We’re nearing the end of our study of this little remarkable letter, 2 Peter. The Apostle Peter is mentoring our memories, and he explains this in 2 Peter 3:1.
“This is now the second letter that I’m writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.”
So, what Peter is saying here is your memories are not free-floating, nonpartisan, data-driven mechanisms. They are reactive; they are selective, easily influenced, impressionable. This is why Peter is emphasizing that your memories will either be shaped by God’s Word or by man’s word. People’s opinions, mixed with your own desires and experiences, can twist the way we remember so that we think we’re remembering accurately but are not.
Let me give you an example. Ian Harber recently wrote about his departure from the faith. He had grown up in a conservative evangelical church in Texas. But three things prompted him to walk away. Number 1, he felt totally unprepared to answer the kinds of questions he encountered online — science-faith questions, some of the Old Testament stories, existence of hell — questions like that he was not prepared to engage with. Secondly, he believed his church’s politics drove their faith rather than the other way around. He felt very uncomfortable with the tight link between his church’s beliefs and the Republican Party. It just felt more like a political outpost than a church. Three, he experienced a very complicated upbringing. His father left, and due to some mental illness, his mother was estranged. He was raised by his grandparents. So, in his words,
“I left the faith completely. I wanted nothing to do with Jesus or the church.”
But the answers he sought in atheism eluded him, combined with the loss of his mother, who died when she was 33, he was 16. It threw him back to a pursuit of God. But he began to wonder could he have a relationship with God, but just based on totally different beliefs? And so, he pursued what he called “progressive Christianity.” He read books like Rob Bell’s Love Wins and Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. He followed podcasts that, in his words, helped him in his journey through deconstruction. He said it this way.
“I found people who understood what it was like to deconstruct your faith and have to rebuild it from scratch.”
This was all, in his words, thrilling, until it wasn’t.
“But then I ran into a problem. As I kept listening and reading, I realized I didn’t have the tools to rebuild — and I wasn’t receiving any from these voices. Every belief I held had been neatly disassembled and laid bare on the floor for examination. But there was no guidance for putting something back together. Helping people deconstruct their faith without also helping put it back together again is lazy, irresponsible, dangerous, and isolating. The goal of deconstruction should be greater faithfulness to Jesus, not mere self discovery or signaling one’s virtue.”
It was 2016 when he began to realize he had simply traded one side of the aisle, political aisle, for another side of the political aisle. He writes it this way.
“I shared the progressives’ concern for the country, but I also saw them using the same litmus tests that the conservative evangelicals of my youth had used — just now on the other side of the aisle. Now, if you held a historic Christian ethic, you were a backward bigot. If you considered abortion morally wrong, you were anti-woman. Progressives had become just as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists they despised.”
This eventually convinced him that he and they were doing what Mark Sayers warned not to do. They were seeking a kingdom without the King.
“We want all of God’s blessings — without submitting to his loving rule and reign. We want progress — without his presence. We want justice — without his justification. We want the horizontal implications of the gospel for society — without the vertical reconciliation of sinners with God. We want society to conform to our standard of moral purity — without God’s standard of personal holiness.”
So, right at a time when he was flooded with more loss. I think he had about eleven funerals. His grandmother had died. His grandfather who raised him was killed in a tragic accident. He did something that I would imagine he could never have thought he would do. He enrolled in a conservative, evangelical seminary. And shockingly, he experienced at that time a radical renewal of memory. He describes how this unified story of God suddenly began to come alive. Truths he had rejected and despised he began to see as beautiful and life-giving, stabilizing. He learned about what it’s like to be in union with Jesus, not just a bunch of ideas, but in union with Jesus and all the blessings that begins. He began to practice spiritual disciplines, which he thought would mean bondage, and he actually began to experience a kind of freedom he had never before experienced.
