“Father, we’re grateful for Your Word, and we’re grateful for the fact that every jot or tittle of Your Word is inspired by God. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, quoting the Book of Deuteronomy, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
We remember that Job said that Your Word was to him as his daily bread. And so we believe every Word You put here—even these last two or three verses that we’re looking at tonight. So I pray that You would take these words that You put here for our edification and benefit and You would use these tonight in the lives of Your people—and also in the lives of any unbelievers who might be watching.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. That by hearing God’s Word tonight, they might put their personal faith in Christ alone for their salvation. It is, of course, a work, Lord, that only You can do. So, we ask You to do that. And we ask these things in Jesus’ name.” God’s people said? “Amen.”
Let’s locate 2 Peter 2:16. The title of this particular study is “Keep Growing.” We often hear the expression “keep going,” and that is apropos. But here Peter is telling us, at the end of his book, to keep growing.
So, Christianity is such that if you understand the same things that you understood a year ago—but no more—you’ve never really gone deeper into truth—if our lifestyle is exactly the same as it was a year ago and we’ve never allowed the Word to change us in different areas. If I’m exactly the same person that I was last year at this time, I’m really not paying attention to Peter’s concluding exhortation to keep growing.
Christianity is such—and our relationship with the Lord is such—that we need to keep progressing into that. You run into a lot of folks who say, “I trusted Christ when I was five,” and all this kind of stuff. I’m thinking, “Well, yeah…and so what?” I’m glad that you’re saved, but have you grown since that point in time? And if we’re not growing since that point in time, then we’re completely missing the point of Christianity, which is a personal relationship with God through the Person of Jesus Christ. And we’re to continue growing in intimacy in that relationship.
So here we are at the very end of the Book of 2 Peter. All things considered, this will probably be our final Bible study of the spring quarter. On Wednesdays we’re going to pick it up again in the fall with a fresh book. I’ve been praying about what to teach next in the fall; I’m leaning towards the Book of James right now. We’ll just have to see what the Lord has for us.
But here we are at the very end of the book. We’ve spent all quarter, really, beginning in January before the pandemic started, on 2 Peter, and we’re finishing it tonight. This will be our 17th lesson in 2 Peter.
Peter, as you know by now, wrote a book to warn his audience as he’s writing from Babylon. He’s writing to his Hebrew Christian audience in north-central Turkey. He’s warning them of false teaching that they’re about to be hit with in a few short years.
Peter structures this whole book, really, as a warning concerning false teaching. Chapter 1 is part one, which is a call to growth. It’s hard to be negatively influenced by false teachers if you—if we—are maturing Christians. So that’s what that chapter is doing there. And, of course, he’s going to dial back to that theme in verse 18 as he wraps up the book as we will see this evening. But there he tells us our resources for growth, and he tells us what spiritual growth actually looks like.
Then, after dealing with that subject, he moves into part two of the book, which is in chapter 2, where he gives us the characteristics of false teachers. You’re hard-pressed to find any area in the Bible that deals specifically with the general generic concept of false teachers as you find there in chapter 2. It’s tremendous what he says there—unmasking not only the false teachers in his day but really the false teachers in any generation. You know, “What are false teachers like? What are their motives? What are their devices/method? It’s all there in chapter 2.
Then, from there, we moved into part three of the book where he explained the coming doctrine of the false teachers. Chapter 3 is the chapter that I find the most interesting, because he describes the doctrine that they would teach there under Gnosticism. It is the identical doctrine that people suffer under today, a doctrine called uniformitarianism—meaning everything is uniform based on slow, gradual processes that you can see in the present.
So they start to worship their five senses instead of trusting God’s Word, which reveals things outside of our five senses. If all you believe in is your five senses, then you don’t believe in heaven or hell or any number of things. Because God reveals things to us outside of our five senses—including how things started and how things will end.
How things started and how things end will be completely different than the slow process that you can see in the present. And yet, a uniformitarian pretends that a slow process they can see in the present has always been and will always be. And they completely distrust God’s Word. And that’s a doctrine that your grandchildren are probably under, as I speak, or your children. Most likely it’s what you were taught if you went through the public school system. It’s the pretext for evolutionary thinking. And Peter refutes the whole thing there in chapter 3.
