Liberating Promises

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

This morning we begin a series of expository messages on the second epistle of Peter. My aim will be to move through this book verse by verse, explaining its meaning and applying it to our lives today. My first conviction behind this series is that, if life is short and sermons are few, I will do best to keep my words as close to God's words as I can. And I believe this epistle is the Word of God for us today. I do not want to imitate 2 Peter and play the apostle myself. The faith has been delivered once for all to the saints, and it is contained in a book whose ultimate author is God. I only want to help you understand the voice of God in that book. My second conviction is that through the knowledge of this book in its depth and richness we will be morally and spiritually transformed in this world and will be given life eternal. This is my conviction because it is what the Word teaches, and it is what I've experienced. I really believe that if we saturate our minds and hearts with the glory and excellence of God in the Scriptures, there will one day come an explosion at Bethlehem: of worship, love for one another, compassion for the world, and harvest.

As we begin, my procedure will not be to give an overview first. We will advance inductively, letting the pieces build gradually into a large and coherent structure. This way you will be less dependent on me and more dependent on the text itself. (Please bring your Bibles.) By the time we are finished (about ten messages), we should have the thought of this letter rooted and growing in our minds and hearts. (If you have to miss a Sunday, I hope you get the manuscript or tape, so we can all keep building.)

We shall begin then with verse 1: "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ." There has been a controversy from earliest times whether Peter actually wrote this letter. If I had an extra hour-and-a-half, I would love to give a lecture on the authorship and date of this letter. But I've decided to reserve the more technical matters for occasional STAR articles and focus in the sermons on the theological and ethical issues of the letter. My own conviction is that while Peter may not have put the actual words on paper, he at least authorized the writing and gave it his approval. It may well be that Jude, the Lord's brother, did the actual writing, since his little book is much closer to 2 Peter in style, vocabulary, and content than is 1 Peter. (More on this in the STAR.) But if he did the writing, he did it on behalf of Peter, and I have seen no compelling reason to doubt the point of verse 1, that the letter has the voice and authority of the apostle Peter.

Peter: Servant and Apostle

The way Peter introduces himself is important: "servant and apostle to Jesus Christ." The term apostle carries authority: he represents and speaks for the living Christ. As such his official teachings form the foundation of the church to this very day (Ephesians 2:20). But Peter is not eager to flaunt this authority. "Apostle" comes second, not first. It is preceded and softened by "servant," or "slave." There was a vast difference in status between a lord's ambassador and his slave. Peter identifies himself as both, but puts "slave" first, and in this way shows that he does not want to use his honored position as apostle to lord it over the saints. He had done the same thing in 1 Peter 5:1 when he addressed the elders as "fellow-elder," and Paul did it when he said of his own authority: "Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy" (2 Corinthians 1:24; 10:8; 13:10). The apostles had learned from Jesus (Luke 22:25, 26), "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become the youngest and the leader as one who serves."

The same humble emphasis is continued in the phrase of verse 1, "to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." The point of this verse is to put the readers on the same spiritual plane with the apostle. What is most important in anyone's life is their faith, and on that score Peter is on a level plane with the church. Peter had learned this from Jesus, too, who had once said to his ambassadors in Luke 10:19, 20: "Behold, I have given you authority . . . Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this . . . but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." No matter how much authority a believer is given by Christ, he should never forget that the great joy of his life should simply be that he is saved by faith like all the other saints.

Three things in this second half of verse 1 emphasize the spiritual equality of all believers before God. First, the phrase "a faith of equal standing" or "like precious faith." Second, the word "obtained": "to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing." It is used only three other times in the New Testament and in each case refers to obtaining something not by effort or desert but by lot (Luke 1:9; John 19:24; Acts 1:17). So the very word Peter chooses illustrates how futile it would be for any of us to boast in our faith. It came to us by God's choice, not by our prior effort. Then the third way of emphasizing the quality of believers in faith is to point out that what gives our faith value and distinction is Christ's righteousness, not ours. It says we have faith "in (or by) the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." The phrase may mean that our faith came "by his righteousness" (as the means), or that our faith is "in his righteousness" (as the object). In both cases the effect is to stress that Christ's unswerving faithfulness to do right is what we depend on, not our own righteousness. Therefore, we do not boast in our faith, for we "obtained" it as a gift, and its foundation is not our righteousness but Christ's who is our God and Savior.

