“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 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, 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 3:10-18
There is a judgment coming.
It’s a judgment that, according to Peter, will take place when Christ returns. But Peter doesn’t just tell us that judgment is coming. He describes what it will look like.
First, Peter says that the heavens and the earth will be undone. That’s what the word in verses 10 and 11 means – ‘destroyed’ – it’s a word that means untied or loosened. Peter says creation itself is going to be broken down into its most basic elements. And in doing this, God will finally deal with every vestige of sin.
You see, wickedness and selfishness and idolatry and violence have so worked their way into the cracks and crevices of our world – like black mold infecting a house from the foundation to the rooftop – that the only solution is razing it to the ground.
This world cannot be rescued in its current state. Its sickness is too severe.
So, judgment is coming.
God’s Judgment is Bigger Than Hell
But God has not cast off his people – or creation – as hopeless. Although he will loosen creation, that isn’t the true purpose of his judgment. For God, judgment isn’t just the destruction of sin and evil. It’s the resurrection of a renewed, perfect creation, shot through with holy love.
God’s judgment isn’t just about hellfire and separation from God. It’s about reconciliation and healing and wholeness. A time where God makes every wrong right.
It’s a judgment that we, as Christians, look forward to. That’s what Peter says in verses 12-13. We are people who “look for and hasten the coming of the day of God… according to his promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”
We are looking forward to a creation where all of God’s people are in perfect relationship with one another and with God. A place where everyone always and only chooses the right, good, true, pure, and loving.
It’s a world where we perfectly love God and love others. And where all of our temptations and bad habits are finally put away forever.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? To live in perfect love? To never struggle with another outburst of anger… or feeling of unforgiveness… or ill-spoken word?
Doesn’t it sound like a dream come true to never have to forgive another person for a wrong? To never have to suffer another hurt? Or unfair criticism? Or betrayed trust?
That is the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells. And it’s the place where we too will dwell – if we are in Christ by faith.
But what about now? What about Christians and the church?
If we are going to dwell in a place of perfect righteousness and holy love for eternity, what does that say about us today?
Declared Righteous? Made Righteous? Or Both?
Some Christian theologians have said that we are such a part of this sinful world that we have no hope of actually being made righteous in this life. All we can do is wait until death. And then, when we die, God will do all of the changing. At that point, he’ll fix all of our issues… end our bad habits… and finally deal with our addiction to sin.
But until then, all we can do is settle for being declared righteous. Not actually made righteous.
This idea of just being ‘declared righteous’ is behind the common notion that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see how filthy and wretched we are. He just sees Jesus’ righteousness covering us. But underneath, we’re still just as sinful and ungodly as ever.
If we take this view, we’re just waiting until our final breath so that we can experience the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Until then, he’s kind of powerless.
But… is that what the New Testament teaches? Is that what Peter is saying here?
Hardly. Peter reminds us that, since this judgment is coming, “What sort of people ought we to be in holy conduct and godliness?” He says that we should “be diligent to be found by him in peace, spotless and blameless.” That we need to “be on our guard.”
That we need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Yes, when we are united to Christ by faith, we are cleansed and our sins are forgiven. Our past is wiped clean. But God does not want to leave us in the ungodly mess we’ve made of our lives. He wants to begin transforming us right now, so that when judgment comes and we find ourselves facing a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, we will have already spent a lifetime preparing for it.
The Transforming Power of God’s Grace
This is what Peter means when he encourages us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
It’s a theme that we find throughout this little letter: the more we come to know Jesus, the more we are transformed into his likeness by his grace. And this knowing isn’t just knowing about him, in the way that I might know your hair color or birthday.
This is the kind of knowledge a husband and wife have when they can finish each other’s sentences… when they can look at each other and immediately know what the other is thinking… when one of them says, “Can we get Olive Garden tonight?” and the other says, “I thought you’d never ask… I’ve been thinking about it all day.”
It’s the kind of knowledge that comes with being together.
So, how do we grow in grace? How do we grow in this kind of personal knowledge?
We could go over the ‘means of grace’ (ways that God has given us to encounter him), from fasting and fellowship to communion, service, and baptism.
But there are three of these means which stand out in a particularly striking way. We might think of them as the pillars of spiritual growth on which all others are built.
When you build your spiritual life on these three pillars, you will encounter Christ and will be transformed. It won’t happen in a single moment or a single day. But it will happen in the same way that a tree grows: slowly, almost imperceptibly, over time. And one day, you will be able to look back and see that what was once faith as small as a mustard seed is now a tree that bears much fruit.
So, what are these three pillars?
The First Pillar of Spiritual Growth: Scripture
First, we have the pillar of scripture. When we read it in faith, we hear the voice of God in the word of God. And so, if we want to draw near to God, one of the best ways to do so is to open the Bible.
Scripture reveals the truth about God. About us. About creation. About God’s call. About Jesus. And on and on. This is not just the work of men. It is the work of God through dozens of people over the course of 1500 years. And in it, God speaks.
