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.”
When the Lord returns, it will mean salvation not only for us, but also for all who have believed through our witness and through our efforts in world missions. Any discomfort that we have to endure through trials now will be more than worth it when we see in heaven those whom the Lord has saved because of our sacrifice. David Livingstone, who spent his life enduring hardship to take the gospel to Africa, wrote (from, “Global Prayer Digest,” July, 1984):
For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office [missionary]. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.
So to persevere, we need to make God’s focus our focus. He is delaying Christ’s return because He is patiently waiting for the lost to come to salvation. If our focus is on reaching sinners with the gospel, our trials will not seem so big.
So diligent perseverance rests on maintaining the hope of His coming; the holiness necessary for a clear conscience; a heart for the lost; and, finally…
Peter continues, “just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
We don’t know which of Paul’s letters Peter may be referring to, but Paul and Peter both wrote about the need for holiness in light of Christ’s return (see 1 Thess. 3:13). Paul warned often about the dangers of false teachers. So Peter refers to all of Paul’s letters, which were being circulated among the churches.
Why did Peter bring up Paul’s name here? We can’t say for sure, but it may be that the false teachers were using Paul’s letters to defend their mistaken view of Christian liberty, which really was a license to sin (Rom. 3:8; 6:1). And, it could be that they were using Paul against Peter, much as children will try to pit dad against mom to get their own way. They may have pointed to Paul’s rebuke of Peter (Gal. 2:11-14) as a way of discrediting Peter, and then wrongly claimed, “We’re following Paul!” Peter shows that he and Paul were of one mind. We can learn five things here:
Peter here acknowledges Paul’s writings as being on a par with the rest of the Scriptures, which includes the Old Testament. He implies Paul’s divine inspiration when he refers to “the wisdom given to him.” It is similar to his words in 1:21 with regard to Scripture, that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Or, as Paul wrote (2 Tim. 3:16), “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; …” Paul claimed that the message he preached was not something he made up, but he received it directly from God (1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:11-12; 1 Thess. 2:13).
If all Scripture is inspired, we’re not free to choose the Scriptures we like and ignore the ones we don’t like. If the Bible confronts our sin, we disregard it to our peril. If a doctrine is not to our liking, we still need to embrace it and submit to it. We aren’t free to sit in judgment on the Bible. Rather, we need to allow the Bible to sit in judgment on us! We either accept all of God’s Word as revelation from Him, or we follow our own or others’ human wisdom.
Probably the false teachers were doing this with Paul’s letters, as I said. They may have taken his doctrine that God justifies the ungodly by faith alone (Rom. 4:5) and wrongly concluded, “Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether we live holy lives.” They may have twisted his teaching that we’re not under the law to justify their immorality. They may have taken his teaching on God’s grace to argue, we can continue in sin so that grace may increase (Rom. 5:20; 6:1). They may have perverted the truth of God’s love to argue that He will not judge sinners.
So the application is, be careful not to use the Bible to justify your sins, but rather allow the Bible to confront your sins. As you read the Word, ask the Spirit to search your heart and bring to light any sins that you need to turn from.
Peter refers to Paul as, “our beloved brother Paul.” In light of Paul’s public rebuke of Peter in front of the church at Antioch, which Paul even wrote about in Galatians 2, it would be easy to understand if Peter distanced himself from Paul and turned a cold shoulder whenever Paul’s name came up. It shows Peter’s genuine humility that he was able to speak well of Paul. He acknowledges that God imparted wisdom to Paul, which we have in his writings. So Peter allowed the word of God through Paul to help him grow in love, rather than become bitter or jealous.
I am often amazed at how many professing Christians are lacking in love, which Paul extols as the chief virtue (1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5:6, 14, 22). I am currently reading a biography of Hudson Taylor. One man who started out with Taylor’s mission later turned against him and left the mission. But rather than just acknowledging a difference of philosophy of ministry, this man was on a vendetta to slander Taylor and attack his integrity. You would think that a man who had made the sacrifice of moving to China to reach the lost would apply the biblical teaching about love, but this man refused to set aside his differences with Taylor! I’ve encountered people who know the Bible well, but they are mean, angry, and unkind towards others. If we’re not using the Bible to grow in love, we’re not using it properly.
