February 23, 2003
Peter closed his second letter with some helpful and straightforward instruction for believers as we seek to live for Jesus. Using the apostle’s final imperatives, Alistair Begg challenges us to exert ourselves to grow in holiness, to take seriously the responsibility to study the Bible, to be alert to the dangers that can lead us astray, and to actively grow in the grace and knowledge that leads to Christlike character.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Let’s pray before we study the Bible. If you want to reach for it, we’re going back to 2 Peter 3. You can have it on your lap.
Father, thank you for the way that your Word tells us how much you love us, and we respond to that love. We love you because you first loved us. And we pray that as we study our Bibles now, that you will help us both to speak and to listen in a way that is true to you and to all that you’ve revealed of yourself. Save us from error, from intruding upon the clarity of the Bible, and help us then to understand it and to obey it. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
What you have here from 14 through to the end is Peter wrapping up this letter with some very straightforward and helpful instruction. I find myself helped by just looking at the imperatives, as it were, in each of these verses. And I’ll identify them for you, and then we’ll use that as the framework for working through the material.
First of all, in verse 14, you’ll notice the phrase that comes halfway through the verse: “Make every effort.” “Make every effort,” addressing the issue of righteous living. When you go to the next verse, to the fifteenth verse: “Bear in mind,” and he’s about to address the matter of Scripture and salvation. He does that in 15 and 16, then in 17, again, partway through the verse, he says, “Be on your guard,” addressing there the matter of falsehood. And finally, in verse 18, he says, “Grow in … grace,” addressing the matter of Christlikeness. So we’ll go through them each in turn and try not to delay on one more than the others.
First of all, in verse 14: “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” You’ll notice the logic in Peter’s exhortations. We saw it there as Scott read it for us in verse 11: “Since everything will be [this],” then, at the end of the verse, “you ought to [be this].” “Since… so…” And as he proceeds through that and gives instruction concerning the promise of Christ’s return, the wrapping up of the cosmos as we know it, he then, on the basis of what he has said, makes application. And the linkage is there in the opening two words, in our English translation at least: “So then, dear friends, because this is so, in light of the fact that you are in this position and you are looking forward—you are, if you like, optimistic; you’re not looking down at your shoes, you’re not looking back, you’re not looking around in uncertainty, but you’re looking forward; I see that your attitude is good, your approach is right—in light of that, let me encourage you,” he says, “to make every effort.”
The Greek word is a favorite of Peter’s here, this little verb spoudázō, which he uses in a number of ways. He does it in the first chapter particularly, in verse 5: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith.” Again in verse 10: “Be … more eager to make your calling and election sure.” In 1:15: “And I will make every effort.” It’s the same verb. He says, “If I’m making every effort in order to see that you may understand these things, I think it is right for me to encourage you to do the very same thing.” Now, the verb is not unique to Peter; it’s used throughout the New Testament. Paul uses it frequently himself. For example, just one reference, in Ephesians 4: he says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit [in] the bond of peace.” And that is the same word that is being applied here.
Now, what it is is, straightforwardly, a reminder of the responsibility of every true believer to exert himself or to exert herself in developing Christian conduct. Let me say that again. His exhortation here is a reminder to every true follower of Christ that we have both the privilege and the responsibility of exerting ourselves in seeking to deepen and to grow in our Christian progress—and in particularly, in this matter of personal holiness regarding the spots and the blemishes, to which we’ll come in just a moment.
Now, let us be very, very clear—and it’s important that we always are—this is not a call to ethical activity. This is not a call to men and women, as it were, to pull up their socks and to try their best. There’s nothing worse than coming to a church building Sunday by Sunday, feeling yourself to be fairly impoverished and wretched, and just to hear somebody throw at you a great number of exhortations: “Come on, now! Pull your socks up. You can do better than this.” And you find yourself saying, “Well, I have had such a pathetic week last week that I certainly can’t draw any impetus from that at all, and I’m not sure where I’m supposed to find the energy to make this progress.”
