Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 21

Originally posted April 5, 2018 at Women of Purpose.

In this week’s lesson we are digging deeper into Peter’s argument for sound doctrine as the best weapon against the false teachers who will attempt to lure believers away from the security and assurance found only in the truth of God’s revealed Word. Last week we looked at his warning about the motives and methods of the false teachers; this week we will see three examples of God’s power and sovereign grace to rescue his people while punishing the ungodly with his holy and righteous judgement.  In this passage, Peter is making the point that God judges those who oppose him (the false teachers) and protects those who love him.

We began our study with three examples of groups that God has punished, and how they were punished. The first group mentioned are angels who sinned.

“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…” (1 Peter 2:4)

Our study guide moves on without another mention of these rebellious angels, but I don’t want to just leave that sitting there without further explanation. Our culture, fueled by speculation and fantasy, has been fascinated by angels in recent decades, so let’s take just a moment to look carefully at what our passage does and does not tell us about them. Peter simply writes that there were angels who sinned, and they were therefore punished by being cast into hell where they await the day of judgement. He does not tell us what sin they committed, when this all occurred, or how many there were. In fact, the rest of Scripture tells us very little about angels:

“The Bible is God’s revelation about the creation, fall, and redemption of man but not about angels. The angelic world is mentioned only tangentially in Scripture. . . . God’s word teaches that many of the angels rebelled against God, yet we do not know the nature of their sin. Therefore we ought not to speculate.”[1]

Returning to the point of our passage, why does Peter mention angels here? If we look at the structure of these verses, we see that he is making an argument from the greater to the lesser. If God did not spare even the angels, who were in his glorious presence in heaven, but punished them for their sin by casting them into hell, why would he not punish false teachers who attempt to beguile his people away from the true faith? As surely as he punished the angels, he will punish the false teachers.

Peter next moves from sinful angels in heaven to sinful humans here on earth with two examples from the book of Genesis.

“if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)” (5-8)

God rescued Noah and Lot from the ungodly people and worlds in which they lived: Noah from the ancient world, and Lot from Sodom. Noah and his family were saved in the ark and Lot and his daughters were saved by angelic visitors who physically took hold of them to drag them to safety. In both instances, God’s divine wrath and his divine protectiveness stand out. His destruction of the ungodly world of Noah’s day and of Sodom and Gomorrah was complete in its scope and uncompromising in its justice. His salvation of his people is the same.

This encourages believers today because we know that even though we are surrounded by evildoers, God in his mercy can and will protect and save his own people. This is the conclusion Peter draws in verse 9, where he writes:

“then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (9)

Notice the ‘then.’ Peter built an if/then argument from 2:4-9:

“if God did not spare angels when they sinned…” (4)

“If he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah…” (5)

“if… he condemned [Sodom and Gomorrah]…” (6)

“and if he rescued righteous Lot…” (7)

“then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment…” (9)

“If God did not spare the ancient world in the days of Noah, how much less can he be expected to spare the false teachers in Peter’s day? Yet as God protected Noah and his household, so he will spare believers who remain true to the teaching of Scripture. . . . Peter’s message is designed to exhort and encourage the readers of his epistle.”[2]

We are now told to scan Genesis 6:5-7:24, to figure out why Peter calls Noah a ‘herald of righteousness.’ Looking through, we find that Noah ‘found favor with God’ (6:8), that he ‘was a righteous man’ (6:9), and that he obeyed God by doing ‘all that God commanded him’ (6:22; 7:5). It is tempting to believe that Noah was simply an exceptional man and obeyed his way into righteousness. But 6:18 reminds us that Noah is like every other believer in history when it reveals that God told him, “I will establish my covenant with you…” Noah obeyed God because God called Noah into covenant relationship with himself. And in Hebrews we are told, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (11:7). Here we learn that Noah obeyed ‘by faith,’ and ‘became an ‘heir of righteousness’ because of that faith—just like every other believer.

Now, let’s look at Lot. Genesis 19:1-29 is where we find the account of Lot’s rescue from Sodom, and we are told to look for ways Lot behaved righteously. We read that when the two angels came to Sodom on their mission to hunt for righteous people in the city before destroying it they meet Lot ‘sitting in the gate’ of the city, (which indicates that he was a man of integrity and respected by his neighbors) (1), he honors them and offers them hospitality in his home, pressing the point when they appear to refuse (1-3). When the men of the city come to Lot’s house seeking his visitors for wicked purposes, Lot pleads with them, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly” (7).

But now, Lot’s ‘righteousness’ appears to falter as we read on. “Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof” (8). Um,… Excuse me?!? No one can read that and find righteousness.

Reading on, we see that the angelic visitors saved Lot from the mob at that point, told him their plan, and exhorted him to gather all of his people to flee the city by morning. Unable to convince his sons-in-law, only his wife and daughters will go with him. But in the morning when the angels tell him it’s time to flee, ‘he lingered’ (16). So, the angels grab them by the hand (‘the Lord being merciful to them’) and take them out of the city. After Lot whines about how far they are initially told to run the angels give them a nearer destination and send them away before the Lord destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by raining sulfur and fire on them from heaven.

Not one of us is tempted to believe that Lot earned his way into God’s favor.

Lot’s behavior is not altogether commendable. He chose, for economic reasons, to live near and then in Sodom. He offers his daughters to the raving mob. He hesitates to leave when the angels insist he must. God did not save Lot because he was a good man, or even because he was relatively better than his neighbors. God saved Lot because God is merciful! Lot is righteous because God declares him righteous—just like every other believer! Paul reminds us what God told Moses, that, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15).