Peter’s admission that some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand gives me comfort! Frankly, some of Peter’s writings are difficult to understand (like 1 Pet. 3:18-21)! And, there are many other Scriptures that are hard to understand or to harmonize with other texts. The overall message of Scripture on matters of salvation is clear, but other issues are more difficult. On the second coming, for example, it is clear that Jesus is coming back bodily in power and glory and that He will judge all His enemies. But the details of prophecy are not so clear. If it were all perfectly clear, godly Bible-believing scholars would all agree.
These false teachers, whom Peter labels as “untaught and unstable,” distorted or twisted some of the difficult texts in Paul’s writings. They did the same thing with the rest of the Scriptures. They bent the Scriptures to justify their own sinful lifestyles. Invariably, false teachers remove the offense of the cross, so that they can boast in their own good works (1 Cor. 1:18-31; Gal. 6:12-14). Or, they encounter a text that they don’t like, so they twist it so that it fits their system. For example, I have heard some unbelievable twisting of Romans 9 in an attempt to dodge Paul’s teaching that God chose Jacob and not Esau. Or, I recently dealt with a young man who bumped up against a difficult text and he seemed to be on the verge of rejecting the entire Bible as God’s Word because of this one issue!
The proper way to approach difficult texts is to submit to God with a teachable heart. Also, we must acknowledge that some topics in the Bible defy human logic. You can’t logically explain the trinity or the two natures of Christ. Logic won’t resolve how God can be sovereign over all things and yet not be the author of evil. Nor can you logically explain how God is sovereign and yet we are responsible for our choices. Yet the Bible affirms both, so we must submit logic to the revelation of God’s Word, holding these difficult matters in biblical tension.
Paul uses the same word, “diligent,” when he tells Timothy (2 Tim. 2:15), “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” So we must be diligent students of God’s Word, keeping our hearts open and teachable. We may not understand some matters until we’re in glory. But we must not twist the Scriptures to fit our sinful desires.
Peter says that these false teachers distort the Scriptures “to their own destruction.” This isn’t just a matter of a slight difference of opinion. It’s a matter of heaven or hell! Peter isn’t talking about minor doctrinal differences. Rather, these men, as we’ve seen, were not subject to Christ’s rightful lordship (2:1). They had not repented of their sensuality and greed. They were using the Bible to deceive others and to justify their own sins. So they were heading for eternal destruction!
This means that sound doctrine on major issues really does matter! To deny the deity of Jesus, as the cults do, sends people to hell. To deny salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone sends people to hell. To say this is not to be harsh or judgmental, but rather to be true to apostolic teaching. To say, as many do, that we need to set aside all of our doctrinal differences and just love one another, is not loving. To say that we can’t know the truth for certain or that all religions teach the truth in their own ways is not loving. Such teaching leads the untaught and unstable to destruction!
So Peter’s message to us is: God’s day of judgment is coming. That fact should motivate us to diligent perseverance. To persevere, maintain the hope of His coming; maintain the holiness needed for a clear conscience; develop a heart for the lost; and, lay hold of the help that comes from understanding the Scriptures.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Every Christian should aim at finishing well. Steadfastness and perseverance are huge themes in the New Testament. One lesson from Jesus’ parable of the sower is that it’s easy to begin well. The seed on the rocky ground sprang up quickly. The seed on the thorny ground seemed to be doing well for a while. But neither of them persevered to bring forth fruit. Only the seed on the good soil bore fruit with perseverance (Luke 8:15). In the context of persecution, false prophets, and lawlessness, Jesus said, (Matt. 24:13), “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
Probably no other Christian in history can match the accomplishments of the apostle Paul. Yet when he neared the end of his life, he did not mention his many accomplishments, but rather his perseverance. He said (2 Tim. 4:7), “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” In his letters, he often emphasizes the need for steadfastness, especially when we encounter trials (1 Cor. 15:58; Gal. 6:9; Col. 1:11, 23). The author of Hebrews also repeatedly emphasizes the need to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1; see, also 2:1; 3:6, 12, 14; 4:14; 10:36). The Book of Revelation promises the victor’s crown to the overcomers, who persevere (Rev. 2:10-11, 17, 19, 25; 3:5, 10-12, 21).
