Teaching series from 2 Peter

Spiritual and Biblical Teachings

2 Peter 1:12-21

Teaching t07767

Introduction

Brief reminder of the setting: These Christian communities are besieged by a counterfeit spirituality that emphasized "gnosis" (religious experience). While Peter agrees that true spirituality involves experience (1:3 "true knowledge"), he is intent on emphasizing additional distinguishing features.

In 1:1-11, he emphasizes character development. Authentic spirituality involves actively cooperating with God as he gradually transforms you to manifest his moral character. Any spirituality that denies or denigrates this is false.

In 1:12-21, he emphasizes another aspect of authentic spirituality. See if you can identify it (read 1:12-21).

He twice refers to "these things" (1:12, 15), which refers back to the theological content of 1:1-11 (e.g., Jesus as Savior; God's moral character; Jesus' future eternal kingdom).

He calls this content "the truth" (1:12) which they knew and in which they had been established.

He calls this information "the prophetic word" (1:19), meaning that it is information that God communicated through his chosen human spokespersons (1:20-21).

He calls it "scripture" (1:20), which refers not only to the Old Testament—but also to the writings of the apostles (read 3:1-2), including Peter's own writings (1 & 2 Peter; Mark) and Paul's letters (read 3:15-16).

So Peter is talking about the Bible, biblical teaching about the nature of God and his plan of salvation. His main point in this section is in 1:19—"Pay attention to biblical teaching!!!" Authentic spirituality requires paying attention to biblical teaching. This thesis raises three questions I want to answer . . . 

Why do we need it for authentic spirituality?

This is certainly not the consensus today! Just as first-century Gnostics made experience the locus of spirituality, we are in a similar situation today. Americans tend to be very positive about spirituality and spiritual experience, but very suspicious or negative about the notion that biblical teaching (or "dogma") is essential for authentic spirituality. This kind of "logocentric" spirituality is out.

One author speaks for many when he says, "All paths lead to God. The true path finally becomes self-empowerment: the path of self-love. Then one demonstrates that they can manifest God and no longer need to look outside themselves for this information. They have become the path themselves."[1]

The therapeutic movement takes a totally pragmatic approach to spirituality. It doesn't matter what you believe about God, as long as it helps your healing. It's true if it works. Fundamental to the 12 Step programs is the position that " . . . the designation 'God' (does not) refer to a particular being, force, or concept, but only to 'God' as each of us understands that term."[2]

How should we respond to this? The first thing to realize is that there is no such thing as "dogma-free" spirituality. Both of the above quotes imply dogma.

The first quote is full of religious dogma! "All paths lead to God" is a very dogmatic statement that steamrolls those religions that claim to be unique (which is most of them). "The true path is self-empowerment" rejects those religions that claim we need to depend on God instead of self. "They have become the path themselves" is just as dogmatic as Jn. 14:6!

The second quote sounds "dogma-free," but I wonder how acceptable it would be for my higher power to be a bottle of booze, or a syringe of heroin, or a Roulette table! The goal of all 12 Step programs is freedom from various addictions, which implies an absolute moral standard, which means that only those gods that help you toward that goal are acceptable—which is religious dogma.

So the notion that you can have spirituality without dogma is an illusion. All spirituality has dogma, and believing this dogma exerts a powerful influence on your life. So the question is not "Will you believe spiritual dogma?" but only "Will your dogma be sufficient or insufficient—accurate or inaccurate?"

Peter thinks we need biblical teaching for two reasons:

Because the world is full of spiritual darkness. Peter reminds us that we need this "lamp" because we live in a "dark place" (1:19)—a place characterized not by truth about God, but rather by spiritual ignorance and error. We need an external light because we do not have it within ourselves. This world is dark also because there are people and spirits who deliberately spread falsehood for their own wicked motives. This is why Peter goes on in 2:1 to warn about "false prophets," "false teachers," and "destructive heresies."

If you needed a baby-sitter, would you simply hire the first person you found in the classified section of the paper? What parents would be so naïve as to entrust their small children into the care of someone they don't know? You'd want references, referrals—some standard by which to evaluate the trustworthiness of the baby-sitter. How much more do we need a standard by which to judge the various spiritual voices in our culture? The notion of being free to choose your own beliefs about God without dogma is like being free to take whatever medicine you want without medical knowledge. This freedom may be very costly!

Because we need accurate information about God for healthy spiritual development. Biblical teaching is very up front about this, and it claims to supply both the accurate description of spirituality (e.g., 1:5-7) and the power to transform us in that direction (see 1 Pet. 2:2; Acts 20:32).

Why should we believe it is the truth?

But why should we believe biblical teaching is the truth? Everything Peter has said about biblical teaching so far assumes that it is actually true and accurate. But isn't he engaging in viciously circular reasoning: "You should believe biblical teaching is true because I claim it is true"? Not at all! He couples his challenge to pay attention to biblical teaching with two unique lines of evidence for its truthfulness.

