Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 17

Originally posted March 2, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

Welcome to Peter’s second epistle. Having spent 16 weeks getting to know Peter and reading his first epistle, we have reached a milestone in our study. This second letter was written by Peter only a couple (?) of years after the first with a different purpose and message for his readers. In the introduction to his commentary on 2 Peter, Michael Green writes, “These Epistles are written to two entirely different situations. 1 Peter envisages Christians facing persecution, 2 Peter Christians facing false teaching of a gnostic flavour (sic). The key-note of 1 Peter is, accordingly, hope; of 2 Peter, true knowledge. 1 Peter directs the thoughts of the recipients to the great events of the life of Christ for their emulation and comfort; 2 Peter dwells on the great hope of the return of Christ, so as to warn the false teachers and challenge the waverers.”[1]

He further explains:

“1 Peter has much to say about the cross (not least as a principle to be followed by his suffering recipients); 2 Peter has much less, for his readers do not need the gentle encouragement to follow Jesus obediently, even, if need be, to martyrdom; they need the warning that Christ will come to judge those who deny the Lord who bought them (2:1)… The writer’s mind is full of the dangers of false teaching. The full knowledge of Jesus Christ is the best safeguard against these dangers, and it is this, therefore, which is stressed, in contrast to the hope which pervades 1 Peter.”[2]

With this difference in purpose, and therefore focus, in mind, let’s dive right in.

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1)

By introducing himself to his readers as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, Peter is telling us that he serves one greater than himself, and his Master has invested him with the authority to exhort and declare what he will be writing to the church. By calling himself a servant, he “indicates that as a servant he stands next to any other servant of Jesus Christ. He is ready to accept, obey, and fulfill the orders of his Lord.”[3] What follows in this letter are not merely his opinions, but the commands of an under-shepherd, commissioned by Jesus himself to care for the flock. Shepherds were not only responsible to feed and water the sheep, but to drive away the wolves that threatened the flock. As an apostle, he has the authority not only to drive away wolves, but to command the other shepherds to likewise defend God’s flock.

The next question in our study puzzled me until I checked the NIV translation of verse 1, which reads:

“To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours…”

The ESV, which I use, doesn’t include the word “precious,” as you can see from the text above. But in searching out why Peter would refer to our faith as precious, not only here, but in his first epistle as well, I found a well of deep encouragement. ‘Precious” is, apparently, Peter’s favorite word. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes: “It means something valuable, it means something that is beyond price, beyond computation; there is nothing like it— ‘precious’ —something that is in a sense of greater than life itself.”[4]

This faith is the very same faith believed and proclaimed by the apostle over 2000 years ago. Lloyd-Jones goes on to say: “There is only one Gospel, says Peter. You may be a Gentile, you may be living far away from Jerusalem and Judea, but if you are truly Christian you have the same faith as I have, and all the other apostles and all the other Christians have… There is only one faith, there is only one Gospel, and the passing of the ages and the centuries does not affect it. It is an everlasting Gospel; it is changeless.”[5]

But there is a greater depth to the preciousness of this faith:

“Why is the faith precious? Well, it is the faith that justifies. It is the faith that enables me to know that I stand guiltless in the presence of God. Can anybody measure or compute the value of that—a conscience void of offence, a knowledge that God has forgiven me, fear of death and the grave gone, the feeling that I can face any accuser that may ever rise up against me and point to Jesus? ‘Precious faith!’ Money and learning and all that the world can give me can never give me peace of conscience, peace of mind, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ with its Doctrine of justification in Christ gives me that at its very beginning… [also] Sanctification means that not only am I guiltless in a legal sense, but that I have the precious promise of this Gospel that the Holy Spirit is working in me that which will ultimately rid me of every spot and blemish and all pollution; not merely that I am forgiven and remain the same man, but that I receive a new nature. And, ultimately, glorification… means that we shall stand in the presence of God in a perfect state. We know not yet what we shall be, says the Apostle John, but we know that when we shall see Jesus Christ we shall be like him. The glorification of the saints means their being taken out of earth to be with God and ultimately to live with God and Christ forever and ever. It is the faith that gives me these things; it is by faith I believe them. It is by faith I know that God has forgiven me, it is by faith I know that I shall spend eternity with God. ‘Precious faith!’”[6]