As Peter finishes his final epistle, concerned about the false teachers that were plaguing the churches, he wants his readers to persevere. And so he repeats the themes that he has emphasized throughout the letter, warning of the danger of the false teachers and exhorting us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. He gives us three essentials for perseverance in the faith:
To persevere as a Christian, guard yourself from spiritual error, grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and live to glorify Him.
Guarding, growing, and glorifying! There is a progression between the three terms. If you guard yourself from spiritual error, you will not fall from your own steadfastness and thus will grow in your relationship with Christ. And if you grow in Christ, you will glorify Him with your life, which is your chief purpose.
The New Testament is clear that the enemy deceitfully infiltrates the church with false teachers who sound biblical, but deceptively lead God’s people away from the truth into destructive heresies. Peter has spent chapter 2 and a good part of chapter 3 warning about these men. In 3:16, he refers to them as “the untaught and unstable” (in contrast to the steadfast), who distorted the Scriptures to their own destruction. So in 3:17 Peter warns, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.”
“Steadfastness” is a Greek noun used only here in the New Testament. But Jesus used the verb when He predicted Peter’s denials and then said (Luke 22:32), “when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Simon Peter, who had been so unstable, was changed by God’s grace into a rock of steadfastness, so that now he is concerned that others be steadfast in the Lord.
“You” is emphatic, standing in contrast to the false teachers. By telling his readers that they know this (how the false teachers operate) beforehand, Peter is using the principle of reminder and repetition that he has followed earlier in the letter (1:12-15; 3:1-2). He is saying that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. We get our word “prognosis” from the Greek word translated “beforehand.” A prognosis enables you to get ready so that some predicted danger will not catch you unaware. If a doctor says, “If you do not lose some weight, you run a high risk of contracting diabetes,” he’s telling you in advance so that you can take corrective action to prevent the disease.
Peter’s prognosis is that in the church there will be these untaught, unstable, and unprincipled (or, “lawless”) men who distort Scripture to support their immoral lifestyles. In other words, they used the Bible, but they either cited things out of context or used only the verses that seemed to support their perverted point of view, ignoring the verses that confronted their sin. And, since fallen sinners instinctively want to avoid the light so that their evil deeds will not be exposed (John 3:19-20), these false teachers never lack an audience (2 Tim. 4:3). Some of the largest churches in America are led by men mixing truth and error in subtle, destructive ways. One rule to test them by is, if a man never confronts sin, he is not preaching the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Let’s face it: the Bible has some hard teachings that confront the popular ideas of every culture. It’s not popular to say that we all are born in sin, hopelessly lost, unable and unwilling to come to God for salvation. It’s much more flattering to human pride to say that while we all mess up once in a while, we’re really not so bad as to deserve hell. Hell itself is not a popular topic. It’s not popular to teach that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that those from other religions, no matter how sincere, will not go to heaven unless they repent and trust in Christ alone.
It’s not popular to teach that we must repent of our sins and submit to Christ as absolute Lord and Master. It’s much more palatable to teach that grace means that God winks at our sin and that Jesus is there to help us reach our full potential. I’ve been accused of being legalistic and not understanding grace because I teach that we must obey Jesus Christ.
It’s not popular and soon may be criminal to teach that homosexual behavior is sinful. It’s not popular to teach that it is sin to engage in any sexual activity outside of marriage. We’ve seen numerous couples stop attending this church because we insist that they stop living together before they get married. They usually just find another church that isn’t “hung up” over such matters. It’s not popular to teach that men and women have complementary, but distinct, roles in the home and in the church. And the list could go on and on!
Some would say that it’s not loving to be so critical and judgmental about these matters. They say that we ought to be positive, not negative. But notice that Peter again (3:1, 8, 14, 17) addresses his readers as “beloved.” He cared deeply for these believers and therefore he warned them about these destructive teachers. If you love your children, you warn them sternly about running out into the street. As they get older, love moves you to warn them about the dangers of drinking, drugs, and sexual immorality. You know that these sins can leave them with permanent scars. Love is not just positive; it has a negative side of warning about the destructive nature of sin and of false teaching.
One other thought here: There is a link between knowledge and behavior. Peter says, “knowing this beforehand, be on your guard.” Paul says that the job of elders is “both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). In this vein, Michael Green notes (The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude [Eerdmans], p. 149), “Plain speaking about Christian deviations is incumbent upon the Christian pastor who wants to lead his flock along the way of truth.”
