November 1, 2020
I love this time of year – end of October, first of November. Why, you ask – Octoberfest, the changing of the leaves, the fullness of Fall, cooler weather, time-change Sunday, college football? Well, while I love those things, it’s not actually them. This time of the year gives me an annual opportunity to remind you of this world-changing, and for many, eternity-changing event called the Protestant Reformation. While many in our country celebrated Halloween yesterday, I joyfully remembered the day as Reformation Day. I hope you did.
You see, 503 years ago, on October 31, 1517, a thirty-three year old Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Tana and I were privileged to visit Wittenberg about 25 years ago with about three hundred missionaries to Europe. That’s interesting – why would Europe need missionaries? Wasn’t that the birthplace of the Reformation? Well anyway, we ascended the stairs of the tower at the Castle Church and sang A Mighty Fortress over the red- topped roofs of Wittenberg. We had our picture taken in front of the church doors – formally wood, but now bronze, engraved with the 95 Theses in German.
You see, in 1517, those church doors served as a community bulletin board. But this Theses was actually written in Latin as an invitation to Luther’s academic colleagues to debate some church teachings and practices. Not unlike what Peter had to do some 1500 years before. Well, someone got a copy of the 95 Theses, translated it into German, and used a new invention called the printing press to make copies. It spread like wildfire, and within two weeks, Luther was a sensation across Germany. Within two months – a sensation across Europe.
I cannot overstate what that event should mean to us. My brothers and sisters, we are able to call each other brothers and sisters because of the recovered Gospel of Jesus Christ, that had been lost to the church. And so, Reformation Day is a celebration of great importance. To be clear, the Reformation does not save us. The gospel alone does, which was the argument of the Reformers. The good news alone saves, that gospel which had been largely lost, but now recovered, beginning with this shot heard round the world on October 31, 1517. This man, a Catholic priest and doctor of theology, a professor in a relatively small and obscure German
town stood up to the two most powerful men of his day – the emperor and the pope – and the two greatest powers behind them – the Holy Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Church – to recover the Gospel – the gospel that saved you.
God used this movement to bring the light of the gospel back to bear on the souls of people. The motto of the Reformation became Post Tenebras Lux – After Darkness, Light. It is engraved on the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland. But it is not only the motto of the Reformation – it is the motto of every Christian. And while that was the motto, there were five sayings used to summarize the central theological convictions of the Reformers.
They are called the Five Solas of the Reformation. They are Latin, but the word Sola simply means only. The Five Solas were:
- Sola Scriptura
- Sola Gratia
- Sola Fide
- Solus Christus
- And Soli Deo Gloria
- Scripture Alone
- Grace Alone
- Faith Alone
- Christ Alone
- The Glory of God Alone
Why do I remind you of this today, as we finish our study in the book of II Peter? Well, besides the fact I love the Reformation, it is because the false teachers Peter was battling were in fact, in the earliest days of the church, teaching things outside the Scripture. There have always been false teachers in the church – we contend with them today. Well, let’s read the text – II Peter 3:14-18.
It is incredible to me these early false teachers lost the gospel message, to their own destruction. The church of the Middle Ages had also denied the gospel – which necessitated the Five Solas. They said that Scripture and Church tradition were inerrant authorities – whether those traditions violated Scripture, or not. In fact, they said they were in authority over the Scripture
- and distorted the Bible for their own ends. They denied that grace through faith in Christ alone saves – they said it was grace plus works – an entire system of merit by which they could earn God’s grace. And as holders of “truth,” many of the church leaders of the Middle Ages led profligate lives.
You see, when Martin Luther made a trip to a meeting in Rome, representing
the Augustinian monks, he was appalled by the immorality of the Roman See.
Some in the church of Peter’s day, too, were denying the central truths of Scripture. They were distorting them so they could live however they wanted. We know by now they were denying Jesus was coming back, and therefore said there would be no judgment. So they too, lived entirely sinful lives. Peter writes to correct their false teaching – because of its eternal consequences. He encourages his readers, believers, us, since we believe the truth of Scripture – and not the teaching of false teachers – we live holy lives as we look for, even long for, the return of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but it seems 2020 would be a good year for Him to come back. Then we wouldn’t have to be concerned about Tuesday’s elections – He would just be King of kings and Lord of lords.
My point is false teaching has always been a problem in the church. And Peter at the end of II Peter gives us the antidote to such error. He gets to the end of the book and gives four commands which form our outline:
- Be Diligent to be Found Holy (14)
- Regard God’s Patience as Salvation (15-16)
- Be on Your Guard (17)
- Grow in Grace and Knowledge (18)
And then, Peter ends with the last of the Five Solas – to Him be the glory, alone, both now and forever. Let’s start with the first command – Be Diligent – make every effort to be found holy – spotless and blameless.
Now, the first word of verse 14 is Therefore. Therefore, beloved – the third time he uses that word in chapter 3 – therefore beloved, since you look for these things. What things? What he just mentioned at the end of verse 13
- we are looking for the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells. That will be different, won’t it? Since we are looking for these things, which come when Jesus returns, be diligent – make every effort to be found by Him.