Peter explains the heresy of these false teachers (uniformitarianism), why they’re teaching it (they don’t like the idea of the Second Coming because they’re walking in their own lusts). So they push the Second Coming out of their minds through this doctrine called uniformitarianism. He refutes it beautifully in verses 5-10, and then he gives four points of application in verses 11-15.
All of that is in our rearview mirror. We’ve gone through all of that, and that just leaves the second half of verse 15, verse 16, verse 17, and verse 18. And what’s happening there? Well, he’s giving three concluding exhortations.
As he is wrapping up his thoughts, these are three reminders. The first of the three we covered last time. He simply said there in verse 15, “remember—or regard—the grace of God.” We know that God is slow to judgment (verse 9), “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God’s judgment does eventually show up, but it takes God a very long time to bring judgment. And in the meantime, God is in the business of showing people grace.
Not the least of which was the Apostle Paul, who is mentioned there in verse 15 and into verse 16, a man who was writing books of the New Testament under divine inspiration at the time that the Apostle Peter penned these words. And what a work of grace that was! Because that man used to be named Saul, and he’s actually the one—as we tried to explain last week—who came against this Hebrew Christian audience in Jerusalem (Acts 8, Acts 11) and pushed them up into north central Turkey.
So Peter says, “If you want exhibit A of the grace of God, just look at Paul, who is now an apostle, writing New Testament Scripture, and yet he’s the one who persecuted you as Saul.” So we’re not in a time period where God is bringing judgment…yet. It’s coming. We’re told very clearly that it’s coming in verse 10, where God is going to take this world and dissolve it by fire.
But in the interim, until that day of judgment comes, God is in the business of showing people grace (unmerited favor), not the least of which is the Apostle Paul. And if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has held back His judgment all of this time so you could come to faith in Christ. He held up everything until 1983 so I could get saved. And He held up everything until the time period when you got saved. Because that’s how God is; He’s very gracious.
Peter simply says there—exhortation number one—as we covered it last week, “Regard the grace of God.” And now he moves into a second exhortation where he says, “Beware of false teachers.” Notice verses 16 and 17, “as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness…”
The second exhortation that Peter gives here is just to beware of false teachers. And he says, “You know, some of the things that Paul writes are hard to understand.” There are areas of the Bible that are sort of ambiguous, and what people will do is go to those areas where there is almost no agreement in terms of what Paul is saying and they’ll try to construct a major doctrine on that very obscure area. And how you know you’re dealing with a false teacher or you’re dealing with a cult is that they are majoring on the minors and they’re constructing a whole doctrine out of wholesale cloth from an area of Scripture that’s not that clear.
So you’ll notice that the most cherished beliefs in modern-day Christianity don’t just come from a single Scripture. Typically what the Lord will do, when He allows these doctrines to come into existence, is people will be able to construct them through multiple Scriptures. The Trinity, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the two natures of Christ, the return of Christ—any doctrine you want to look at. It’s somewhat dangerous if there’s only a single obscure verse that supports that doctrine.
And false teachers don’t operate that way; they gravitate toward some remote part of the Bible, and they’ll build a whole doctrine out of some remote part of the Bible. And Peter says, “Some of Paul’s writings give them opportunity to do this, because Paul is clearer in some areas than he is others.” So, as he is talking about Paul and he’s talking about the divine inspiration that God gave Paul to pen God’s Word, it’s a reminder to, “Be careful, though, of those who will exploit some of Paul’s statements to teach false doctrines.” This, of course, fits with what Peter said earlier in the letter concerning false teachers; back in 2 Peter 2:14 he tells us that they will entice unstable souls.
