January 21, 2009

The Promise of His Coming: 2 Peter 3:1-18

Just prior to today’s passage, Peter has told his readers that they can know what the prophets wrote is true because he himself had been with Christ and witnessed what the prophets had predicted about the coming and the power of Christ. He stated the principle that scripture resulted from the Holy Spirit directing the prophets what to say; that is, scripture is inspired by God and thus is authoritative, true, and reliable.

With that as his introduction, Peter also told them that there are false teachers seeking to lead them astray. We discussed his warning to expect false teachers and that these people would introduce destructive heresies “secretly”; that is, mixing false with true doctrines so it all seems to make sense. But in reality, he says, they will deny the Lord who bought us (atoned for our sin)

Peter added that many people will follow these false teachers, that they would exploit their followers, and, in the end, they would be judged.

Peter then goes on to write the remainder of chapter 2 about what to watch out for to recognize false teachers: they will be sinful, hate authority, be self-willed, speak evil of others, be corrupt, and even believe their own deceptions.

In chapter 3, Peter turns to some final thoughts and wants his readers to remember the promise of Jesus’ return.

1Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

More than 50 times in the New Testament, Christians are encouraged to be ready for the second coming. We find this promise in John 14:1-3. The apostles were confused and afraid, and Jesus told them not to be troubled: “1"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

After Jesus rose into heaven, angels told His followers He would return (Acts 1:9-11): “9After he said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. 10They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven."

Paul assured the Thessalonians that Jesus will return (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17): “16For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

And today, we will take a look at the words of the Lord through Peter, as he assures his readers that though scoffers will deny it, Jesus will return. Peter discusses six aspects of His return in chapter 3.

The promise of His return (2)

The Old Testament prophets wrote of the Messiah’s advent, with both His first and second advent in view. The Old Testament prophets did not clearly see the distinction between the two advents of Jesus (His birth and His Second Coming). We see this in Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; and Zachariah 14:9.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14—the Messiah’s first advent).

“6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7—both advents in view).

“The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9—second advent in view)

Strictly speaking, the second coming of Jesus is when He returns in fulfillment of the prophecies to establish His kingdom on earth; the literal return of Jesus Christ to earth as King in power and glory to rule for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4):

“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

Christ's first coming was to become the atonement for sin. His second coming will defeat sin for all eternity. And we differentiate between the coming of Christ to gather His people up with Him, which we call the rapture, and His second coming to conquer and rule the earth.

There are several positions on the rapture, but the second coming of Christ to defeat sin and reestablish the reign of God on earth in perfect justice and peace is a core doctrine for those who read the literal meaning of scripture.

There will be people who scoff at the idea of His return (3-4)

The word “scoffers” means “mockers”; not people who merely don’t buy the idea of His return, but who ridicule and mock those who do. Probably the root cause of their mocking is rejection of the existence of God. As one writer put it in defending the humanistic movement, “no deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”

Mockers deny the coming day of Judgement because they refuse to acknowledge that there is a price to be paid for their sin and unbelief. The belief expressed in verse 4 is called uniformitarianism: everything always has been and always will be as it is now. This is a basic humanistic position today. Everything evolved without any deity; what we are is the result not of a creative act, but natural processes that have always been the same and always will be. This attitude about Jesus’ return Christians still find hard to dispute in the face of the argument of unbelievers—“Okay, where is He? Show me evidence that he is returning. It hasn’t happened yet and there’s no sign it will.”

So why has it taken so long? Peter gives us the answer:

God is not bound by our idea of time (8-9)

The fact that Peter dealt with this question indicates it was an issue in the first-century church. People knew of the promise of Jesus’ return, and now, three decades later, they were asking why it is taking so long. From our viewpoint, it seems like Jesus’ return is a long time in coming. From God’s viewpoint, it won’t be long.

