The Ministry of Reminding
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Peter 1:12-15
On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, I was terribly nervous all day. But it wasn’t for some noble or highly spiritual reason. Nope, the Cubs were going to play in game 7 of the World Series, and if they won, they would be their first WS victory since 1908. I thought about the game all day, and then I parked in front of the TV as soon as it began. I celebrated, when they jumped out to an early lead, and then I pulled myself away from the TV to teach in youth group that Wednesday night.
Afterwards I was so excited, because the Cubs were in control. They were up 6-3 as they went to the bottom of the 8th inning. As I was driving home, the Indians scored a run to make it 6-4. And just a couple of minutes after I turned on the T.V., a scrawny little pinch hitter blasted a 2-run home run to tie the game. It was heartbreaking!
No one scored in the 9th, and so with a 108-year streak of futility on the line, game 7 went to extra innings. And naturally, there was a rain delay, just to lengthen the anxiety a little longer. But the Cubs came through! They scored 2 runs in the top of the 10th, and only gave up 1 run to the Indians. And so the celebration began.
But the hours before that were pretty intense. If it was that intense for the fans, imagine how the players felt. What would it be like to play in such a historic game with a 108-year streak at stake and millions of people watching? And how in the world could anyone relax enough to throw a pitch into a tiny window or to hit a sharp curve ball for a single?
The answer is repetition. Those athletes have repeated the same motions millions of times; as a result, muscle memory and instinct allow them to succeed, even in the most pressure-filled moments. Repeating the basics over and over, even after they have mastered them, is crucial to their success.
Similarly, our text for today teaches that the same basic principle is true in the Christian life. We never outgrow the fundamental truths of the gospel; rather, repeating the basics is the foundation of spiritual health (read). This is a rather simple passage, but it is profoundly practical and relevant. In order to appreciate Peter’s primary point, we need to begin by considering…
I. Peter’s Context
Peter knows that his time is short. In v. 14 Peter states that he is confident he will die soon (read). Peter doesn’t fully explain why he is so confident, but he does say that Christ had made this clear to him. He’s almost certainly referring to a prophecy of Jesus in John 21:18–19. Jesus says that someday Peter will be taken where he does not want to go and v. 19 clarifies that he will be killed for preaching the gospel.
This prophecy fits well the ancient church tradition that Peter was stretched out on a cross and crucified during Nero’s persecution of the church. So, Peter can see that Jesus’ prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Maybe Peter is in prison and Paul has already been executed, and Peter can see the writing on the wall. It’s hard to know for certain.
Regardless, notice how Peter describes his body that is about to be killed. In v. 13, he describes it as a “tent.” How sturdy and permanent is a tent? Not very. Tents are intended to be temporary. You don’t put one up intending to stay long-term.
As Peter approaches death, he’s been pondering just how weak and temporary his body really is. That’s good for us to do occasionally as well. When we are young and healthy, we can be so proud and so confident in our bodies. It’s good to remember that they are little more than a flimsy tent, that only lasts for a short time.
But this fact should not lead to hopeless despair, because notice how Peter describes his impending death in v. 14. He describes it as “putting off my tent.” What’s the implication? There’s more to Peter than his tent/body. Death simply means putting aside his earthly tent.
He confirms that this is what he means in v. 15. The NKJV uses the word “decease,” but the Greek word is actually exodus, which means “departure.” So, again, Peter does not view death as the end. Instead, it is a journey from this life to the next. Therefore, Peter is not terrified by his impending death. He knows he will be with his Savior once again.
Now, we don’t like to think about death, but a good theology of death is essential to a healthy faith and a right perspective on life. You cannot understand life, unless you understand death. This life is very small in comparison to eternity, and for the Christian death is a grace that frees us from the curse of this world into the everlasting presence of the Lord. Therefore, Peter was not afraid and neither should we. As a result, his primary focus is…
Peter is preparing the church for life without the apostles. Notice Peter’s concern (v. 15). Peter’s death is a big deal, because these Christians didn’t know anything other than life with a living apostle. If they had a problem or a question, they could write one a letter and get an authoritative response or maybe even a visit.
But Peter knows this convenience is about to end. The church needs an authoritative record of the apostolic doctrine that will be available long after he is gone, and they need to know how to build long-term reliance on that record to replace the ministry of the apostles. So, Peter is preparing the church for life without the apostles.
All of this adds a certain heaviness to our text and to all of 2 Peter. He’s thinking about what is most important for the church to remember after he is gone, and he wants to communicate his final and most important message. As a result, we really need to pay attention to what he has to say in vv. 12–15 but also in this entire letter.
