Growing in Grace
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Peter 3:17-18
This morning, we are going to wrap up our series through 2 Peter. My biggest regret about this series, it’s that it’s been fairly disjointed. We’ve taken more breaks than a government worker. I introduced the series way back in early October, when we were meeting outside. It’s taken us a long time to get through 3 chapters, because there have been lots of holidays and other interruptions. Hopefully, we can maintain more continuity in next series on the Sermon on the Mount.
Still, I hope you’ve learned a few things from 2 Peter and that the study has encouraged and challenged your heart. This study has certainly done my heart well. Specifically, 2 Peter has talked a lot about threats to our spiritual health. We face doctrinal threats and fleshly threats arising from the sinful passions in our hearts.
And Peter has shown us how to thrive in the midst of these threats. First, we must see these threats for what they are. We can’t pretend like a malignant cancer is no big deal. No, we must call false doctrine out for what it is.
But more importantly, Peter has taught us that the best defense against spiritual threats is a good offense. Just as the best way to protect your body from viruses and other threats is to maintain good health, Peter has taught us that the best protection against spiritual cancer is a growing, healthy faith.
And vv. 17–18 close the letter by reaffirming these facts (read). These verses are built on 2 commands. We must “beware,” (that’s defense) and we must “grow” (that’s offense). Finally, Peter closes by saying that we must do it all to the glory of Christ. Therefore, my outline is built on 3 challenges. First, v. 17 challenges us you to…
I. Guard your heart (v. 17).
The Threat: Notice that the reason we must “beware” is because we are surrounded by spiritual threats that are both deceptive and enticing. Verse 16 mentions the threat that is especially on Peter’s mind (read).
Last week, we saw that the false teachers most likely twisted Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and his teaching that we are under grace, not law, to mean that we are not under any law and that we can pursue whatever sinful passions we want without any fear of divine judgment.
But that’s not what Paul said. His epistles are very clear that Christians must pursue holiness. But this false doctrine was still effective, because it appealed to the sinful passions deep in our hearts. There’s a reason why antinomian or lawless theologies have continually popped up like weeds throughout church history. We’re all naturally drawn toward a theology that gives us justification to pursue fleshly desires.
Therefore, v. 17 warns that this sort of theology poses a major threat. He warns, “Beware, lest you…” Notice the cause-and-effect relationship. The cause is that you may be, “led away with the error of the wicked.” The effect is that you may, “fall from your own steadfastness.”
The idea behind being “led away with error” is of being swept up in a movement. We probably all remember the videos of the tsunami that hit Japan several years ago. It was incredible to watch the powerful waves sweep away cars, boats, houses, and everything in their way.
But Satan usually doesn’t employ such a sudden, overwhelming tactic; instead, he generally works so slowly that we don’t even recognize we are drifting. For example, if you’ve ever played in the ocean, you know how this can happen. You are just relaxing in the water having a good time. Finally, you look back at the shore and realize that without any effort, you have drifted a long way down the beach.
That’s how spiritual destruction usually works. Maybe it begins with us growing lazy with the spiritual disciplines. Since we aren’t letting the Word shine a light on our thoughts and affections, we don’t notice how they are shifting. Before long we tolerate sins that we would never tolerate before.
Soon, we begin to look for justification for our sins. We find a friend, a book, or a guy on YouTube that is not overtly bad. It’s “Christian,” he’s quoting Scripture (even though we sort of know he is abusing the text), and it resonates with me.
A true friend notices that something isn’t right and asks some questions. But you get defensive and tell him to stop judging you. You’ve drifted so far that you abandon the people that truly love you and run to people who tell you what you want to hear. And the spiral continues.
I could go on, but you get the point. We’ve all seen it happen time after time to a lesser extent in our own hearts. I’m so thankful for the many times that God has used his Word or a brother in Christ to snap me back to reality.
And sadly, we’ve probably all watched someone else drift dangerously toward destruction and refuse to listen to godly counsel or acknowledge how far they’ve moved. Satan is a master manipulator.
Sadly, the effect/result is that this person “falls from (his) own steadfastness.” The assumption behind “steadfastness” is that God’s Word and the gospel provide a firm foundation that is steadfast and secure. Jesus said in Matthew 5:24–25, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.”
Notice that Jesus does not promise a safe and easy life when we walk by faith in his Word. Jesus pictures this house as enduring a violent storm, because everyone endures storms.
But God’s Word provides a secure foundation that will keep you safe no matter what may come. Don’t ever forget what a privilege it is to stand on this foundation.