The important point, Peter says, is that the promise of His return is dependable: the Lord is not slow concerning His promise. So why does He seem to be slow to us? Peter gives the answer: God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance. “Patient” here is the term “longsuffering,” which means “to be patient in bearing the offenses of others” or “slow to anger” and “slow to punish.” If we sense Christ is delaying His return, it is for a good reason, Peter says: he is giving the world a chance to repent and trust in Him. His patience in delaying His coming is an act of mercy for those who have not yet believed.

Christ’s return will be when we don’t expect it (10)

The “day of the Lord” is a phrase used specifically throughout the Bible to indicate the future intervention of God in human history to deliver judgment; that is, the return of Christ to judge and establish His rule.

All of the events won’t happen in a literal single day. Rather, it begins with His surprise arrival to take believers away before the period of tribulation, to return in seven years with His people to establish His reign for 1,000 years, and then the judgment and establishment of the new heaven and new earth.

There are other beliefs about the sequence of events that are held by honest, devout Christians, and these are not points we choose to argue and part over.

Peter’s points are that His return is sure to happen, it will be a surprise, and any delay is the result of God’s mercy as He calls people to repentance.

Paul uses the same comparison in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3: “Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

Jesus uses it in Matthew 24:42-44: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

His return will bring consequences (10, 13)

After the judgment, the heavens and the earth as we know them will be destroyed—the physical universe, the “elements” (created matter), and the earth “laid bare” (burned). Yet all is not lost. We look forward to a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness. “New” means different from before.

We find related prophecies in the Old Testament:

Psalm 102:25-27: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Isaiah 65:17: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

In that new universe, righteousness will dwell:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” Revelation 21:1-7).

His return is important to us now (11-14)

Again we encounter what Jesus, Paul, and Peter all tell us is the important aspect of looking forward to His return: in light of His return at any time, what kind of people should we be? Peter answers the question: “You ought to live holy and godly lives,” (verse 11) and we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him” (verse 14).

Peter wraps all his points about the false teachers of chapter 2 and the promise of Christ’s return in chapter 3 together in verses 17-18:

“Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

January 4, 2009

False Teachers: 2 Peter 1:16-2:9

Peter wrote this second letter to the Christians scattered in Asia Minor a couple of years after he wrote to them the first time to encourage them as they endured trials and persecution. By this time, local churches seem to have been established among the scattered Christians.

In the last two sermons, we learned that Peter has reminded them that those who are truly saved will reflect the nature of God in their manner of thinking and living. In other words, one’s goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, kindness, and love demonstrate that he or she is a Christian.

If you are saved, he says, you should eagerly seek these qualities—grow in your Christian walk so that you become better and better at them. God expects it, as a natural outcome of the new nature He has put into us. Or to put it another way: you belong to the Lord, working at growing in these qualities proves that you belong to the Lord, and you will be rewarded for your hard work.

Starting in verse 16, Peter turns to the basis of his own witness to them: he himself was present with Jesus and the words of the prophets are true because the prophets “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1:21).

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21)

Note that Peter tells them they can know what the prophets wrote is true because he himself witnessed what the prophets had predicted about the coming and power of Jesus Christ. He also reminds them that he was a witness at Jesus’ transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-5).

Then he states the principle: Scripture resulted from the Holy Spirit directing the prophets what to say; that is, that Scripture is inspired of God. He is telling them that Scripture is true and reliable as he gets ready to address the problem of those teaching false doctrines in the church.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if He did not spare the ancient world when He brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if He rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. (2 Peter 2:1-9)

Just as there are today, there were people in the church who did not teach the truth. In these early days of the church, some taught about God in ways that were culturally acceptable. For example, one doctrine held that since the physical and spiritual are separate, the Christian could live any way he or she wants because there are no physical sins, only spiritual. Another false doctrine was that to be a Christian one had to strictly follow the Jewish laws. Some sought to justify emperor worship for Christians as a practical measure to enable employment, ownership of land, etc.

False doctrines and false teachers have existed throughout the centuries of the church, up to today. In chapter 2, Peter tells us some facts about false teachers.