It’s pretty clear that his primary concern in vv. 12–15 is the role of spiritual reminders to spiritual health. He says in v. 12, I want to “remind you always.” Verse 13 states his goal is, “to stir you up by reminding you.” And v. 15 says his goal is, “that you always have a reminder of these things.” But before we dive into what he means by this, I first want to emphasize…
II. Peter’s Confidence (v. 12)
Notice the qualifier that Peter gives in v. 12. He says, “I want to diligently remind you of these things, ‘though you know…’” I want to park on this qualifier for a moment, because I leaned pretty hard on us last week.
Remember that v. 10 commands us “be even more diligent…” Therefore, I urged us not to take our salvation for granted, just because we began well. Instead, we must occasionally, “Examine ourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5).
But right after Peter gives the command in v. 10, he turns around in v. 12 and clarifies that he does not have any reason to doubt the sincerity of his readers’ faith. Rather, from everything that Peter can see, they “know and are established in the present truth.”
The verb he uses for knowledge specifically indicates that they intellectually comprehend the gospel truths he has rehearsed in vv. 1–11. But they don’t just know the truth; they are “established” in the truth, meaning that the gospel has traveled down to their hearts and transformed who they are.
This was evident to Peter and others. They had a testimony of spiritual maturity. They had a mature and growing knowledge of the truth, and it showed in how they lived.
And Peter is saying that when we see this kind of growth and maturity, we shouldn’t live in a perpetual state of doubt. Instead, we should be secure in our relationship to God. And the same goes for those around us. Yes, none of us are perfect, but when I see a fellow-believer who loves the Word, responds to the Word, and is growing in godliness, I don’t need to sit around wondering if he saved. I should assume that he is.
And this is the consistent testimony of Scripture. God wants us to be secure in our relationship to God. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). God wants you to know that we are saved, because you can’t enjoy a healthy relationship with God if you constantly doubt his love for you.
So, if you struggle with doubts about your salvation, don’t lean on how you feel or on events from decades ago. No, get counsel from someone who can help you evaluate your faith. It might be that you are being too hard on yourself or too soft on yourself. Ask, “Do I believe the gospel, and can I see the Word of God and the Holy Spirit at work in my life today?” If those things are true, then trust the promises of God and walk securely. With all that said, let’s finally get to Peter’s main point.
III. Peter’s Mission
I already mentioned that the key theme in this passage is role of spiritual reminders to spiritual health. Peter says in v. 12, I want to “remind you always.” Verse 13 states his goal is, “to stir you up by reminding you.” And v. 15 says his goal is, “that you always have a reminder of these things.” So, the first part of Peter’s mission is to…
Stir a commitment to the basics. I say the basics, because Peter says in v. 12 that his goal is to specifically remind them of the truths he just rehearsed in vv. 1–11. Yes, there are definitely some complexities to those verses, but really all that Peter has done is rehearse the foundations of the gospel. God elected and called us. Christ saved us and gave us everything we need to pursue godliness. And now we need to diligently pursue godliness on our way to glorification and eternity with Christ.
Again, it’s significant that Peter explicitly states in v. 12 that his readers already know these things. He hasn’t said anything that they haven’t heard or don’t already know. But the fact that they know these things doesn’t mean that they can now graduate to more important, advanced training.
Rather, you can sense Peter’s urgent desire to remind his readers of these gospel truths over and over. He says in v. 12 that this is what he is doing right now in writing 2 Peter. And in v. 13, Peter says that I’m going to keep reminding you of the truth as long as I am alive. He didn’t have any intention of stopping.
Specifically, he says in v. 13, “I’m going to ‘stir you up by reminding you.’” It’s interesting that Peter uses an intensive form of the verb here, so there’s an urgency to Peter’s reminders. It’s as if Peter is grabbing their shoulders, looking into their eyes and passionately call them to stay anchored to the gospel and keep living the gospel.
Peter is saying, “Don’t ever get calloused to the foundational truths of Christ. Don’t ever let them stray far from the center of your mind, your affections, or your actions. Rather, the gospel and our gospel duties must drive our lives and perspective every single day.
So, Peter’s first goal is to stir a commitment to the basics. I’ll talk in a moment about some practical ways we can do this for ourselves and for others. But I’d first like to note the 2nd part of his mission, which is to…
Produce a long-term commitment to the basics. Notice again what Peter says in v. 15. Peter knows he is about to die, so he’s not just thinking about today, he’s thinking about how he can help these believers maintain long-term maturity and health long after he is gone.
If you are a parent, grandparent, or disciple maker, this should be important to you as well. A good teacher is always trying work himself out of a job, to get the student to reach a point where they no longer need you. Not just that, you want the student to reach a point where he becomes a teacher.
Peter says the way to reach these goals is by making sure that long after he is gone, they will always “be able to call these things to mind.” I believe Peter is thinking on two levels. First, he wants to see his readers rehearse the basics so often that they are forever a part of who they are. They couldn’t’ shake them if they wanted to.