Peter is wrapping up his letter and returns to many things he said at the beginning of the letter – it forms an inclusio or bookends, kind of framing the letter. He said back in chapter 1:
5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence (or virtue).
10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you.
This has been a theme – some suggest the theme of the letter. Don’t be swayed by these false teachers. Since God has saved you through the work of His Son, apply all diligence – make every effort to add to your faith, moral excellence or virtue. You cannot live however you want as a follower of Jesus. He will not be used as a fire escape from hell. If you call Him Savior, He will also be Lord of your life.
Then Peter lists several other virtues. He gets to verse 10 and says, make every effort to make certain about His calling and choosing you. In other words, while the false teachers were denying certain biblical teachings – namely the return of Christ and judgment to come – you, however, make every effort to prove the reality of your faith when Christ comes. Be found in Him.
And so now Peter says it again at the end of the letter. Since Jesus is coming back to inaugurate the new heavens and new earth – a place of righteousness – you be diligent to be found by Him at peace – a peace that comes with God and one another through the righteousness of Christ (therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ). Be found spotless and blameless. Several thoughts about that.
First, a few verses before, in verse 10, Peter said this heaven and earth will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, its works will be burned up. I suggested a better translation is – will be manifested – put on display – will be found – that’s the same word he uses here. Since everything will be found out – you make every effort to be found spotless and blameless.
Second, this is completely different from the false teachers. Back in chapter 2, Peter called them spots and blemishes. Not you – when Jesus comes, make every effort to be found spotless and blameless.
Third, that’s sacrificial language. When sacrifices were chosen for the Tabernacle and later the Temple – they were to be without spot or blemish. That’s how we are supposed to be found – living sacrifices for Him, not conformed to this world, but transformed.
Oh, and fourth – this terminology is used of Jesus in I Peter 1 – knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. Don’t miss that – same author. He tells us to be found at peace with Him through
the righteousness of Christ – and now, be found like Christ and in Him spotless and blameless.
Certainly, this includes the gospel truth that we are washed by the blood of the Lamb – we are therefore spotless and blameless. But in this context in II Peter 3, Peter is saying – don’t be like the false teachers who are using the grace of Christ as a pretext for living sinful lives. No, use the grace of Christ to transform your lives – pursuing holiness – being spotless and blameless – not only in position but in practice – through the continued work of Christ in your lives as you seek to live righteously.
I want to make sure you understand what I’m saying. The grace of God in Christ – sola gratia through sola fide in solus Christus – by grace through faith in Christ alone is how we are saved – but it is not a license to sin. This was the problem of the false teachers in Peter’s day, and it was the lifestyle of church leaders in the days of the Reformers. Grace alone saves – but grace that saves is never alone. We now pursue righteous lives – this is simply training for the kingdom that is coming in which righteousness dwells.
And while we will never get there perfectly in this life, it is proof that we have been saved. It is proof that we are making every effort to be found by Him at peace, spotless and blameless. It is proof that we are looking for a new heaven and a new earth.
So don’t listen to false teachers who say Jesus is not coming back. And don’t be lulled to sleep since it has been so long – point two. Regard or count the patience of our Lord as salvation. That is what Peter said back in verse 9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Now he says, regard – count – same word as in verse 9 – count the patience of our Lord as salvation. His patience means salvation for people. So, you count His patience – His not yet coming back – as salvation. The reason Jesus has not come back – the reason we are still here – is because there are still people to be saved. Understand, when Peter says to count His patience as salvation – it’s a call to action. We still have the responsibility to share the gospel with people. It’s not just, count His patience as salvation – it is, count His patience as salvation and do something about it. God has ordained that the way people are saved is through the faithful proclamation of the Gospel by His people. I asked you in verse 9 – I ask you again – who needs to hear the good news from you?
Now, at this point Peter takes a little detour through verse 16; but it is incredibly important for our understanding of the importance of sola scriptura – Scripture alone. And it’s also important for the truth that what Paul and other apostles wrote were, indeed Scripture. Inspired Bible.
First, notice Peter calls Paul our beloved brother. That’s very interesting. We remember that Peter and Paul had a falling out in Galatians. Remember that? When Paul was in Antioch, Peter came from Jerusalem to visit the church in Antioch. But when he got there, because of certain Jews of the circumcision party, Peter refused to eat with Gentile believers – brothers and sisters. And so, Paul confronted him to his face, in front of them all. We don’t read that Peter repented – and so some suggest Peter and Paul had a falling out – never reconciled.
That’s simply not true. Paul later writes regularly of Peter. He later joins Peter in Jerusalem at the Jerusalem Council to discuss that very issue – do Gentiles need to keep the Law. And here, we see Peter regarded Paul as a beloved brother. Why is this important for us?
Have you ever had a falling out with another believer? Maybe even over a doctrinal issue or moral practice? Does it need to remain permanent? Are there those in your family, in the Christian family, in this church family, with whom you’ve been at odds, maybe rightly so – with whom you need to reconcile? Who has wounded you – right or wrong, that you need to forgive? Peter and Paul – two pillars of the early church – obviously reconciled.
