May 14, 2001
Through His Word, God provides believers with the essential truths we need for the beginning, continuation, and completion of our salvation. In the hope of discovering new ideas, however, we often forget the fundamentals. Alistair Begg warns pastors to remind themselves and those under their care that God Himself is the only source of truth. God’s people should never tire of hearing about the precious promises He has made.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now, I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to 2 Peter with me, if you would. To 2 Peter. And according to my sheet which they gave me, we are at the point where there is supposed to be an opening exposition. So, with God’s help, we’ll try our best.
Let me read this:
“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:
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For 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. But if anyone does not have them, he is [shortsighted] and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
“Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Father, we pray that in the waning moments of these afternoon hours, as we gather in your presence and with our Bibles open before you, we ask that out of the abundance of your immense love and because you delight to give good gifts to your children, you will grant to us a sense of being caught up in the wonder of your truth and drawn afresh to your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Well, I’ve chosen to begin here for these couple of days for a number of reasons. One, quite honestly, is because I’ve had, in the past month or so, to study 2 Peter, and I found it so tremendously daunting that, having had to go through it, I determined that I would make others suffer along with me—or benefit from the insights that God would grant us. Also because I found myself on the receiving end of a number of people asking the question, “And what is going to be happening at the pastors’ conference?” And I found myself saying, “Well, we’re going to be doing some of the basics.” “Oh, well,” they said, “wasn’t that last year? Didn’t you do the basics last year?” I said, “Well, yes, we did do the basics last year, and so we’re going to do the basics again this year.” And many of them just sort of glazed over and said, “Well, I hope you have a wonderful time. Of course, I won’t be coming, but thank you for letting me know,” and they just moved off down the road. And I found myself walking away, saying to myself, “Are we really off on the wrong foot here?” I mean, is it so important that we return to this basic material?
So I found myself going to my Oxford English Dictionary and just looking up “basic,” to see exactly what it was that we were referring to when we were talking about basics. And it says that the word basic, essentially, is that which pertains to or forms a base, a fundamental, an essential; that which constitutes a minimum or a standardized scale. And I said, “Yes, that’s exactly right. I think that is what we want to be doing.” And when I went to the Scriptures again, to look at the way in which the apostles themselves seek to ensure that those to whom they are writing are grasped by and cared for by the truth they convey, it is not uncommon—in fact, it’s quite frequent—to discover that what they’re doing is simply taking their readers back down well-worn paths so that the recipients of their letters may be grounded in essential truth. And since we in turn have the privileged responsibility of seeking to establish our congregations in the truth of the Bible and in the work of Christ, I thought perhaps it would be good for us to spend a little more time making sure that we ourselves are not getting off the track. And the way in which we can do that, of course, is to look again at what is fundamental and essential.
Now, for that reason, I want to begin with the paragraph that commences with verse 12 here, where Peter is quite unashamed in telling his readers that memory matters. That memory matters. If you really want a key to opening up 2 Peter, I’m sure it is in this paragraph. Understanding the content and the structure of the letter is doubtless opened up to us more effectively once we get ahold of the emphasis of Peter here in these few verses.
He says in verse 12, “I will always remind you of these things.” In verse 13, “It is right for me to refresh your memory.” In verse 15, “I want you always to be able to remember these things.” So in seeking to guard his readers and also in turn to put them on guard, the apostle is reminding them of the truths which are the necessary basis for stability and maturity. “If you’re going to be stable,” he says, “and if you’re going to go on to maturity, then you need to pay very careful attention to information which, quite frankly,” he says, “I know is not unfamiliar to you.” But you will notice that he makes absolutely no apology for his word of reminder.
And what he is providing for his readers is, if you like, an important dose of preventive spiritual medicine. Somebody told me just the other day that the amount of money that is spent in health care in the United States, at least last year, was 1.3 trillion dollars, on health care. And it is for that reason that many within the health industry are very, very concerned to see if they can’t move things far more into the preventative arena rather than in dealing after the fact with disease after it has broken out. And there is, of course, great wisdom in that. Well, in the same way, those who are responsible for the spiritual care of the souls of others take a line from Peter here in seeking to provide preventive medicine for those who are under our care.
His concern, of course, is that the readers will not be carried away by the distracting voices that fill the air, and fill the air with destructive heresy. If your Bible’s open, you’ll notice that in the opening verses of chapter 2: the “false prophets,” the “false teachers,” “secretly introduce[ing] destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” And he says, “It’s important for me to make sure that you are grasped by and you are grasping these essentials.”
Now, we ought not to miss the obvious point of application, inasmuch as he is setting an example to all who are entrusted with the care of souls. And whatever else our responsibility may be, we are this afternoon as men set apart by God to the care of souls. It is that which ought to make us lie awake at night, and it is that which ought to get us up in the morning with a spring in our step—on the one hand, shying away from the awesome responsibility, and on the other hand, as equipped by God, stepping forward to the immensity of the privilege. And despite all of the pressure that is current, both in routine educational circles as well as in the realm of biblical education, Peter is saying it’s very, very important that we ensure that we don’t fail those under our care by forgetting to remind them.
