STANDING WHEN EVERYTHING IS SHAKING
What often trips us up in life’s most challenging moments is not the problems but a wrong perspective of the situation and our own inability to handle things. If anyone understood this as a close follower of Jesus, it was Peter. In his second letter, Peter is conveying something that is critical for our spiritual growth and development for us to stand regardless of what is happening to us and around us. The writer to the Hebrews in describing God’s kingdom as it came to Mount Sinai when the Israelites were freed from Egypt, speaks of that moment when the mountain shook. However, Jesus in coming to earth to establish His kingdom through believers and in the anticipation of His coming again, the writer challenges us what is happening in our world.
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.
The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.[i]
What are those things that will survive all the shaking that is going on? Only that which is eternal is able to stand. Only that which is from God, the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls will endure. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28).” Only God’s kingdom will stand when all is said and done. We can have a confidence when our world is shaking that we who have put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and are part of His Kingdom will be left standing. In this day of constant shaking, where should our confidence be placed? How can we stand in the changing circumstances that swirl around us? Our focus must be on Jesus and His kingdom which is here but not totally in its fulness. So in this time of expectancy of the coming King back to our planet, what are the measures that we need to take to strengthen ourselves while we are enduring life’s great challenges? Why is humbly trusting in God the key to standing rather than faltering, failing and falling? The battle for our soul is intense. Peter is going to guide us so that we prevail in that battle. Peter knew how critical our thought life really is because what we believe shapes how we will respond to what is before us. It will affect how we ultimately will behave.
When Jesus told Peter he was going to be sifted as wheat and all the disciples would forsake Him, Peter said he would not fail. He saw himself differently than how Jesus saw him. Peter thought he was able to stand the test. Jesus knew that Peter had some weaknesses that would cause him to fall. He also realized that Peter was about to enter the process of being humbled which was needed for him to grow into the kind of man that he would become; wiser, humbler, and ultimately stronger so that he would be able to withstand he greater challenges that would present themselves in the future.
In this second letter, Peter is concerned with some of the false teaching that was undermining people’s faith. What is so tragic is that false teaching is still prevalent, and very destructive. Throughout this letter, Peter addresses issues that could undermine a person’s confidence in God, and affect the moral and ethical aspects of a person’s life. One of the problems we have as human beings is that the very nature of sin creates a context in which we become self-deceived. We need a firm foundation so that we will not be tossed back and forth by every wind of doctrine (teaching), and we could easily add all kinds of spurious information that can lead us away from what the apostle Paul called the ‘more excellent way of love (1 Cor. 12:31b).’ Paul warns that knowing all mysteries, a faith that can move mountains, giving everything, we have to the poor, and being willing to be martyred, but have not love is to gain nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2-3). Our faith must ultimately move us toward the end product which is a loving heart toward others. What we think affects our decisions and actions. God desires that we stand rather than fall.
God’s wisdom, as James points out, is described as ‘pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial, sincere and produces good fruit (cf. James 3:17). We see that evidenced in the life of Jesus. John writes concerning Jesus that He was full of grace and truth. One of the problems that we encounter in the Christian life is the balance between what God does and what we are responsible for. In other words, how we are to respond to what God does for us. There are two wrong approaches: one is passivity where we leave everything up to God. The other side of the equation is that we act as if everything depends upon ourselves for outcomes. Peter was guilty of trusting in his own ability to stand, and the result was failure and a fall. However, what is more important is that Peter learned how to stand. After being restored, Peter could look back and see how things went wrong in his life. He now points out “…For if you do these things, you will never fall… (2 Peter 1:10)” The question that arises is simply: what things? What are the things that we are responsible for? What are the aspects of biblical truth that we need to understand so that we stand? We will examine two truths that will help us stand in times of shaking.
THE FIRST TRUTH IN HELPING US STAND IS TO GAIN A PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF GOD’S GRACE AND POWER IN OUR LIVES
What is it that God does for us that we need to understand, and then appropriate or embrace into our lives? What is it that God does for us that will help us stand?