And finally, I must include this: “Oh! What precious faith it is, that tells me that, though I am an insignificant pygmy in this extraordinary world, the Father of Lights, the God of all power, and dominion, is interested in me, and knows me, and is concerned about me, and has placed His almighty hand upon me— ‘precious’ faith that tells me that!”[7]

And we receive this precious faith, not by works of righteousness done by us, but by the precious blood of the Lamb shed on our behalf. Peter here tells us that this faith is ours “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Elsewhere, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). And so, right here in our first verse we find the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. We didn’t obtain it by going and taking it or by earning it, but by the gift of God.

When God gives us this faith as a gift, he is not violating his own righteousness by giving us something we did not earn or deserve. Paul spells it out for us in Romans 3 (the study gave us a passage from Titus, but I felt this was more direct):

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26, underlining mine)

So, not only is this gift of faith not a violation of God’s righteousness—it is a demonstration of his righteousness! We were sinners, justly deserving wrath, Jesus was holy, justly deserving reward. But Jesus went to the cross and took the wrath that we deserved, so that we might gain the reward that he had earned! This is the Great Exchange! “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). If God were to punish us for our sins after Jesus died for them, then he would be unrighteous. Because our sins have been paid for by Jesus, thereby propitiating (turning away, satisfying) God’s wrath, God’s righteous response is to grant us the rewards that Jesus earned by his righteous life, by grace, through faith—precious faith!

Well, that about covers our first verse; moving on.

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2)

Wishing his readers grace and peace multiplied is Peter’s standard opener for both his epistles. Paul opened his letters in much the same way, with some variation. Being a standard greeting does not empty the words of their heartfelt meaning, however, and Peter here not only wishes grace and peace upon his readers but tells them how to gain it: “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Peter knows that the greater our knowledge of our Lord, the greater will be our experience of his peace and grace.

“[Peter] conveys the thought that knowledge is not merely an ability to recite facts but an experience that promotes fellowship. The believer who is the recipient of God’s grace and peace experiences these gifts through intimate fellowship with God (v.3, 8; 2:20-21). By increasing his knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, he acknowledges that grace and peace are multiplied for him.”[8]

Sisters, this is why we study the Bible together!

The more we know him, the more magnificently his grace shines and the deeper his peace dwells in our hearts! How are his grace and peace communicated to our hearts but through our minds? Paul prays for this kind of knowledge for his people in at least two passages in scripture:

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:9-11)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:14-19)

This knowledge for which Paul prays and that Peter wishes upon us doesn’t just fill our heads, but it fills our hearts and lives and overflows in our sanctification. Knowing God’s grace and peace leads to assurance, it reorders our affections so that we approve what is excellent, it causes us to grow in holiness, it strengthens us with power through his Spirit and strengthens our faith, it causes us to comprehend the incomprehensible and to know the unknowable and fills us with all the fullness of God—to the praise and glory of God!

This, my friends, is a knowledge worth pursuing, Amen?

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 that the scriptures contain all that we need to know, because, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (16, 17). But there is more to knowing God than merely reading—or even studying—the Bible.

I can learn a lot of things by reading the Bible. I can learn that God is holy and that he created the entire universe and all that is in it, that our first parents ruined the world by sinning, and that God sent Jesus to rescue and redeem us from that sin. Jesus was born after hundreds of years of prophecies bearing witness to him, he lived a sinless life, was unjustly accused, beaten, and crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem. After he died he was buried, he lay in the tomb for three days and then was resurrected in glorious victory, was seen by hundreds of people before ascending to heaven, from whence he promised to return in judgement. I can know all of these things and more, and not a scrap of this knowledge will save my immortal soul.