Somebody just gave me a book of Glasgow trams. They scrapped the Glasgow trams when I was probably six years old, about forty-three years ago—took this wonderful network of tramways out of the outlying and central areas of Glasgow. Currently, somebody—a bright spark—has suggested that the way to deal with the traffic problems in Glasgow is now to introduce a tram system, and they’re hopefully waiting for everybody who was part of that tram system to die, so that they won’t feel just as embarrassed in suggesting the idea. But the book on trams is a lovely little book, and the person who gave it to me as a gift wrote inside the cover, “To remind you never to forget.” “To remind you never to forget.” And I understood what they were saying. “It is important,” this individual was saying, “that you don’t forget your roots, that you don’t forget where you came from. Because if you lose your base, then you’ll just be a nuisance to those under your influence.”
So it is first of all a call to those who are in pastoral responsibility to ensure that we are both stabilized and going on to maturity so that we in turn may do the same thing. And that it is a matter of some urgency on Peter’s part, it’s clear to us, as he says in verse 14: “The reason that this is such a pressing issue is because I know that I will soon put the tent of my body aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.” Therefore, he’s making the most of every opportunity, so that after his departure, people will be able to remember what he taught.
And you get the same thing, don’t you, in the swan song of Paul in 2 Timothy? He says the same thing. “The time has come for my departure,” “for my analusis.” “I’m going home,” he says. “Therefore, Timothy, I want you to remember.” And the most essential basic of it is 2 Timothy 2:8, where he says to him, “Remember Jesus Christ.” I mean, do you ever have to write to a pastor and tell him to remember Jesus Christ? Yes! For he may have been scurrying around the neighborhood, reminding himself about his internet program, and reminding himself about his strategies for evangelism, and reminding himself about his responsibilities in the nature of leadership, and he may actually unwittingly have begun to forget Jesus! So you say, “Well, if Paul the mighty apostle sends a swan song letter to this young fledging lieutenant, and he says to him, ‘Remember Jesus Christ,’ then which of us this afternoon would say, ‘Well, we’ve got that down!’” Have we? Have we? And then he says, in verse 14 of the same chapter, 2 Timothy 2, “[You] keep reminding them of these things.” “First of all, you remember, and then you remind them.” The implication being, if the pastor forgets, the congregation’s up a gum tree. And the vacuous nature of so much biblical presentation—and we needn’t look beyond our own faces for this—is directly hinged to the distinct possibility that we, as the shepherds of souls, have forgotten what we are urging others to remember.
Now, Peterson, in his paraphrase The Message, gives us the sense of this in a quite lovely way. He says, paraphrasing Peter’s words as we have them here, “Even though you’re up-to-date on all this truth and practice it inside and out, I’m not going to let up for a minute in calling you to attention before it. … I know that I’m to die soon. … And so I[’m] especially eager that you have all this down in black and white so that after I die, you’ll have it for ready reference.” It’s good, that, isn’t it? I wish I could write a paraphrase like that. I couldn’t, if you left me all afternoon; I don’t know about you.
You see, all teachers inevitably leave their mark on their pupils. And you and I are leaving our marks on our students—for good or for ill. If we have turned our teaching into a form of forgetfulness of Christ, it may have fallen into a form of moralism that we’ve become totally oblivious to ourselves—that we’re actually urging our people to a lifestyle, and we’re urging our people to a framework of existence, but we have actually become unmoored, unfettered, from Christ, who “is all, and is in all.” So, says Peter, “I’m not gonna apologize for the fact that even though you understand these things, that I come with a word of reminder to you.”
Now, some of you who have heard me talk know that I can’t pass this little section without telling you about my history teacher in Yorkshire, England, when I was sixteen, seventeen. He was a very proud Yorkshireman, and he was proud of the town in Yorkshire from which he came—namely, Bradford. And as he labored to teach us world history, and particularly the history of early Great Britain, he paused from time to time, and he would say, “Now, listen here. No matter what you forget in my class, never forget this: that Bradford City won the FA Cup in 1911.” Which would be the equivalent of your history teacher telling you of when the Cleveland Indians won the World Series. The result being that thirty-five years later, the only thing I remember from his history class, I’ve just told you. I don’t know anything else he taught me. But I’ve never forgotten that! But he told me never to forget, so I didn’t! If he’d explained that in relationship to the Battle of Hastings, I might have been quite an intelligent historian. But all I’m left with is one fact out of the whole of English history—namely, the time when Bradford City won the Football Association Cup.
Now, the repetitive element in this—which comes across clearly, verse 12, “I must always remind you”—is purposeful. Why will I always remind you? Why do we need to keep coming back to the basics again and again? For the same reason that a mother does it with her children. Isn’t one of the mother’s great statements, “How many times do I have to tell you? If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times”? And of course, Jesus said the same thing: “Have I been so long with you, and still you do not understand? How many times do I have to tell you dimwits the same thing again and again? I must go up to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of cruel men and die and be resurrected,” and they’re all coming around, saying, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, that can never be.” Jesus says, “I have to keep telling you the same thing over and over again.”
I actually find that quite reassuring. Because if the incarnate Lord of glory, with all of his power and all of his ability, with his day-to-day interaction with twelve men, finds himself saying, “Do I have to go back to the basics with you again?” then is it any surprise that in our pastoral ministry, we better be paying careful attention to ensure that we’re not falling foul of the idea that what our congregation is in need of is some journey into fantasyland, you know? Some trip over to a kind of spiritual Six Flags of America. Some introduction to the latest esoteric idea that has just spun off the presses of contemporary Christendom. “I’m gonna remind you of these things,” he said.
Christopher Green, commentating on this, said that Peter’s “fear is not that the [next] generation will codify and fossilize the truth, but rather that they will become so careless about it that they will forget it altogether.” Now, if that was a concern for Peter in the first century, gentlemen, is it not a concern for us in the twenty-first century? The great danger is not the codifying and the fossilizing of truth on the part of our congregations; the great danger is that our congregations will become completely disengaged from it.