So, new Christians or Christians who really don’t know much about the totality of God’s Word—or the full counsel of God’s Word—will get swept into this. Peter says, I want to warn you ahead of time about this propensity of false teachers to do this. In the process of making this warning, Peter, after explaining that some of Paul’s writings have given false teachers an opportunity, makes this statement, also in verses 16 and 17, “…which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Now, there’s a parallel passage over in Revelation 22:18-19; it basically says the exact same thing. It says, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” It’s a very severe warning about people who come to the Bible and intentionally manipulate it or intentionally distort it.
And if someone is coming to the Bible with that mindset, what Peter is saying—and what is also being revealed in the Book of Revelation—is that this is a revelation of someone’s unbelieving heart because that’s what unbelievers do. If someone is coming to the Bible, taking an ambiguous section and developing a doctrine out of it, to teach some strange idea with the goal of drawing away disciples after themselves, then that most likely is a window into the fact that they’ve never trusted in Christ at all. They are unsaved. They are unregenerate. And this is why Peter says that they twist the Scriptures (or distort the Scriptures) to their own destruction.
Revelation 22:18-19 says that if anyone does this, then they will have no part in the eternal city. In other words, they are unbelievers. They are going to be outside the city. Now, one of the things that is important to understand is a Christian can teach false doctrine. All you’ve got to do is look at the life of the Apostle Peter to see that. Peter made a statement in Matthew 16; he tried to help Jesus with His career by keeping Him away from the Cross. And Jesus said to Peter, a saved person, “…Get thee behind me, Satan…”
There is no doubt Peter is saved, but he is saying something wrong. Later on in the Book of Acts—more specifically in the Book of Galatians—the Apostle Peter got involved in legalism (I believe it’s in Galatians 2 primarily) to the point where the Apostle Paul had to confront Peter to his face. So, obviously, a born-again Christian, by going back to the flesh, or succumbing to fear or any number of things, can teach false things. I don’t dispute that. I don’t doubt that.
In fact, the Bible says to Christians in Ephesians 4 (we’re going to refer to these verses a little later), “…do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” So when a Christian caters to the flesh, they give Satan an opportunity or an inroad into their life. Not to possess them—because Satan and the Holy Spirit can’t be roommates—but certainly to influence them. And if they’re in a position as a teacher, Satan can actually use Christians to teach false doctrines.
However, having said all that, I don’t think that’s what Peter is dealing with here. Nor do I think that’s what John in Revelation 22:18-19 is dealing with. It’s dealing with people who come to the Bible and twist it. Not that a Christian can’t do that, but that’s not Peter’s focus. His focus is these coming Gnostics—unbelievers who are going to come into the church in a few years and confuse people. He’s basically saying, “The fact that they come to the Bible and deliberately twist it is a revelation of the fact that they never knew Christ at all. They twist the Scriptures to their own destruction.”
I very much like because this book written by Dennis Rokser, entitled Shall Never Perish Forever. It’s probably one of the best books on eternal security that you can find, and he makes some comments here about this issue in Revelation 22:18-19 and also 2 Peter 3:16-17. He says, “To unbelievers who would add to God’s Word in this fashion, the Lord promises to ‘add to him the plagues that are written in this book.’ The plagues spoken of in the book of Revelation occur during that future period of God’s judgment on the earth known as the Tribulation. If anyone reading Revelation accepts the invitation of verse 17 and becomes a believer in Christ prior to the Tribulation, that person will experience the pretribulational Rapture of the saints rather than the plagues of the Tribulation. Therefore, the warning in Revelation 22:18 applies only to unbelievers. This is not a warning to believers to stay saved or to be rewarded for their perseverance.”
The reason he’s bringing this up is because people use passages like Revelation 22:18-19 and 2 Peter 3:16-17 to argue that you can lose your salvation. But those passages are not dealing with that. What they are dealing with is unbelievers deliberately twisting God’s Word.
Pastor Rokser goes on and says,“Verses 18-19 follow with a grave warning to unbelievers who would add to or subtract from the words of this book. Either adding to or taking away from the Word of God is characteristic of unbelievers who cannot simply accept by faith what God says in His Word.” So if someone is coming to the Bible and they want to manipulate it, and twist it, and turn it into a pretzel—into something that it is not saying, the reason they’re doing that is they don’t like what it says. They are an unbeliever in the Word of God, and so they have no problems distorting it.