To be saved is not an intellectual exercise, but an act of faith—Precious faith! As Paul wrote to the Romans, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9). We will look into this more when we get to verse 3, but at this point we are asked: what steps can we, as believers, take to know God personally? Once we are saved, there is much we can do, and it is spelled out all through the Bible, but we will only look at a couple today.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11)

[Pray] “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,” (Eph. 1:17)

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8)

Settle yourself and take God at his word that he is who he says he is. Pray for wisdom and understanding. Re-orient your priorities to those of Scripture, placing Jesus at the top of your list—not just your to-do list, but at the pinnacle of value and therefore worthy of sacrificial pursuit. These few passages address our minds and hearts, and from these will flow the daily living and the to-do lists. Begin with pursuing God in this manner, for fellowship with him and his Son Jesus Christ, and the rest follows.

And now we turn to an amazing promise in verse 3:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

The God who has called us to his own glory and excellence, grants to us, through knowledge of him, by his divine power, ALL THINGS that we need for life and godliness. In verses 5 through 11 Peter will give us a list of things which we are to do. But before he hands us this list, he gives us this incredible promise from God, that everything which he requires us to do, he has already given us the means to accomplish.

What difference, we are asked, does it make that God’s power lies behind this promise of all things needed being granted to us through knowing him? All the difference in the world. Because he is God Almighty, the Omnipotent One, he is able to keep his promises, and nothing can thwart his purposes. That sounds good on paper, but what difference does it make where the rubber meets the road: when you have answered the phone only to receive news which knocks you to your knees and you find you can’t breathe?

A group of us from the women’s ministry team were recently at the PCA’s Women’s Ministry Leadership Training in Atlanta, where we were blessed to hear a number of speakers. The final speaker for the conference was Paula Miles, and she told of receiving that very sort of phone call last October, when her son, Clary, was in a life-threatening car accident. As she drove to the hospital a number of friends called her, and many of them, with the best of intentions, told her that everything was going to be alright, that God would save Clary. As well-meaning as those words were, there was no power behind them. Paula told us she knew full well that “God never promised [her] that.”

But then a wise, older friend called, and offered her true promises founded on God’s Word and therefore undergirded by his power. She told her that, no matter what she found when she walked into that hospital, she must remember that she, Paula, belonged to God. That Clary belonged to God. And that God loved Clary more than she did. That was truth. That truth made a difference. It didn’t take away the pain that she was feeling for her son, as she said, “truth isn’t an anesthetic.” But it gave her solid ground upon which to stand when she desperately needed the power of God to hold her up.

Again, sisters, this is why we study the Bible together. When the phone calls come, and the ground gives way, we need to be reminding one another of the truth that will be our anchor in the storm.

How do we access this power to live godly lives? “Through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (3). The essential life of the Believer is to know God, and in knowing him, to become like him. John Calvin has some thoughts on this which are worth sharing:

“[God makes] himself known to us by the gospel. For the knowledge of God is the beginning of life and the first entrance into godliness. In short, spiritual gifts cannot be given for salvation, until, being illuminated by the doctrine of the gospel, we are led to know God. But [Peter] makes God the author of this knowledge, because we never go to him except when called…”[9]

Which is a perfect segue into our next question, which asks: How have we come to receive God’s precious and very great promises?

 “… through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, …” (3b, 4a)

Right here, sisters, we see spelled out for us the doctrine of the Effectual Call of God to salvation. John Calvin knew a thing or two about this. He continues:

Hence, the effectual cause of faith is not the perspicacity of our mind, but the calling of God. And he speaks not of the outward calling only, which is in itself ineffectual; but of the inward calling, effected by the Spirit, when God not only sounds in our ears, but draws inwardly our hearts to himself by his own Spirit.”[10]

Verse 4 reads in full:

“by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

It may sound odd to us that we become partakers of the divine nature. By this, Peter means that through God’s promises we are becoming like God. To help us better understand what this means, we are sent to a couple of passages by Paul.

