We all need and long to have someone in our life who will be courageous enough to tell us difficult truth when necessary. We want someone direct but not harsh; straightforward yet not “blasting away”. That balance is hard to find. But when we find it, such people become a treasured part of our lives and we do well to listen to them and cherish them. We find that balance in the words of 2 Peter.
2 Peter does not follow 1 Peter like the book of Acts follows Luke (they were both written by Luke). The book of Acts is a continuation of the story that was begun in Luke. But that is not the case in 2 Peter. This is a unique letter for a unique circumstance. In 1 Peter the apostle sought to encourage those who were going through times of persecution and trial. 2 Peter was written 2-5 years later and now he is writing to defend the Christian gospel and the teaching of the second coming of Christ from the false teachers who were threatening the church. 2 Peter is very similar to the book of Jude.
In this letter Peter will answer some important contemporary questions:
- Is it possible to know God without a true knowledge of God’s Son, Jesus? In other words: do all roads really lead to Heaven?
- Can you really know God and live an uncommitted life? In other words can we pursue the values of the world and still be a follower of Christ?
- Is it possible to know God and reject the literal and bodily Second Coming of Christ?
In this short letter Peter will attempt to stabilize us, warn us, and reclaim those who have drifted or are drifting away.
Did Peter Really Write this Letter?
If you take a class at some secular institution you may hear that 2 Peter was not really written by Peter. Usually this will be followed by a discourse on the unreliable manner in which Bible books were selected.
It is important that we understand how these books were selected. The term “Canon” (which means “rule”) is the term used for those books that were deemed to have divine authority. The Canon was developed over a period of 300 years! These years were filled with study, debate, and analysis. Most of the books that were left out of the Bible were books that were never seriously considered because they were known to be fraudulent and contained many false teachings. There were only three books given some consideration but excluded. Even they were not serious contenders.
The Books were evaluated by several considerations:
- Were the books written by an apostle or endorsed by an apostle?
- Was he book widely accepted by the early church as genuine and authoritative?
- Is the teaching of the book consistent with books that recognized as authoritative?
No one questioned the authorship of 1 Peter but some questioned the author of 2 Peter. They pointed to the fact that writing style was different in the two books and vocabulary was different; 2 Peter had many words unique to this letter. These objections are easily answered by the fact that Peter may have been using a different “secretary” in this letter and that some of the style and word differences may come naturally because of different subject matter. We choose different words for a condolence card than we will a letter of complaint to a company.
Why is this important? It is because if the Bible is not what it purports to be, then it is unreliable. If the letter is not from Peter (as it purports) then it is difficult to receive it as true in the other things it says. The argument against the letter actually being from Peter are weak. Therefore we ought to listen intently to what is said.
Enough introduction, let’s get into the epistle,
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:
2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:1-2)
Servant and Apostle
Peter calls himself both a servant and an apostle. The apostles were those designated by Christ to be His authoritative spokesmen in the world. Though there may be prophets, Pastors and teachers today; I believe the role of apostle ended with the death of the disciples of Jesus.
Peter however recognized that his authority was a derived authority. He worked for God. He was God’s servant. There are two words in the Bible that are sometimes translated servant. One means a “household servant” (which we saw earlier in 1 Peter when we talked about submission to employers). The other word, the one used here, is often translated as “slave”. Peter says he is owned and controlled by Jesus Christ.
William Barclay has a very helpful description of what it means practically to be a slave of Christ
- It means that we are possessed by Christ in the same way in which we may possess things we own. “A servant can change his master; but a slave cannot. We belong to God.
- We are at his disposal. We have no rights of our own. We have surrendered (willingly) our hearts and wills to Him whom we trust with our very souls.
- We owe Him unquestioning obedience. Our first question must always be “Lord, what would you have me do?”
- We are constantly in the Lord’s service. Barclay adds “In the ancient world the slave had literally no time of his own, no holidays, no leisure. All his time belonged to his master. The Christian cannot, either deliberately or unconsciously, compartmentalize life into the time and activities which belong to God, and the time and activities in which he does what he likes. The Christian is necessarily the man every moment of whose time is spent in the service of God.”
This is how Peter viewed his life and how we should view ours. We are not our own, we have been bought with a price. God does not serve us (though He helps us constantly), we are the given the privilege to serve of our Lord and Savior.
The Precious Faith
Peter addresses his audience as, “those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:” He is writing to believers. He affirms several things.
First, faith is “received”. The faith that is ours in Christ is not something we have earned through our effort or something we have chosen as an act of our will or because of our superior understanding. We are made right with God because of something that God has done for us.
In the gospel of John we read,
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)
The Bible clearly teaches that God has chosen us and given us the ability to believe. In Ephesians 2 we are told that our faith is “not of ourselves, it is a gift of God” (Eph. 2:9)
Faith has two dimensions. On the one hand faith is believing certain facts are true. We have one dimension of faith when we believe that Jesus lived, died a sacrificial death, rose from the dead, and will new those who believe in Him.
There is another dimension to faith. This is when we are willing to commit ourselves to the truth we profess; This dimension of faith is action based on what we say we believe. It is like actually jumping out of airplane with a parachute as opposed to saying that you believe it would be an incredible experience to do so. This dimension of faith is something God helps us do. This is what we call “saving faith”. The faith that God wants us to have is the faith that changes the orientation and direction of our lives.
The person who has such a faith will spend the rest of their lives gratefully and humbly living for the Lord. Peter never forgot the undeserved nature of His forgiveness. Neither should we.