Now, Peter was a good Jew, and he understood that God had given markers all throughout history as pointers to recollection. In the Passover: “I want you to remember me,” he says. “I want you to remember that you were slaves in Egypt. So celebrate the Passover,” Deuteronomy 16, “so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” Deuteronomy 5:15: “[I want you to] remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” The standing stones in Joshua 4, why are they placed there? For a point of remembrance! And the explanation is given: “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’” “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” “Remember Jesus Christ, [risen] from the dead.” “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Tell me the story often,
For I forget so soon;
[For] the early dew of morning
Has passed away [by] noon.
Are we telling our congregations the story? Are we preaching the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are we ourselves remembering that which is foundational for the stimulation of our own hearts and walk with God? It’s a great challenge; I find it one.
Now, Jewish people, of course, are good on this. Fiddler on the Roof—I love Fiddler on the Roof, don’t you? You say, “Well, I haven’t been fiddling around on the roof for some time.” No, and I suggest that you don’t do it. But the fiddler up on the roof, of course, as we know, gave the little tune so that Tevye could make his philosophical statements. And as he sings the song “Tradition,” he pauses at various intervals and makes these pithy statements, and at one point he says, “Tradition: it teaches us who we are and what God expects of us.” And the danger amongst the people of God is that we have lost sight of our identity in Christ, and therefore, we’ve lost sight of what God intends for us as a result of having been placed in Christ. Peter realizes this, and so he says, “That’s why I want to make sure that you are remembering these things.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, addressing this in that wonderful little book of his on 2 Peter, says, “The business of the church and of preaching is not to present us with new and interesting ideas, it is rather to go on reminding us of certain fundamental and eternal truths.” I’m going to say that to you again, and then I want you just to make a sort of mental note, a sidebar in your heads. You say, “I want to come back to this later on today, or tonight when I’m driving in my car, or when I’m thinking. Because I want to ask myself the question, ‘Do I believe this?’” “The business of the church and of preaching is not to present us with new and interesting ideas, it is rather to go on reminding us of certain fundamental and eternal truths.”
Now, the reason I say we better ask ourselves the question whether we believe this: because many do not believe it! Because if they believed it, then it would be apparent in our preaching and in our teaching. And in the little opportunity that I have to move from seminary to seminary, I find that the people in the Bible faculty, when they usually invite me for a lunch and try and pick my brain—which lasts about fifteen seconds, and then we talk about other things—but when we have that luncheon together, there is a question which comes every time now to me. And I’m not, this is not… this is fact. Without exception, they ask the question, “How is it that—having labored to teach our students a solid grasp of biblical theology, to instill within them a genuine love for the Word of God and a genuine conviction about the sufficiency of the Word of God—how can we prevent them, six weeks after they graduate, from running off to chase every kind of novel idea? How can they so quickly capitulate to the spirit of the age?”
Now, we can come back to that; I’ll leave it as a sort of rhetorical question hanging out there. But it is a very important question, isn’t it? And part of it is answered as a result of convictions that young men have; they don’t have a conviction about the Word of God itself. And so, out of a desire to be successful, which is directly related to numbers, then they look around the country and find out who is numerically successful. And then on the strength of the numeric success, they will then go and find out what is the strategy that they’re operating, and then they will seek to take that strategy to themselves and endeavor to implement it. And whatever you may want to say about that, what happens in part is that the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God is eroded. And it may take a generation for the degeneration to become apparent, but it will become apparent.
Now, it would be a long afternoon if I was gonna work my way all the way through this chapter, and I don’t want to do that. I could do that, but I don’t think you’d thank me for it. So what I want to do is just to give you at least my outline, and then you can fill in the blanks on your own. Actually, you may not find the outline particularly helpful, in which case it will be a stimulus to you to come up with a decent outline for 2 Peter chapter 1.
Now, the reason I started in the middle is because I think the middle is the place to start—in the same way that when you read a letter from somebody, the way in which the letter begins is not necessarily the heart of the matter; it’s not necessarily the issue that turns the key to make sense of what is there in the introduction and what is there in the conclusion. You understand that; we all understand that.
But in verses 1 and 2, he outlines this precious faith. He wants to remind his readers of the fact that what unites them is not a shared concern about the problems of the world, not a shared concern about the persecution of the day, not a common opposition to falsity that is all around them—which he’s going to address in chapter 2—but the thing that unites them is a shared faith. A shared faith. These individuals “who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”
Incidentally, it’s quite wonderful, isn’t it, that Simon Peter, who was a bit of a bumptious character, without question, introduces himself as first a servant and then an apostle? He could have said “an apostle” and then “a servant”: “Hello, this is Peter. I’m writing to you, the mighty apostle, writing to you.” He says, “This is Peter. I’m a servant. I’m a doulos, I’m a slave, I’m a servant of Jesus Christ. And I also have the privilege of being an apostle.” In other words, he first of all introduces relationship before he goes to rank. One of the reasons that some of us fall down so dreadfully is because we want to pull rank and never manage to establish any kind of meaningful relationship. I speak first to myself.