“When God speaks, the response of the believing heart is simply ‘Amen.’ But the unbeliever does not accept what God says at face value, and so he must change the Word to suit himself. Either adding to or taking away from the Word of God is characteristic of unbelievers who cannot simply accept by faith what God says in His Word.” So we are not here to correct the Bible. It’s the other way around: the Bible is here to correct us. I am not here to sit in judgment on the Bible. It’s the other way around: the Word of God is here to sit in judgment on me.
And it reveals an attitude of the heart. Wanting to change the Bible and twist the Bible reveals unbelievers coming into Peter’s audience as unsaved people. They are distorting the Scriptures, revealing their unbelieving heart; consequently, they are distorting the Scriptures to their own judgment and to their own destruction because they are on their way to hell itself.
Pastor Rokser goes on and says, “A common characteristic of cults and religions that profess to be ‘Christian’…” Interrupting his sentence, we have to understand, first of all, what a cult is. A cult is a group that claims to be Christian and yet denies one or more essentials of the Christian faith.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses would be an example of a cult. They claim to be Christian. You talk to them; they seem like they’re Christians. But you get into their teaching, and they basically say Jesus was a created being. They’re recycling an ancient heresy called Arianism that was confronted and dealt with all the way back in A.D. 325 at the Council of Nicaea. Beyond that, they teach salvation by works and other things. So, essentially, what they are is a cult. They claim to be Christian, but they deny one or more essentials of the faith.
The Mormons are the same thing. They are a cult! It doesn’t matter if they vote Republican. It doesn’t matter if they have nice families. The doctrines of Mormonism itself are at variance with God’s Word on point after point after point. It doesn’t matter how nice their choir sings. All of that is irrelevant. You have to look at their teachings and compare it to Scripture. They want the name Christian, but they deny one or more essentials of the Christian faith. They are a cult! It doesn’t matter how rich they are. It doesn’t matter how successful they are in business. All that is irrelevant.
Pastor Dennis Rokser says, “A common characteristic of cults and religions that profess to be ‘Christian’ is that they invariably add other books, creeds, council decisions, or ‘inspired’ writings of their founder…” Interrupting the train of thought here. Joseph Smith, in this case. The Mormons will come to your door—not “if” but “when”—and they’ll try to convince you that the Bible is not enough. You need all these other books about the guest appearance that Jesus made in North America.
So they don’t believe in a completed canon with the closing of the Book of Revelation. They’ve got their Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants added to the Bible. So they’re taking the experiences or writings of their own founders and they’re elevating them to the level of Scripture itself. That is a cult! It’s not a put-down; it’s an academic category.
Continuing with his quote, “A common characteristic of cults and religions that profess to be ‘Christian’ is that they invariably add other books, creeds, council decisions, or ‘inspired’ writings of their founder or leaders to the Bible, and they put these on a par with God’s Word.” In so doing, they are revealing that they really don’t believe in Jesus Christ at all, or the Bible at all. And as Peter says, “They will come, and they will twist—the Book of Revelation says add or subtract from God’s Word—the Scriptures to their own destruction. In so doing, they will reveal their unbelieving heart; because the believer wants to submit to God’s Word, not to fight against it.
So, if someone is always twisting God’s Word, adding to God’s Word, subtracting from God’s Word, it’s a revelation of the fact that they’re not saved at all! Again, that’s not to take away from the fact that a Christian—as I explained with the Apostle Peter—can get ensnared in false teaching. But that’s not who Peter is dealing with here. He’s dealing with these false teachers who are about to come into the flock. And he is saying, “They are unsaved.”
He clearly describes them as unsaved in chapter 2, as we explained. And he says, “The evidence of the fact that they are unsaved is they have a deliberate desire to twist the Scriptures to their own destruction.” If a Christian goes under the influence of a false teacher—or a false teaching—or a false doctrine—for any amount of time, they run the risk of falling. Look at what it says there at the end of verse 17, “fall from your own steadfastness.”