“The wide and rich world of historic Christian orthodoxy, [he writes,] swung open for me to explore. We need more theology, nuance, grace, compassion, and understanding in our churches, not less. But these things are made possible by orthodox doctrine, not in spite of it. Doubt and questions need not catalyze a pendulum swing from belief to unbelief. If worked out in a healthy, thoughtful, Christian community — and with an abiding connection to Christ, our true Vine (John 15) — they can actually deepen faith and strengthen roots, producing a life where we bear fruit and withstand the fierce winds of a secular age.”
He ended his story with a reference to Peter, the one who had denied, doubted, departed from Jesus, was renewed and restored. And his last statement says this.
“In my journey I discovered, with Peter, that God’s ‘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’ (2 Peter 1:3). In Christ, we have everything we need. Why leave the boundaries of faith ‘once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 1:3) in order to find life? Jesus has the words of life. He is life, the truth, and the way. Where else would we go?”
Ian’s story just gives us a quick glimpse as to why Peter in 2 Peter views discipleship of memory as so vital. This isn’t a game. Real lives are at stake. And this memory renewal in 2 Peter comes in three forms. Let me summarize it. You’ll see these three forms in the three chapters of 2 Peter, and all three appear in the final paragraph we’re going to look at today. I’ll work backwards.
The overall theme is Please Don’t Forget. Chapter 3, remembering in the way we wait. This is where we’re going to be today —
“Since you are waiting for these.”
And then chapter 2, remembering in the way we discern —
“Take care that you are not carried away with the error.”
And then chapter 1, remembering in the way we grow —
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.”
So, let’s ask our Father to disciple our memories. Now, Father, waiting can cause us to question our memory. We begin to wonder if you spoke rightly, or we heard wrongly. Questions arise, other voices can be heard, and we become confused, easily discouraged, distracted, often distrustful. So, please disciple our memories this morning by your Word, through your Spirit, for your glory. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.
My daughter was recently traveling overseas. I’ll leave her name unmentioned. (I asked her.) For those of you visiting, I only have one daughter. But she was in an airport for five hours, and we’ll call it two different kinds of waiting. First kind is “airport wandering.” You ever been there? She wandered about for much of those five hours, exploring practically every inch of that not-so-big airport. You know what it’s like to stand in line and wait for food that is expensive and disappointing and try to sleep on those chairs that they purposely put all the armrests on so you can’t recline. So, we’re going to call that “airport wandering.”
But then on the way back, she was back in Bangkok, but this time she was with a family member of ours, who travels all the time, who had the card and had access to a place many of us did not know existed. We’ll call that “airport lounging.” So, she goes in the lounge, and there are couches everywhere, and they’re serving you free food. You want a cappuccino? Sure. You know, some of these lounges they have massage parlors, and you can get facials, whatever that is. They have separate rooms with showers and daybeds. So, you’re still waiting, but that kind of waiting is not like the wandering-around-the-airport kind of waiting. And at one point, my daughter said she was looking through the one-way glass out into the common area. “I wandered around there for five hours and didn’t even know this place existed!”
And this is what Peter is talking about. He’s not saying … The point is not “Christians, wait in luxury.” That’s not the point. The point is there are different kinds of waiting. If you remember a couple of weeks ago, Ryan talked about waiting at the DMV versus waiting at the end of an aisle as the groom is beholding his bride. Those are two very, very different kinds of waiting, and Peter is mentoring our memories in a specific way of waiting. Let’s see three different ways we wait well.
Number 1, waiting in his purity. Look at verse 14. That’s where we pick up.
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these”
Now, “these” points back to the coming of Jesus, the final judgment, the new heavens, the new earth.
“Since you’re waiting for these, be diligent [make every effort, be eager/earnest] to be found by him without spot or blemish.”
Now, where do we get this idea of waiting in his purity”? It doesn’t say we’re waiting to be found. Let me show you two places in this text that puts this in context.
First of all, the statement “without spot or blemish” is sacrificial language. Peter uses the same two words at the beginning of his first letter, and here he’s using the same two words at the end of his second letter. There is a symmetry to this. See if you notice this. 1 Peter 1:18,
“Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
So, Jesus, the one who is without blemish or spot, is rescuing us from our futile ways that are characterized by blemishes and spots. And Peter begins describing Jesus this way, and he ends his second letter describing us this way.