“Now,” he says, “fellows, girls, the wonderful thing is that God’s grace has imputed to us a righteousness.” When you study this, you’ll have to wrestle with the question of whether his phrase here, “the righteousness of God our Savior,” is a reference to the impartiality of God—in other words, in acting in a right way, in being nondiscriminatory in the disbursement of his grace—or whether, in point of fact, what he is addressing here is the notion of the imputed righteousness of Christ, which, of course, is the fundamental necessity for our being put in a right standing with God. The more I’ve studied it, the more I couldn’t conclude, and so I decided that probably Peter wanted us to have both thoughts in our minds: that God by his righteousness has acted in impartiality, and it is on account of the imputed righteousness of Christ that we have been brought to this shared and precious faith.
And so he offers to them “grace and peace,” because it’s what they really need. Grace first, and then peace. Perhaps cause and effect; I don’t know. Certainly, justified by grace, we have peace with God. He says, “I want you to know grace and peace.” And this is not going to be enjoyed in a vacuum; this comes through a knowledge of the Lord Jesus: “through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” The word there is epignosis, the knowledge of God, which is a gift of his free grace, by which men and women are constituted as true believers. Now, he lays down this fundamental because it is by this knowledge that is given to us that we are then to go on and add to our experience that knowledge which comes by diligent study and careful application.
So, he says, “You should understand that we have a precious faith.” And then in verses 3 and 4, he says, “I want you to notice that we have these wonderful precious promises”: “Through these,” verse 4, “he has given us his very great and precious promises.”
Now, you’ll notice again in verse 3 that he uses this word “knowledge.” It’s a very important word, because many of the false teachers were saying, “We can give you a knowledge of God. If you’ll come and listen to us, if you’ll be initiated by us, if you will pay attention to what we have to say, then you’ll get to know God in a way that you never imagined you could know him.” Nothing has changed in two thousand years! That’s exactly the same tyranny that our congregations face: the people coming around the circumference of things, some of them insinuating them into local Bible studies, and suddenly you realize you got a problem with Mr. and Mrs. X, because Mr. and Mrs. X, on a kind of covert operation, have determined that they will seek to draw away disciples after themselves by introducing them to “the real knowledge of God.”
Now, what is it that is going to prevent the members of our congregation from being sucked in there? It is by us doing the basics of continually reminding them as to the nature of what it means to have a knowledge of God in Christ. And when our congregations are anchored in these truths, then they will not be so susceptible to the tugs and pulls of the heretics that are all around. All of God’s provision for us is grounded in his relationship with us: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and [for] godliness.”
These readers were aware of their weakness; they were antagonized by those who were bold and arrogant and who were apparently powerful, as you’ll see in chapter 2. And so Peter’s readers needed a reminder of the power of God. And so he says, “Don’t let’s forget that he has given us everything that we need for life and for godliness.” He hasn’t us given us everything we want; he’s given us everything we need for life and for godliness.
It’s a good reminder to people in our congregation, isn’t it? They come to us weary and beleaguered, they come to us upset and disenfranchised, they come to us disappointed and whatever, and what are we supposed to say to them? Well, we gotta take ’em back to the basics: “My dear friend, do you understand that God’s divine power has granted to you everything that you need for life and for godliness? For the commencement, for the continuance, and for the completion of the Christian life.” “I’m not sure I can begin.” His divine power. “I’m not sure I can keep going.” His divine power. “I’m not sure I’m going to make it to the end.” His divine power.
In Colossians, the Greek verb is dunamoumenoi. I’d have to look for it to find exactly where I’m referring to now, but it’s in Paul’s prayer for the Colossians: “that you might be filled with the knowledge of God, and that you might have power to do his will.” And the word that is used there is a present continuous tense, which means the kind of power that you have in these vast aeronautical engines that fly across the Atlantic Ocean. As you sit there on the wing, and you look at that thing, you say, “Can this really keep going all the way?” And it is a great wonder, isn’t it, that it does? Who would want to start off from Hopkins Airport in a situation where they fired you to Toronto like a human cannonball, you know? So you went down in the thing, and they put a helmet on you, and then they just gave you one of these. You’d end up somewhere over the IX Center or in some dreadful predicament.
And yet there are people whose Christian lives is just like that. And they come Sunday by Sunday so that the pastor can reload them in the cannon and fire them out again for another hundred yards. What’s up with the pastor? He’s not reading his Bible. Because he is able to tell this poor soul the Christian life is not periods of frantic, energized activity followed by chronic inertia, but it is rather that his divine power establishes the flight. In the same way that the law of aerodynamics overtakes the law of gravity, so the law of the life of the Spirit of God within the life of the child of God is that which picks them up for the beginning and sustains them through the middle years and completes the good work that he has begun. Philippians 1:6.
In fact, one of the most disappointing experiences of my childhood was receiving a gift on Christmas morning, only to discover that I couldn’t immediately enjoy it on account of the absence of batteries. So you had the whole thing and no batteries. The train set that went nowhere—just sat there. Might as well become a plant pot for all the good that it is. Kind of nice to look at but going nowhere at all. And there are those, of course, who have a form of godliness and deny its power. But genuine Christian experience, says Peter, discovers God’s provision in our union and in our communion with Christ.
Now, I’m gonna have to move on. But he says in verse 4, “You will see that it is through these very great and precious promises that we have the key to our participation in the divine nature and we have the key to our liberation from the corruption that surrounds us in the world.” Becoming “partakers of the divine nature.” Or, in the NIV, “You may participate in the divine nature.”
