Stay the Course.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 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. – 2 Peter 3:14-18

Peter wraps up his letter by encouraging his readers to stay diligent and dedicated to the truth they have been taught. Peter understands that the delay in Christ’s return can be difficult to understand and cause many to begin to doubt whether it is really going to happen. He also knows that living a godly life is not easy, and that watching the lost sin and not only get away with it, but thoroughly enjoy it, can be frustrating. But he wants his readers to stay committed and to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). As Peter has already stated, God’s seeming delay in sending back His Son is purposeful. He has a reason and His timing is perfect. Peter reminds them to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15 ESV). In other words, rather than mistakenly concluding that there is no judgment at all, as the false teachers were doing, Peter wants them to see God’s delay from a different perspective. The longer God waited, the more time there was for people to come to faith in Christ. Not only that, it provided believers with more time to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior. In other words, it provided ample time for the divine process of sanctification to take place. If Jesus had died simply to take us to heaven, He would have done so the minute we placed our faith in Him. But our salvation was to be followed by our sanctification, our growth into Christ-likeness. That meant that we were to remain behind.

When Peter tells his readers to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation,” he is echoing the words of Paul. He even admits so. In his letter to the Romans, Paul warns his audience, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT). Paul was writing to believers. He wanted them to understand just how patient God was, how gracious He was being with them, giving them time to continue the process of salvation. Part of what God is doing, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is exposing those areas of sin in our lives that need to be confessed. He is constantly saving us from ourselves and redeeming us from the vestiges of the sin-filled lives we once lived. He is in the process of transforming us into the likeness of His Son. He has already justified us, declaring us positionally righteous in His sight. But now He is sanctifying us, making us practically righteous, by removing our old nature and replacing it with a new nature. Paul puts it this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

So Peter tells his readers to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). He wanted them to know that Christ was coming again, contrary to popular opinion and the teaching of “the ignorant and unstable.” The false teachers twisted the Scriptures to make them say what they wanted to hear. But Peter warned that God was faithful and His Word was reliable. So they were to live their lives without spot or blemish, unlike the false teachers who he describes as being “blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions” (2 Peter 2:13 ESV). Peter didn’t want to see believers carried away by the tempting promises and slick sounding words of the false teachers. He wanted to prevent them from being “carried away with the error of lawless people” (2 Peter 3:17 ESV). And the antidote for spiritual error has always been spiritual growth. That is why he told them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

When we first come to know Christ, our understanding of Him is minimal at best. We accept Him as our Savior, but there is probably little else that we know about Him. We do not fully understand the magnitude of what He has done. We have a minimal understanding of and appreciation for grace. Our knowledge and awareness of all that He accomplished for us on the cross is nominal at best. That is why Paul told the Colossian believers:

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

We are to grow up in our salvation. We are to increase in our understanding of who Christ is and what He has done. We are to constantly expand our understanding of God’s will for us as we read His Word and listen to the inner promptings of His Holy Spirit within us. Spiritual growth is non-optional for believers. We find admonitions to grow all throughout the New Testament.

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. – 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 ESV

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. – Hebrew 5:12 NLT

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. – Hebrews 6:1 NLT

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind. – 1 Corinthians 14:20 NLT

We must stay the course. We must run the race to win. We must complete the task set before us. We must finish strong. As Peter stated earlier in this same letter, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). We can live godly lives in the midst of ungodliness. We can live righteous lives while surrounded by unrighteousness. We can live Christ-like lives among those who deny Him. But it requires growth. It requires constant dependence upon the One who saved us and a trust that He is continually sanctifying us.

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The Message of Righteousness.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV

The author of Hebrews admits that what he has been writing about is difficult to explain and just a difficult to understand. But it doesn’t help that his audience has “become dull hearing.” The Greek word the author used literally means “slow” and was used in the figurative sense to refer to someone as “stupid”. The Hebrew believers to whom he wrote had become unaccustomed to hearing difficult doctrine and deeper truths. And the topic he has been trying to explain is the message of righteousness. All of his talk about the Jesus’ sonship, deity, priesthood, suffering, sacrifice and glory have been designed to remind his readers of the righteousness that is found in Christ alone. He does not want them to fall back into their old habits of trying to gain a right standing with God through the keeping of the law. Their heritage as Hebrews, while a blessing, could become a curse, if they let it lead them back into a works-based form of righteousness. Paul made it clear that this path was futile and a waste of time. “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). The fear the author of Hebrews had was that his readers had regressed. He told them, “you have gone back to needing milk” (Hebrews 5:12 NET). Their lack of knowledge regarding the things about which he has been writing reveals that they were “unskilled in the word of righteousness.” They were tempted to fall back on the old truths associated with Moses, the Law, temple worship, and all that was associated with their old way of life.

Their problem was that they had not moved on to solid food. They had become stuck, stagnant. And their lack of progression had led to regression. For the Christian, there really is no middle ground. You are either growing in maturity or you are going backwards. These people, who had evidently known the Lord long enough that the author believed they should have been ready to teach others, were unprepared and unequipped for the job. They were stuck on the basics and unskilled when it came to the word or message regarding the righteousness found in Christ alone. They knew the elementary truths of the faith, such as how one is saved, but they had failed to go deeper in their knowledge. Peter provided his readers with this word of encouragement: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). In his second letter, Peter tells us we “must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). There is no place for stagnancy or complacency in the life of the believer. As we grow in Christ, we become increasingly aware of just what He has done for us. We become more and more cognizant of our sin and just how great a salvation we have received. Spiritual growth requires spiritual food. We must develop a hunger for the deeper things of God found in His Word and explained by the help of His Spirit. We can’t stay on spiritual pablum and expect to grow in maturity. “Jesus love me this I know for the Bible tells me so” is true, but not a sufficient source of spiritual sustenance for the growing Christian.

There comes a time in all of our lives when we must become givers, not just receivers. The author told his audience “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12 ESV), but they were still having to be spoon fed themselves. They had become comfortably content with their current status as believers in Christ. But one of the non-negotiable realities regarding faith in Christ was the fact that God expects His children to grow. Again, the apostle Peter had some strong words regarding this matter:

Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9 NLT

Coming to faith in Christ should result in our coming to be increasingly more like Him in character. The apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that God had given the church leaders whose responsibility it was to equip the body of Christ so that they could build one another up. And then he told them…

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT

Spiritual maturity is not a solo sport. It is a group activity. We grow in Christ-likeness as we share with one another, as we encourage one another, as we use our spiritual gifts on behalf of one another. As we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, we receive insight into God’s will. As we share what we are learning with others, they are encouraged and our faith is strengthened. Growth requires interaction with others. Isolation is deadly to spiritual maturity. Complacency is as well. The message of righteousness is not just that we have been made right with God through faith in Christ, but that we are being made righteous in our attitudes and actions as we grow up in our salvation and in our dependence upon the body of Christ.