So here come the Gnostics—unsaved teachers coming into a saved flock. Why should the flock of Jesus Christ resist these coming false teachers? Because if you go under their influence, you will fall from your own steadfastness.
Now, once again, people look at that “fall from your own steadfastness” and say, “A Christian runs the risk of falling from their own steadfastness? I guess that means Christians coming under the influence of false teaching have the potentiality of forfeiting their salvation.” So, this is used many times to teach the doctrine of insecurity: you can be saved and then lose your salvation.
That’s why we so aggressively at the beginning of this study explained that Peter’s audience is saved. Peter’s audience is regenerated. There are multiple promises in God’s Word that once a person is saved, they’re saved forever. John 10:27-29—we’re in the Son’s hand and the Father’s hand and absolutely nothing can snatch us out. How could eternal life be eternal if you could forfeit it? It doesn’t even make sense from that standpoint.
At the beginning of this study we showed that the audience is regenerated. The false teachers coming in are unregenerate. But the original audience—the flock there in north central Turkey—is saved. You see that in 2 Peter 1:1-2; that’s why it’s helpful to focus aggressively really on the beginning of any book, because it shows you exactly who the audience is before you study that book. Peter says, “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours…”
Peter goes on and says, “our God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” At the end of 2 Peter 1:2 he says, “…Jesus our Lord…” So, Peter, who obviously was saved, is putting himself in the same position as his audience spiritually speaking. He’s identifying spiritually with his audience. So, there’s no doubt that this audience is saved.
So, if they are saved—and once saved always saved—then what in the world is Peter talking about there at the end of verse 17 when he warns them that if you come under the influence of a false teacher you’re going to fall from your own steadfastness? What he is dealing with is not their justified status before God, which is a done deal. Rather, what he is dealing with is their growth in Christ.
See, if you make this verse a passage about “Gosh, maybe they had salvation—maybe they didn’t,” you’re forcing Peter to answer a question that he’s not dealing with in the book. It’s already presupposed at the beginning of the book that he’s dealing with saved people. So, if you make this an issue about “maybe they’re saved; maybe they’re not; maybe they’re going to lose their salvation” you’re forcing Peter to talk about something that he is not talking about. It’s not even in Peter’s subject.
What he’s dealing with is their growth, so they won’t be negatively influenced by false teachers. And if they become negatively influenced by false teachers, their growth in Christ (not their position in Christ but their growth in Christ) will be short-circuited. They will not be able to grow the way God wants them to grow.
He’s told them in chapter 1 to grow spiritually, “Grow up.” How do you do that as a Christian when you’re under bad doctrine or bad teaching or false teaching? And it’s particularly worse if that false teaching is coming from someone who is not even saved at all, who is deliberately twisting the Scripture to their own destruction.
Remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 1:8-9. He says, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” Obviously, those are saved people because they had purification from their former sins. They just sort of forgot about who they are in Christ, and they’re not living according to their position in Christ.
So what is being short-circuited here is not the fact that they’re Christians. What’s being short-circuited here is the maturing process. It’s like dealing with someone who is having maturity problems, developmental problems—either physically or emotionally. The problem with that person is not the fact that they’ve been born. They’ve already been born. Their born state can’t be reversed. It’s an issue of the fact that they’re not growing correctly—nutritionally, emotionally, whatever the issue is—the way a person should develop.
And that’s what Peter is worried about here. That’s his concern. When he says, “You’re going to fall from your steadfastness,” he is saying the maturity process is going to be short-circuited every second you spend under false or wrong doctrine as a Christian. And there are Christians, quite frankly, who spend a lot of their Christian life going to the wrong church, listening to the wrong people. And the growth that they could have in Christ is short-circuited every moment they spend listening to and absorbing false doctrine and false teaching.
So we make a big deal in this church about the three tenses of salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification—the past tense of salvation. Sanctification—the present tense of salvation. Glorification—the future tense of salvation. Justification—we’re saved from sin’s penalty at the point of faith in Christ. Sanctification—we are being gradually delivered from sin’s power as we grow in Christ. And glorification—we are delivered from sin’s very presence upon death or the Rapture of the church, whichever comes first.