Well, of course, you need to go to Philippians 2 and to Paul’s classic statement along these lines, in verses 12 and 13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” That is something we’re called to do. It’s a responsibility. And then he immediately reminds us, “For it is God [who is at work] in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” In other words, we are called, then, by the energizing power of the Spirit to work out what God by his regenerating power has placed within the core of our being. And that journey is an active journey; it is not a passive journey. And therefore, effort, exertion, is involved.
So let us pause immediately and pose the question to ourselves: “Am I making every effort in seeking to make progress in Christian living?” “Make every effort.” Now, there’s no part of that that is difficult to understand. We understand that in the physical realm, you cannot develop muscle without exercise. Unexercised muscles atrophy, and it is obvious to all—not least of all ourselves when we take our clothes off. That’s a personal, private matter.
We know ourselves to be dreadfully silly if we’re remotely tempted by that channel on TV that sells things—apparently, there’s only a few of them ever left—but sells things, including electronic gizmos that you can wrap around your belly which will do sit-ups for you. All right? Now, I’m not going to ask any of you to put up your hands and admit to having purchased those things. You don’t have to admit to having purchased them; you just need to admit to yourself that you thought, “If there is one of those, I want it. Because if I can look like her or him just by strapping this mechanism on, then it seems to me that if I amortize it over twelve months, I can justify the expenditure. Where’s my credit card? What was that 1-800 number?” Right? Dumb idea!
The same way, I don’t think you’ll find in our bookstore any books that are suggesting to you that you can make progress in your Christian life by some slick methodology where you can wrap something around your head, around your heart, or whatever else it is. You’ll find books in there that will remind you that it is all God’s grace, and you’ll find books in there that will remind you that the life of holiness, that the life of discipline, that the life of progress, that all of those things demand commitment from each of us.
Now, I want to be very, very careful here this morning, especially starting with the phrase “Make every effort,” in saying, “I want you to think about whether you’ve made every effort.” And in the back of your mind, many of you are saying, “We’re here, aren’t we? Have you been out there in a while? We came here. We are the effort makers. Look at us! Look at all the poor souls that didn’t make the effort. Get the sermon for them. Send the tape to them. Find out who they were. But don’t give me the ‘Make every effort.’” Well, there’s nothing about “Make every effort to get in a building.” “Make every effort to be found without spot and without blemish and to be at peace with God.”
There’s an aerobics class that takes place every so often in a place that I sometimes go. And there’s one lady in there who really intrigues me. She’s always on the back row and in the corner, and she never does anything. She never does what you’re supposed to do! I mean, I hear the music; it’s boom-boom, buh-boom-boom, and the man up front is just reaching for the stars, you know. He’s like, “And one, and a two, and…” And I’m, you know, like this, looking in every so often. I’m not making any claims for myself. But I mean, if the thing is “one, and a two,” she’s like, “one, and a two…” And if it’s kicking, you know, she’s like… And then they go on the other side, and she takes about seven steps to make the change. You know, you’re supposed to immediately go. She gives herself a minute and a half, and eventually, she gets over just when they’re going back over the other way again. And I want to say her, “Lady, you know, why do you do this? Why do you go in there? You’re getting out of this exactly what you’re putting into it: nothing!” Now, please don’t write me letters, especially if you’re the lady. I’m only describing my wife; there’s nothing personal in this. (Everybody knows that isn’t true!)
And so, the question is ours to ask. I’m asking the question: How’s the first seven weeks of 2003 doing in terms of “Make every effort”? Is there any effort, or am I coasting? Am I coasting? Am I running uphill? Do I perspire? Does anyone see in me anything that suggests that I’m making an effort?
The longer I go in my Christian life… I thought the longer you went, the easier it would get. The longer I go, the harder it gets. I thought by the time you reached a certain point, you would overcome the chronic inertia, you would have some great surge, and you’d be, you know, off! It doesn’t happen like that. So often, my Christian life is nothing more than spasms of enthusiasm swallowed up by chronic inertia. I’m challenged by this; I hope you are too.