Second, Our faith is anchored to the deity of Jesus. Peter referred to the righteousness of “our God and Savior”. Some conclude that Peter refers to two separate beings: God, and our Savior. The Greek text literally says, “our the God and Savior Jesus Christ”. Since this is awkward, the definite article “the” was dropped in the translation. However, in Greek grammar the word “the” is significant because it connects the two nouns. In other words, it means that Jesus is both God and Savior.
Peter made this bold statement (especially for a Jew) as an opening rebuke to the false teaching that was creeping into the church. The nature of Jesus was being diminished. People declared Jesus was a good moral teacher, but not God.
Most false religions today make that same claim: Jesus is seen as a great prophet but he was just a prophet (Islam) or he was a man who achieved god-like status and calls us to do the same (Mormonism). Even some professed Christians declare that we can be godlike like Jesus. Such teaching diminishes the glory of Christ!
Every secular philosophy starts by demoting Jesus to one of the great “leaders” of the world. Even some religious leaders have said, Jesus would have been horrified to see that people were trying to “make him into a God”.
Peter makes his position clear at the beginning of the letter. We don’t have to make Jesus God because He IS God! And because He is God He was and is able to rescue us from sin and judgment.
This leads us to the third declaration: Our salvation is tied to the righteousness of Christ. Peter states that it is through the righteousness of our God and Savior that we are able to receive this faith which has been given to us. We are saved not by our righteousness (or godly behavior) but by His. Our righteousness is stained and filthy. His was spotless.
Jesus was able to give His life as a payment for our sin because His life was righteous and was deemed sufficient for justice to be served and mercy to be extended.
When a Commander in Chief (or a General) of a country surrenders to another Commander or his agent, it means the war is over. That one man stands for the many.
In the Garden of Eden Adam was like our General. When he surrendered to the temptation of Satan we became, if you will, Satan’s prisoners. Through the righteous life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection of Christ, Jesus, paid for sin (making us right with God), released us from Satan’s hold, and set us free.
Finally, This salvation is available to anyone. Peter spoke of those who have received a faith as precious as ours. He spoke as a Jew to Gentiles. This is more significant than we realize. Jews grew up believing they alone were the chosen ones of God. Peter says Gentiles now have received the same faith and status with God! It was a radical notion.
Think about the movie “The Help” which records a troubling time in our country when black Americans were considered inferior to whites. They were not able to use the same restrooms, eat in the same restaurants, ride in the same part of the bus, or make the same kind of wages. This same kind of division was seen between Jews and non-Jews. Gentiles were seen as inferior before God. Peter declared that those days were over.
When the Berlin wall came down it was big news. Those who had essentially been confined in Berlin were now able to move freely. It is seen as one of the great times of liberation in history. Peter is knocking down a wall of division and bondage in these words.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is offered to anyone who will embrace Him. It has nothing to do with income, race, gender, age, criminal record, reputation or nationality. Peter was convinced by God that the message of salvation was to be made available without condition to anyone who would embrace it.
Understand the implication: if forgiveness, new life, and a life with God is available to everyone . . . then it is also available to you! You may think that you don’t know enough, that you have done too many bad things, or that your reputation is too stained. However, Peter would say to you: the Lord Jesus Christ wants a relationship even with you! He wants to forgive you make you new! He wants you to be part of His family.
Please don’t shrug this off as unrelated to your life. The truth is, this is entirely about your life!
Grace and Peace
Peter’s desire for these people is that they might be multiplied as they grow in their knowledge of the truth. The word “grace” contains the ideas of mercy, love, and pardon. It is a gift. Peace is the consequence of grace. It is an internal serenity and calm that comes from our right relationship with God. We can know peace even in the midst of trial and hostility.
Peter’s desire is that we know this truth and that we grow in this truth. God did not save us so we could stagnate in our faith. He saved us so we could grow in Christlikeness through the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
What we are trying to do with this deliberate look at these first verses of the letter is similar to building a foundation for a house. We must take time to establish our foundation because that foundation is crucial to everything else that will be built upon it.
Our foundation has been established in these first two verses:
- Jesus was God taking human form and lived a perfect life.
- His perfect and righteous life given for our sin makes it possible for us to be right with God. Jesus is the only way for people to be forgiven and find new life.
- There is nothing we can do to earn or produce faith, goodness, or the righteousness needed for new life. These must come from the hand of God.
- There is no one excluded from His invitation of forgiveness. There is no such thing as a second class child of God. We have all come to Him as sinful people in desperate need for the grace that is supplied by our perfect Savior.
R.C. Sproul writes,
People in our day do not want to take doctrine seriously. They say that doctrine divides, so instead we must focus on relationships, but ironically, in so saying, they mimic the very people that Peter is addressing in this second epistle. The biggest heretical threat in the first two hundred years of Christianity came from Gnosticism. Gnostics argued that truth, particularly ultimate truth, could not be learned through the mind, through the use of rationality, through the five senses, or through scientific investigation. The only way the truth of God can be understood, they argued, is through a mystical intuition that goes beyond the categories of reason and eyewitness testimony.
In the weeks to come we are going to look at objective and ultimate truth. In doing so we will stand against the current of contemporary thinking that declares that there is no “ultimate” or absolute truth. We live in a society that says truth is different for different people or that God is unknowable. Peter will challenge such beliefs.
The truth of the gospel is the truth by which all other “truth” is measured. When we embrace this fact, we discover joy, peace, and strength.
Not everyone will like the truth that Peter proclaims to us; however, my hope is that we will be open to the warning, rebuke, and correction Peter gives. My prayer is that we will recognize Peter not as one who is hostile to us, but as one of the special people in our lives who tells us truth we may not like, but desperately need to hear.