I have been saved. I am being saved. I will be saved. The word “saved” is used in the past tense, present tense, future tense. What is Peter dealing with in this book? He’s dealing with the middle tense there. He’s not dealing with justification issues. Their justification is already presupposed and assumed, as you see in the first two verses of the book.
What Peter is concerned with is them falling from their own steadfastness and not developing the way God wants them to develop in the middle tense of their salvation. It’s very similar to what Paul says in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Well, they are obviously saved! They’ve begun by the Spirit.
But the problem with the Galatians is they went into a works mindset to grow as a Christian. So Paul says, “You’re foolish because you’ve begun by the Spirit and you’re now trying to perfect yourself through the flesh.” And Paul writes the letter of Galatians to them because he is concerned about the middle tense of their salvation. That’s what Paul means when he says towards the end of the Book of Galatians, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”
And everybody looks at that and says, “They lost their salvation!” No. How could they lose their salvation when they’ve already begun by the Spirit (Galatians 3:3)? And once saved always saved is a true doctrine. How could they lose their salvation when they’ve been sealed by the Spirit unto the future day of redemption? Paul is not dealing with, “Maybe you’re a Christian. Maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re going to lose salvation.” When he says that you have fallen from grace, he is saying, “What’s happening to you is in the middle tense of your salvation—your growth. You’re missing out on God’s best for you.”
And when he says you’ve been severed from Christ, what he’s talking about is John 15, where Jesus is in the Upper Room talking to 11 saved men. (Judas, the only unbeliever, has left the room, John 13.) And Jesus to that group talks about branches in the vine and branches out of the vine. The branch in the vine bears fruit; the branch out of the vine does not bear fruit. That’s not the difference between saved and unsaved, justified and unjustified; that’s the difference between a saved person bearing fruit that will last or a saved person not bearing fruit because they’ve stumbled in the middle tense of their salvation.
So this is the warning Peter is giving about these false teachers, “I’m worried you’re going to fall from your own steadfastness; the middle tense of your salvation, your growth, is going to be short-circuited.” That’s what he is saying. Not that, “You’re going to hell.” That’s not an issue that he’s dealing with.
And that happens to Christians who get under false teaching (or bad teaching, or inaccurate teaching). This is why Paul, when he is writing a letter to young Timothy in Ephesus—Timothy is trying to pastor that church—he tells Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching…” The word “teaching” there is the word we get for doctrine. “Timothy, you’re a pastor. Pay attention to your life and your teaching—the public proclamation of your doctrine.”
We know that one of Timothy’s assignments was to preach and teach God’s Word. He tells them in the second letter, 2 Timothy 4:2, to preach the Word in season and out of season. And in 1 Timothy, just a few verses before verse 16, he says to Timothy, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”
“Timothy, your function as the pastor of that group is the public proclamation and teaching of God’s Word.” But—verse 16—”Pay attention to your teaching!” In other words, “Be careful what you teach! Make sure it’s true! Make sure it’s accurate!” Because if you’re not true and accurate in your life and your public proclamation of God’s Word, what you’re going to do is you’re going to short-circuit the growth of your flock entrusted to you. See that?
So, if you’re in a church that’s teaching wrong things, the smartest thing you can do—after you go talk to the leadership and if they’re resilient and want to continue on with false things—is just to leave them there yammering on whatever they’re talking about. Don’t support that church with your attendance. Don’t support it with your finances. And ask the Lord to lead you to an environment where you can grow in the grace and admonition of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because if you don’t, you can’t reach full growth in Christ. You’ll fall from your own steadfastness.
That logically leads to his final exhortation (verse 18) to grow in Christ. Look at what he says in verse 18, exhortation number three. Exhortation number one: regard the grace of God. Exhortation number two: beware of false teachers. Exhortation number three: grow in Christ. Verse 18, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
Notice this word “grow.” Who do the false teachers prey on? The unstable. We saw that earlier in 2 Peter 2:14. So what is the best antidote from being carried away by unprincipled men, the false teaching that he is warning about (verse 17)? It is simply to grow as a Christian. That’s why I entitled this, “Keep Growing.”