Therefore, all of verse 1 has a tender ring of humility and love about it. Peter does have authority, but he bends over backward to meet them as a brother and serve them, rather than lord it over them. We must remember this for ourselves, lest our position go to our head and we forget we are slave as well as pastor, slave as well as deacon, slave as well as trustee, slave as well as teacher, executive, doctor, lawyer, merchant, supervisor, etc. We all have "like precious faith," if indeed our faith is in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ and not in our own. And another reason we must remember this tender, humble introduction is that when we get to chapter 2, the tone will change dramatically and Peter will become fierce. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Peter's Greeting

In verse 2 Peter greets his readers with a benediction: "May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." This is not a mere introductory formula. It is a statement of what Peter really wants to see happen because of his letter. We can tell that this verse is no empty form because the letter ends on the same note (3:18): "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." He pictures grace and peace (in verse 2) as something that comes to us from God. They are not ours by nature or by right. They come to us from outside ourselves, and Peter desires that they might come in great measure. Peter's great longing then, and mine now, is that we all might abound in grace—that God might "multiply" it to us and we might "grow" in it, and that there might be great peace (within and without).

But probably the most important thing to notice in verse 2 is that God's grace and peace are multiplied in or through the knowledge of God. Peter cannot get past his second sentence without exposing one of his deepest convictions: namely, that knowing God is the means by which his grace and peace become large and powerful in our lives. If you want to enjoy God's peace and be the aroma of his grace in the world, your knowledge of him has to grow. Grace is not a mere deposit. It is a power that leads to godliness and eternal life. And where knowledge of the glory and excellence of God languishes, grace does not flow. The channel from God's infinite reservoir of grace into and through our lives is knowledge of God. We do not study the Scripture for its own sake, but because through it comes the knowledge of God, and through that grace and peace are multiplied in your heart in the church and in the world. In the next two verses of our text Peter builds on this connection now between knowledge of God and the power of grace.

Verse 3: "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence." Let's look at this in three parts. First, the goal is that we obtain life and become godly people; second, the source of this life and godliness is divine power; third, the means by which this power produces this life and godliness is through knowledge of God.

The Goal—Life and Godliness

First, Peter is aiming at two things: eternal life and godliness; moral and spiritual transformation now, and hope for life in the age to come. We will find in chapter 2 how deeply he is concerned that some in the church are living very corrupt lives. And there is a close connection for Peter between godliness and eternal life. You can't have the one if you reject the other. Look at 2:19, 20. He says of the false teachers, "They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved. For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first." In other words, if the way of godliness is rejected so is the hope of eternal life. So Peter forbids us to turn our faith into a fire insurance policy for escaping hell while our lives remain unchanged. The hope of life and the way of godliness stand or fall together.

The Source—Divine Power

Second, the way of godliness and the hope of eternal life do not lie within our own power to produce or attain. Therefore, Peter says, "God's divine power has granted us all things that pertain to (or lead to) life and godliness." This is a humbling sentence. When it comes to life and godliness, we must have everything provided for us from outside. Of course, this does not mean we are passive. As Paul says, "Work out your salvation . . . for God is at work in you" (Philippians 2:13). But it does imply that we could never be godly or attain eternal life if we do not rely on divine power.

We need to pause and stress this. The Christian faith is not merely a set of doctrines to be accepted. It is a power to be experienced. It is a tragic thing to ask people if they know the Lord and have them start listing the things they believe about the Lord. Brothers and sisters, believing things about Jesus Christ will save no one. The devils are the most orthodox believers under heaven. It is divine power that saves. If the power of God does not flow into your life and make you godly, you are not Christ's. "All who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). The mark of sonship is divine power. And the mark of power is godliness; which means a love for the things of God and a walk in the ways of God.

