Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 23

Originally posted April 21, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

This week, with the context of Peter’s warnings against the false teachers fresh in our minds, we turn to his encouragement to believers. The broader context of this epistle as we have read thus far has included the certainty of the return of our Lord and the day of judgement, the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, the ultimate punishment of evildoers and the rescue of the godly. Peter now turns to the specifics of the scoffers’ denial of the return of Jesus and encourages his readers to be strengthened in their faith by remembering the prophecies and history of the Scriptures.

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.” (3:1)

Peter’s tone now shifts from his sharp condemnation of the false teachers to his tender care for his sheep, calling them “beloved” four times in this final chapter (1, 8, 14, 17). These are his Master’s sheep, after all, who he promised to nurture and care for (John 21:15-17), and out of his deep love for Christ he has tended his flock with sincere pastoral compassion and vigilance. He is now reminding them of the truth of God’s promises.

The truth is important to Peter, because, as he has already told them, it is through the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ that grace and peace are multiplied to us, and through this knowledge that God grants to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (1:1-3). Additionally, Peter realizes that his time is short, and this has sharpened his desire to press upon them the urgency and importance of knowing the truth (1:12-15). His is not the only time that is short, but Christ’s return, now that we are in the last days, is also imminent. Peter listened as Jesus himself prayed to the Father that he would “Sanctify [us] in the truth; your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). By the truth that is God’s word we are sanctified, made holy, conformed to Christ’s image, and rooted deeply in assurance of faith, and therefore better able to withstand the lies of our adversaries.

The false teachers have been promoting self-centered foolishness and debauchery. Peter wants instead to encourage his readers to “wholesome thinking” (NIV), also translated “stirring up your sincere mind” (ESV), and, more clearly, “I have been recalling to you what you already know, to rouse you to honest thought” (NEB). Peter wants their minds and hearts to focus on “unsullied and pure thinking,” and “common sense,” that they would be “mentally alert to discern truth from error.”[1] On the heels of his warnings against the false teachers, we see that he must mean specifically, “A mind which is unadulterated by false teaching.”[2]

Paul, encouraging the believers in Philippi not to be anxious, but instead to seek “the peace of God which surpasses understanding, (which) will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” exhorts them also to wholesome thinking when he writes, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:6-8). Clearly, if Peter is hoping to ease the minds of his readers who have been troubled by false teachings, calling them to focus on what is true and beautiful in Christ is a key to relieving their anxiety. Especially because he points them to the truth. He isn’t giving them empty promises which will vanish like vapor if they cling too tightly, but the precious promises of a faithful, covenant-keeping God who has proven time and again that his word can be trusted. In both of his letters, Peter points us to not only to God’s power to keep his promises, but also to the hope to which we are called—and by God’s power and grace we will attain—even though we are troubled by suffering and false teachers now.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10, 11)

Peter’s instruction in verse 2 to remember the word of God as given in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is a call to mental discipline similar to his many exhortations in his first letter to be sober-minded (1:13, 4:7, 5:8). We are called in those verses to think clearly that we may shore up our faith, walk in obedience, aid our prayers, and keep aware of the ever-present enemy. Peter now wants us to counter the doubting doctrines of the false teachers with the truth of the Scriptures.

“that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2)

Our remembrance of the Word is fed by many of the disciplines of grace, from sitting weekly under faithful preaching in our local church, to daily devotional reading. Our lesson asks us to look closer at the discipline of meditating upon the Word: the practice of turning it over and over in our minds and hearts for closer examination. This can be done by slow, careful, repeated reading of a single passage, or by memorization. Either way, it is discipline, and will be rewarded by abundant fruit.

Meditating upon God’s word is one of the disciplines of grace which, for the simple reason that it requires actual discipline, has fallen by the wayside for many. Yet the rewards of meditating upon and even memorizing Scripture would fill an entire book. Peter’s call to sober-mindedness and its purposes gives us reasons within the context of our study to pursue the discipline of memorizing Scripture, which several women in our classes will affirm. Those of us who have memorized 1 Peter this year have been rewarded with deepened faith in God’s promises, sharpened focus and desire to walk in obedience, prayers enriched by God’s own vocabulary of truth-anchored hope, and a keener awareness of our prowling adversary.[3]

Furthermore, we need to meditate upon God’s word because it is the very food which nourishes our souls. When Jesus, after fasting for 40 days in the wilderness, was tempted by Satan to miraculously turn rocks into bread to feed his physical hunger, he responded with Scripture:

“he answered, ‘It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt. 4:4)

If our Lord, whose stomach must have been beyond aching with emptiness at that point, needs the words of holy Scripture for nourishment, how much more do we? We must meditate on the Scriptures to feed our souls, and for the sake of nourishment we need to balance our diet with more than the tasty morsels.