In Romans 8:9-17, Paul tells us that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and it is from the Spirit that we have life—because we are in Christ—and we can therefore put to death the deeds of the flesh. We are sons of God, and as sons we are heirs, and co-heirs with Christ, and the Spirit himself bears witness to that reality. Further, in verse 29, Paul tells us that by the Spirit we are being conformed to the image of Christ. In 2 Corinthians Paul tells us plainly that:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:17, 18)

We are being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is, quite simply, the doctrine of Sanctification.

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones comments on verse 3:

“A Christian is one who is a partaker of the divine nature. He is one in whom are, essentially, the traits and characteristics of God himself, the divine life. He is like Christ. The life of godliness, the divine quality of life, the divine characteristics are in him, are being formed in him, and he is manifesting these divine characteristics.”[11]

And, of course, John Calvin had a few thoughts:

“And he then shews the excellency of the promises, that they make us partakers of the divine nature, than which nothing can be conceived better. For we must consider whence it is that God raises us up to such a height of honor. We know how abject is the condition of our nature; that God, then, should make himself ours, so that all his things should in a manner become our things, the greatness of his grace cannot be sufficiently conceived by our minds. Therefore this consideration alone ought to be abundantly sufficient to make us renounce the world and to carry us aloft to heaven.”[12]

Verse 4 concludes by telling us that through God’s great and precious promises we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” How are we able to do this? Peter has already written in verse 3 that we have been given everything we need for life and godliness, and surely that includes escaping corruption and sinful desires. In his sermon on this passage Lloyd-Jones also answers our question:

“How can we do it? The answer is that everything we require is there for us. There is no excuse, there is no need, for failure. All things—and that is all-inclusive, you cannot add to it—all things that pertain unto life and godliness have already been given unto us.”[13]

Paul gives a clarifies how this is possible in Romans 6:11-14; look for the answer at the end:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Because I am under God’s grace I am alive to God in Christ Jesus. That is the fact of the matter, and now I must believe it and live like I believe it. As Jonathan Edwards somewhere says, I must “give myself clear away to God.”[14] I can so give myself because God has first taken me for himself. Because I am dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, I can turn away from corruption and sinful desires and flee to the cross, presenting myself to God as his purchased possession for his righteous use.

Paul also wrote to the Corinthians that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13) Note that Paul isn’t here saying that God won’t give us more than we can bear—because sometimes he does give us more than we are capable of handling. Paul is here saying that when God puts us in the way of temptations that are more than we can bear, he provides an escape, that we may endure. Because of his faithfulness we can trust him to give us what we need when we need it. When we face great temptations, when we walk through dark valleys, when we struggle to take the next breath, God provides an escape and the endurance we so desperately need. He has already provided Christ as our atonement for sin, so that we may live forever with him, which is our greatest need. As Paul elsewhere writes:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

In Christ, God has provided all that we need by grace, through faith, as a gift, so that we, his children, might live lives honoring and glorifying him.

I’ll give Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones the final word for this post. He said it so very well:

“Man does not make himself a Christian by deciding to become a Christian. It is the action of God, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, placing this new disposition within him, which gives him this life and quality. It is his divine power; and that divine power not only starts us off in the Christian life, it accompanies us, it works in us, it will mould us (sic), it will fashion us until we arrive in that ultimate state of glorification.”[15]

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Michael Green, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 19.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), 240.

[4] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 9.

[5] Ibid., 7.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 11.

[8] Kistemaker, 243.

[9] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: Commentary on the Second Epistle of Peter, translated by the Rev. William Pringle, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, reprinted 2009), 369.

[10] Ibid., 369.

[11] Lloyd-Jones, 15.

[12] Calvin, 370-371.

[13] Lloyd-Jones, 16.

[14] I can’t remember where I read this, but it’s scribbled in the margin of my Barbaranne Kelly Personal Study Bible next to Romans 6:11-14.

[15] Lloyd-Jones, 20.

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