2 Peter 3:8-15a
In today’s world the Christian faith—and the Christian Church—is under attack from a number of sources.
1. Under Attack from Outside
There are a number of countries and places where it’s not safe for Christians to live—and to do so means living in constant fear of one’s life. There are countries and places where Christians are ridiculed and persecuted for what they believe—and punishment for practicing the faith can be quite harsh. And there are places and people who dismiss the whole concept of the Christian faith as being irrelevant nonsense or just a crutch for the weak and the elderly. (And you don’t have to go far to hear that kind of attitude either).
The world, then, is not an easy place for Christians to live. And even ourselves, who live in a relatively peaceful and tolerant country, can face attacks for our beliefs.
2. Under Attack from Within
However, those are all attacks from outside the church. But there is also the problem of being under attack from within. Because some who proclaim to have faith, and some who claim to be part of the church, are also a problem for those who want to follow the Christian faith too.
3. The Early Church’s Experience
And having said that, I need to explain what I mean. And to do so I‘d like to refer back to the New Testament church. Because the Apostle Peter faced not only attacks from outside the church but attacks from within as well.
And how we know that is because the Apostle Peter wrote at least two letters—the two that are in our Bibles today. And the first is all about surviving and growing a church that was facing attacks from outside the church. And the second deals with more internal problems—attacks from within. And in Peter’s case the problem of attacks from within related principally to false teaching and bad living.
B. ALTERED BELIEFS (5-10)
1. The New Testament Example
Now at the heart of the problem in New Testament times was the teaching of the Second Coming of Christ. The belief that having been resurrected from the dead—and after a delay—Jesus would come again to judge the world and to gather his people together.
The problem was that the faithful had expected the event to happen sooner rather than later. And as a consequence of its apparent delay, yes, people still believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but they became increasing sceptical about the whole idea of a Second Coming. And as a result of this, there was a movement away from the idea of a second coming.
Indeed, people had become disappointed, and disillusioned. And as a consequence, they had altered their beliefs to deny the Second Coming. They also made other moves to make the Christian faith more comfortable and more palatable.
People began to rearrange their faith to suit their sensibilities. To such an extent that they threw out the whole idea of Jesus coming again. And, by doing so, they dismissed the whole concept of there being a Judgement Day. They dismissed the day when they would be held personally responsible for everything they said and did (and even the things that they failed to say and do too). And that created a real problem in the church.
So accepting that the Christian faith can be under attack from outside of the church is one thing, but we also need to accept that the faith—and the church—can come under attack from within as well. Indeed, in this one example from the early church, we can see how easy it is to lose the plot, and how easy it is to modify the Christian faith to take it away from its true meaning.
Now, of course, modifying anything to do with the Gospel is a practice that needs to be seriously opposed. Which is why Peter’s response to the situation in the first century was to try to get the people back on track.
a). Peter Argues from History (5-7)
To the new argument that the world was stable and unchanging—and therefore there would be no punishment, no judgement, and no Second Coming, Peter’s response was blunt. He suggested that people who thought that way had rocks in their head. After all, the world had a history of people being punished for their sins by God—including the great flood. So to dismiss an event like the Second Coming—which was consistent with God’s practices in the past—made no sense at all.
b). Peter Argues from Scripture (8)
To the argument that the Second Coming—and Judgement Day—would never happen because it hadn’t happened when they thought it should, Peter’s response was that they had got the completely wrong idea about God. And he showed from scripture that God was concerned that as many people as possible should have the opportunity to repent and be saved before the end should come. God’s priorities were not based on what they thought was good for themselves but based on what was good for all people. And he consequently reminded them that God’s idea of timing—and his concerns—were often quite different from their own.
c). Peter Argues from the Character of God (9)
To combat the criticism of the slackness of God in him not responding sooner, Peter’s response was to remind them of the longsuffering nature of God. That God wanted to hold the door open for repentant sinners and wanted to give scoffers (even them) the opportunity to change.
d). Peter Argues from the Promises of Christ (10)
And to combat the growing disbelief in the Second Coming—that it would never happen—Peter’s response was to quote a saying of Jesus about the unpredictability of the coming of the day. That it would come like a “thief in the night.” That it would come suddenly and at a time least expected and would be as disastrous to the unprepared as a night-time burglary.
Far from the church being attacked from the outside, Peter was responding to attacks from within—attacks on some very basic of Christian beliefs. The Second Coming hadn’t come when people had expected or wanted, and people had begun to modify their beliefs and behaviour. So to combat that he reinforced the teaching on the Second Coming and challenged people’s modified beliefs and behaviour.
From the very beginning, people have tried to dismiss important planks of the Christian gospel. They have tried to modify the faith to fit their own preferred beliefs. Consequently the idea that the church may be under attack from within should not be an idea that we dismiss lightly, even today.
2. Modern-Day Experience
Indeed as we look around at the church today, it is evident that the modification of the gospel—and the modification of Christian behaviour—continues on. In many ways, it’s like we’ve learnt nothing. And at the heart of the problems of the church today, I believe, are still our responses to the Second Coming and Judgement Day.