Of course, that becomes the purpose of the local church. Of its many purposes, one of its key functions is to help the sheep reach maturity in Christ. Paul is very clear about this in Ephesians 4:11-16. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
In other words, God has put into the local church spiritual gifts for the purpose of helping the sheep to grow. Now, how can that happen if the leadership of the church is given over to false ideas? “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming…” Isn’t that what Peter is talking about in 2 Peter 2:14, how the false teachers will entice the unstable?
That’s exactly what Paul’s dealing with here in Ephesians 4, “…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” “Grow” is what he is saying.
Well, grow in what? He gives two things here. Number one: grow in grace. What does that mean? Well, “grace” essentially means “unmerited favor.” How do you know if you’re growing in grace? I mean, you receive unmerited favor from God. How do you know if you’re growing in that understanding? There is a very simple test: How do you treat other people? Do you treat other people with justice or do you treat them with grace? Because the more I understand the fact that I am unconditionally accepted and forgiven in Christ Jesus, it’s sort of hard to turn around and to hold a grudge against somebody else, isn’t it?
Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” That’s how you know you’re growing in grace—when you’re not letting the sun go down on your anger. “Well, wait a minute. They’ve mistreated me. They did this, and they did that. They deserve this, and they deserve that.” Well, that’s kind of funny— that’s not how the Lord has treated you—or treated me! So, if I’m going to say that I’m growing in the grace of Jesus Christ and then turn around with a retaliatory mindset toward someone else, that really doesn’t demonstrate growth in grace, does it?
Ephesians 4:30-32, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another…” Wow! How does that song go? “To dwell above with the saints I love, that would be much glory. But to stay below with the saints I know, that’s a different story.”
Well, that’s not growing in grace, is it? “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Wow! That’s how you know you’re going in grace—because you are kind and tenderhearted. You know, so many Christians in churches just want to fly off the handle over the slightest little thing—people not getting their way about something. They want to give someone a piece of their mind.
You know, you get cut off on the freeway. Now, this was back in the days when we used to drive on freeways before the coronavirus hit. But you just want to give someone a piece of your mind, and that’s not growing in grace. We know we’re growing in grace when we are more deferential towards people, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and not demonizing each other all of the time because they disagree with us on some preference kind of item.
So Peter says, “Now that you know God’s grace, grow in grace.” And then he says, “Also grow in knowledge.” Now, in our Bible Church mentality, we basically interpret “knowledge” as factual data—doctrinal truth understood intellectually, academically. And that all has a place; I don’t mean to malign that at all. But that’s not the complete idea here—at all.
Factual knowledge is a first step, but it was never intended to be a last step. When the Bible uses the word “knowledge,” the Greek word GNOSIS, it’s talking about a relationship. Notice Matthew 7:21-23. It’s about people showing up, I think, at the Great White Throne Judgment, pleading their good works as a basis for the Lord accepting them. And Jesus will say, “‘And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you…”’” What is He saying there? I never had a relationship with you.
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…” (Genesis 4:1, KJV). In the King James Version it’s translated that way. So, obviously, “knowing” is talking about a deep level of intimacy with someone. Here it’s talking about the sexual relationship between husband and wife because it resulted in Eve begetting her firstborn, Cain. So, when the Bible uses the word “know,” it’s not just data dump; its relational growth. The data dump has a place, but it’s a first step. It’s not a last step—it’s a first step.
So, we’re to grow in grace and in our relationship to Jesus Christ. How do you have a relationship with somebody if you never communicate? “Oh yeah, so and so’s my best friend.” Well, when was the last time you talked? “Oh, I think is about 15 years ago.” Well, that’s not a relationship. That’s not a friendship. That may be a memory, but a relationship is always communication.
How do you communicate with God? Prayer. How does God communicate to you? Primarily through His Word. I mean, is God speaking you through the Bible as you are availing yourself to it? And are you speaking regularly to God through prayer? That’s a pretty good barometer to know if you’re growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Not knowing things about Jesus, but relationally growing in relationship to Jesus. And I hope that our level of intimacy with Christ this year is not exactly what it was last year! I hope there are deeper levels of it because that’s what growth is.