We each have our favorite verses, and there is nothing wrong with those. But we must take in the broader range of the Word to balance our intake and keep the context. For every “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) there is an “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:11, 12). Taking Philippians in larger bites, we learn that the “all things” to which Paul refers has far more to do with contentment with the circumstances in which God has placed us than with running a marathon.

We need this balance so that we don’t fall prey to context-free misuses of Scripture. God never promised me that I could run a marathon (trust me on this). He did promise me that, even if my ‘worst-case-scenario’ comes to pass, I can face being brought low, hunger, and need, because I am his. Peter’s readers in the first century and we today need to be nourished by a balanced diet of the true Word because the world, the flesh, and the devil are offering tasty but soul-malnourishing snacks to pull us away from Christ.

“knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (3).

With this declaration Peter underlines the importance of what he is writing to us. The NIV translates “knowing this first of all,” as “you must understand.” Paul issued the same warning to the Ephesian church when he said, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29, 30). Peter wants his readers to grasp the significance of the arrival of these false teacher—here called scoffers. They aren’t merely a threat to the peace and purity of the church; they are a fulfillment of prophecy.

“Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem! Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement, when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge,  and in falsehood we have taken shelter;” therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:  ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, you will be beaten down by it… Now therefore do not scoff, lest your bonds be made strong; for I have heard a decree of destruction from the Lord God of hosts against the whole land.”  (Isaiah 28:14-18, 22)

Not only did the Lord prophesy about these scoffers by the mouth of Isaiah, he promised that they would fail in their mission to destroy God’s people and escape punishment. Clearly, Peter was familiar with this prophecy of Isaiah, as he wrote about the precious cornerstone there foretold in his first letter. Jesus is our Cornerstone, against whom we, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, and the scoffers will not tear down this house, but will stumble (1 Peter 2:4-8). Peter again reminds his readers of this prophecy, so they won’t be discouraged, but will take hope in the promise that the scoffers will indeed fail. We also must take courage, because the scoffers are still with us:

“We understand that the mockers are the false teachers Peter has described in the previous chapter. But we can also hear a prophetic note in the future tense of will come. Peter is saying that in the years that precede the return of Christ numerous scoffers will ridicule Christians for their faith in God.”[4]

The point of the scoffers’ teaching, then and now, is to follow their own sinful desires (3b) rather than the teaching of Scripture, specifically as it relates to the trustworthiness of the promise of Christ’s return and judgement.

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (4)

If Christ isn’t returning as he said, then the day of judgement is also doubtful, and if there is no ultimate judgement for sin, we can live however we want! This squares perfectly with their lifestyle, which Peter expounded in detail in the previous chapter. No judgement day means ‘anything goes!’ And this is exactly how they are living.

It is therefore vitally important that we understand Peter’s message. Scoffers will come, they will scoff, they will be wrong, and they will face judgement. There is nothing novel about their message, it is essentially the same lie from the serpent in the garden, “Did God really say?” (Gen. 3:1). It is a doubt-sowing lie from ages past and it continues to this day, so we must be aware of it and be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that is within us” (1 Peter 3:15), not only for their sake, but for our own.

Their false teaching, after all, could be particularly discouraging to believers if we let it get under our skin. By raising doubts about Christ’s promised return, they are undermining the ground of our hope. If we can’t trust this one promise, where does that leave the gospel? This goes to the heart of the gospel, as Kistemaker teaches:

“The scoffers are saying that the coming of Christ has not made any difference in respect to death and dying. They say that the first Christians die just the same as other people. They conclude, therefore, that the gospel is irrelevant.”[5]

This is so important for believers to recognize because “the coming of Christ has changed everything and his eventual return will bring about the consummation. Jesus will return.”[6]

The scoffers are deliberately forgetting what we are told to remember. They are forgetting the miraculous facts of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. The virgin birth of Jesus was a miracle, unlike any other birth ‘from the beginning of creation.’ Jesus lived a sinless life, perfectly fulfilling all righteousness, unlike any other life lived “from the beginning of creation.’ His death was not for the wages of his own sin, but for the sins of others, also unlike any death “from the beginning of creation.’ And, of course, his resurrection from the grave, unlike any “from the beginning of creation,” demonstrated the power of God to fulfill his promises, and is not only vitally important to our faith, but deals a blow directly to the teaching of these scoffers, as Paul demonstrates in 1 Corinthians:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 12-14, 20-25)

Because Christ has been raised from the dead, we can be confident in his promise to return and in the coming judgement when all his enemies will be defeated. Yes, since Adam all men have died, and continue to die—but that does not render Christ’s promise void. It only serves to increase our anticipation for his return.