Second place you’ll notice this is verse 14.
— those who are loved, loved by God and love one another. So, with this use of “without spot or blemish” and “beloved,” what Peter is doing is he is situating his urgent call to purity within a covenant of love. Now, why does that matter? It’s very important because Peter’s not simply saying, “Hey, you dirty, filthy, blemish, spot-covered people, get your acts together! Clean it up! Jesus is coming!” That’s not the point here. He is saying something very different. You have been loved on by God through Christ, washed clean through the without-spot-and-blemish work of Jesus. Now, live who you are as you wait for his return. That’s a big difference. Big difference!
Paul does this in Ephesians 5:1. Look at this impossible command. “Therefore be imitators of God” No problem there. Yeah, if you’re prone to panic attacks, that command will give you one. But look at the context. He says,
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. [Within this covenant of love,] walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragment offering and sacrifice to God.”
You see the sacrificial language?
Look at the very next command in verse 3, still in Ephesians 5.
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”
You see, he is locating this call to purity within a covenant of love — totally different. What do we mean “totally different”? Let me illustrate because if you understand any of the other world religions, you will understand the contrast.
So, this Thursday ends Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, a holy month for Muslims. During the month of Ramadan, faithful Muslims, fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam, fast during the day. The key is you want to wake up really early because you’re not allowed to eat anything when the sun is up. So, you pack it in early in the morning, you pack it in late at night, but you don’t eat during the day. So, many years ago (some of you will remember this), a Muslim friend of mine said … because we had talked about having a dinner together … He said, “How about at the end of Ramadan, celebrating the end of Ramadan, we’ll feed your church.” And I said, “How many people do you want to feed?” And he named a number. I said, “Okay, we’ll have that many from our church, and you bring that many from your mosque.” And we headed up on the other end of the building. They cooked because they have to cook it certain ways, and they shared at the beginning what Ramadan is and why they practice what they practice. And then we had an opportunity to share what God has done in our lives and how we came to know Jesus through the gospel. It was so much fun! And then we separated into tables, and there were some Muslims and Christians at each table who had amazing conversations.
So, one conversation at my table was with a Muslim woman who was pretty animated against grace. She said, “If you believe salvation by grace, then you’re just going to do whatever you want to do because you’re already saved. There’s no fear driving you to do the right thing.” And I said, “True. People can abuse grace who don’t understand or haven’t experienced real grace. But let me illustrate.” I said, because my wife’s right here, “My wife and I are in a covenant of love. We love each other. What drives us to desire to be pure and faithful to each other? Is it we wake up and we have a list of rules on our wall? Is that what motivates us to be committed to each other? Or is there something stronger?” And I began to describe the driving force, the power and the energy that comes when you love someone.
That’s what he’s talking about here. When he calls them “beloved” — to orient who they are before God and one another. We are loved ones. In other words, we have been loved by God through Jesus. That fuels purity. But we’re also brothers and sisters who love one another, so we’re not going to take advantage of one another morally. That drives integrity. And so, this command comes complete, not with some threat, but with provision. “I’m giving you all you need. You have everything you need for life and godliness as you wait.”
So, our memories are shaped by the sacrificial love of Jesus, and we are waiting in purity for his coming. So, if I decide I just want to go and live any way I want, right? — plunge into porn, live immorally — what is going on there? According to 2 Peter, I’m experiencing spiritual dementia. I’ve totally forgotten who I am, who God is, what Christ has done. So, the way I live and my memory of the promises and provision of God are very tightly connected. Do you see that? Okay. So, number 1, waiting in his purity.
Number 2, waiting in his peace. Verse 14,
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”
Now, there is a kind of fake peace that is very different from real peace. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:2. Paul mentions this.
“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them.”