So, grow in grace, grow in knowledge, and then what does he say at the end there? “To Him be the glory…” What then is the ultimate motivation of all of these things that we’ve learned? It’s the glory of God! God’s glory is the ultimate motivation for maturity, for pressing on to maturity, and for growing relationally. I mean, why do any of the things in this letter at all? Because if we don’t, we miss our purpose, which is to glorify God.
The glorification of God is the primary purpose of history. Charles Ryrie defines “dispensationalism” as follows, the sine qua non:
Look all the verses in Ephesians he has there to back that up. He says, “God’s ultimate purpose for the ages is to glorify Himself. Scripture is not human-centered, as though salvation were the principle point, but God-centered, because His glory is at the center. The glory of God is the primary principle that unifies all dispensations, the program of salvation being just one of the means by which God glorifies Himself. Each successive revelation of God’s plan for the ages, as well as His dealing with the elect, non-elect, angels, and nations all manifest His glory.”
You have to come up with, “What is the overarching point of the Bible?” Most people look at it and say, “It’s salvation.” Well then, how do you explain God’s dealings with the angels—good and fallen—where the plan of salvation is not open to the fallen ones? If everything is about salvation, then how do you subsume His dealings with angels under that rubric?
So, there’s obviously something bigger at stake—it’s all about God’s glory. When somebody gets saved, what do the angels do? They rejoice (Luke 15)! Who gets the glory for someone’s salvation? God does. God’s overarching purpose is not salvation. I’m not minimizing salvation. God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of Him, but His primary purpose in history is glorification of Himself.
So, if we’re not pursuing grace and relationship with Him and avoiding these exhortations about false teaching, we’re missing the point of why we exist, which is to glorify Him. I like this presentation here from Dr. Michael Stallard, who used to be with Baptist Bible Seminary. I think now he is with Friends of Israel.
But on one side of the triangle is God’s work in Creation. On the opposite side of the triangle is God’s work in redemption. And what’s at the pinnacle, at the top? His glory. Because in everything He does in Creation and redemption—which summarizes everything, doesn’t it?—the overarching theme is the glory of God.
I’m not really a fan of everything in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but I’m a fan of this! Question (this is what they say): “What is the chief end of man?” That’s a pretty good question when you think about it! Why are we here? Why are we saved? Why are we in church? Why should I grow up in Christ? What is the chief end of man? Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
See, this is why Peter concludes this letter with a reminder of the glory of God, because it’s a reminder that if we’re just not going to do what it says here, we miss out on why we exist. I mean, there’s more to it than just me—and just you. The glory of God is at stake.
Three wonderful exhortations here at the end: regard the grace of God (verse 15); beware of false teachers (verses 16-17); and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know how much you enjoyed 2 Peter. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
What’s the book about? It’s about the protection from the negative influence of the coming false teachers, and this is accomplished through an exhortation to maturity (chapter 1), exposing the characteristics of false teachers (chapter 2), and then exposing the doctrines of these coming false teachers (chapter 3).
This is a good place to stop. If you don’t know Christ personally, you can know Him right now just by trusting in what Jesus did for you 2000 years ago. We exhort people to do that if they’ve never done that. It’s just a matter of trusting—not your own works but trusting the good work Jesus did on your behalf.
And to the rest of us who have been in the Lord for a while—or those who have been in the Lord for a very short period of time—what a calling we have on our lives just in these three chapters. Let’s close in prayer.
“Father, we’re grateful for this quarter and this study beginning in January. Thank You for the fact that we continued on with it even though there’s been a great interruption in the lives of not just Americans but people all around the world.
But at the same time, You’ve seen fit to allow us to teach and proclaim, and I just thank You for that opportunity. I pray these lessons would not just be pie-in-the-sky debating points and things like that, but that these would actually change the way we think and how we live. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name.” God’s people said? “Amen.”
God bless you.