The church may still experience opposition from without but it’s the opposition from within that still causes the most damage.
Indeed, the church today is beset by the idea that the supernatural events of the past (and even of today) all have a rational explanation. In other words, there is a move to dismiss the works of God as things that can be explained away as natural events.
The church today is a place where there is more interest in compromise than in upholding biblical truths. And as a consequence the lowest common denominator often rules, often at the expense of the gospel itself.
The church today is a place where a great distinction has been drawn around God, outside of which he is not allowed to operate. As though God can somehow be excluded from any part of his creation.
And the church today is a place where a lack of activity and a lack of proclaiming the gospel can be explained away by the need to employ someone to carry out such tasks.
And yet none of those ideas take seriously the concepts that the Second Coming will come or that Judgement Day will be a reality. None of those ideas take seriously the idea that each and every one of us, Christians included, will one day be asked to account for everything that we have ever said and done (and everything we have failed to say and do too). And none of those ideas takes seriously the obligations of every single Christian to participate fully in the life of the church.
The state of the church today, then, is a reflection of the fact that many people have modified the Christian faith to suit themselves. Unfortunately, as Peter attests, modifying any belief will only take believers, the church—and even non-believers—further away from God.
C. APPROPRIATE PRACTICES (11-14)
Of course, recognising and outlining the problem within the church—either historically or in a modern context—is one thing, doing something about it is another thing altogether.
1. A New Testament Example
But if we follow Peter’s example—having got to the crux of the issue and having reiterated the basics of the Christian faith, which include the idea of Jesus’s Second Coming and Judgement Day—we too should be able to consider a series of solutions to the problem of the church being under attack from within.
And these are the solutions that Peter offered:
a). To Live Holy and Godly Lives (11-13)
Instead of being indifferent, leaving matters to others—living one life outside church and another within—Peter encouraged the people to conduct themselves in three ways. To live a holy life; to fill it with the worship of God; and to be actively involved in helping others. These three qualities, Peter suggested, were meant to be permanently present in our lives. Indeed, they were an essential response to the Gospel.
In other words, Peter’s emphasis is on the need for action. The Christian faith should not be one of inactivity or even pious inactivity. It should not be one of designing one’s beliefs to fit one’s wants and desires—or even to fit our preferred behaviour. Indeed, the Christian faith is one where believers—all believers—get involved, and freely and willingly contribute to the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal being . . . being prepared for the Second Coming of Christ.
The Second Coming should be at the heart of everything we believe and say and do. And that means putting aside our wants and preferences and desires for this one goal.
Furthermore, Peter suggested, in some way the Second Coming is related to the amount of our activity. For if believers sit around being idle, then God will need more time to give people the opportunity to respond to him. In contrast, an active vibrant church—with each person carrying out their roles—is the very thing that will hasten it.
b). To Live Spotless and Blameless Lives (14-15a)
Furthermore, we are to make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with God (14-15a). Indeed, contrary to it not mattering how people behave—because people change their beliefs and actions to what they are comfortable with—Peter stated that their behaviour was vitally important. Indeed, people needed to live upright and righteous lives. But this time, not to hasten in the Kingdom of God, but because only the righteous will live in the new heaven and the new earth.
Behaviour must match beliefs. And false beliefs will only encourage false behaviour. In the end, it will be Jesus who will confront people based on their beliefs and their behaviour. And he is the standard by which all will be judged.
Consequently, according to Peter, true Christians are only those who try to conform to the spotless, blameless pattern of God’s Son. And that means the need to believe in the unadulterated original version of the faith, and by exercising behaviour that matches those beliefs.
2. A Modern-Day Experience
Peter’s lesson, then, was a sharp rebuke to the faith and practices of the early church. And in a way it is a sharp rebuke to the faith and practices of today’s church too. Because true faith is not something which you can fashion to suit – to what you are comfortable with. Nor is Christian behaviour something to be fiddled with either.
People may like to change their Christian beliefs to suit. People may like to behave differently from the Christian model. But if anyone wants to be a true Christian then they have to forgo the things that make the gospel easier or more palatable, and stand firm on the original unmodified beliefs and behaviour instead. That is, behaviour that includes living a holy life, filling one’s life with the worship of God, and being actively involved in the service of God’s church.
The Christian faith is active, not passive. And anyone who is not actively involved in the spiritual life and growth of God’s church has missed the vital lesson and application of the Gospel.
Now without a doubt, the Christian faith, today, is under attack from outside the church. But it is also under attack from within. But that’s the way it’s always been.
So the way to defend the faith is not only to uphold the belief in the Second Coming and Judgement Day, but to behave in an appropriate manner too.
Faith is active and not passive, and the challenge for today is to examine ourselves—our beliefs and practices—and see whether we have modified anything relating to the Gospel at all. Not only that, we also need to check whether our behaviour fits those original and unadulterated beliefs on which we should all stand.
Posted: 13th November 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
2 Peter 3:8-15a