I would never want to be accused of teaching “salvation by works,” but by the same token, the New Testament is fairly plain that some work is involved in our salvation, and that work must be done by us.
Perhaps no book is more adamant about this than 2 Peter. The apostle urges his readers to make their “calling and election” sure and conditions entry into the eternal kingdom upon growing in the traits of knowledge, self-control, kindness and love (to mention only a few – chapter 1).
In the last chapter, Peter urges Christians to “make every effort” to be found spotless and blameless, and to be on their guard lest they be carried away by the error of false teachers (and “bad behavers”).
Salvation is provided by God. Access is provided by God’s grace. It is entered by our faith. It is maintained by our efforts and God’s strengthening – but these latter two go together. God will not strengthen without our effort. The Christ-life is no cake-walk.
The final chapter contains a rebuke to those current theologians who poo poo the idea of a glorious heaven, insisting instead that what God intended is but a re-constituted earth wherein dwells righteousness. Peter is plain: this world as we know it will be destroyed. A new residence is being prepared and when we arrive, it will be, for us, a new heaven and new earth – but it decidedly will not be this one. The message is plain: don’t get attached to this life. One way or another, it will end. The point of this one is to prepare for the next one.
In chapter one, Peter ends with the claim that his teaching, and that of fellow Church leaders who agree with him, is the word of the prophets made more certain because it proclaims the fulfillment of prophetic promises.
On the other hand, he says, there have always been false prophets.
What follows in chapter two is a stinging denouncement of those who would lead people away from the truth. Interestingly, Peter does not detail their false teaching, but rather identifies them by their behavior. Their lives evidence greed (vss. 3 & 14), an abandonment to the sinful nature (vs. 10 – for which Galatians 5:19-21 might be an illuminating commentary), a disdain for correction, a defiant boldness in their sin (vs. 13), and a lost of sexual restraint (vs. 2:14). They preach freedom and liberty, but their lives are hopelessly captive to depravity (vs. 19).
Peter’s words remain instructive. Teachers in the Christian Church must be sure their lives conform to the theology they teach. Ours is not a “do as I say, not as I do” ministry. Hearers are responsible to watch the teacher and, even if what’s being said is true, give less or no attention to those whose behavior is in contradiction to their doctrine.
Teachers must also take warning: God will not let hypocrisy among his teachers go unpunished. It matters to God what you believe. It matters to God what you teach. It matters to God how you live.
It matters a lot.
Second Peter focuses on two of Christianity’s basic challenges: First, is the gospel message reliable and second, is it unchangeable? Peter provides evidence for its trustworthiness, and warns against trying to change it to make it more palatable to worldly tastes.
In chapter one, three points stand out.
First, being a Christian requires spiritual growth. Sometimes, the christian “graces” (as the list in verses 5 – 7 are sometimes called) are not characteristics one adds to his life one at a time. All of these graces are to be characteristic of our lives all the time. Peter’s point here is that growth in these traits makes us effective and productive in our knowledge of God.
Second, the message Peter has preached about Jesus to his hearers is not something he made up. Rather, he was an eyewitness of the things he taught.
Third, Peter’s witness is confirmed by the message of the Old Testament, delivered by men of God who were guided by the Holy Spirit – God Himself. No one should ever doubt the message, call or seriousness of Christianity as the way of God.
Second Peter focuses on two of Christianity’s basic challenges: is the gospel message reliable and is it unchangeable? Peter provides evidence for its trustworthiness, and warns against trying to change it to make it more palatable to worldly tastes. But he doesn’t end it there. A trustworthy message is valueless if it makes no impact on the lives of the hearers. One cannot do what one doesn’t know to do. But knowing, and not being obedient, is the same as ignorance – and God will judge both. There is no excuse for a Christian now knowing the will of God. And even less for not being obedient.