The cultures in which Noah and Lot lived were, according to Peter, ungodly, sensual, wicked, and lawless. Peter writes that Lot was greatly distressed, and his soul was tormented by the wickedness which surrounded him. “As a believer, Lot objected to the sins of the people among whom he lived.”[3] There are aspects of our own culture in America today which are beginning to resemble those from which Noah and Lot were rescued. We too have reason to be greatly distressed and tormented in our souls over things that happen with the people and society among whom we live.

I find it interesting that the means and timing of these rescues differ widely. Noah was given a task to carry out, building the ark, by which God would rescue him and his family. During the 120 years it took to build the ark Noah endured the ridicule and mocking of the ungodly society around him. Peter calls Noah a ‘herald of righteousness,’ but the Genesis account (Gen. 6:8-7:29) focuses mostly on Noah’s obedience as he carefully followed God’s plan. Lot, on the other hand, was whisked away—forcibly—in a matter of hours. Both men, and their families, were saved by God from a destruction so complete and forceful that both accounts serve as metaphors for the wrath of God even today.

God’s rescue of Noah and Lot reveal that he is holy, righteous, just, and merciful. Right before the angels went to Sodom, Abraham learned of God’s plan to destroy the cities of the plain, and he plead with him,

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:23-25).

God was unable to find even 10 righteous people in Sodom, but, because he is merciful, he saved the few he found. Only Noah was given faith to believe in his generation, and God mercifully saved him with his family. To sweep them away with the wicked would have been unjust, and the Judge of all the earth will do what is righteous and just.

God’s judgement of the ungodly reveals the same aspects of his character that his salvation reveals. Because of his holiness God will not allow the wicked to prosper for long but will execute his justice upon them. To allow those who mocked Noah and tormented Lot to go unpunished would be unrighteous. Because God is merciful to his people, those who bring suffering and torment upon them will be punished accordingly.

The Bible tells us that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23). To learn how we become godly and escape God’s judgement we are sent to Romans and Ephesians:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

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. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

And, I will add this:

and [all who are saved] 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. (Rom. 3:24-27)

We become godly and escape God’s judgement the same way that Noah and Lot did: by grace through faith as a gift from God. All believers are reconciled to God only by the death of his Son. Noah and Lot did not know their Redeemer’s name or when or how he would accomplish their redemption, but they had faith that God was their justifier even as he passed over their sins until they could be propitiated by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross outside Jerusalem, thousands of years in either direction from believers who are justified by grace. In this the righteousness of God is on magnificent display, showing him to be just and the justifier of all who have faith.

Strong believers like Noah who persevere under ridicule and trial, and weak believers like Lot—sinners all—are reconciled to God through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. These men and their families were saved from the ungodly world in which they lived solely by the good pleasure of our sovereign and merciful God. If God can save Noah in such a mighty way and if he can rescue Lot from a society which has become a synonym for debauchery and a destruction and which still symbolizes his wrath, he can surely save his people now!

Returning to our passage in Peter, verse 9 assures us that, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.” In this promise we find a great deal of comfort. Martin Lloyd-Jones speaks of this comfort:

“The Bible does not offer a wonderful world just round the corner. The Bible never indulges in light and easy optimism; it does not help us by telling us that our troubles are only temporary and that soon all this evil and sin will be removed and banished [your ‘best life now’]. . . . How then does [Peter] comfort and strengthen these people? He introduces them to the sovereignty of God.”[4]

Lloyd-Jones then goes on to explain that the sovereignty of God is manifested in this verse by teaching that the Lord knowing how to rescue his people points to his sovereign ability and power to save; God’s punishment of the wicked shows forth his sovereign righteousness and justice to deal with sin and evil; and along with these, God’s sovereign love toward his own people moves him to rescue them in spite of their own sin.

“But the final and supreme promise is this: God knows how to save us from the ultimate judgement and destruction which is going to fall upon sin and evil and everything that is unjust and unrighteous. That is the great message of this chapter. The Flood, and the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, are but a preliminary indication of the final judgement, and in the judgement, finally, everything and everyone who is opposed to God shall be committed to everlasting and eternal destruction. Now the promise is given here that God will save the godly out of all that. We shall not be enveloped and overwhelmed in that ultimate last destruction. He knows how to deliver us out of it.”[5]

In his first epistle, Peter quoted from Proverbs to ask, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what is to become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (4:18). It feels, at times, as if we are scarcely making it—that we will barely make it through the gates of heaven before they slam shut. But Peter is here assuring us that whether we have the courage and perseverance of Noah, or we need to be dragged to safety like Lot, we will be finally saved. Remember, because Christ died for us, we have now been justified by his blood, and therefore, we shall be saved by him from the wrath of God. This was not a salvation given grudgingly, but a gift from our God who is rich in mercy, because of his great love for us (Eph. 2:4).

In conclusion, I will give the good Doctor the last word:

“However hard and difficult the times may be, however trying your situation may be in the particular place in which you find yourself, stand firm, my friend. Remember the power of God, remember the righteousness and the justice of God; above all, remember this amazing love of God. He will never allow you to suffer beyond a certain point. ‘God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.’ And he will deliver you from the final destruction that will certainly overwhelm all who are opposed to Him.”[6]

To God be all glory and power and dominion, forever and ever, Amen.

[1] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), 285-286.

[2] Ibid., 288.

[3] Ibid., 288.

[4] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 156-157.

[5] Ibid., 164

[6] Ibid., 165.

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