Having finished 1 Peter last week, it makes sense for us to turn over in our Bibles to the next page and to the next book and to begin 2 Peter today. Like 1 Peter, it’s in the form of a brief letter which Peter wrote to various believers. And you’ll see from the heading to chapter 2 that one of the reasons Peter wrote this letter was to warn his readers about certain false teachers and about the false doctrines they were teaching. Whereas Peter and the other apostles were eye-witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ and all he said and did, these false teachers were passing on stories which they had made up; and they were teaching what Peter calls ‘destructive heresies’. Well, we’ll learn more about their false doctrines as we go through the book. But you’ll also see, if you look at the heading to chapter 3, that Peter also wanted to write to his readers about the coming of the Lord and about the way we ought to live our lives while we wait for Christ to come again. Look at verse 11 of chapter 3, where it says:
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?
And then he provides the answer:
You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
So, that’s how we’re to live our lives each day: we’re to live holy and godly lives. That’s how 2 Peter ends; but it’s also how 2 Peter begins, as we’ll see in a moment.
Today, we’ll spend our time on the verses we read a moment ago; and these eleven verses can be divided into four parts. First of all, in verses 1 and 2, we have the opening of the letter. Secondly, in verses 3 and 4, Peter tells us that the Lord Jesus has given us everything we need to live a godly life. Thirdly, in verses 5 to 9, he tells us that we need to made every effort to grow in godliness. And fourthly, in verses 10 and 11, he tells us to make our calling and election sure so that we will receive a rich welcome into Christ’s eternal kingdom in the life to come. And we’ll look at those four sections now.
Verses 1 and 2
Look with me again at verses 1 and 2 which form the introduction to this letter. And you’ll know, I’m sure, that letters in those days always began in the same way. On the first line, the person who wrote the letter names himself and writes something about himself. On the second line, the person who wrote the letter names the recipients and says something about them. And on the third line, there are words of greeting.
And so, we see from the first line here that this letter was written by Simon Peter. And he describes himself in two ways: he’s a servant of Jesus Christ; and he’s an apostle of Jesus Christ. As a servant of Jesus Christ, he was to serve his master, seeking to do his will and to follow his commands. As an apostle, he was commissioned by the Lord Jesus to bear witness to all that he had seen and heard about the Lord Jesus Christ. So, that’s who wrote this letter.
On the second line, he describes the recipients of his letter. He wrote:
To those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.
There are three things to notice here. Firstly, we should notice how he makes clear that Jesus Christ is both God and Saviour. Some people are willing to admit that Jesus Christ is the Saviour, but they’re unwilling to accept that he is also God. He’s a good man, they say. He might be the best man who ever lived. He might even be semi-divine. But he’s not God. No way, they’ll say. But Peter makes clear that Jesus Christ is both our Saviour and our God; the God who made us is also the God who saves us.
Secondly, Peter makes clear that our faith is something which we have received. Faith is a gift from God, because he’s the one who enables us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and he’s the one who makes us willing and able to cling to Christ and to trust in him for salvation. So, the preacher preaches and proclaims the good news about Jesus Christ who died for sinners and who rose again. The preacher preaches and addresses our ears. But silently and secretly, the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts to enable us to believe the good news we hear. Without the Holy Spirit, we would never believe, because all of us, at birth, are dead in our trespasses and sins. But then the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and he convinces us and he converts us to faith in Christ. Faith is something we receive from God.
And thirdly, Peter says that we receive this gift of faith through the righteousness of Christ. Why does Peter add this to the opening of his letter? Well, you see, the person who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ may be tempted to say that the reason God gave him, or the reason God gave her, the faith to believe was because of my goodness; it was because of my righteousness. Because I’ve lived a good life and because I’ve always endeavoured to do what’s right, God gave me — as a reward — the ability to believe the good news. So, we might be tempted to change what Peter wrote to say this: ‘To those who — through their own righteousness — have received a faith as precious as ours.’ But no. That’s not right. The person who thinks like that is full of pride and they’re robbing the Lord Jesus of the glory he deserves for saving us. God does not give us the faith to believe because of our goodness and because of our righteousness; he gave us the faith to believe because he’s good and he’s righteous. He deserves all the praise and all the glory for his grace and his goodness to us.
So, those are the first two lines of the greeting. In the third line of the greeting, Peter mentions grace and peace which we receive through our knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. God’s grace is his kindness to us, which we see in his willingness to pardon our sins for the sake of Christ who died for us. And God’s kindness to us leads to peace: peace with God for ever and for ever. And we discover God’s grace and we have peace with God by knowing God and by knowing his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for sinners.
Verses 3 and 4
In the next verses, verses 3 and 4, Peter tells us that by his divine power the Lord Jesus Christ has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Notice how Peter is once again making clear that our salvation depends, not on us, but on Jesus Christ. So, he’s the one who gives us the faith to believe; that’s what verse 1 was about. And he’s the one who called us to himself; that’s what verse 3 is about. Through the preaching of the gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ calls sinners to come to him for salvation. And, of course, not only does he call us, but he also enables us — by his Spirit — to respond to the call and to put our faith in him. So, he calls us to come to him for salvation.
And what happens whenever we believe and put our faith in him? Well, not only does the Saviour save us from the penalty we deserve for our sins, but the Saviour also saves us from the power of sin in our lives, because he gives to all who know him everything we need for life and godliness. Now, of course, that phrase — ‘life and godliness’ — is just another way of referring to a godly life. So, the Saviour Jesus Christ gives to all who know him everything we need to live a godly life.
And look how Peter goes on to describe this godly life. He describes it in two ways. Firstly, he writes about participating in the divine nature. Now, that doesn’t mean we become God; it doesn’t mean that our human nature is transformed and becomes divine. That’s not what he means. He’s talking about how believers are renewed more and more in the image of God, so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we display more and more of the likeness of God in our daily lives. You see, when we believe in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus fills us with the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit works in our lives continually to make us more and more willing and able to do God’s will, and to say ‘no’ to sin, and to resist temptation, and to do what’s right.
So, living this this godly life means becoming more and more like God in the way we live and in what we do. But secondly, it also means escaping the corruption in the world which is caused by evil desires. What Peter says here is reminiscent of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, where he wrote about how his readers used to follow the ways of the world; and they used to follow the ways of the Devil; and they used to gratify the cravings of their sinful nature, following its desires and thoughts. That’s the way they used to be: living a life of slavery to the ways of the world, and to the ways of the Devil, and to the ways of their own sinful thoughts and desires. But then God in his mercy raised them up with Christ and saved them and he changed their lives so that instead of following the ways of the world, and of the Devil and of their own sinful desires, they began to live good lives.
And Peter is saying the same thing here: once his readers belonged to this fallen world, where everyone is led astray by their own sinful thoughts and desires. But then, because of his glory and his goodness, Jesus Christ the Saviour called them to come to him; and he enabled them to respond to his call and to believe in him and to know him. And now that they know Christ the Saviour, they’re receiving from him everything they need to live a godly life, so that more and more they’ll be renewed in God’s image, so that that old desire to do evil will be replaced by a desire to do what’s right; and what they’ll want more than anything else in all the world is to live in such a way that their lives here on earth will reflect the glory and goodness of their Saviour in heaven. And so, if we claim to believe, if we say that we are Christians, then we ought to see this in our lives: more and more we’re being renewed in God’s image, becoming like him; and more and more we’re resisting our old sinful desires, because what we desire to do now is to do God’s will.
Verses 4 to 9
And Peter goes on to say more about this in verses 4 to 9 where he tells us that we’re to make every effort to grow in godliness. And in these verses Peter gives us a list of qualities and virtues which we’re to possess in greater abundance. Now, there’s nothing particularly significant about the order in which these qualities appear; and we’re not to think that once we have faith, we’re now to work on goodness; and once we have goodness, we can start working on knowledge; and once we have knowledge, we can start working on self-control; and at the end of our life, when we’ve got hold of the rest of these qualities, now it’s the time to work on love. That’s not the purpose of this list. Peter is giving us this list to show us that we need to be working on all of these things all of the time. So, as soon as we believe, we’re to make every effort to possess goodness and knowledge and self-control and perseverance and godliness and brotherly kindness and love. We need to make every effort to possess these qualities and to display them in our lives more and more.
Faith, of course, is foundational, because it’s through faith we’re united with Christ and receive from him the forgiveness of our sins and the free gift of eternal life. Goodness here means moral excellence, which means we’re to live good and upright lives, doing only what is good and shunning all that is evil and wrong. Knowledge here probably refers to knowing God’s moral will: his laws and commandments and the way that he wants us to live in the world. The person with self-control is the person who possesses self-restraint so that instead of giving in to our sinful desires and thoughts, we’ll be able to control ourselves and resist those desires and impulses to do what’s wrong. Perseverance or endurance is necessary so that we will remain faithful to the Lord and continue to trust in him, even when our faith is tested and we face opposition from the world. Remember the Lord’s parable of the sower: the seed that fell on the rocky ground stood for those who receive God’s word with joy; it’s the best news they’ve ever heard; however, they do not last, because when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. They did not possess perseverance. The person who possesses godliness is the person who lives a good and godly life. And then there’s brotherly kindness which refers to the way believers are to love one another, because, of course, we’re brothers and sisters in Christ. But as well as loving our fellow believers, we’re to possess love, which is love for God and love for the people around us, whoever they may be.
Now, Peter says we’re to make every effort to possess these things. We put lots of effort into lots of things: the effort we go to to succeed in school and college; the effort we go to to do our work well; the effort we go to to look after our family and homes; the effort we go to to maintain our social life; the effort we go to to keep fit or to do well on the sports field; the effort we go to with all we do in the church. Think of the time we give to these things; the money we spend; the energy we expend; We put lots of effort into lots of things, some things more worthy than others. But here is Peter reminding us of how we must make every effort to grow in godliness and to become more and more like our Father in heaven. And we’re not to put only a little effort into it; we’re not to work at it only now and again; we’re to put all our effort into it so that, when people look at us, they will see a believer who is growing in goodness and in the knowledge of God’s will and in self-control and in perseverance and in godliness and in brotherly kindness and Christian love.
Why? Well, Peter tells us in verse 8: 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. Ineffective means useless and unproductive means unfruitful; and the Lord doesn’t want his people to be useless and unproductive, but he wants to see us live lives that our useful and fruitful and which are full of good deeds. So, the believer who is growing in goodness and in the knowledge of God’s will and in self-control and in perseverance and in godliness and in brotherly kindness and Christian love is the person who is better able to obey the Lord’s commandments and to do his will.
That’s the way we’re to be. However, if anyone does not have these qualities, that person, says Peter in verse 9, is short-sighted and blind and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. What does he mean? Well, we’re studying the book of Exodus on Sunday evenings and we’re almost at that part of the story when the Israelites decided they wanted to make an idol to worship; and so they got their gold together and melted it down in order to create a golden calf to worship. Meanwhile Moses was on Mount Sinai, talking with the one, true and living God who had brought them out of Egypt. And when you read what the Israelites did, you want to knock their heads together and say to them: Are you so blind that you can’t see all that God has done for you? Are you so forgetful that you’ve forgotten how he brought you through the Red Sea and destroyed all your enemies? Have you forgotten all the ways he has helped you?
In the same way, you want to say to the believer who is not growing in godliness, but who is living a life of sin and rebellion: Are you so blind that you can’t see all that God has done for you? Are you so forgetful that you’ve forgotten how he sent his Son to die for you and to deliver you from your sin and misery? Have you forgotten all that he had done to wash away your guilt?
You see, that’s the problem with the lazy believer who is making no effort to grow in godliness: he’s forgotten, she’s forgotten all that God has done for them, because if they remembered all that God had done for them, then they would want to live a godly life in order to display their gratitude for all that he has done for them. And so, the cure for being a lazy believer is to remember God’s goodness and his grace towards you and how he sent his Son to die for you; and as we remember these things, and as we think about the depths of God’s love for sinners like us, our hearts will once again fill up with gratitude and with zeal for his glory, so that we will give ourselves more and more to living in a way that pleases him.
Verses 10 and 11
Let me try to deal with verses 10 and 11 briefly where Peter instructs us to be all the more eager to make our election and calling sure; and by doing these things — seeking to live a godly life — we will not fall away, but will receive a rich welcome into Christ’s eternal kingdom in the life to come. Well, what Peter means by this is that wanting to live a godly life, wanting to live a life that pleases the Lord, is one of the evidences that God has chosen us and that we belong to him. Just as the farmer marks his sheep to show they belong to him, so God marks his people to show we belong to him; and the mark which shows that we belong to God is the good and godly life we live. And the person who bears the mark of God’s ownership will never fall away, but will one day come into the presence of the Lord in Christ’s eternal kingdom.
Well, it’s interesting, isn’t it? We spend a lot of time talking about mission and outreach and evangelism. And that’s good, because Christ commanded the church to make disciples. The church always needs to reach out in ways that God has commanded. However, when talking about our duty before God, the emphasis here in 2 Peter and, in fact, in all the New Testament letters, is on living a good and godly life. This is something we’re to concentrate on; this is something we’re to give effort to; this is something we’re to work on every day: growing in goodness, so that we’ll give up all that is bad; growing in our knowledge of God’s will, in order to do it; growing in self-control, so that we resist our sinful desires to do wrong; growing in perseverance, so that we’re able to keep going in the faith; growing in godliness, so that we become more like God in holiness; growing in brotherly kindness, so that we love and care for our fellow believers; and growing in love, so that we’re ready to love and serve whomever we meet.