It’s a very, very important phrase in our New Age era, isn’t it? When people still got the lingering comments of the lady, whatever her name is—Out on a Limb. The lady… Yeah, Shirley MacLaine. That kind of thing. You know, “plugging into God”? Instead of getting up on your high horse and saying “Well, I really don’t agree with that,” you know, just say, “You know, that’s an interesting idea, ’cause I was thinking about that the other day when I read 2 Peter, because there’s an interesting phrase in there that actually has got the whole idea of kind of plugging into God. In fact, if you’ve got a minute, let me read it to you. It actually says in here that the divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and we actually may participate in the divine nature.” A person says, “Well, you mean absorbed into the deity?” “No!” “Well, what then?” And then you can articulate an understanding of what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God, to be united with the Son of God, and to become a child of the Father God.
I actually think that in these days of renewed spiritual interest… And it’s an undeniable spiritual interest! I was just with a colleague at the Cleveland Clinic in the last couple of weeks, and as we stood waiting for an appointment, I was struck by the fact that they were advertising there for spiritual healing and for spiritual praying and spiritual everything. What happened to all these scientific rationalists? It’s a dead-end street. So now they’re off in search of a divine power. Well, if the Christian population can’t tell them about divine power, who is going to? But if our congregations are not instructed in the fundamentals, then, of course, they may be just out there explaining how Jesus has made them a great husband. They may be out there explaining how they have purpose in their lives. They may be out there explaining how they finally found fulfillment. Big deal! Is that what Paul says through this reminder? Those are benefits. They’re not the issue.
Precious faith. Precious promises. And then, in 5–7, which is where most of us go when we take a crack at 2 Peter 1, we have this wonderful ladder, you know, from faith to love. And you can spend your time, you go to your Greek text, and you say, “This is the same word that is over here, the same word that is over there,” and so on. It’s usually fairly boring material, and just because of the way we handle it. And those of us who think that exposition means simply coming to a verse and staying there for the rest of the afternoon have never really figured just exactly what exposition might be or can be. We’ll say more about that later on.
But what he’s saying there is this: “Since you have been given this knowledge of God, I want you to make sure that you are adding to this knowledge, which is the gift of his grace, the kind of knowledge that comes about as a result of you applying yourselves.” And this little list, along with the other lists in the New Testament, makes sure that it knocks on the head the whole idea of letting go and letting God have his wonderful way. While human effort is clearly inadequate, it is nevertheless indispensable. And yet we go—and I hope I stand on no one’s toes, although that would be a hard journey for me through these few days—but I go in pulpits, and it says on the thing, “Let go and let God.” Let go what? Let go the belt on my trousers? I mean, let go what? Is the key to Christian maturity letting go, according to Peter? No, it’s adding on.
“You, man of God, flee these things.” “You folks in Colossae, get off those old clothes and get on your new clothes.” And make sure that when you wake up in the morning, you don’t fall foul of the idea that passivity is the key to spiritual maturity—that the way to become really useful to God is to do nothing at all. So that what you do is you find a big cozy chair somewhere, and you sit in it, and the only thing that you can contribute is a nuisance. To teach that is to teach from an empty head and a closed Bible. And you certainly can’t teach it from 2 Peter 1. “I want you,” he says, “to make sure that you’re adding to your faith this, and to goodness, and to knowledge, and so on.”
Charles Simeon, who was known for his devotional life—who used to get up, apparently, very early in the morning and read his Bible and pray—was, as he got into the dying embers of his days, still getting up very, very early in the morning, still reading his Bible and praying. And somebody said to him, “You know, Simeon, you really don’t need to keep this up. You’ve built up a tremendous legacy. You’ve got a fantastic spiritual capital. You’ve been getting up. Why don’t you just back off now? After all, you’re getting very old.” And Simeon’s response was, “Shall I not run with all my might, now that I have the finish line in view?” There’s something real dangerous about the person who says, “You know, I think I’ll just coast on from here.” Coasting pastors will breed coasting churches, and coasting churches may as well head for the coast.
Now, you’re gonna have to deal with that yourself, because it’s time to move on. You can deal with the list. It’s a wonderful list. It’s helpful: 5–7, he gives us all this material; “the ladder of faith,” if you like, as some have referred to it. Then in verses 8–11, he gives these urgings and these warnings. The use of the word “if,” which is, of course, introduced in the NIV text in order to try and make sense of the Greek. “If” is a conjunction, as you know, and it introduces a condition where the question of fulfillment or nonfulfillment is left open. If someone says to you, “Define if,” that’s it. It is a conjunction which introduces a condition where the question of fulfillment or nonfulfillment is left open. And so he says to them, “Listen: if you do this, then… If you don’t, then…” And it is a reminder to us that the warnings and the promptings and the urgings of the New Testament are vital for our progress in the faith. And I’m not, again, going to camp here, because I want to go to the end of the chapter for the rest of our time.
But an ancient commentator, addressing this question of making your calling and election sure, and the eagerness that accompanies that, and the indispensable effort by the enabling of the power of God, he says, “[The] jewel of assurance does not fall in the lap of any lazy soul, nor can any expect to attain to it … in whose hearts grace is without exercise, and whose [way of life] is without fruitfulness.” Now, people come to us and say, “Well, I have no assurance of faith.” Well, why would they ever have an assurance of faith? Because they’re not adding to their faith. The “if” question is a big question!
It’s the same as the warnings of the book of Hebrews. “We are those who continue to the end and are saved.” Who? Those who are receiving the Word and doing the Word. “We are not those who fall back and are destroyed. We are those who continue and are saved.” Not that by our own continuance we save ourselves, but that our continuance is an evidence of the perseverance of God in our lives, thus enabling us to make progress.