The focus is on being like Jesus. He is the one who is without spot and blemish. He is the perfect Lamb of God “without blemish or defect,” as Peter says in his first letter, 1:19. He has described the blots and the blemishes, the false teachers, in chapter 2, and he says, “Come on, now, I want you to make sure that you don’t succumb to their nonsense, that you don’t become like them, and that you live at peace with him.”
You say, “Well, I am at peace with him.” The doctrine of justification—Romans 5—says that “therefore being justified by faith, we have,” presently, past tense, and for the future, “peace with God.” True. It’s a bit like getting married. I have a wife, or you have a husband. Yes, but are you living at peace with them? Are you living in harmony with them? You know, we don’t want to see your wedding certificate. We want to know if you live at peace. I know she’s your sister. I know you have three brothers. Everyone knows that. But do you live at peace? Are you in harmony?
And we can never enjoy… You see, sin in the Christian life—because we sin in our Christian lives—sin in the Christian life does not remove us from our relationship with the Father. The relationship is intact; the enjoyment of the relationship is impaired. And the peace goes, and the cloud settles, because of the way that we have treated the Father, because of the way we have responded to his Son, because of the way we have grieved the Holy Spirit.
Now, I need to leave it to you to apply it from there. I don’t know exactly where you are in your pilgrimage here, but the exhortation is straightforward, isn’t it? “Make every effort.” It’s a matter of Christlikeness.
Secondly, in verses 14 and 15, he begins, “Bear in mind…” “Focus on these things,” he says. “Keep in mind…” And he gives us a word here about salvation and the Scriptures and actually how salvation and the Scriptures are interwoven.
Peter exercises, if you like, a ministry of reminder. He begins his letter, essentially, with that—or he doesn’t actually begin it, in terms of verse 1, but in verse 12, the key that opens up the letter is “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them.” And in keeping with his ministry of reminder, he’s encouraging his readers here, you will see, to think about the real reason for God’s apparent delay. The scoffers, whom he has already addressed in chapter 2 and 3, were saying to these believers, “You know, your notion of Jesus coming back again is a silly idea. After all, where is he? You know, if Jesus is really coming, why doesn’t he come? Your ideas about the world not being cyclical or circular but being linear, we can’t find any evidence for that at all.” And they were scoffing and calling in question the truth of Jesus’ words: “As you see me go into heaven, so in the same way I will come again.”
And so Peter says, “I want to remind you folks that it is because of God’s patience that Christ has not yet returned.” “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” In other words, the patience of God had meant that his readers had time to be saved and to learn to live at peace with God. And the patience of God this morning means that in 2003, Jesus has not yet returned, although he will; and he provides those of us who as yet do not believe the opportunity to cast ourselves upon his mercy and to trust in his promises. And the wonderful picture that we have here is of a God who is patient—a patient God. If we had no other picture of it in the whole of the New Testament, we have it certainly in Luke 15, when, in the story of the boy who took part of the inheritance and went off and squandered “his substance with riotous living,” as the King James Version says, the father is a waiting father. And he waits for his boy, waiting day after day after day as the story unfolds, presumably getting up in the morning and looking out and saying, “I wonder if he will return. I wonder if he will return today.” What they used to tell me in the Sunday school in Scotland: they used to say, “And he would go down to the corner of the street, and he would look down the other avenue, and he would be watching for his son.” And my Sunday school teachers carved in my mind such a picture of the patience and grace and loving gentleness of this father that the prospect of running up the road and being hugged by him was a wonderful prospect.
And that’s the picture of God here. “Bear in mind, my dear friends,” he says, “the reason for the Lord’s patience is salvation.” Salvation! And he says, “I’m not saying this on my own. You will find it also in Paul’s letters.” “Just as our dear brother Paul also wrote [to] you with the wisdom that God gave him.” And then, “He writes the same way in all his letters.”