He declares his will. He offers us salvation. He convicts us of sin. He calls us to repentance. He teaches and corrects. And he gives us everything we need to know in order to grow in grace.
This is why Paul says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.”
You might think of scripture as a trellis that gives your faith and spiritual life the support it needs to grow and bear fruit. Without it, you’ll be carried away by every smooth talker and motivational speaker. This is one of the dangers Peter is concerned with when he warns us about “the error of unprincipled men.”
So, we grow in grace by immersing ourselves in the word. We treat it with the same love and care we see displayed in Psalm 119. We read it. We study it. We meditate on it. We memorize it. We let it shape our thoughts. And we live by it. And we don’t just read it alone. We read it together – in worship, in small groups, among our families.
We listen for the voice of God in the word of God. And when we do, we encounter him there.
The Second Pillar of Spiritual Growth: Prayer
But there is a second pillar to growing in grace: the gift of prayer.
When we pray in faith, something supernatural happens. We are put in touch with God’s throne. We are ushered into his presence.
Scripture teaches that God makes himself available to us through prayer. He listens to our concerns. He relieves our burdens. He answers our requests. But he does not just change our circumstances through prayer. He changes us.
This is why the early church dedicated itself to prayer. We see this in Acts 2, where a brief overview of the church is given. We also see it in Acts 6 where the leaders of the church commit themselves to the ministry of the word and to prayer over all other things. They understood that prayer had the power to change everything.
Now, reading the Bible is one thing. It’s easy to do that, even if you’re just going through the motions. But prayer can be a little more difficult. This is especially so if we go beyond generic “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen” sorts of prayers.
So, how do we learn to pray effectively? Jesus’ disciples asked the same thing and he gave them the Lord’s prayer. And he gives it to us too.
It’s a prayer that you can never outgrow. So, if you don’t know it. Learn it. And pray it. Don’t just recite it though. Pray it. Reflect on each petition as you go. Think about it. And mean it. And then, start to make those requests more tangible.
After you’ve asked for your daily bread… get specific. God, I need $104.32. God, provide a job at this place or that place. God, open an opportunity to talk to this person about your glory. Let the Lord’s Prayer become a daily practice on which the rest of your prayer life is built.
And as we encounter Christ through prayer, we will grow in grace.
The Third Pillar of Spiritual Growth: Repentance
But there is a third pillar to spiritual growth. It’s an important, oft-neglected, seldom enjoyed practice: repentance.
Now, we tend to think of repentance as something we do once – when we come to faith in Jesus and confess our sins. But I like to think of repentance as more of a regular realignment. Once we’ve begun following Jesus and put our trust in him, we don’t normally go completely off the rails overnight. We get off by degrees.
As a result, we need to regularly examine ourselves and make those needed adjustments. And all three of these pillars work together in this way.
We read scripture. God speaks and convicts. We pray, asking forgiveness and for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome. And we repent, changing not just our minds but our lives.
And as we do this, day in and out, we grow in the grace and knowledge of our lord and savior Jesus Christ. We grow in godliness and holiness and obedience. And we are prepared to dwell in that new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells.
But there is one important thing to remember about repentance. It isn’t just about overt sin. Sometimes we need to repent from things that aren’t necessarily sinful on their face. Let me explain…
Last week, I was going through a box of junk that I have been toting around for over a decade. As I sorted piece after piece, I came across a borrowed book. Now, keep in mind. I borrowed this book over ten years ago. So, from the perspective of the person I borrowed it from… I didn’t really borrow it. I stole it.
And as I looked at it, I realized that my lack of organization had led me to do something sinful without me even realizing it. As I thought about that, I came to the realization that I’ve probably hurt other people because I’ve never repented of my disorganization.
How many times have I talked to someone, told them I would get back with them, wrote a little reminder and then allowed that reminder to get lost in a sea of paper on my desk? How many times have I intended to call and visit… but forgot because of my lack of organization?
It would be easy for me to say, “Well, that’s just how I am. I’ve lived my entire life this way and I can’t change. It’s genetic.” But when God convicts you of something – even something that isn’t sinful on the face of it – you must seek his power to repent, make it right, and persevere.
My guess is that there may be things about your personality – little idiosyncrasies and eccentricities – that could lead you into sin unintentionally too. Perhaps they already have.
The same person who says, “Organization is easy” may have a temper as short as one of the hairs on my head (I’m bald, so they aren’t very long). It would be easy for me to look at them and say, “Just relax. It’s easy not to let your temper get the best of you.” But the reality is that that isn’t my temptation.
And that’s why we need to bear with one another through this process of growing in grace. Because it’s not a life of consistent upward mobility. It’s up and down. It’s reading, praying, repenting. Again and again and again.
But if we will faithfully press on. And if we will encourage one another on the journey… we will grow in grace together. And when Christ comes on that day of judgment, making all things new and creating a heavens and an earth where righteousness dwells… we will be ready.