What sort of lives should you live?
This past week I have had the privilege of providing the Bible teaching in the Child Evangelism Fellowship Europe conference in Germany. With the pandemic and the war in Ukraine fresh in people's minds, the theme chosen for the conference was 'Certain Hope in an Uncertain World'. I chose to speak from 1 and 2 Peter. For three mornings we considered:
Seeing Hope - the living hope we have through the resurrection of Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1)
Setting Hope - the implications of setting our hope fully on the grace to be revealed when Christ comes in glory (1 Peter 1 - 2)
Sharing Hope - the challenge of giving a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3).
This morning, the conference united with the church that meets weekly in the conference centre and I spoke from 2 Peter 3, where the apostle Peter challenges us to stir up our minds - literally to make sure they are fully aroused (verses 1-2). The command echoes what happened in the lead up to Jesus' death. In Mark 13, Jesus challenges His disciples to stay watchful and awake. In Mark 14, they slept instead of praying in the Garden of Gethsemane with Him, resulting in a rebuke from their Lord.
Now, Peter, who learnt the lesson the hard way, urges us not to make the same mistake. We need to be alert and aware of what is happening in our world. Peter contrasts the people of this world with the people of God with four main thoughts.
Sinful scoffing (verses 3-4) - Peter predicts that people will mock Christians. We can certainly see this in 21st century Europe. But, he explains that the words they speak against us, even the arguments they construct, are not really the reason why they are so troubled by Christian faith. Rather, the reason is that they want to follow their sinful desires. Intellectual philosophies and campaigns for social change are merely covers for sin. In particular, they live as if the world as we know it now is permanent, with gradual processes working over vast time periods to bring small and gradual changes. This belief is also evident in Europe. Our shock at the war in Ukraine is at least partly because we got used to the idea that Europe would continue indefinitely in peace. How wrong we were! The fact is that Europe is no less sinful now than it was when the world wars or the Napoleonic Wars or any other war broke out. We are just as sinful, but we don't like to admit it. Instead, we have created a victim and blame culture. If I do wrong, someone else must be to blame - usually my parents or some authority figure. It is true, of course, that much ill in our lives comes from the way people treat us, but the blame game stretches way back to Genesis 3, when Adam blamed Eve who blamed the serpent. And the blame game gets us nowhere. There can be no forgiveness if we are not responsible! People like to hide sin.
God’s promise (verses 5-7) - the sinful scoffers have deliberately overlooked the facts. They do not reject belief in God because of a lack of evidence - the natural world, the Bible and the lives of Christians provide ample reason to believe - but because the existence of God is inconvenient for them. But, Peter, says, the thing they overlook is God's judgement on sin. He reminds us of the past judgement of the Flood, when God washed the world clean from sin' stain and tells us that just as God's promise of the Flood was fulfilled, so His promise of final judgement will also be fulfilled. Not, this time, with water, but with fire - a more destructive element that will dissolve the universe as we know it entirely. God's promise assures us of future judgement.
God’s patience (verses 8-9) - so far our message has seemed helpless, but now Peter tells us not to overlook the facts. We, unlike the sinful scoffers, must recognise the truth. And what truth do we need to know? That 1000 years and a day are interchangeable for God! This statement surely tells us that God is outside time, not constrained by its passage as we are, but it has a richer meaning still. It is taken from Psalm 90, which clearly teaches the permanency and unchanging nature of God, the temporary and frail nature of human life and the fact that we are under God's judgement - the God who will expose all our sins. As so often when New Testament writers quote from the Old Testament, Peter expects us to know (or check out) the context of his quotation. The Psalm sets the background for 2 Peter 3! But why is God waiting to judge? We might often ask why God does not intervene in our world to bring an end to problems (wars, pandemics, personal illnesses, temptations etc.). The only answer the Scriptures give is to assure us that one day, on the final day of judgement, God will intervene decisively and finally - no more wars, sickness, death or sin. But so long as he delays that day it is for one reason - to give us an opportunity to turn to Him (and to call others to do the same!) God's patience allows for repentance.
Holy hoping (verses 10-13) - Peter tells us just how complete the final judgement will be. Everything will be laide bare. The earth laid bare - melted down to be reformed into a new creation. But also the things done on the earth laid bare - every sin exposed with no more excuses or passing the buck. The new creation will be the home of righteousness - no sin and none of sin's effects will be permitted to enter it. To achieve that end, God must judge totally, and no one can stand in that judgement except through faith in the Lord Jesus. We must realise this. Everything around us is for the fire. The only things in our experience that will carry on into the new creation are people (ourselves and others) and the Word of God, and people can only be in the new creation if the Word of God has become internal to them through faith in the Lord Jesus. So, Peter challenges us, if this is true, what kind of people should we be? Where should our priorities lie? Surely on loving others and sharing Christ with them! When we allow other things to take over, we are drifting off into a deceptive slumber. We must wake up! We must not hide sin.
So, let me leave you with three questions for reflection:
What sinful desires have you excused that need to be exposed and brought into God's light now through confession and repentance (since nothing can be hidden)?
Is your priority what it should be in light of God’s patience? If all things other than people and God's Word will be burnt up and reshaped by God, what should you focus your efforts on?
What sort of person should you be in light of the final day? What does it mean for you to live a holy and godly life as God's servant?