But when someone is led away by error, the whole house begins to drift, and Peter warns that eventually it will fall off the foundation entirely.
It’s important to recognize that the verb, “fall from” is consistently used in the NT of apostasy. So, Peter is not warning about a minor slip. No, if you allow drift to continue long enough, you will eventually fall off the foundation of the gospel, meaning that you deny essential doctrines or outright rebel against God’s authority.
Chapter 2 described how this happened to the false teachers. And remember that the end result of abandoning a gospel foundation was not merely a loss of reward (2:20–21). Peter is clear that these men will face eternal condemnation for abandoning Christ.
Of course, that’s not because they lost their salvation, because no true believer will ever abandon Christ and lose their salvation. No, 2:22 indicates that they were never truly saved, and their true nature ultimately prevailed. But still, from a human perspective, the consequences of their choices are startling.
The Response: This is serious stuff; therefore, God commands all of us, from the most seasoned believer to the weakest to “beware.” “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). We should never take our spiritual health for granted.
No, we must guard our hearts carefully and give brothers and sisters in the church freedom to watch our hearts with us. After all, strutting around a lions’ den is not courageous; it’s stupid. We should have a healthy fear of the spiritual threats around us.
And BTW, a proper fear should not produce terror but wise planning that leads to confidence. I like how Schreiner illustrates this, “Experienced mountain climbers ensure their safety by studying their climb, taking necessary precautions, and knowing their climbing partners. Paying attention to warnings does not quench confidence but is the means to it.”
So, don’t respond to this sort of warning with despair. No let it drive you to Christ! He is a sure foundation, and no storm can overwhelm his strength. His grace is always sufficient, and he promises to keep his children and bring us to glory. Do not forget that, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
So, as Peter wraps up this letter, he looks back on the tragic end of the false teachers, and he pleads with his readers to beware lest the same thing happen to them. And Peter is giving us the same warning.
Every time we see someone fall, we should view it as a grace of God to remind ourselves, “That would be me, except for the grace of God. So, ‘Lord, help me to walk in your grace each day and watch my heart closely.’”
But Peter adds that a good defense is not enough. We can’t just stand our ground; we must also go on the offensive. The 2nd challenge is…
II. Grow your heart (v. 18a).
This is such a valuable challenge on many levels. In context, Peter especially wants to say that the best defense against Satan’s devices is a growing faith.
It’s like marriage. The best way to guard against threats to your marriage is to focus on your marriage, not the threats. If your marriage is strong and you love each other, outside temptations lose most of their appeal.
Similarly, if you are walking with Christ, practicing the spiritual disciplines, obeying his Word, and enjoying his presence, sin and deception aren’t nearly as attractive as they otherwise would be. That’s so basic, but so essential.
The other aspect of this verse I really appreciate is how Peter teaches that spiritual growth begins with grace and with knowing and loving the Lord, not with what I do. Above all else I must grow “in grace and the knowledge of…Christ.” That’s important, because it’s easy for us to get caught up in the externals of godliness. But we must not forget that true godliness begins in my heart before the Lord. So, first, I must…
Grow in grace. This statement sounds really good, but you may wonder what exactly it means? First, understand that God’s grace is always rooted in the gospel and in what Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection on the cross. The only way we access grace is through Christ.
And Peter clearly assumes that Christ has provided much more through the gospel than life in heaven. Otherwise, he wouldn’t command Christians to grow in grace. Specifically, Jesus also provided power for endurance and spiritual transformation. Therefore, Peter is particularly commanding us to grow in this life-transforming grace of the gospel.
Colossians 2:6–7 describe how we do we so (read). God says that we must walk in Christ the same way we received Christ at conversion. So, just as we came in humble dependence and submission to the Lord to receive forgiveness, we must continue to depend on him and submit to him throughout our Christian experience. We are just as dependent on Christ to go forward in our faith as we were when we cried out for salvation.
I love how v. 7 says that we are to be “rooted and built up in Him.” Again, we must actively run to his grace as we pursue godliness.
I also appreciate how Ephesians 1:18–20 build on this idea and puts into prayer requests what it means to grow in grace (read). God says we need an ever-expanding appreciation of what Christ accomplished on the cross and of all that this means for me. Specifically, I must comprehend the power I have received through the resurrection.
It’s so important that we recognize that spiritual growth is a deeply spiritual process. It is not merely a program of self-reformation. Don’t get so locked in on what God has called you to do that you forget his process for getting there. Spiritual growth is a divine process that requires abundant grace. And this grace comes to us through an ever-growing knowledge of all that we have in Christ.