Expect to encounter false teachers (1)

False teachers existed in the past and will exist in the future among God’s people. Peter is not ambiguous on this matter: “there will be false teachers among you.” John expressed a similar concern in 1 John 4:1-2: “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

There are false teachers among us now. Especially in this age of worldwide communications, we are to be alert to what we hear being taught and be able to recognize false doctrines. We should test all preaching and teaching against the Word of God.

Jesus said that false prophets will seek to mislead us: “watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

Neither Peter nor Jesus is referring here to honestly held doctrinal differences. They refer to doctrines taught with selfish or sinful motives, such as someone attempting to inspire a group to follow him or her, a doctrine to make Christianity more culturally acceptable (such as the health and wealth gospel), or ecumenicalism that denies the core beliefs of Christianity.

They will introduce destructive heresies (1)

Peter says they will do this “secretly.” False teachers do not announce they have come up with a doctrine that we will really like. The destructive heresies can sound really Christian, mixing false teachings with accurate doctrines, and telling us it all makes sense. The people who preach destructive heresies can be really likable and draw people to themselves and their message and ministry.

A well-known theologian, William Barclay, explains it this way: “A heretic [is]. . . a man who believes what he wishes to believe instead of excepting the truth of God which he must believe. What was happening in the case of Peter’s people was that certain men, who claimed to be prophets, were insidiously persuading men to believe the things they wished to be true rather than the things which God has revealed as true. They did not set themselves up as opponents to Christianity. Far from it. Rather they set themselves up as fine fruits of Christian thinking. Insidiously, unconsciously, imperceptibly, so gradually and so subtly that they did not even notice it, people were being lured away from God’s truth to men’s private opinions, for that is what heresy is”(from The Letters of James and Peter).

The worst heresy, Peter seems to be saying in verse 1, is the heresy that denies the Lord who bought us. And believe it or not, that very doctrine—the atonement of Christ—is one that is questioned in the emerging church movement today. There is a movement to be called “Christ follower” rather than “Christian” and to minimize the atonement as unreasonably bloody. Rather, people are told to believe in the kingdom now, rather than outdated notions of atonement and the future return of the Messiah.

When one takes a look at emerging church writings, he or she will quickly find phrases such as a “flexible approach to theology, ” a need to “reanalyze the Bible,” and even that Christians should reject traditional doctrines of evangelism and missions because they are inherently “non-inclusive.” Many in the emerging church movement even hold that other religions are valid; that Jesus, indeed, is not “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

We could probably develop a long list of false teachings, like health and wealth, new revelation, and other ideas we find in the church today. But rather than spend time doing that, let me simply state the principle: to deny teachings of Scripture is to deny Christ.

This is the point that Peter is making: we must teach what is in the Scriptures, because, as he writes in 1:21, the scriptures have been given by God Himself.

He also is not referring to critics outside the church. He is warning about teachers in the church . . . people who profess Christ and say that they are following Christ and building up His church but actually teach doctrines that, however subtly, deny or modify basic Christian truths.

Jesus may have been thinking of this problem when He said, in Matthew 10:33, “Not every one who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Peter also notes that false teachers bring swift destruction on themselves. They are responsible to God for what they teach. They could know and teach the truth, but choose not to. The idea here is that their destruction will be both certain and quick. They are not authentic Christians, and when the judgment comes there will be no discussion or excuses. There will be pure justice: sure and immediate. (“destruction” means to lose one’s well-being; to be ruined; to be wasted; to perish).

Many people will follow false teachers (2)

Peter is blunt in verse two. The term “shameful ways” refers to immoral actions or sins of lust or the flesh. What they teach may sound Christian but is not. False teaching may not be immediately apparent. It’s not openly anti-Christian, but perverted Christianity. For example, we often hear the claim that since God is love, He will not punish anyone, but accepts you exactly as you are. Another doctrinal error I have encountered in the church in the past is that God keeps kind of a balance scale, and you go to heaven if the good you do in life outweighs your sins.