A. We receive Christ’ righteousness.
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 (2 Peter 1:1). When we understand what Jesus Christ has done for us, it changes our attitude. This creates a proper foundation of dependency upon God, which is what humility is. Notice how Peter begins this letter by describing himself as a servant (the Greek word is doulos), which is literally ‘a slave.’ Peter mentions this status before mentioning his function as an apostle. This speaks to me of his humble attitude. He is primarily a person who sees the honor of serving his master. The idea of apostle is that of being ‘one who is sent out.’ It is also interesting how he describes the recipients of the letter as ‘those who have received a faith as precious as ours.’ This not only applies to the first century believers, but to us as well. It is a faith based on the righteousness of God found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
This righteousness, or being in a right relationship and standing before God, is imputed or given to us as a gift. We stand in Christ’s righteousness before God. It is not something we have done. We have received a like precious faith. The faith expressed here is not a body of teaching, but rather the ability to trust God for the gift of salvation. Some believe that this similar faith was like the faith of the apostles, while others see it as a reference to the historical contrast between Jews and Gentiles. Thomas Schreiner insightfully points out:
Etched in the mind of every Jew was their special place as God’s chosen people. The inclusion of the Gentiles on an equal basis with the Jews was stunning to the early Jewish Christians (cf. Acts 10:1-11:18; Eph. 2:11-3:13), a truth that sunk in slowly.[ii]
What we should be awed about is that we have been given this amazing gift of faith and righteousness. God is a gift that we receive from God.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.[iii]
This gift comes from hearing God’s word. “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ (Romans 10:17).” We all have faith, the problem is that many are placing their faith in the wrong things, or the wrong people. We are to put our faith in God. Everything that we are, have and are becoming occurs as a result of this gift from God.
B. Experiencing God’s grace and peace.
One result of this wonderful gift of salvation that is through faith the various aspects of God’s grace and peace comes. Peter’s prayer for those he is writing to is that they will experience grace and peace. These are two amazing gifts that we are in desperate need of in our day. We desperately need God’s grace and peace in a world where we are filled with fear, anxiety and anger. We see very little grace or peace. One of the challenges is to understand what our responsibility is. We have a responsibility to steward God’s gift of grace in our life.
Peter begins with some incredible statements regarding the nature of our calling. He begins by reminding us of God’s divine power at work in our lives. This divine life or power within us is what all of us need to sustain us for this life and gives us the ability to live a godly life. God’s grace is not just to save us, but also to empower, guide, protect and provide for us each every day. But not only do we have grace, but we also receive God’s peace. God’s kingdom is designed to create within us a heart that will be ruled by grace and peace. But how does that peace and grace come to us? It is a result of ‘grace and peace in abundance through knowledge.’ In a time where we are minimizing knowledge, here we are told that it’s important to understand who God is. We can never fully appreciate nor experience God’s grace and peace if we don’t understand who God is and learn to exercise what God has put into our lives.
Peter was writing to people who claimed a real knowledge of God and of Christ, but continued in immoral behavior. Knowledge may have been a catch phrase of theirs [of the false teachers that had infiltrated the church] which he now takes up and fills with authentic Christian content. True knowledge of God and Christ produces grace and peace in life and produces holiness. The whole N.T. unites in denouncing a profession of faith which makes no difference to behavior.[iv]
The fruit or results of false teaching is that it leads to wrong living. God’s grace and power are the foundation that leads to a godly life. R. C. Sproul in his commentary on 2 Peter points out that this false teaching was likely “‘the gnostic heresy.’
Gnostics claimed to have a superior type of knowledge above and beyond that possessed by the Apostles, a knowledge gained through a direct mystical perception rather than by diligent thinking. Throughout this epistle Peter brings us back to the acquisition of true knowledge, the true gnosis which is revealed by God and found in His Word.[v]
C. A New Nature from above brings a certain quality of life.
‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3).” The gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely words, but it gives us an enabling power to overcome the works of the sinful nature. Peter is making the call of God on our lives the grounds for his appeal to holy living. By the Holy Spirit now living in us, we have God’s nature at work in us. Now we must learn to yield to God’s Spirit working within us. We are reminded that what we are and will become, comes from God. Through Jesus Christ, and through His glory and goodness, we receive precious promises.