Now, let me pause for a moment and just say a word or two about the doctrine of Scripture, because there is an insight here that we would be very able to slide over. I don’t want to delay on it, but I want to point it out. Here is early evidence of the fact that Paul’s letters were being both collected and circulated—that the letters of Paul, the things that he had written down, were now on the move, so much so that Peter is able here to make reference to the letters of Paul.
Now, remember that by the midpoint of the first century, believers had only the Old Testament Scriptures and the words—the spoken words—of the apostles. But when the Gospels began to be written and when the Epistles began to be written down, the apostles, then, were the very first to acknowledge the fact of their authority. Now, again, I can’t delay on this, but simply to say this: The apostles were very, very clear that the Old Testament Scriptures were the Scriptures; they were the Word of God. But it was a huge shift for them to start referring now, for example, to the Gospels along with the Old Testament as the Scriptures. And what Peter is doing here in cross-referencing himself with Paul is pointing out to those of us who are alert the way in which the canon of the New Testament begins, if you like, to dawn on the minds of those who are its very writers—men who were picked up and led by the Holy Spirit, as we saw earlier in our studies.
Now, some of you are looking a little cloudy. That’s okay. Let me give you one illustration. I’m not going to fog your heads, but let me show you what I mean, if you turn to 1 Timothy 5:17. First Timothy 5:17. Just one illustration and we’ll keep moving.
Paul is giving advice to Timothy concerning the way in which the church is to operate. And in making comment on the affairs of the elders in the church, in verse 17, he says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” Now notice the next phrase: “For the Scripture says…” First quote is from Deuteronomy 25: “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.” Second quote: “The worker deserves his wages,” from Luke 10:7. “As the Scriptures say… First of all, let me give you an Old Testament Scripture. Let me now give you a New Testament Scripture.” And the cohesive way in which the doctrine of Scripture unfolds within the Bible is quite wonderful.
So it is important for us to remember at least these three things always about our Bibles: First of all, to study the totality of the Bible. Beware of anybody who cuts the Bible up for you and shows you that the key to it is in all these ways of building the blocks. It is in the totality of the sixty-six books that we have in the Bible that God’s revelation is complete. It is incomplete without its totality. Also, in terms of the unity of the Bible—that it possesses a wonderful unity as it focuses on the Lord Jesus Christ. And also, in terms of the sufficiency of the Bible, so that we are finding our confidence in the Scriptures as the Spirit of God illuminates them to us.
Now, again, we could camp on this; we daren’t. But in terms of the sufficiency of Scripture, let me remind you of just three little incidents, in reverse order. Yes, reverse order.
In Acts chapter 8, when Philip meets the Ethiopian fellow who’s riding on the chariot, whom he discovers to be reading from Isaiah chapter 53, and the man who is reading from 53 in his chariot asks Philip, who’s been sent by the Spirit of God to meet the man, he says, “Who is the prophet [speaking] about, himself or someone else?” And Luke tells us, “Philip began [at] that very passage,” and he explained everything in the Scriptures from that point.
When Jesus addresses the downfallen walkers on the road to Emmaus, when they tell him—not realizing with whom they’re walking—that a Palestinian grave has swallowed up salvation history, he doesn’t say to them, “Oh no, it hasn’t. I’m the Messiah.” What does he do? He preaches a sermon to them. “And beginning with Moses and … the Prophets, he [told] them [everything] in … the Scriptures concerning himself.” Why? So that their confidence would not be in the fact—so that they would not be running around saying, “You know, we personally met the Messiah,” but they would be running around saying, “The Messiah preached the most unbelievable sermon, and we have discovered in the Scriptures the basis for our life and for our hope.”