More recently, I read recently one emerging church article that God’s love and grace are so inexhaustible that Christians are free to sin. That is not really typical of emerging church doctrines, but some do hold to it.

False teachers exploit their followers (3)

Peter makes the point that although false teachers may be involved in ministry, they are greedy. Verse 3 seems to be limited to the desire for money, favors, gifts, etc.—exploiting followers to give them money or material goods because of their position of teacher.

Paul issues a similar warning in Romans 16:17-18: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

False teachers will be judged (4-9)

In verses 4-9, Peter launches into a mini-sermon to assure his readers that God will assuredly deal with those who would lead them away from their faith. God did not spare even angels who sinned, he writes. God did not spare the ancient sinful world, destroying those who had turned away from Him but preserving the righteous—Noah (“a preacher of righteousness”) and his family. God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire, and they stand as an example of how He deals with the ungodly. God rescued Lot, a righteous man who was distressed and tormented by the sin in Sodom and Gomorrah. If He has done all this, Peter concludes in verse 9, then surely He can rescue righteous people and condemn the unrighteous.

In case I haven’t emphasized it enough, remember that false teaching is a big deal. Jesus warned about false teachers (Matthew 7:15-23). Paul warned about false teachers (2 Timothy 4:2-4). Peter warned about false teachers and said that many will follow them (2 Pet. 2:1-2). John warned about false teachers (1 John 2:18-20). Jude warned about false teachers (Jude 3-4).

Participants in the Divine Nature: 2 Peter 1:5-11

In verse 4 of chapter 1, Peter has told his readers that through God’s glory and goodness, “He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

So a natural question arises: What are those promises? Perhaps a short list would be

Eternal life.

His daily presence and guidance.

Answer to prayer.

Growing faith.



Peter classifies the promises of God into two categories: (1) promises that enable us to participate in His very nature (that is, to be like Him) and (2) promises that enable us to escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. And as we grow more and more in our faith, we are able to know more of the mind and will of God.

Peter also tolls us in verse 4 that another change has taken place in the Christian: we are “able to escape the corruption of the world caused by evil desires.” (Literal translation: “escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.”). That reminds us of Paul’s lengthy discussion about our no longer being the servant of sin but a servant of righteousness in Romans 6.

All this is an introduction to verses 5-11, which Peter starts with the words “For this very reason . . .” In other words, since you have this knowledge and standing as Christians, since you are called to “participate in the divine nature” and “escape the corruption in the world,” for this very reason, here is what to do.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-11)

Make every effort (5-7)

It is not often we think of our relationship with our Lord in terms of effort. Peter is about to tell us that since we can participate in the divine nature and since we can resist our sin nature, then we must make every effort to do so. We do so, he says, by adding certain qualities or efforts to our faith:

Goodness (or virtue). The term means moral goodness or moral excellence, such as modesty and purity: be a person of godly character. Goodness or virtue actually concerns thoughts, not just moral actions. Our actions are the evidence of what’s going on inside us.

Knowledge. Add to our goodness, knowledge. Knowledge can refer to general knowledge, knowledge of God, knowing right from wrong, or it is even used in the Bible to mean “moral wisdom.” I think that is the context here: we are to be people characterized by goodness or virtue, and we should know what that means.

Self-control (temperance). Temperance, or self-control, had a pretty narrow meaning in the first century world of the Christians. It means to master our desires and passions, especially our sensual appetites. This has been perhaps the major failing of Christians through the centuries. We know countless instances of Christians not making every effort to be temperate or self-controlled, as they pursue wealth, stature, recognition, give in to lusts, and so forth.

Remember the context of this list Peter is giving us is that we should demonstrate these qualities because we are able to participate in the divine nature and we are able to resist our sin nature. So it’s not a case where we can say “I’m just like that” or “he made me so angry I lost control.” Knowing God also gives us the ability and accountability for our thoughts and actions.