Continuing with our passage, Peter gives two examples to refute the false teaching of the scoffers.

“For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.” (5, 6)

Peter bases his argument upon the Scriptural history of creation and the flood, to which Martin Lloyd-Jones comments:

“That is perhaps the great watershed that divides men into two groups at this moment—those who are prepared to accept the revelation of this Book and those who reject it. Peter refers to those who reject it as scoffers. What he means is that these people come to revelation and ask their questions and are concerned about reasons, whereas the very category of revelation suggests the supernatural and the miraculous… Now the whole idea of the Bible with respect to life in this world is put in that form; creation itself is a miracle, it is making things out of nothing, it is this manifestation of the power of God.”[7]

Peter has already taught that we must base our faith on the Scriptures as found in the Old and New Testaments. This has never meant that we abandon the use of reason. To accept the teaching of Scripture that the entire universe was created by God and that he destroyed the ancient world by flood is not to suggest that accepting these miracles is unreasonable, it is to anchor the reasons firmly in the power and purposes of God himself. Miracles are not opposed to reason if we seek the reason in God. Without God there is no reason for miracles. As Lloyd-Jones continues:

“Miracles are not to be understood, they are to be believed. There are things I cannot understand in the Old Testament but as I find them to be an integral part of biblical history, I believe them.”[8]

Understanding how God accomplished creation and the flood are beyond me, but I believe that he did them both nevertheless. These two examples reveal something about our great God which the false teachers have deliberately forgotten, but which we must—must—remember.

“God, who made the world, also has the power to destroy it. He upholds creation by his power. However, just as by his divine word the universe came into existence, so at his command he can unleash natural elements in creation to destroy that which he has made… the scoffers of Peter’s day [and ours] saw God’s creation but refused to recognize the Creator and his authority.”[9]

I pray that we remember always to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, remembering his words through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways  and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8, 9)

Remembering these things will encourage us as we await our Lord’s return, knowing that God does indeed have the power to fulfill every promise he has made to us.

“Peter’s argument on the facts is this: as God destroyed the old world, so God will destroy the present world. The scoffers say this is impossible. But the scoffers of old said the same thing [remember our discussion of Noah’s 120 years of enduring the mocking of his neighbors?]. Nevertheless the facts of history stand out against them as a solemn warning, and for man not to believe it is just to shut his eyes to history, and to blind himself to that which has already happened…

The earth was without form and void, it was in a formless state, and it would have remained like that but for one thing—the power of God. God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. That is the kind of God in whom we believe. The whole thing looks impossible to us, but the power of God is such that he had but to say, ‘Let there be,’ and there was. That is the God that is behind the universe.”[10]

And that, dear one, is the God whose “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, 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” (1:3, 4).

This passage ends with a sober declaration of the destruction the scoffers will face:

“But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” (7)

Peter assured believers at the beginning of this letter that our destiny is secured in Christ when he wrote, “in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11). So, we rejoice in the knowledge of our security.

Yet there is a tension in the promised destruction of the ungodly. Yes, it is good that justice will prevail; for us the justice demanded for our own sins was visited upon Jesus as he bore our sins on the cross. Yes, those who heap abuse upon our beloved Savior ought to be punished for their sins, yet, we once stood in their place:

“dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph. 2:1-3)

So rather than rejoicing in the destruction of the ungodly, we ought to be praying for their salvation, as Jesus himself taught, “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). We have no idea, after all, who among them may yet repent of their sins and turn to Christ for salvation. I therefore close with a word from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who gives us a vivid picture of what our attitude toward unbelievers ought to be:

“Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”[11]

[1] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), 322.

[2] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 174.

[3] For more encouragement to take the plunge and memorize Scripture, see this post I wrote for enCourage:

[4] Kistemaker, 325.

[5] Ibid., 326.

[6] Ibid., 326.

[7] Lloyd-Jones, 168.

[8] Ibid., 171-172.

[9] Kistemaker, 328.

[10] Ibid., 173.

[11] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Wailing of Risca, Spurgeon’s Sermons, Volume 7, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, sixth printing- 2017), 329.

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