So, what Paul here is warning of is there is a kind of delusional peace where we simply go through life pretending, we’re never going to die and we’re never going to stand in judgment before our creator. So, everything’s fine; just chill. That is not peace. That’s delusion. What he’s talking about here is true peace that comes from the God of peace.
Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
I love that. This peace comes not through faking it or pretending everything’s okay when it’s not okay, but it comes through trusting the one who calls and does. He calls. He does. Waiting in his peace.
And then third, this is the big one, waiting in his patience. Look at verse 15,
“and count the patience of our Lord as salvation.”
Now, false teachers are marked by impatience. You might remember two weeks ago 2 Peter 3:8,
“But do not overlook [do not forget] this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
So, God views time very differently.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
So, false teachers think slow is slack. True teachers think slow is salvation. So, false teachers think slow is slack in the sense “oh God is distracted, or he’s deceitful; he said he would come back and he’s not, or he doesn’t exist”; whereas, the Bible says slow is for the purpose of salvation. God is patiently gathering his own, calling us even right now to repent, to believe, to be saved.
Peter continues in verse 15.
“Just as our beloved Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters.”
Now, where does he say this? Many places, as Peter says. Let me give you one example. Romans 2:3,
“Do you suppose, O man — you who judge those who practice such things and yet you do them yourself — that you will escape the judgment of God?”
In other words, because God doesn’t judge right away, you think he’s okay with your hypocrisy?
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing”
Pause for a second. Your hypocrisy has warped your memory. Do you not know?
“Not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
So, here Paul is saying the same thing Peter was saying that God’s slowness is not slackness, but kindness.
Have you ever thought what would it be like if God was not slow to judge? Think about it. You get out of your car this morning. You notice across the parking lot a friend of yours has a brand new, stunningly beautiful car. And you immediately begin thinking, “What is it with that? I’m way smarter than him. I work way harder than him.” And your car is in and out of the shop. You can barely keep it running. And as you’re walking across the parking lot to church this morning, all these thoughts of “God, what in the world? People who seem to do nothing drive cars like that. I work my fingers to the bone for what?” And so, your heart is this swirling cauldron of pride, envy, resentment. Imagine if God was quick to judge. You haven’t even made it to the greeter holding the door and poof! There’s a little pile of ash with some smoke coming up. The greeter’s shocked, wondering, “What is that? I thought it was a person. Maybe it’s bird poop or something.” Well, I guess God judged quickly. Glad he didn’t make it into church for the sake of the rest of us! No, there wouldn’t be any rest of us, right?
What actually happens for believers or nonbelievers? Okay, your heart is this cauldron of envy and pride and resentment, and the Spirit of God convicts you — “That is so wrong!” And he doesn’t condemn you. He doesn’t send you to hell. He doesn’t judge you as he, a holy God, rightly should. But instead, he convicts you, and before you even get to the doors. “Lord, thank you that Jesus, the one who is without spot or blemish, died so that I could be without spot and blemish. Forgive me! Thank you!” And you come walking through these doors not full of pride and resentment, but just waiting to glorify God for his cleansing, forgiving, patient kindness. It’s the kindness of God! He’s not passive about your envy. You don’t think, “Oh, God, you know, this is New Testament. He’s good with envy.” He’s not good with envy. He’s kind to people who deserve judgment, and he pours out his grace on us every single moment.
And if you’re visiting, and this Christianity thing is new, and you’re wondering why do Christians love to sing and worship Jesus? That’s just one example of many. It is the kindness of God. What the skeptical and the scoffers interpret as slowness, as slackness — God just doesn’t care — is actually kindness, wooing us to himself.