Patience/perseverance. In the New Testament, this term is often used for a person who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and righteousness by even the greatest trials and sufferings. It means not only to hang in there when times are tough, but also remember why: trials and sufferings are minor compared to the promise of our eternal presence with our Lord in heaven.

Godliness. Godliness means a reverence and respect for God in everything. We often use the term to describe moral virtue, but its original meaning is far beyond that. The moral virtue that in our day the term godliness describes originates on the inside in the Christian’s reverence and respect for God. That respect shows itself in the lifestyle we call godly.

Brotherly kindness. The root word for this kind of kindness is phileo, brotherly love. It is the kind of kindness that gives preference to the needs of a brother or sister in Christ, that yields “me-centeredness” to “you-centeredness.” Brotherly love also is a sign of the godliness in us.

Love. Peter here adds depth to brotherly kindness, the root word of which is phileo, by adding to the list love, agape. We might paraphrase: take care of each other in kindness and care about each other in love. That’s not perfect paraphrase, but it gives the idea. As we participate in the divine nature, one of the efforts we make is to be kind to each other; but not only do we show kindness, but we feel agape love.

These are core characteristics of the Christian (8-11)

Verse 8 is about our sanctification. If we possess all these qualities in increasing measure (literally: abound), then we will not be ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Christ.

"Ineffective" often is translated “barren”; its basic meaning is lazy. “Unproductive” is better translated “unfruitful,” meaning not yielding or producing what something is supposed to produce. Both the terms are saying the same thing: the qualities Peter has listed here are core qualities of someone who is a real Christian. This verse reminds me of James’ admonition that “Faith without works is dead.”

Peter puts it differently in verse 9: there is something wrong when Christians do not demonstrate these qualities; they have forgotten what Christ did for them and whose child they are.

A person claiming to be saved but who continues to practice sin does not understand faith and trust or what God has done for him. But as one who participates in the divine nature, by doing these things you will not sin, you will not stumble in your Christian walk, you will not be offensive to God. And a rich welcome is waiting for those who do these things: “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom,” referring to our rewards in heaven.

Remember Peter’s original audience. By now, a couple of years after he wrote to them about enduring trials and persecution, local churches were meeting.

Some of the teachers, as we will find out a little later in this letter, were teaching false doctrines, including the doctrine that virtue does not matter. Deeds have nothing to do with eternal life, they would teach, therefore live any way you want.

Peter, on the other hand, just like James 20 years earlier, gently corrects them. If you are truly saved, he is saying, then you are able to reflect the nature of God in your own nature. That is shown through goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, kindness, and love. If you are saved, he says, you should eagerly seek these qualities—grow in your Christian walk so that you become better and better at them. God expects it, as a natural outcome of the new nature He has put into us, and if we eagerly try to become better and better, then we will not sin.

Or to put it another way: you belong to the Lord, working at growing in these qualities proves that you belong to the Lord, and you will be rewarded for your hard work.

Precious Gifts and Promises: 2 Peter 1:1-4

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:1-4)

The first letter Peter wrote told his readers how to deal with persecution from outside the church. He tells them not to be surprised at the persecution, because the world hates righteousness. And he reminds them that the suffering they were then going through is minor compared to the rewards waiting for them in heaven.

While the first letter deals with threats from outside, Peter’s second letter concerns mostly with how to deal with false teachers and people inside the church intent on evil, false doctrines, and sin.

He has three purposes in this letter:

  1. To encourage Christian growth and maturity
  2. To teach them to recognize and reject false teaching
  3. To encourage diligence in their faith and watchfulness in light of Christ’s future return.