I’m sure we all have things that are burnt so deeply into our mind, that they will always be a part of who we are. There are events from our childhood that will always feel fresh and real. There are songs that we can stop singing for years, but at the drop of a hat, we remember them perfectly. And Peter’s goal is that the gospel holds this primary place in his readers’ hearts.
But on another level, Peter is saying that 2 Peter will serve as a permanent and trustworthy record of the gospel foundations. We know that Peter is thinking this way, because he follows in vv. 16–21 by affirming the authority and value of Scripture to a healthy faith.
So, a healthy faith requires, first, that we burrow the truths of the gospel down to the core of our being. Second, a healthy faith requires that we constantly go back to those truths in the living, active, sure, and stable treasure of Scripture. It doesn’t matter if you have a verse, passage, or book of the Bible memorized and you know every detail of it. You need to go back to it over and over and over.
In sum, this is a pretty simple passage of Scripture. It’s not nearly as difficult to understand as vv. 8–11 were last week. But it is profoundly practical as you think about your own spiritual health and as you think about discipling others. Therefore, I’d like to spend the rest of our time, driving home 2 basic conclusions and giving practical help for living them out.
The gospel is the foundation of spiritual health and security. At first, that may sound like the most Captain Obvious statement I could ever make in this context. “This is Life Point. Of course, we know that that the gospel is foundational.” But unfortunately, it’s not so obvious most places.
I’ll say for myself that I am abundantly grateful for the discipleship I received growing up. I don’t remember when I was first told that Jesus died for my sins, and I need to believe the gospel in order to go to heaven.
But if my discipleship was lacking in any one thing, it was that I wasn’t really taught how the gospel shapes all of life. It was as if you get saved and then you go on to bigger and better things both intellectually and practically. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to see how the gospel shapes my entire Christian experience.
And it’s not just conservative churches that struggle here. The big box churches are also very good about calling people to ask Jesus into their hearts, but from there the preaching and teaching is mostly self-help therapy that is geared around helping you feel better about yourself and live a healthier, more fulfilled life. 2 Peter 1:3–4 are not the driving force behind how you live the Christian life.
But I hope we have seen over the last few weeks that the gospel is central to all of life. It must drive my values and priorities, and it must shape how I pursue godliness and obedience.
Therefore, our job as parents, grandparents, and as a church is not to get people saved and then move on to Christianized psychology, emotionalism, and worldly wisdom. No, we need to ground people in the fundamentals of the gospel and teach them how to live a gospel-centered life.
So, how do we do that? Like Peter says in this passage, we need to repeat the basics over and over and drive them deep into our hearts. That’s where programs like AWANA can be so helpful. Kids are memorizing Scripture and hiding the Word deep in their hearts.
It’s also why Christians have a long history of using catechisms, where children learn to give succinct, accurate answers to foundational theological questions. Memorizing those answers does more than just filled their heads with facts; it helps them to know the truth precisely and deeply.
Something I’ve really enjoyed at this stage of my life is being introduced to a variety of children’s books that don’t just tell Bible stories but they show how the Bible is one big story of God’s plan to redeem sinners and reconcile all things to himself in the Kingdom.
My kids love them (and they minister to my soul as well), and every time we read one, we are adding layer upon layer of their gospel foundation. And they are learning that the Bible is not just a series of random stories; rather, they are seeing how it applies to them and how they need to put their hope in Christ and his eternal reward.
And let me add that it’s not just kids that need to build a healthier foundation. There are a lot of adults who struggle to articulate the gospel well and to live in light of it. The resources we have in the back are not just good for doing evangelism. Reviewing that material is good for all of us.
The gospel is the foundation of spiritual health and security, so we need to be parents, grandparents, disciple makers, and a church who follow Peter’s pattern and are motivated to push the basics deep into our own hearts and the hearts of those around us. A 2nd conclusion is…
We never outgrow the basics. Peter is pretty clear about this, isn’t he? He says in v. 12, “You know and are established in the present truth,” but he still says, “I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things,” referring to vv. 1–11. And if we didn’t get it the first time, he tells us again in vv. 13, 15.
So, this means that you never graduate from the truths in vv. 1–11; rather, you need to rehearse them every day of your life. That’s true if you are on top of the world or down in the pit. Jerry Bridges says, "Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace."
So, if you blew it yesterday or you are in a terrible rut, run to the gospel, because God’s grace is enough. And if you are sailing along smoothly, run to the gospel, because you’re not nearly as great as you think you are.
Or if you are discouraged that godliness will never come, remember that you have all that that pertains to life and godliness. And if you have grown calloused toward certain sin patterns, remember that God saves people to form the divine nature in them. Your callouses betray the purpose of the gospel.
In conclusion, good coaches, good athletes, and good teachers always pound the fundamentals, and Peter tells us explicitly that spiritual health begins and ends with the fundamentals. So, let’s rejoice in what Jesus has done, and let’s stay anchored to his finished work and his future promises.