So, grow in grace. Study the gospel in Scripture. Meditate on the gospel every day. Sing about the gospel, and worship God for his grace. Then look to this grace as you battle sin and pursue holiness. When you fall, confess your sins to the Lord and rest in his gracious promise to forgive. Then get up and keep going based on your confidence that God’s grace will sustain you and change you until you reach glory. 2nd, God commands us…
Grow in knowledge of Christ. This idea is closely related to growing in grace. Afterall, grace comes to us in Christ (1:2–3). I love how v. 3 says that all that we need for “life and godliness” comes to us in the knowledge of God. So, before I can rightly focus on what I must do, I must focus first on God. I must come to Scripture, first to see God and only afterwards what he has called me to do.
And 3:18 specifically commands me to know Christ, the one who provided me salvation. Of course, this begins with knowing who he is. When I read the Gospels and all of Scripture, I first want to see Christ. I want to see his compassion, humility, and love but also his just and fierce hatred of sin. I want to see his wisdom, sacrifice, and so much else.
I want to see how he lived and especially how he died. And don’t forget that I want to see how he rose again in glorious power. Jesus demonstrated impressive power in all his miracles, but the resurrection is the pinnacle of them all, and it’s the miracle that affects me most directly. So, to know Christ is to see him as he is—the eternal Son of God, the perfect man, and the compassionate Savior.
But Philippians 3:10 teaches that knowing Christ also requires sharing in his likeness (read). To know Christ is to experience his resurrection power as we battle sin. To know Christ is to share in his sufferings and to draw close to him through the hurt. And to know Christ is to be “conformed to his death.” In other words, I come to reflect the humility, love, and submission that took Jesus to the cross on behalf of broken sinners.
In sum, the knowledge of Christ is both knowing who Jesus is as a person but also drawing near to Jesus and reflecting the strength and character he has provided in the gospel.
I love the fact that Peter ends here, because his readers are facing a lot. Their church(es) has been devastated by the false teachers, and they are anxious about how to respond. Then they are facing the normal challenges and temptations we all face. They’re fighting their flesh and the deceitfulness of Satan. They’re struggling to live up to the ethical demands of Scripture. And we all know how overwhelming it all can feel.
But Peter closes by reminding us to make sure that we keep the main thing the main thing. “Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s so important, because I can’t effectively address the other things, unless I am walking in gospel grace and in sweet fellowship with the Lord. Don’t ever forget that you will never be healthy and effective “out there,” with others and in the world, unless you are healthy “in here” before your Savior. I need Christ and his grace more than I need to fix everything else.
So, don’t let all the other stuff distract from your most needful duty. Don’t ever think that you are too busy to draw near to the Lord and fellowship with him. No, always make time to sit at the feet of Jesus, to walk before him, to pray, and to worship him for his glory and gifts. “Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Finally, Peter closes the letter with a doxology. I’d like to summarize it with a 3rd challenge…
III. Glorify Christ (v. 18b).
It would be very easy for us to skip over this statement as little more than a habitual way to close the letter. And it very well may be true that Peter closed lots of letters with this sort of doxology. But that wouldn’t mean it’s not significant. We establish certain habits and practices, because they are important disciplines.
And declaring the primacy of God’s glory is an important discipline. Peter closes the letter by declaring that his ultimate desire in writing this letter is not the good of his readers. No, the ultimate aim of all that we do must be the glory of God.
Therefore, Peter doesn’t just desire that his letter would glorify Christ; he also desires his readers would glorify Christ in how they respond to the letter. It’s good for us to remember often the centrality of God’s glory to every application in this letter. The ultimate reason I want to know Christ, obey his will, walk in holiness, and even resist false doctrine is for God’s glory and honor. I live for his pleasure, not my own.
And thankfully, the two are not in conflict. In fact, I will only find rest and contentment in the pursuit of God’s glory, because I was made for God.
So Peter’s doxology not only serves as an important conclusion to the letter; it also serves as an important reminder to us. My fundamental goal in everything I do this week must be the glory of Christ. I don’t just worship on Sunday. No, every aspect of my life should reflect the glory of my Savior, and I should see it as an act of worship.
So, worship Christ this week in how you do your job, how you love your family, how you serve your neighbor, and how you maintain your home. “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Col 3:23).
With that, we have reached the end of 2 Peter. Guard your heart and grow your heart. And do it all for the glory of the Savior.