Through these [His own glory and goodness] he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them [God’s promises] you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.[vi]
Jesus’ sacrificial death was not in vain. As He conquered death, the ultimate enemy, so we will as well. However, what God has enabled and promised can be nullified or rendered powerless by us. One of the things we must remind ourselves is that there is a spiritual conflict. In these hours it is growing more intense. The faces of the battle are many. Two very powerful expressions of this battle are stated here.
1. ‘The corruption in our world caused by evil desires.” The sinful nature is expressed without much restrain in our world. Abuse, neglect, hatred, envy, greed and all manner of sinful wickedness abounds. It affects all of our lives. This jungle is not only outside the door of our homes, but it can also infiltrate our minds and understanding. The real battle is being waged in our minds. What we really believe, we act on. The question that begs to be asked is how can we escape the lies of the enemy? There are many people today that believe that living a holy life is impossible. There is just too much corruption out there!
2. However, Peter speaks of a divine power that can transform our minds and lives.
Rival pagan schoolmen asserted that you escaped from the toils of corruption by becoming participants in the divine nature either by means of law keeping or nature. Peter takes up their language, and replies that it is by sheer grace. …Participation in the divine nature is the starting point, not the goal of Christian living. …Peter is not saying that we are being absorbed into God; that would at the same time dissolve personal identity…but rather experiencing a real union with Christ.[vii]
We are not talking about denial of the problems. What we are talking about here is that we are no longer a part of the problem. God’s grace overcomes our own evil desires. We have a greater power at work within us, desiring greater and more noble things. This is God’s part. He provides all we need. But the question then is why are so many believers living defeated lives? Why are we not experiencing this power in our lives? What should our response be to God’s grace and power in our lives? First we need to be aware that this power is available to us in Christ. Then we choose to do what God says. We obey what God says. The balance in the Christian between what God does and how we respond is to realize it takes God’s power and grace to enable us to do what is right and proper. The choice is ours! Each believer must decide. Either we become freed from sin, or we become further enslaved to sin. This is what Paul was explaining in Romans.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.[viii]
THE SECOND TRUTH IN HELPING US STAND IS THAT WE ARE DILIGENT IN MAKING OUR CALLING AND ELECTION SURE
We are responsible to appropriate what God has done for us. We are to be diligent in the daily feeding our souls upon God’s precious messages to us found in his word as one of the great means of grace. We spend time in prayer, fellowship and worship. We do not just coast along. William Barclay challenges us: “The more a man allows his mind to grow slack and lazy and flabby, the less the Holy Spirit can say to him.”[ix]
We need to respond to what God has done and is doing within our lives. God has given us the gift of faith which we then ought to make every effort to add to even though we realize that our efforts are inadequate. Our effort, though inadequate, combined with God’s enabling grace, brings about a change in our lives.
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, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.[x]
These are qualities that constitute spiritual maturity. So often we focus on other elements and aspects of the Christian life. God is a fruit inspector. In light of all that He has done for us and is doing for us, He expects something from us. He expects that we will surrender to Him and allow the work of the Holy Spirit to help us to become more like Him; more loving.
It’s interesting how Peter chose to make a list of virtues. This was a very common practice among the Greeks.
When we examine the chain of virtues in 2 Peter, it is doubtful that we should understand each virtue actually building on the previous one …it does seem significant that the chain begins with faith and ends with love. Faith is the root of all the virtues, and loves is the goal and climax of the Christian life.[xi]
1. We are to add to our faith. Goodness – this is an interesting term. This speaks of moral excellence. The proper fulfillment as Michael Green relates: “True human excellence is …Christlikeness. Which can only be acquired through personal and continuous encounters with Christ by faith.”[xii]
So how do we add to our faith the goodness or moral excellency that Peter is speaking about? By spending time in His presence. For some, that means rearranging priorities and schedules.