Same thing in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, which we studied in 2001, I think it was. And you remember, when the rich man goes into hell, and he realizes the predicament he’s in, he calls, in the parabolic form, to Abraham, “Father Abraham, if you won’t send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water and help me here in this searing heat, then at least send somebody to my brothers so that they do not come and join me.” A reasonable idea. And the reply of Abraham is “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” And the response of the rich man: “Oh no, Father Abraham, if somebody actually went to them, I think they would listen.” Reply from Father Abraham: “If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not listen even though someone should rise from the dead.”
Listen, my dear friends: as much as ever in history, it is imperative that you as individuals—for the sake of your own spiritual progress, for the sake of the generations that come behind you—that you take seriously the issues of becoming men and women of the Bible, in its totality reading it, in its unity rejoicing in it, in its sufficiency trusting in it. Because there is everyone and their uncle out there telling you, “Oh, I had a vision of this, and I met this person, and my confidence is in this.” Our confidence should be where heaven’s confidence is: in the Scriptures.
And so, when you listen to people teach the Bible, you need to listen not simply to what the person says, but you need to examine their approach to the Bible. You need to examine my approach to the Bible and all who teach you here at Parkside. Certainly, the Bereans listened to Paul’s sermons with a critical ear: they “examined the Scriptures every day to see if [these things were so].” You need to ask, “Is there anything about the way in which I’m taught the Bible that would appear to me to be an evidence of the pastor or the teacher wresting the Scriptures the way these unstable and ignorant people do?”
You see, the problem with the hard bits in Paul’s letters are not ultimately problems for those who are diligent in their study of the Bible. The difficult parts in Paul’s letters have become an issue because of ignorant and unstable people who distort the Scriptures. But they don’t just distort the hard parts of Pauline letters; they distort all the Scriptures. And they do it to their own destruction, and they want to distort other people’s minds as well. And the books are legion. So you need to be careful. You need to say, “Well, I hope this fellow is not distorting the Scriptures.”
Does he ignore passages, or does he work through the passages? Does he dismiss sections of the Bible as no longer relevant at all? Or does he say that all of the Bible is absolutely essential for us, although some parts are more applicable, obviously, than others? Do you have from your pulpits cleverly rehearsed anecdotes, wonderful stories, pious thoughts, or do you have the exposition of the Scriptures, where you have your Bible, and you seek to read the Bible, explain the Bible, and apply the Bible? Those are the questions you need to ask.
And if that is not happening, you don’t need to come here and hear the theories about the philosophy of ministry at Parkside Church. There are other ways for us to convey that. You don’t need to come here and find esoteric information that is remote to your Christian pilgrimage. You need to come here and be taught the Bible. And you need to make sure that those who teach you the Bible are not distorting it to their own destruction and to the destruction of those who listen to them.
Have you thought lately about the fact that I, along with my colleagues, will give an answer before the throne of Almighty God not only for every sermon preached but for the motive of our hearts in preaching the sermons? I think it’d make us prayerful, don’t you?
“Bear this in mind,” he says. “The … Scriptures”— Timothy 3:15—“are able to make you wise [to] salvation.”
Verse 17: “Be on your guard.” “Be on your guard.” “Be on your guard.” Oh, Peter! This is a word from Peter, isn’t it? ’Cause he wasn’t on his guard. That’s why he fell. And he recognized from his own sad experience that Satan attacks those who think they’re on their guard, who think they’re secure. And Peter’s great words to Jesus: “Jesus, even if all fall away, I will never desert you. You can count on me, Jesus.” And within three hours, he had denied him vehemently and repeatedly.
It’s really the same thing as Paul in 1 Corinthians 10: “Let the one who thinks he stands take heed in case he falls.” Don’t be naive. Don’t be self-confident. May your confidence be in God and in his grace. Beware of the company that you keep, not only in terms of friends but in terms of books. Because the warning here is a warning to all of us lest we be “carried away by the error of lawless men.” And along the journey of life and in the pilgrimage of twenty years here at Parkside Church, it’s been sad to see bright and shining stars fall out of their system and deny the very things they once so proudly held to. “Be on your guard.”