Next, in the second part of verse 15, Peter says – Paul wrote the same things according to the wisdom God gave him, when he wrote to you. We’re not sure when Paul wrote to these readers – if we make the reasonable assumption that II Peter was written to the same readers as I Peter, then we can say these are believers in Asia Minor. And Paul wrote several letters to them – Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians. In fact, Peter says at the beginning of verse 16 that Paul speaks of these things – likely prophetic things regarding the second coming of Christ – in all his letters. Paul regularly makes reference to the second coming as an impetus/encouragement for holy living.
Notice also, Peter acknowledges some of the things Paul writes are hard to understand. That’s encouraging – if Peter has trouble understanding Paul, we’re in good company. But don’t miss – these were given to Paul – that’s called a divine passive – given to Paul by God. Which means they are inspired writings.
Hard to understand yes – and so these false teachers who are untaught and unstable distort what Paul and Peter wrote, as they do the rest of Scripture – to their own destruction. Please notice a couple very important points. If you distort Scripture – dismiss it, deny it, change it – you do so to your eternal peril. And next, notice that Peter says Paul wrote Scripture. They distort Paul as the rest of Scripture. Paul himself seemed to be aware of that – I don’t have the time to discuss it this morning. But know this – when your professors or unbelievers deny Paul – calling him a chauvinist or backward or out of step or outdated or plain wrong – know this. What he wrote was wisdom inspired by God and therefore Scripture and totally trustworthy. And it is the ignorant – that’s what untaught means – and unstable who pervert his words, distort his words, deny his words – who do so to their eternal destruction.
You therefore – point three – and you is first in the sentence for emphasis – You therefore, beloved – loved ones – be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men – the word means lawless – and fall from your steadfastness or stability. Peter is warning us – don’t be carried away by false teaching. Stay true to the Gospel and biblical truth.
Even in a time when the Bible is being assaulted as outdated and archaic – stay faithful to the Bible.
Which brings me back to that question I asked earlier. Why in the world would Europe, the birthplace of the Reformation – need missionaries?
Because, very simply, they largely have been carried away by unprincipled people. They have largely denied the truth of the Bible. Today, most Europeans don’t attend any church – they sit empty – and most don’t call themselves Christian. And the truth is, America stays about 20 or so years behind Europe. Fewer and fewer belong to a church, believe the Bible, and trust Jesus and Him alone for their salvation. After all, being good, or following religion, will get you there.
Peter says no. Don’t fall from your steadfast commitment to truth. The truth about Jesus. My brothers and sisters, as it becomes increasingly more popular to deny the faith, to profess atheism or some other world religion, I plead with you – stay committed to Christ.
How to you do that? Finally, our last point and last verse of II Peter. Last command – and it is an imperative – a command. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Again, this takes us back to chapter 1, where Peter wrote, “seeing that His divine power has given us everything we need through life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” If you know Jesus as Lord and Savior – God has given and continues to give you everything
you need to be godly, to be holy, to be found spotless and blameless – through the true knowledge of Him who called to Himself.
My brothers and sisters, continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is not rocket science. There is no magic bullet. The true knowledge of Jesus comes through the Scripture. Stay committed to Him – no matter the cost.
I would read to you the first paragraph I wrote as we began our study II Peter last June:
“Have you ever heard someone say, the Bible was written by men, and is therefore filled with, at best, myth and legend, and at worst, propaganda, contradictions, and errors? That atheists are growing, Christianity is dying, and God is already dead. Life after death is simply the wistful longings of weak people who cannot imagine death brings the end of human existence. We are the masters of our own fate. It’s time to leave such behavior- controlling, child-like fantasies behind.” Peter gets to the end of the letter – last two verses and says, don’t be carried away.
We are out of time, but I would reaffirm Sola Scripture – Scripture Alone – to you today. God’s Word is inspired, inerrant and therefore, authoritative. You cannot deny or dismiss it. You cannot distort it. You cannot pick and choose to believe what you want to believe. When Martin Luther was called to the Diet of Worms in April, 1521, he was called to recant his words and his works which were spread out on a table before him. He asked and was given a day to consider his response. The next day, he walked back into this council, in which sat Emperor Charles V, and Johann Eck, the representative of Pope Leo X. Luther responded with the words of Sola Scriptura:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by clear reason (For I do not trust either the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen!”
The Church of the Middle Ages had lost the Gospel. They developed an entire system of merit in order to earn God’s grace. But we don’t earn God’s grace. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Grace is getting
what we don’t deserve. The only thing we bring to the table for our salvation is our sin. To the table, God brings the death, burial and resurrection of His Son in our place. It’s called the Gospel.
And Jesus gave us a memorial – a means by which we can be reminded of His unmerited grace toward us. It’s called Communion, or the Lord’s Table. We participate together, as followers of Jesus, by eating bread to remind us of His broken body. We drink of the cup, to remind us of His blood, shed for our redemption – it became the precious blood of Christ – inaugurating the New Covenant.
If you are a guest with us this morning, and you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, we invite you to participate with us. When you came in, hopefully you received these prepackaged elements – COVID-safe. There are two flaps. Take back the first one, covering the bread…
14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 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, 16 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. 17 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. 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.