And these truths, I think, are liberating for our people. And that’s why he lays out this danger of falling. He says, “You better be careful, lest you fall.” And he uses it as a motive to stir believers to diligence and to the exercise of grace. I hope none of us read our Bibles and say, “Well, of course, that doesn’t have anything to do with me, because there’s no possibility of me falling.” Pardon? Any one of us is only a kick in the pants off falling dreadfully, destructively. So we don’t come to the Bible across the top, as it were, and say, “This is a terrific verse for a number of people in our congregation.” This is a terrific verse for me! “Make your calling and election sure,” and “if you do these things, you will never fall, and you[’ll] receive a rich welcome into [heaven].” If you don’t, you may get there as a shipwrecked sailor. Because you may be assuming, and I may be assuming, that our works are gold and silver and precious stones, only, when the Day brings it to light, to discover that they are wood and hay or stubble, and we are saved as through the fire. And so what Peter is saying is, “Don’t go in there with the seat of your pants on fire. Go in there for a rich welcome,” the kind of welcome that was given to a returning athlete or to a general who had been victorious in the battle. “Go in there,” he says, “and you will find a rich welcome into the kingdom of heaven.” Present stability, verse 10: “You’ll never fall.” Future delight, verse 11. What a wonderful day that will be. God will spare no expense concerning your arrival and your welcome.
This is an awesome thought, isn’t it? That in eternity, God is already putting together the welcome party for you? I was thinking the other day about the fact that one of my children will come home and I won’t be there. And I was thinking about all the things that I could put in her bedroom that would say, “I love you, and you’re welcome, and I’m glad that you’re home.” Nothing particularly dramatic, just little things. Just a few coupons for Starbucks, so that she can go and get a coffee on me. Just maybe a book. Maybe a photograph of the last time we were together. But just something that says, “You know, my father was preparing for me long before I showed up, and the fact that he is not here for the welcome only mitigates in part the wonder of the expression of his care.” Well, God is doing that. Our Father is doing that. He’s preparing a place for you. And he’s preparing your welcome. And on the days, on the Mondays, when you say, “Yesterday was the worst Sunday I’ve ever had in my whole life,” when you say to yourself, “I’m not sure that I’m making my calling and election sure; I’m not sure that I’m just making the progress that I might,” then lift your eyes and look up and realize that the Father waits over the way to prepare you a dwelling place there. And he’s got for you this amazing, rich welcome.
From these urgings and these warnings, he then, in verse 16, 17, and 18, reminds the people that he’s giving them an eyewitness account. And I want just to mention this and then come to the final section.
The way in which verse 16 begins seems to infer that Peter is defending himself against some of the accusations that were coming from the false teachers: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories.” See, some of the people were saying, “You don’t want to go with that guy Peter. He’s just full of invention. He’s just been inventing stuff. You come with us, we’ll show you the true way.”
Peterson paraphrases it, “We weren’t, you know, just wishing on a star when we laid [out before you] the facts … regarding the powerful return of our Master, Jesus Christ. We were there for the preview! We saw it with our own eyes.” That’s a great paraphrase, again. “We were there for the preview.” What’s he saying? “We were there at the transfiguration.” Go back to Luke 9 and read it. They made a bit of a hash of it when they were there—he doesn’t mention that—but they were there! “How about building a few shelters here? This is a wonderful time. Maybe we could stay here.” Jesus said, “Forget the shelters. Look at me!” And the voice from the heaven says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him. Enough with your shelters!” (I suppose we could make some kind of application about building plans from there, or something like that, you know—with absolutely no factual basis at all, but it wouldn’t stop most of us. It hasn’t in the past, and probably won’t now. “And they wanted to build a shelter, and they shouldn’t, and therefore, we shouldn’t, and so on.” That kind of wonderful eisegesis.)
So Peter says, “I want you to understand that I’m not guilty of the charge of speculation, and I’m not guilty of the charge of invention.” Paul faced the same thing, didn’t he? They were saying the same thing: “You know, you can’t trust Paul.” And so Paul has to say, when he writes in 2 Corinthians 4, “We[’ve] renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception.” So Peter says, “I want you to understand that the message that we have proclaimed to you is on the basis of what we have seen and heard.” It’s the same thing you have in the apostle John: that “we have seen it, we’ve heard it, we’ve touched it with our hands.” “We were eyewitnesses,” he says, “of both the transfiguration and of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” And in this sense, they were witnesses of his “honor and glory,” for, notice, “we were with him on the sacred mountain.” And the voice that came from heaven on that day directed their attention from the construction of their shelters to the Lord Jesus himself. For the word of the prophets was pointing to he who was both the messianic King and the Suffering Servant, and the great question of the prophets was, “How will these things come together?” And Peter, by the time he’s in the house of Cornelius, says, “All the prophets testify about him.”
And then in verses 19–21, he moved from the eyewitness account to reminding them of the certainty of the prophetic word. And it’s with this I want to draw to a close. “I want to remind you,” he says—remember, let’s just track back through it—“I want to remind you of these things; I’m not embarrassed about reminding you. I want to remind you about precious faith, about precious promises, about the need to go on to maturity from faith to love; I want to remind you to pay careful attention to the urgings and the warnings; and I want to remind you that the material that we’ve given you is the material of eyewitness accounts. And now, finally, I want to remind you of the absolute certainty of the prophetic word. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you’ll do well to pay attention to it.” Nobody can misunderstand that. What is he doing? He’s turning his readers to their Bibles! That’s our task.