Practically, to guard yourself from spiritual error, I encourage you to read some books on basic Christian doctrine. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (a modern version is, A Faith to Confess [Carey Publications]), based on the Westminster Confession of Faith, is a good place to start. John Piper has written a short catechism based on this confession (on desiringgod.org). Josh Harris has just written, Dug Down Deep [Multnomah], subtitled, “Unearthing What I Believe and Why it Matters.” R. C. Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith [Tyndale] or J. I. Packer’s Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs [Tyndale] are written on an easy-to-understand level. For something more meaty and comprehensive, tackle Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology [Zondervan] or Calvin’s Institutes [Westminster Press]. To persevere as a Christian, you must guard yourself from the many spiritual errors of our day.
Being on guard will keep you from being tossed around by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14) and will enable you to grow. We need to consider several truths about growth in general before we look at what it means to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
· Growth depends on life.
This is just as true spiritually as it is physically. You must be born before you can grow. The Bible teaches that we all enter the world spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3). Being religious or moral is not enough. Jesus told the religious, moral Pharisee, Nicodemus (John 3:3), “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” God alone can impart new life. Without new life from God, Christianity becomes moralism. Genuine Christianity is a matter of what Henry Scougal called, “the life of God in the soul of man.”
· Growth is a necessity, not an option.
The Christian life is like riding a bike: if you aren’t moving forward, you’ll fall off. To maintain your steadfastness, you must be growing. If a child is not growing, he has a serious health problem. Growth is normal when there is life. But, unlike children, when it comes to the spiritual life, growth doesn’t end. We must keep growing until the day when we meet Jesus Christ. After more than 25 years as a Christian, the apostle Paul wrote (Phil. 3:13-14), “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” We never reach the place where we can say, “I’ve arrived!”
· Growth is gradual, not instantaneous.
Even Jesus started out in this world as a baby. No one moves from being a baby to an adult in a day, a week, or even a few years. It takes time to mature and develop. You don’t bring a baby home from the hospital and say, “There’s the refrigerator, kid. The bathroom is down the hall. Take care of yourself!” You don’t expect a baby to do what a 20-year-old can do, nor do you expect a 20-year-old to have the maturity of a 60-year-old. Growth is a process.
The important thing is to be involved in the process so that there is progress. You may not discern change from week to week, but over the long haul, you should be able to look back and see that you love Christ more now than you did five years ago. Now you are more sensitive to your sin than you were before. Now you obey the Word more consistently than you used to do.
The fact that growth is gradual runs counter to the popular idea that you can become holy in an instant through some powerful experience with God. The thought of instant, effortless sanctification sounds appealing. It’s often promoted as, “get baptized in the Spirit,” or, “speak in tongues,” and you will have instant victory over sin. That appeals to me for the same reason that winning the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes appeals to me: I would be instantly rich without having to work hard and be disciplined to live within my means and save money. Sign me up! But God’s way to godliness is through discipline, not through miracles (1 Tim. 4:7). I’m not saying that God never gives us dramatic spiritual experiences. Such times are wonderful when they come. I am saying that such experiences do not make you instantly mature! Growth is gradual, not instantaneous.
· Growth is difficult, not easy.
You’ve got to crawl before you walk and once you get the hang of walking, you still fall down a lot. And spiritual growth is the same way. There are a lot of tough lessons that you only learn by trial and error. Sometimes you fall flat on your face. You have to get up and keep trying again. Sometimes you get over-confident, thinking, “I’ve finally learned that lesson!” Then you fail and the Lord shows you that you haven’t learned it yet.
With those general lessons, let’s consider specifically what it means to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Grace is the key to a relationship with God because He both saves us by His grace (Eph. 2:8) and sustains us by grace (2 Cor. 12:9). But grace is opposed to every human way of approaching God, and so we have to be on guard constantly so that we do not lapse into a merit system with God. The world operates on the merit system. If you work for good grades in school, you can get into college. You work hard in college and you get rewarded with a good job. You work hard on the job and you are rewarded with pay increases and promotions. In the merit system, you get what you deserve and you deserve what you get. And all of the world’s religions, including some that are labeled “Christian,” operate on the merit system. You get into heaven based on what you have done. The merit system rewards our achievement and feeds our pride.
