Tuesday, August 23, 2016

2 Peter 3:10-14 - Two Exhortations in Light of the Day of the Lord

Hello brother B-----, greetings to you from Logan, Utah!

As you probably know from reading my story, I grew up in New Brunswick, not too far from you. It's nice getting to know another brother from those parts. As I understand it, Christianity (true Christianity) is quite a minority in Quebec... but you should be encouraged; it's a minority everywhere. It always has been, and always will be until Jesus returns.

I'm so blessed to hear that those articles have been an encouragement to you. And thank you, brother, for your question on 2 Peter. I'm truly honored that you'd ask me.

Here is how I understand this passage (2 Peter 3:10-14):

The passage is clearly referring to the day when the Lord returns and judges the wicked as well as delivers His people, and in light of the fact of this coming day, Peter has two exhortations: 1) the reality of this day should influence how we practically live our lives, and, 2) we should be diligent to be found in Christ on that day so as to obtain salvation and not experience God's judgment. So I separate those two exhortations, seeing them as distinct.

The first exhortation in verse 11 is like Paul's similar exhortations in Ephesians 5:3-12 and Colossians 3:5-11. In those passages, Paul exhorts believers to live their lives in light of truth and reality: all sin, evil, immortality, etc. is unbecoming of Christians, since as Christians we understand that these deeds incur the wrath of God: Christ suffered the wrath of God because of them, and unbelievers will be punished eternally for them on the day of judgment. I don't believe in either of these passages Paul is threatening Christians with damnation if they don't live rightly, nor do I believe he is saying that the way of salvation is by living rightly (that would contradict everything Paul has taught about salvation elsewhere, and in Ephesians and Colossians). Rather, he is only pointing to the fact that sinners will be punished for their sin on the day of judgment, and since we Christians understand this we should also recognize that such behavior is unbecoming for us. We shouldn't participate with ignorant Gentiles in them, since we know better. It is not, "cease from sin and be saved", but "cease from sin, since you know better: Christ died because of these, and non-believers will be damned for these things." By faith alone we are delivered from the wrath we deserve. Even though we as Christians still do these things we will not be damned, for we are righteous in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, what we now understand tells us to avoid these things.

That is also what I see Peter saying in verse 11. Since Christ will return and punish all those who are outside of Christ for their sins, in light of this fact how ought we to live our lives? We ought to live our lives differently than the ignorant Gentile world, in reverence toward God who has saved us and who will punish the unrighteous for their sins. I don't believe there is a threat here for Christians. It is not that Christians must live holy and reverent lives in order to be saved (for we are saved by grace through faith, and not of works), but Peter is simply exhorting Christians to live the way we "ought" to in light of reality.

The second exhortation in v. 14 I see as more threatening. Peter is here warning us to be found in Christ on the day of judgment so that we do not perish with the rest of the world. In order for any person to survive the judgment of God he must be "spotless and blameless"; only then will he find peace with God. But if he is found unrighteous and blamable, then there will not be peace for him, but " wrath and indignation... tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek" (Romans 2:8-9).

As Christians, the Holy Spirit has taught us that there is no one who is righteous in and of themselves, and that no one can be righteous by the works of the law (their own works/efforts at being righteous). The only possible way for anyone to be righteous before God is by faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose from the dead. When a person believes in Jesus they are united to Him in His death and His resurrection, so that the believer is likewise counted as dead and as risen, and is now alive unto God through Jesus Christ. The believer is no longer counted a sinner; his sins are no longer counted against him, for he is dead and he is a new creation in Christ, the righteousness of God in Him, totally blameless in the estimation of God--utterly and solely because of the finished work of Christ. "Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Colossians 1:22). "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). Hallelujah, that is good news!

Peter himself points us to Paul's writings on the topic of salvation in the verses which immediately follow (v. 15-16). Being found "in peace, spotless and blameless" is only accomplished through faith in Christ. A believer in Christ will be found just so. Therefore what Peter is exhorting his readers to do in this verse is to believe.

But a follow-up question is: why does he need to exhort them to believe? Aren't his readers already Christians? The answer is found all over the Bible: because we inherit the promises "through faith and patience" (Hebrews 6:12). Until the coming the Lord, as long as we live in this body, there are constant forces seeking to destroy our faith and devour our hope. Trials, tribulations, persecutions, lies, deceptions, false prophets, etc. Peter warns us about them in both 1 and 2 Peter. There's a tension in the Bible between us resting and us racing, between us having been saved and us looking ahead to the coming of our salvation. From one perspective, our salvation is yet to come, and until it comes we are in need of patient endurance against the threat of these forces. Yet the Bible encourages us that "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6), and "whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith" (1 John 5:4). That is, our faith is in reality the work of God (Jeremiah 32:39-40), and what God began He will certainly complete. So as Christians we can have assurance and confidence that we will endure to the end because we are born of God, belong to God, are in His hands, and no one can snatch us out of His hands. That's the tension: there's a race to be run, but God will make sure that we run it. Furthermore, God uses such exhortations as 2 Peter 3:14 to ensure that we run it. Those who are born of God heed the warning and persevere. Those who are not born of God don't heed it.

On the other hand, it's important to understand that if we truly believe in Jesus and are born of God, then we are right now justified before the Father. Our finishing the race does not make us God's children, nor does it make us justified, but it reveals that we were His children all along. This is what I believe Colossians 1:22-23 means: "He has now reconciled you... if indeed you continue in the faith" (see also Hebrews 3:14). So if you believe in Jesus Christ--understanding and hoping in the righteousness that comes through faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus (something, by the way, that no unregenerate person can do: 1 Corinthians 2:14, 12:3, etc.)--then you can assure yourself that you are born of God, now and forever justified, and that you will make it to the end.

So I see 2 Peter 3:14 as an exhortation to continue in the faith so that on the day of the Lord we will be found in Christ, righteousness and blameless through faith alone in Him. This exhortation is necessary because until that day we must run the race of faith with perseverance. God uses many means to keep us running, such as exhortations like these. Running is solely about faith in Christ; we must continue to believe with patience until the end. But the other side of the coin is the promise, that if we are born of God, we will continue to believe until the end.

B-----, I hope that answers your question about this passage. Neither verse 11 nor verse 14 takes anything away from the grace of God and the gospel of righteousness through faith alone. Verse 11 is simply an exhortation to live our lives in a fitting manner (no threat), and verse 15 is an exhortation to believe (in light of the race/rest tension).

If this raises other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

For a helpful book on the tension between running and resting, I'd recommend Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday's "The Race Set Before Us" (scholarly), or for an easier read, Thomas Schreiner's "Run to Win the Prize".

May God bless you, brother, and multiply His peace in your heart.
Yours in Christ Jesus,

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