Now, there are a number of PhD theses floating around on the strength of “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain.” Some of you may even have one. I certainly don’t, and never will. Is Peter saying that the word of the Old Testament prophets has become more certain as a result of being confirmed by the transfiguration? Or does it mean that the Old Testament Scriptures are confirming the apostolic testimony? Or a number of other possibilities?
Now, the fact of the matter is that the commentators are divided, and even the way in which English translations are put together points to different conclusions. What do you do when you reach that kind of impasse? I go to a number of people, and one of them is Calvin. Because, you know, when you say, “Calvin said it,” it has a kind of ring to it, you know. I mean, you can say, “Ryrie said,” but it’s just not got the same stuff behind it—at least depending on what circles you’re moving. So you say, “Well, it could be this, and it could be this. Let me tell you what Calvin said.”
So Calvin said, “The authority of the Word of God is the same as it was in the beginning, and then it was given further confirmation than before by the advent of Christ.” So that all of the prophetic material which is pointing forward has now found its confirmation in Christ. “We were there at his transfiguration. We are witnesses to the fact of his resurrection. We know that he has now ascended to the right hand of the Father on high. And all of this is confirmation of the fact that you can be absolutely confident about the truth of what we are saying to you.”
“There is,” says Dick Lucas, commenting on this, “a natural craving for a voice from heaven. That [has] indeed … been given …, but not to us.” Now, that little sentence is crucial. Because verse 18 says, “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” So the voice has come from heaven, it has come to the apostles, the apostles’ truth is now inscripturated for us, so that we then do not have to listen for a voice from heaven, for the voice has come from heaven, been granted to them, they have now conveyed it to us, so we never take our congregations beyond the Bible. We never have to take our congregations beyond apostolic practice and apostolic precept. And when the members of our congregations come running around saying, “You know, I think I heard a voice from heaven,” or “I would love to hear a voice from heaven,” we can say to them, “Well, I love your zeal. And I love the fact that you’re interested to hear from God, and I love to hear from him too. But I want you to know his voice has been heard, and let me tell you…” So we’re pointing them continually back to the authority and the sufficiency of the Bible.
Now, if you go on to chapter 2—and of course, there’s no chapter breaks—Peter is immediately talking about these individuals who were making bold claims, who were full of fictitious anecdotes, and drawing around them people who were very quick to look for God’s Spirit speaking a fresh message through these characters to these searchers. And so what Peter is saying is this: the answer to that is in the certainty and in the authority and in the sufficiency of Scripture. In the certainty and the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture.
How do we ever become useful in the pulpit? Well, in large measure, it has to do with the conviction that God stirs within our hearts concerning those things: its certainty, its authority, its sufficiency. We’ve got no authority! I mean, if we doubt that, just check with our wives. How much authority I have was revealed to me last night when I asked my wife, you know, “Can we have paper plates?” “No,” she said, “we can’t!” And were it not for the intervention of someone with more influence than myself, we would not have had paper plates. So I say to myself, “Do I have authority? I can’t even get paper plates in my house.” You say, “Well, you got a rebellious wife on your hands.” No, she wanted it to be nice for you. She thought my idea was dumb. And a lot of my ideas are dumb.
So unless what you and I have to share when we’re in front of our people is not ourselves or our ideas but is a certain authoritative and sufficient Bible, then frankly, we ought to pack it up and go home. And when we lose confidence in the authority and sufficiency and certainty of this book, then we’ll bring in the dancing girls, then we’ll bring in the flashing lights, then we’ll bring in the road show, then we’ll bring in the guy, the strongest man in America, who can break blocks of ice with his bare head, you know. “Come on Sunday night, and watch the Midget from Minnesota walking the tightrope across the baptistry,” you know. “You won’t want to miss this! And his wonderful testimony of how he found Jesus!” Yeah, well, go home, the lot of you, and have a nice afternoon, and skip it. And the tragedy of it is all around us.
The absence of the Bible in evangelical Christianity now is epidemic and phenomenally scary, but not to those who aren’t reading it and preaching it. So we are probably a generation away from the disaster of Western Europe, unless God comes to intervene by his Spirit. And everyone goes to see my old churches in Scotland and says, “How did you jokers ever get like that?” And my answer is always the same: “Hold on. You’ll find out. Because you’re tracking right beside us.” And the loss of confidence in the prophetic word made more certain is at the heart of the destruction and the demise of the kind of vibrant Christianity which Peter was reminding his dear friends of in this letter.
So, there are youth groups that are told not to bring their Bibles because the event is evangelistic. So what are you planning on telling these pagans when they come? Have you memorized the whole Bible, you clown? You know, I mean, do you know the Bible off by heart? “No.” Well then, what are you going to say when they ask a question? Where are you going? “Oh, we don’t do that. No, we don’t do that.” Well, do it! Because the entrance of God’s Word gives light. Services conducted with scant reference to the Bible. And in many quarters, the call to recall the words spoken in the past—which is 3:2, “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past”—in many quarters, the call to do that is replaced by a call to pay attention to the prophetic word spoken in the present. And the result is all too easily a loss of confidence or a diminished interest in the Bible.