And Peter says that divine power has been granted to us. Who is "us"? Verse 1: "those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours." Power is given to those who rely on Christ's righteousness. But how is this power experienced? How does it become active in our lives? That is the third part of verse 3: "through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence." As in verse 2 grace is multiplied in the knowledge of God, so in verse 3 divine power is granted through the knowledge of God. This gives us a good definition of grace. God's grace is a free power that works in us for our good. And the way it becomes active in our day-to-day life is through our knowledge of God, and one fact about God in particular: that "he called us to his glory and excellence." But this is not a mere fact about God if you know it as applying to yourself. It is power.

If you are a prisoner of war in a concentration camp, and you have lost hope, and hopeless, have thrown your morality away, and you learn that a prisoner exchange is being planned, and you see the guard coming down the row pointing to individual prisoners and calling them to follow him to freedom and family; it is not a mere piece of knowledge when he points to you and calls you. It is power! The power of hope surges through your body because you know you have been called. So when Peter says that divine power for hope and godliness flows through the knowledge of our call to glory, we can feel what he means. If we could but see the glory and excellence of God and know that our Creator has approached us and said, "You there, come; I'm going to show you my glory and give you an eternal life to enjoy it," it would mean power! The power of hope and the power of godliness. You know this from experience: when you see the glory and excellence of God most clearly and know he has set his affections on you, then is when you have power to live as you ought.

The Means—Knowledge of God

And now finally verse 4: "By which (i.e., his glory and excellence) he has granted us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature." This verse is a restatement of verse 3. The same point is made, but the "knowledge" and "godliness" of verse 3 are interpreted for us in verse 4. The knowledge that leads to life and godliness is said to be the knowledge of God's precious and very great promises. And so we learn that the only knowledge of God that carries saving power is promising knowledge. The knowledge of the glory and excellence of God (in verse 3) gives power for godliness only if it communicates to us the happy promise that we are called and included. If after a week of rain a gloomy child wakes up on Saturday morning and sees the glorious sunshine calling him to play outdoors, new power flows into his spirit; but only if he really can go outside. If he were sick and couldn't play, the beauty of the day and the fun of his friends outside might make him miserable. The knowledge of the glory of God must be promising if it is to carry power. We must know it and believe that we are included—that the promises are ours, that the call is to us (cf. Ephesians 1:19).

Then notice that just as in verse 3 the knowledge of our call to glory empowers for life and godliness, so in verse 4 the promises of God liberate us from corruption and give us a share in the divine nature. The godliness of verse 3 is spelled out for us negatively and positively. There are two things that we need above all others: 1) to be liberated from the power of sin that corrupts and destroys our life, and 2) to be united to God in his likeness (Ephesians 4:23). And God teaches here what we so desperately need to know: that this liberation from sin and likeness to God come by knowing and trusting his precious and very great promises.

Very practically, I think this means we must day-by-day go to the Word of God and search for great promises. Fix one or two in your mind and hold them there before you all day. And use them to overcome temptation to sin and to incite you to daring acts of righteousness and love. Notice in the last part of verse 4 that corruption comes "by passion" or "lust" or "desire." This means that the battle against corruption is fought on the field of our desires or passions. Sin makes its attack by holding out promises to us for our happiness: if you lie on your income tax return, you will have more money and be happier; if you divorce your spouse, you will be happier; if you brag about winning the game, you will be happier; if you don't upset your relationship with your neighbor by sharing Christ, you will be happier; etc. And sin will always win the battle unless we have the luscious carrot of God's promises hanging clearly in front of our noses. Unless we enter our day armed with one or two precious and very great promises, we will be utterly vulnerable to temptation. But if we hold before our eyes the astonishing things God has promised us now and in the life to come, his divine power will be present and we will escape corruption and be conformed to the image of his Son. Therefore I urge you: search this book for the promises of God and hang them like a carrot in front of your eyes so that they lure you away from sin and toward the likeness of God.

We can sum up these first four verses of 2 Peter with four words: power, promises, practice, and prospect. God's divine power (v. 3) flows into our lives when we know (v. 2) and trust (v. 1) his precious and very great promises (v. 4). And this power flowing through these promises produces practice of godliness (v. 3) and the prospect of life eternal (v. 3). Let us pray and commit ourselves afresh to see this power!