Because the apostles were eye-witnesses of Jesus' words and deeds. Re-read 1:16-18. Peter is referring to one of the most dramatic and overtly supernatural events in Jesus' ministry. You can read Peter's record of it in Mk. 9:2-8. Everything about it was designed to communicate that Jesus is the unique Savior of the world. Jesus' appearance became radiant from the inside-out, revealing his deity. Moses and Elijah appeared and agreed that his imminent death on the cross was the definitive event in God's plan of salvation. And God the Father spoke to them and told them that Jesus was his unique Son and therefore they were to "listen to him" above all other voices.

Peter emphasizes that this is no cleverly devised "myth"—some legend that was gradually embellished over time. He was an eye-witness of this event. He was there. He saw it happen. He heard the voices. John makes the same point in 1 Jn. 1:1 (read), referring more generally to Jesus' miracles, teachings, death and resurrection. This is the strongest kind of evidence you can have for any historical event, and centuries of scrutiny and attack have only confirmed their historical accuracy.

And remember: The apostles had no selfish motive for making this claim. They gained no wealth, security or power through their claims. They lived in poverty, they were persecuted by the Jews and the Romans, and they paid for their testimony with their lives. Peter is about to be executed by Nero for his refusal to recant on what he witnessed ("martyr" comes from marturion, which means "testimony"). For this reason, testimony sealed with voluntary blood is especially trustworthy.

But there is another line of evidence that strengthens Peter's claim. Re-read 1:19a. The "prophetic word" refers to the predictions of the Old Testament prophets concerning the Messiah. Peter is saying that the apostles' testimony confirms and fulfills the predictions of the Old Testament prophets. In the Old Testament period, God spoke to Israel about his character and moral will through his prophets. In order to prove to the people that he was speaking through these prophets, he required them to make many detailed short-term predictions, and they were to be executed if they made any mistakes. Once someone had been validated as a prophet in this way, their teaching about God was authoritative. In addition to teaching about God, they also made many specific predictions about God's plan of salvation which centers on his Messiah: his lineage, his birth-place, the time of his coming, his unique miracles, and the manner and reason for his death. The apostles are careful to record Jesus' perfect fulfillment of these predictions. Therefore, the apostles' message is doubly trustworthy. Not only were they eye-witnesses of Jesus' deeds and words; their testimony agrees with and fulfills the predictions of the Old Testament prophets. See Paul's appeal to both of these lines of evidence in 1 Cor. 15:3-8.

No other "scripture" has anything like these two lines of evidence! God knows your need for trustworthy information about who he is and how to know and follow him—and he has gone out of his way to give it to you. Now the ball is in your court. Will you "pay attention" to what he has said or not? Which brings us to our final question . . . 

How do we "pay attention" to it?

Let me suggest three things that are involved in "paying attention" to this marvelous message from God:

The first way you "pay attention" to this message is by receiving (rather than neglecting) its offer of salvation. The author of Hebrews uses this same word to make this point in Heb. 2:1 (read 2:1, 3a). He is using shipping language. If a ship refuses to pull into the only harbor, there is no other shelter from the storm. In the same way, God, because he loves you, has provided through Christ the only means of his forgiveness. Don't neglect this offer! Pay attention to it! Pull into this harbor by choosing to entrust yourself personally to Christ as your Savior.

The second way you "pay attention" to biblical teaching is by getting "established" in it (read 1:12). This is structural language. If you want to build a solid structure, you have to lay a good foundation (FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S TOKYO BUILDING). It's not enough to have strong cornerstones and a couple of good pillars—you need a solid interlocking block or stone foundation. Likewise, you need to receive solid instruction in every major area of biblical truth. Without this, your walk with Christ will be fundamentally unstable.

It takes a couple of years to get established. CENTRAL TEACHINGS & CLASSES are very helpful (especially BIBLE SURVEYS & PRINCIPLES). But the best way is to couple this with getting involved with other Christians and let them help you learn the Word (HOME GROUPS).

But being established is not enough! Peter's readers had been established in the truth, but many of them were in danger of being deceived. That's why they need his "reminders" of its teaching (1:12, 13, 15). In the same way, "paying attention" involves being regularly reminded of what God says.

How? By regular personal Bible reading and study, exposure to teaching, involvement with Christians who will remind us personally, etc. And by acting on what you learn.

It was striking for me to hear from so many people after last week's teaching: "I forgot how important character is." "I forgot that I need to focus on God's resources instead of thinking it's all up to me." "I forgot that I need to actively pursue godly character." As you review biblical truths, God's Spirit cleanses your clouded perspective, convicts you, refreshes you, etc.

Footnotes

[1] Mitchwel Heril, "Grounding the Spirit," Meditation (Fall, 1988), p. 47.

[2] Alcoholics Anonymous' co-founder Bill W., Al-Anon's Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (New York: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, 1981), p. ix.