So the task of the pastor is to ensure that his congregation is anchored to the Word of God and grounded in the work of Christ. You see, the prophets were not just out doing their best, susceptible to brighter people who would come along behind them. There will never be any other divine light by which God’s people are to be led than by the Scriptures. Eventually, the day will dawn when external revelation and inward illumination will combine, and we will know fully, even as we are fully known. That’s my best attempt at the end of verse 19: “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Do something with that! Most of the explanations, I don’t like. That may just be because I’m dense. But they seem contrived. It just seems to me that what he’s saying, in some kind of image that was maybe more understandable in the first century than in the twenty-first century, is essentially, you know, 1 Corinthians 13: “These things will all pass away, but eventually, while we see through a glass darkly, eventually we’re gonna see, and we will understand, and we will know, and we will be known.” And the external revelation will combine with an inward illumination, and suddenly it will just be in a great panorama of discovery. He says, “That day is coming. But that day isn’t here. And so, in the meantime, in order to keep you on track, you better stay in your Bibles. For prophecy didn’t have its origin in the will of men.” In other words, the Scriptures are not the product of the personal insights of the prophets themselves.
See, we have to remind ourselves of this, brethren. Read critical scholarship, and the critical scholars would say, “Well, why would we pay attention to Isaiah? Goodness gracious, what did Isaiah know about the twenty-first century? He lived a long time ago. He was a nice man, admittedly, but, you know, he’s been surpassed. A long time since.” If what we had in the Old Testament prophets was just their personal insights, then we might view their words as limited by human fallibility and by their view of the world, in which case we might then be able to overturn what was written on account of the fresh insights of today. But again, let me quote my friend Dick Lucas: “The Old Testament prophet was not volunteering his ideas or perceptions, only to be corrected by a more scholarly successor! … The prophetic word remains for ever God’s Word.” When we read Isaiah, “it is not merely [an ancient] who speaks, but … God himself.” God speaks. So when his Word is faithfully proclaimed, his voice is really heard.
And so they were picked up—real men, in a real-time situation—their sails were up, as it were, and they were taken along and carried by the Holy Spirit in the direction of God’s choosing for the fulfilling of God’s purpose. Real men from different backgrounds—not automatons, not typewriters, not keyboards—energized by and cooperating with the Holy Spirit as God reveals himself through them.
Calvin, again: these men “dared nothing by themselves but only in obedience to the guidance of the Spirit who held sway over their lips as in His own temple.” Isaac Watts says,
The heavens declare your glory, Lord,
In every star your wisdom shines;
But when our eyes behold your Word,
We read your name in firmer lines.
Your noblest wonders here we view
In souls renewed and sins forgiven;
Lord, cleanse my sins, my soul renew,
And make your Word my guide to heaven.
My dear brothers, if that becomes the honest conviction of our hearts, then it will just energize us for the task at hand. Because now we’ve got tremendous confidence—not in ourselves but in the power of the Spirit, whereby he has granted us everything that we need for life and for godliness.
Let us pray together:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
To you who to Jesus for refuge have fled?
Father, I do ask that our familiarity with these things will not prevent us from an honest self-examination, so that, first putting ourselves through the CAT scan of your Word, we may then be able to speak as men emboldened by the power of your Spirit and the authority of your Word.
We thank you for this time, and we thank you for each other, and we pray that you would bless our time together with one another in ways that we’ve never even anticipated, because you do exceedingly beyond all that we could ask or even imagine. It is this which gives us confidence. And we commit our church families, our concerns, our loved ones, into your care and keeping, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 2 Peter 2:1 (NIV 1984).
 2 Timothy 4:6 (NIV 1984).
 2 Peter 1:12–15 (MSG).
 Colossians 3:11 (NIV 1984).
 John 14:9 (paraphrased).
 See, for example, Matthew 16:21.
 Dick Lucas and Christopher Green, The Message of 2 Peter and Jude: The Promise of His Calling, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1995), 67.
 Deuteronomy 16:3 (NIV 1984).
 Joshua 4:21–22 (NIV 1984).
 Ecclesiastes 12:1 (NIV 1984).
 2 Timothy 2:8 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 22:19 (NIV 1984). See also 1 Corinthians 11:24.
 A. Katherine Hankey, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” (1866).
 Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Norman Jewison, Beverly Hills, CA: United Artists, 1971. Paraphrased.
 D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1983), 56.
 See Romans 5:1.
 Colossians 1:9–11 (paraphrased).
 See 2 Timothy 3:5.
 2 Peter 1:4 (KJV).
 1 Timothy 6:11 (paraphrased).
 Colossians 3:9–10 (paraphrased).
 Charles Simeon to W. H. Michell, Cambridge, July 28, 1828, in Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Charles Simeon, ed. William Carus (London: 1847), 620. Paraphrased. Some details about the context of Simeon’s remarks have been altered.
 Alexander Nisbet, An Exposition of 1 and 2 Peter (1658; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 231.
 Hebrews 10:39 (paraphrased).
 See 1 Corinthians 3:12–15.
 See John 14:1–4.
 2 Peter 1:16 (MSG).
 See Luke 9:28–36.
 2 Corinthians 4:2 (NIV 1984).
 1 John 1:1 (paraphrased).
 Acts 10:43 (NIV 1984).
 John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St Peter, trans. William B. Johnston, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 340.
 Lucas and Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 23.
 See Psalm 119:130.
 1 Corinthians 13:12 (paraphrased).
 Lucas and Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 23.
 Calvin, Hebrews and First and Second Peter, 344.
 Isaac Watts, “The Heavens Declare Thy Glory” (1719). Lyrics lightly altered.
 “How Firm a Foundation” (1787). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Ephesians 3:20.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.