Peter wrote this letter a year or two after writing his first letter. In it we find:

  • He knew that his death was not far off (1:14; see John 21:18-19 for the prediction of his crucifixion). Peter was crucified by Nero approximately 65-67 A.D.; tradition is that he was crucified upside down, considering himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord and Savior
  • He warns that false teachers will try to lead them astray (2:1-2)
  • He tells them to remember the words of the prophets and of Christ (3:1-2)
  • He predicts that in the last days many people will scoff at the idea that Christ is about to return (3:3) and assures them that Christ’s return is nevertheless sure (3:10)

In the first four verses of the opening chapter, Peter sets the stage by listing gifts God has given to His people:

A precious faith(1-2)

Peter tells them in verse 1 that they, like him, have received, not through their own righteousness, but through the righteousness of Christ, a precious faith.

We conservative Christians often refer to our faith as true, righteous, a born-again faith, our salvation, even our heritage. But I don’t often hear faith referred to as “precious.”

“Precious” means esteemed, honored, valued, something very expensive and treasured; something even like an heirloom, to be adored, preserved, and protected. It is in that context that Peter warns them to keep their faith pure.

I run into an attitude about our faith sometimes that troubles me. Christians will describe their faith in terms of the church they attend. It’s either big or growing, and that kind of validates their faith in their own estimation. I hear faith described as exercised in a nice large building with a gym and playground, and that makes it a successful expression of their faith. Sometimes, the verification of true faith is the exciting new program for teens, or increased giving, or an increase in Sunday attendance, or a dozen other factors that spell validation and success in our 21st century western culture. But we rarely hear about the preciousness and value of faith expressed in the fact that it exists because of the simple grace of God and the faith He has given us.

I, for one, don’t see the “mega-church” as the ultimate (many in our culture would say the only) measure of success. Maybe it’s the human measure of success in the west, especially the United States. But for the New Testament writers, we find only Luke mentions numbers as an indication of the effectiveness of the gospel message (Acts 2).

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts all this in context: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Look again at what that passage tells us. Our faith itself is a gift from God. It does not come from works, including a new church program, a marketing/church growth strategy, a bigger building, or a pastor’s impressive résumé. Our faith, in fact, is the result of His workmanship. When a local church grows, it is because God has added to the church those who are being saved (Acts 2:47). Unfortunately, a lot of “church growth” today isn’t church growth at all, but, rather, growth in a congregation takes place because one local church has instituted programs designed to attract Christians from other local churches; as such, many of the church growth strategies today lead to no actual growth in Kingdom of God.

Maybe all this is a little off the subject. But I am struck by the fact that here was Peter, under house arrest in Rome, pastoring or teaching a small group of Roman Christians. He is writing to Christians who had been scattered across Asia Minor because of Roman persecution after the great fire in Rome in 64 A.D. He was not urging them to make their local assemblies grow. He was urging them to keep their faith pure. If he were delivering this sermon today, Peter might say something like, “Praise Him not because what He does for us, but for what His presence means to us.”

There is a growing movement in the U.S. right now of cell churches, which are small groups of worshippers who meet in homes or a rented facility—churches a lot like ours—where the focus is not on big new programs and buildings, but on knowing more about who God is, what He has done for us, and what He expects of us.

I really value the cell church model compared to the typical western-culture brick-and-mortar view of church, and I think of the cell church movement as a kind of revival of the early church’s focus on how precious is the faith they were given and which enables us to focus on what the word of God tells us about Him and about us. It’s also a place where unbelievers can see Christian fellowship and be introduced to the word, without a lot of programming and trappings to attract them there. I want to make it clear I am not opposed to large churches with big buildings. When I decided to change careers and enter seminary, we were part of a 2,000-member church with programming focused on adult Bible study, meaningful worship, evangelism, and missions. There were no marketing or church-growth strategies there; just preaching and teaching the word of God.

But I have found the small cell-church model to be helpful in a kind of a return to the basics of the early centuries of the church, when Christians marveled in what God had done by saving them, justifying them, sanctifying them toward greater and greater holiness, and indwelling them. They did, indeed, see their faith as precious—a gift from God with a value so high it is beyond estimation. That’s what Peter means when he calls our faith precious in verse 1.