But grace is opposed to the merit system. Grace means undeserved favor. We deserve God’s wrath, but He blesses us apart from our works. Under grace, we do not work to earn heaven, but we freely receive all that God has provided for us at Christ’s expense. Paul explains (Rom. 4:4-5), “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Under grace, God gets all the credit and human pride is humbled.
How do we grow in the grace which comes from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? The overall principle is, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). Growing in grace involves coming to a greater understanding of God’s holiness, justice, and sovereignty, which also makes you see more of your own rebellion, selfishness, and pride. You see more and more of how unworthy you were to be the object of God’s saving grace, and yet you also see more and more of how great His undeserved love and favor were that drew you to Himself.
C. H. Spurgeon explained it this way (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 46:539-540):
If you, dear friend, would be truly humble, you must look at your Savior, for then you will say,
Alas! And did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
You will never feel yourself such a worm as when, by faith, you see your Savior dying for you; you will never know your own nothingness so well as when you see your Savior’s greatness. When you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you will be sure to grow in humility.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones affirms the same thing (Expository Sermons on 2 Peter [Banner of Truth], p. 251), “Personally I can be certain I am growing in grace if I have an increasing sense of my own sinfulness and my own unworthiness; if I see more and more the blackness of my own heart.” To grow in grace, you must esteem yourself less, but esteem Christ more!
For the third time in this letter, Peter refers to Jesus as “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11; 2:20). You cannot separate Jesus Christ as Savior from Jesus Christ as Lord. When you trust in Christ as Savior, you yield all of yourself that you know to all of Christ that you know. The Christian life is a matter of progressively growing in submission to Christ as through God’s Word you see more of who He is and more of who you are.
The knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ comes from Christ as we grow in obedience to Him. Jesus said (John 14:21), “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who love Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Such knowledge of Christ includes both facts about Him (as revealed in Scripture) and knowing Him personally. You need both.
Michael Green explains (p. 151), “Knowledge of Christ and knowledge about Christ are, if they keep pace with one another, both the safeguard against heresy and apostasy and also the means of growth in grace.” Knowledge about Christ keeps you from the many errors of the false cults that deny the deity of Jesus Christ. But Christ is not just a subject to be studied; He also is a person to be known. We should be growing to know Him personally on a deeper and deeper level as we spend frequent time with Him in His Word and in prayer.
So Peter tells us that to persevere as a Christian, we must guard ourselves from spiritual error and grow in the grace and knowledge of Him. Finally,
Peter ends with a doxology (3:18b): “To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” This is as clear of a statement of Christ’s deity as there could be. God will not share His glory with anyone (Isa. 42:8; 48:11), and yet Peter ascribes glory to Jesus Christ. Clearly, Jesus Christ is God. The overarching theme of the Christian life is to glorify the triune God in everything. This means that our aim in growing in grace is not so that we can feel happier or more fulfilled or more significant. Rather, our lives should exalt Christ, so that through us others may see how great He truly is. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). He alone is worthy!
When is He to be glorified? Both now and to the day of eternity. We begin now! We should praise and exalt Him in all that we do, both on Sundays when we gather for worship and throughout the week as we think often on His great love and sacrifice that saved us from God’s wrath. And then, when we are with Him in heaven when He comes, we will gather around the throne and sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12)! Glorify Him both now and unto the day of eternity!
At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, the last of the marathon runners were being carried off the field to first aid stations about an hour after the winner had crossed the finish line. Just a few spectators remained in the stands when they suddenly heard the sound of sirens and police whistles. All eyes turned to the gate to see John Stephen Akhwari, wearing the colors of Tanzania, limping into the stadium. His leg was bloodied and bandaged from a bad fall. He hobbled around the track past the finish line as the crowd rose and applauded as if he were the winner.
Someone later asked him why he had not quit, in view of his injury and the fact that he had no chance of winning a medal. He replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it.” (From, Leadership, Spring, 1992, p. 49.)
Christ didn’t give His life for you just to start the Christian life. He gave His life so that you would finish it and finish it well. You will do so if you guard yourself from spiritual error, grow in the grace and knowledge of Him, and live to glorify His name.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.