Well, the reference to Paul’s writing prompts Peter to digress, and it’s quite the digression. 2 Peter 3:16,
“There are some things in them [Paul’s writings] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
Look at these. There are three remarkable ideas in this digression of Peter’s. Number 1, Peter acknowledges that Paul’s writings can be hard to understand, that is, not easy to intellectually process. Now let that sink in. All of you who have doubts, questions, Peter’s saying, “I’m with you.” You could just hear Peter saying, “You know, I was reading Romans the other day. I came to Romans 9, one of Paul’s famous writings, cup of coffee after cup of coffee, and I’m still like, ‘What in the world?!’” The Apostle Peter is saying that some of Paul’s writings are not easy to process. It doesn’t mean they’re not true. It means if I don’t get it right away, you’re in good company.
Secondly, Peter laments the way people twist Paul’s writing. So, when something is difficult to understand, when there’s a built-in tension, that sometimes takes a little time and Spirit enlightenment to get, it is tempting to assume that you can make it mean whatever you want it to mean. And that’s what this word “twist” means. The word “twist” here actually was used in the secular world of torturing someone on a rack. So, what Peter is saying is these people are putting words on a rack and twisting and torturing the words themselves, trying to make them mean something they were never intended to mean.
I can’t tell you all the times I’ve read blogs or articles online where enlightened individuals claim to have discovered the meaning of a word, biblical word, and they’re looking back over two thousand years, essentially, not saying this, but essentially saying “all those Christians are idiots; let me tell you what this actually means” to justify their lifestyle or their position. Peter is warning us in verse 16 that this kind of deconstruction can actually lead to destruction while “the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.”
Third, Peter equates Paul’s writings with other scriptures, end of verse 16, “as they do the other scriptures.” Now, this is remarkable. This is mid-first century. The apostolic writings are already being viewed as scripture.
Peter ends with a final warning, an exhortation that not only summarizes the paragraph, but summarizes the entire letter. Verse 17,
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand”
Pause for a second. Do you see the memory discipleship there? I’m telling you something now (and Peter knows he’s going to be martyred soon) that you will need to remember later so
“that you can take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people [that is, people who live as though they’re their own authority] and lose your own stability.”
There’s so much there. That word “stability” — only time in the New Testament — but the form of that word is the same form Jesus uses when he warns Peter that, Peter, you’re going to deny me, you’re going to depart, but I’ve prayed for you, and “when you” (this is Luke 22:32)
“when you have turned again [there’s the word], strengthen your brothers.”
He’s saying, “make them more stable in what you teach them.” And that’s what he’s doing with us right now. Isn’t that amazing? Peter, the one who blew it, went astray, carried away with his confusion and doubts, disillusionment, is renewed, restored, and commissioned to the ministry of stabilizing others so they don’t have to be carried away like he was.
In 2 Peter 3:18, we see the contrast to being carried away and losing your stability —
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
So, the antidote, the barrier to being led astray, is not fear or nostalgia or some kind of crusty defensiveness, but growth.
“We have everything we need for life and godliness through Jesus in the knowledge of Jesus;”
therefore, we keep
“adding to our faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control.”
We keep growing. We don’t stop growing.
And all of this is ultimately not about us. Look at the last statement —
“To him be the glory.”
Because we are waiting in his purity, in his peace, in his patience, it is for his glory
“both now and to the day of eternity.”
That expression “day of eternity” is not used anywhere else. It could mean the day that begins eternity, that is, the day of the Lord that inaugurates a series of events culminating in the new heavens and the new earth, or it could mean the day that is eternity, the eternal day. Either way, it’s worth waiting for. It’s worth waiting for well.
Send me your questions. I’ll try to tackle a few of those tomorrow in the AfterWord. Let’s pray.
This morning, Father, we are worshiping you for being slow. And as Americans, we don’t do well with slow, but we just want to glorify you that you are slow to anger, but quick to love and forgive. Forgive us when our memories are twisted by lies and we misinterpret your delay as negligence or passivity, when your patience is our salvation. Thank you so much for patiently responding to our doubts and questions and strains and fears. We pray, Lord, that we as a church family would be a place where hard questions can be asked — we’re not threatened by them — where we can be open and honest with one another about our struggles and run to you together. As we wait in your purity and peace and patience, our longing is that we would bring glory to your name together. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.