And what is ours through this precious faith? The gift of grace and peace. We know what grace is: undeserved favor. In the Bible, peace is used in different ways. To be at peace with God means we are no longer adversaries, but His people. Here in verse 1, Peter uses the word to mean a tranquil state, the feeling of the full knowledge of having nothing to fear.

Peter lists another gift from God:

All things pertaining to life and godliness (3)

Peter sums up what having God’s divine power gives us: “everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”

God has made available to us all that we need to grow in faith through our knowledge of Him. That means from the very beginning of our Christian life. Even when we didn’t think we knew much about this new Christian life, God gave us everything we need for life and godliness and the ability to know Him ever more intimately and progress in our knowledge of His will. It all came by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who opened our minds and hearts to a new understanding of our Lord and Savior, and an understanding we can’t really define to those who don’t believe.

Note it doesn’t mean we study and learn Greek and Hebrew and read all the books and then have what we need for life and godliness. It means God has given us everything we need, by His divine power, that pertains to life and godliness.

Verse 3 tells us that part of what we need for life and godliness is “through our knowledge.” God gives us knowledge. In the original language, the word here is a strong form of the term knowledge, implying a larger, more complete, more intimate knowledge.

The preciousness of the Christian’s faith is built on the foundation of knowing the truth about God; Christianity is not a mystical religion based on superstition and feelings; it is based on objective, historical, revealed, and rational truth from God to us.

Very great and precious promises (4)

Through his glory and goodness, “He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

Peter names two kinds of promises: (1) promises that enable us to participate in His very nature (that is, to be like Him) and (2) promises that enable us to escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. These are promises with which we are familiar from our many discussions here.

The promise that we “may participate in the divine nature” is an eloquent way of saying we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Before we trusted in Him, we were servants of sin—we were messed up, we called evil good and good evil; our thoughts seemed good to us but were not, we made decisions and did things that seemed right but which turned out really wrong; we were self-centered, selfish, focused on our own gain; we were slaves to all of that, what Paul calls our old nature.

But look what happened when we trusted in our Savior: a great change took place in us. For the first time, we were able know the mind and will of God, and as we continue to grow in maturity, we understand Him more and more deeply. Our values changed from self-serving to serving our Savior; no, we haven’t been perfect, but our focus changed, and as we grow and mature in the faith, we get better and better at knowing and doing His will and not ours.

In fact, our conscience or sense of righteousness and unrighteousness was reprogrammed. Unbelievers do some really dumb stuff; I know, because I used to be one. (We won’t get into what some of that dumb stuff was!) But when I became a Christian, I changed. It wasn’t a flash of light or voice from the sky, but just a subtle but real change. I remember one thing I did a few months after I was saved was to sell my sports car. Not that a sports car is inherently sinful, but for me, at that time in my life, it had been a way to get noticed, something that had satisfied my arrogance. And all of the sudden, it didn’t matter so much anymore.

The other change that took place in us as Christians is in the last part of verse 4: for the first time we were able “to escape the corruption of the world caused by evil desires.” (Literal translation: “escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.”)

It is interesting the way Peter has phrased this. “Corruption” means decomposing, decaying, or rotting—an accurate picture from the perspective of God of the downward spiral of secular values, morals, and self-centeredness.

The world is rotting spiritually, but isn’t able or willing to smell the decay; every day in our news media, we see evil called good and good called evil, expressing the values of our secular culture.

The word “escaped” in verse 4 means “successful flight from danger.” From the moment of salvation, the Christian has a capacity through the Holy Spirit that he or she did not have before: the ability to ezcape from the power of the lusts and decaying values of the world. He or she is no longer a slave to sin, but a servant of righteousness. For the first time, he or she is not under the power of sin, but able to choose righteousness.

It is difficult to express strongly enough the extent of the changes that take place when the Holy Spirit indwells us. In closing, let us just consider for a moment how Peter describes the tremendous impact of placing our trust in our Savior and Lord: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” . . . He has given us “very great and precious promises” . . . and we are therefore able “to participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil."