In the final verse of his letter Peter lays down the alternative (note the Greek de, “instead”) to being carried away by erroneous ideas of reprobate teachers. It is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.” The best way to escape error is to move as rapidly as possible in the other direction. The reason is simple in that all truth resides in Christ. Those who move in that direction experience not only his gracious presence (they “grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior”) but also an increase in their understanding of the truth he exemplifies (“and the knowledge of our Lord”). It will be well to examine these two crucial terms.
The grace of the Lord Jesus is his selfless gift of forgiveness and restoration. ”Unmerited favor” is how it is often defined. However, in one sense it is not definable because as an active relationship its full meaning has to be experienced. We know, for example, that the full meaning of love cannot be compressed into the words used to describe it; it must be experienced. The grace of Christ is understood only by those who have by faith come to know him as a personal friend. And how do we “grow” in this grace? We live with an increasing awareness of who he really is and a continuing experience of his gracious presence.
In addition to growing in grace we are to grow in our knowledge of him. This, of course, begins with an ever-expanding grasp of all that scripture has revealed about him. I suspect that a major reason for a weak and unproductive life on the part of some believers is their failure to make scripture a primary resource for Christian growth. It is said that written inside the cover of Susanna Wesley’s bible were the words, “Dust on your bible means sin in your heart.” It is import to know that learning about Christ is not learning him – the latter is existential. Once again we move from the outside toward the center. When I learn about the love of Christ it enables me to communicate it to someone else. It does not mean that I know it in the fuller sense of experiencing his forgiveness and the joy it brings. The young man sitting on the football bench while others are strenuously engaged on the field does not, as yet, know what the game really is. Involvement is the key.
Peter closes his second letter by encouraging his readers to learn more and more about the Lord Jesus and this will necessarily involve an ever-expanding experience of his gracious presence.
Peter concludes his remarks on the coming Day of the Lord noting that their “dear friend Paul” had written that God’s patience provides people additional time in which they may accept salvation. Then he added the oft-quoted line that Paul had written a number of things that were “hard to understand” and that the “ignorant and unstable” are distorting them to their own destruction. This kind of distortion has continued from the day of the apostles until the present hour.
The Greek word translated “distort” was originally used in reference to the tightening of a cable with a windlass. In our text it describes the straining and twisting of words in order to produce a desired meaning. So it has been from the beginning. What God has stated through the inspired writers is so often adjusted to express what the speaker would like it to say. The most ludicrous example I know of is that the word “become” in John 1:12 (“but to as many as believed he gave the power to become the children of God”) should be understood in the sense of “having an attractive appearance” – that is, if you believe you have the power to become more attractive.
Words are important. They are not isolated objects that we arrange in different orders so as to communicate some specific thought. They are part of the verbal method for communication. They “mean” exactly what the speaker or author intended when he used them. To understand a word or sentence correctly one has to consider context, intention, whether or not they should be taken as satire, etc. Because words are flexible, correct understanding calls for a genuine desire to understand. In Peter’s final chapter he is dealing with eschatology and that is where words have been twisted in support of many strange ideas about the future. There is a wider point of view in the church regarding the second coming of Christ than of any other doctrine. The book of Revelation and what it says about the future has been vandalized by misguided experts more than any other section of scripture. If Paul has been misunderstood by the “ignorant and unstable” I would like to argue that John (in the Apocalypse) has even more.
The seriousness of verbal adjustment for personal reasons is especially disturbing in biblical interpretation because scripture is God himself speaking through inspired channels. The very fact that it is God himself who speaks to us through his word calls for us to do our prayerful and intellectual best to understand what he is saying, not what we would like to believe.
The early church was confident that Jesus would return before long as the Lord of lords. Peter describes the coming as a cosmic cataclysm in which the entire universe would explode in a fiery mass, dissolving the elements with fervent heat. The obvious moral question is, “Since life as we know it is about to end, what sort of people ought we be?” (2 Peter 3:11). Peter answers, “Our lives should be holy and dedicated to God.” It makes sense that, in view of the cosmic conflagration about to take place, we ought to be living in a way that reflects the beauty and goodness of our Heavenly Father.
The text speaks of a life-style that is holy (i.e. apart from sin) and godly (reflective of the nature of God). Once again we need to remind ourselves that what is being held before us is a model or goal for living. It pictures a life conditioned by the fact that since the end of all things is near, it follows that heaven should become our guide for living. The conclusion is too logical to be denied. The life of the believer is to be holy and godly. The fact that Peter, along with others in the early days of Christianity, was mistaken in the literal sense of time does not alter the fact that we who are destined for heaven ought to live in a way that reflects our eternal home.
I grant that the normal congregation in today’s world falls short of this ideal. Wherever people care deeply about the spiritual is the spot where Satan is dong his best to create division. So instead of badmouthing those congregations, would it not be better to pray for them. Perhaps God will provide the healing necessary for a more positive congregational health. Jesus promised that not even the “gates of hell” could prevail against his church, i.e., those who acknowledge, as Peter did, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:18). So let’s not dwell on the trouble in that little church down the road.
Every general principle is easier to understand when illustrated by a particular example. Here is one: God sees us not in terms of what we are but in what we can be. Christ died for our sins and God sees us in him. What if we viewed every person in our world in terms of what they can become. I am sure that would help us to carry out our obligation to live a “holy and godly life.”
Peter has just warned his readers against the erroneous teaching of some scoffers who were claiming that Christ would not return. Their problem seems to be the expectation that God would work on their timetable. They hadn’t caught on that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). Peter wanted his readers to know that the Lord is not slow in keeping his promises. What may seem to be an unnecessary delay is actually God exercising his patience for their benefit – “he doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance” (vs. 9).
It is this last phrase that I want to talk about somewhat theologically. It seems to say that God is not in charge of the future. He doesn’t want something that is going to happen anyway (some will perish) and he does want something that won’t happen (for everyone to repent). That sure looks like God’s sovereignty is limited. Obviously this doesn’t fit the standard portrait of an omnipotent Deity who spoke and what is came into being (Heb. 11:3). How could one of such creative power be unable to overrule my little decision about whether or not to accept his offer of salvation?
Granted, this question has been around for a long time. Way back in the early years of the church, the fathers argued about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. There’s little chance that we will solve the problem now! But here is what is for me the closest thing to a satisfactory answer. I accept the sovereignty of God as clearly taught throughout scripture. He covered the face of the world with water when he wanted to (Genesis flood). He brought a man back from death (Lazarus). He maintains order in a universe larger that we can imagine and expanding faster than the speed of light. But we also know that through the years vast numbers have rejected his offer of forgiveness and apparently he is unable to do anything about it. How could this be? Doesn’t all-powerful mean there can be nothing more powerful?
My “solution” is that God, in the creation of the human race, intentionally gave to us the ability to disobey. What he wanted was for us to accept, love and follow him out of our own freewill. So he placed a restriction on his own sovereignty so as to have a people who would love him freely. But, you ask, doesn’t that put his sovereignty in question for other areas? I don’t know. I believe what he has declared, that he is Lord of lords and King of kings. There is none greater. There is none more powerful. J. I. Packer, the Christian theologian of note, calls these two statements an “antinomy.” Each is clearly taught in scripture while at the same time are opposed to the other. I find myself willing to accept both statements in spite of the fact that considered within our finite world of logic they raise a question. In fact, I am quite sure that I don’t want a God who is limited to my ability to understand him fully.