2. We add to this goodness, knowledge. But this is the knowledge that is able to distinguish the good from the bad. This is biblical wisdom that keeps us making wise decisions and only begins with the ‘fear of God.’ “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).” You may be saying, how can I do this? Start reading your bible. Take a pen or pencil and paper and ask questions regarding the passage. What is the author trying to say to the people he’s addressing? What don’t I understand? Where can I find resources to understand this material? What are the principles that are eternal and always true? How can I apply those principles in my life? As you take the time to study, glean principles and apply those truths, you will grow in your understanding and discernment. You will become like the Jewish people who were hearing the gospel from their Hebrew bibles, the Old Testament and examining what was being preached to them by the apostle Paul.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.[xiii]
Are you a Berean or a Thessalonian in your approach to God’s word? To the Thessalonians, Paul warned them about being gullible and duped by the false signs.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.[xiv]
Are we a lover of the truth? Jesus said that He was the way, the truth and the life (cf. Jn. 14:6).
3. And to your knowledge, self-control.
This means to control our passions, rather than being controlled by them. How does this come about? It means living in submission to the control of the indwelling Christ. One of the things that Peter is addressing in this epistle is the loose living done in the name of Christianity. False teachers claimed that their knowledge released them from their need of self-control (2 Peter 2:1-3). Any system which divorces our faith from ethics is a fundamental heresy.
4. Self-control empowers or reveals perseverance.
Perseverance is the temper of mind which is unmoved by difficulty and distress, and which can withstand the two Satanic agencies of opposition from the world without and the enticements from the flesh within. …We learn to see our apparent misfortunes in light of eternity rather than just time.[xv]
5. Perseverance or endurance is a fruit of genuine godliness. Godliness is the concept of reverence towards God. It is seen in a deep piety or devotion towards God. It’s a healthy respect for who He is and what He says.
6. Godliness leads to mutual affection. Out of a genuine relationship with God comes a love for others, particularly those who are fellow believers. The reason why there is so much bickering in people’s lives has to do with the shallowness of our relationship with God. I realize that even godly people differ. Yet love for other believers is manifested by how we practice the ‘one another’s’ in the Bible. Forbearing, forgiving, praying, and giving.
It means guarding that Spirit-given unity from destruction by gossip, prejudice, narrowness, and the refusal to accept a brother Christian for what he is in Christ.[xvi]
7. The mutual affection leads to love.
Faith is the root of which love is the fruit. This is the ultimate. This is true godliness. We choose to love not based on the person, but rather out of a heart full of God’s unconditionally love. Here is where we are doing for others, not for what we get, but rather for what we can give. Somebody might say: So, what happens if I discipline myself? If I make the effort to work with God in my spiritual development? The end result of pursuing after God is becoming like Him. You will become a person who rises above the circumstances. You will become a loving person. You will discover a rich and satisfying life. You will be able to stand in times of shaking. You will have an effective and powerful impact on others. “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 (2 Peter 1:8).”
Peter is telling us that the key to being a productive and effective person is spiritual growth and development. He is communicating that we are responsible for this to occur in our lives. Obviously, it cannot occur apart from God. We need the gift of faith, an understanding of His grace power, and promises, but after that we are to take responsibility for our growth and development. However, when we are not trying we lack understanding, clarity and vision, Peter is saying that we have forgotten that we have been cleansed from our sins. We no longer are filled with gratitude and thanksgiving.
Peter concludes with the following exhortation.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.[xvii]
[i] Hebrews 12:26-27 The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 286.
[iii] Romans 12:3.
[iv] Michael Green, “2 Peter and Jude”, Revised Edition, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 70.
[v] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019), 194.
[vi] 2 Peter 1:4.
[vii] Michael Green, “2 Peter and Jude”, Revised Edition, 73-74.
[viii] Romans 6:15-18.
[ix] William Barclay, “The Promise of the Holy Spirit” (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 98. As cited in James Means, “Effective Pastors for a New Century” (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 96.
[x] 2 Peter 1:5-7.
[xi] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, 298.
[xii] Michael Green, “2 Peter and Jude”, Revised Edition, 77.
[xiii] Acts 17:11.
[xiv] 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11.
[xv] Michael Green, “2 Peter and Jude”, Revised Edition, 78.
[xvi] Ibid, 79.
[xvii] 2 Peter 1:10-11.