And finally, verse 18: “Grow in … grace.” “Grow in … grace.” He really comes full circle as he ends this. The process of sanctification is active; it’s not passive. Is it purposeful that “grace” comes before “knowledge”? Probably. “Grace and knowledge.” Knowledge by itself just tends to make people conceited, dreadful bores. “Let me tell you about what I know.” So they’re like tadpoles: gigantic, big heads and very tiny bodies, wandering around with all this information: “Biblical Knowledge 101, here I come. Boom!” And his head falls down on the table, and out spews a bunch of information that nobody really is interested in at all. No, you see, unless we grow in grace and in a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, we may just have fat heads but not changed hearts. Knowledge, of course, in an anti-intellectual world is very, very important.
This is straightforward. You just listen to God’s Word, you trust his promises, and you obey his commands. Listen to his Word, trust his promises, accept his invitations, and obey his commands. Do what, in closing, this young lady has done. I have this letter; it’s my favorite letter at the moment. I have a favorite every so often, and my favorite letters all have been written by a pen, as you will know. Email is not real mail, as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t reply to it all, and I don’t pay attention to it all. But anytime anyone has a pen and an envelope, then it has my attention, as did this one.
Now, what I’m saying is that to “be on your guard” and to “grow in … grace” and in a “knowledge of [the] Lord … Jesus Christ” is not easy, but it’s straightforward. And we complicate things sometimes as an excuse for not doing it. Like trusting in Christ: “Well, I’ve got a number of questions.” You will always have a number of questions. Trust Christ! “Well, I’ll be getting baptized after the graduation of my second child, who’s home…” Forget it! Get baptized. “Well, I’ll be attending the membership classes once the…” Get in the class. It’s not easy. It’s straightforward.
Dear Pastor Begg,
My friend invited me to Parkside Church on March 25, 2001. At first, I attended Faithful Friends life group.
That’s our class for those who are either physically or mentally impaired in some way.
I attended Faithful Friends life group. Now I go to the Berean life group.
March 25, 2001, friend invites her.
In August of 2001, you preached from the book of Ruth, and I came to trust Christ as my Savior. I was baptized on April 14, 2002. On November 10, 2002, I became a member of Parkside. I love to go to Parkside Church. I look forward to it. I love God. I listen to you on the radio. You and Joni Eareckson Tada are my favorite programs. I wish Joni could come to Parkside to speak.
Love in Christ, Barb.
It’s not easy. It’s straightforward. Friendship. A story. A grasp. Faith. “What do I do next?” Follow Christ. Let’s go. “How do I get involved?” Become a part of the group. Let’s go. “What do I do now?” Love Christ and keep going.
There’s only one way to finish, isn’t there? The final sentence: “To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”
Straightforward, isn’t it? May God help us to understand it and to live it.
Let’s pray together:
Father, we thank you for the Bible. We thank you that it speaks to us. We don’t have to fiddle with it very much; it’s so straightforward in its main parts. Some bits are difficult, as we were reminded this morning, and not only in Paul’s letters but in some of the Gospels too. And we need to be diligent and prayerful.
We want, this morning, to respond to these exhortations to make every effort, to bear in mind that it is the Scriptures that make us wise to salvation, and your patience is allowing us to come to faith, to be on our guard so that someone doesn’t sweep us away with error, and to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and then just to give him all the glory.
To this end we seek to commit ourselves afresh this day. And may the grace and mercy and peace of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one of us, now and forevermore. Amen.
 See 1 John 4:19.
 Ephesians 4:3 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 2:12–13 (KJV).
 Romans 5:1 (KJV).
 2 Peter 1:12 (NIV 1984).
 Acts 1:11 (paraphrased).
 Luke 15:13 (KJV).
 See 2 Peter 1:21.
 Acts 8:34–35 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 24:27 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 16:24, 27–28 (paraphrased).
 Luke 16:29 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 16:30–31 (paraphrased).
 Acts 17:11 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, 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.