Peter’s Words When Evil Seems to Be Winning

Peter’s Words When Evil Seems to Be Winning

New Testament scholars tell us that Peter most likely wrote his second letter, the one we’re studying, sometime between AD 64 and AD 67. For thirty years after Jesus triumphantly said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore and make disciples of the nations,” Christianity had indeed spread throughout the world despite persecution. But at the time Peter penned this letter, the insane Roman emperor, Nero, had come to power and was lighting his palatial gardens by pouring oil over Christians and setting them on fire. Peter appears to have written this last letter from Rome while awaiting execution. The despair of his readers over the way evil was triumphing caused Peter to look back in history to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah to try to find hope, writing:

If God rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked… tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority (2 Pet 2:7-10).

Against a moral backdrop much like ours, in which evil seemed ready to envelop the whole empire, Peter gave specific advice to the Christ-followers of his day. This episode examines that advice and how we can follow it in today’s world.

It is astonishing to me that in a world in which Peter’s readers were feeling like evil was winning and the church of Jesus was losing—Peter begins his letter by saying, “Let me explain to you how Christ-followers in your situation, can ALWAYS WIN.” Huh? He lays out a 3-step process for them to follow in their cosmic battle with the kingdom of darkness, stating audaciously, “If you follow this process, it will keep you from being INEFFECTIVE or UNFRUITFUL in your faith.” Peter turns the thinking of his readers about the battle of Christ’s kingdom of righteousness against the kingdom of evil away from the OUTWARD fight and towards the INNER battle to overcome our ungodly desires and become partakers of God’s holy nature. As we consider @ Peter 1:38- again, notice first the process he describes and then the reward he promises.

PROCESS: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. REWARD: For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being INEFFECTIVE or UNFRUITFUL in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter says, “You can’t control what is happening out there. But there is another spiritual battle going on and if you fight this battle with the right strategy, I guarantee your life will matter.” Peter seems to know something about the way humans are hardwired, especially men. We want our lives to make a difference. We don’t want to fail in the mission assigned to us. So, Peter uses two powerful negative images to motivate believers. The first is INEFFECTIVENESS. The Greek word is ARGOS, which means “yielding no return,” “wasting your effort.” Peter says, “If you want to avoid a wasted life, labor spent in vain, seeing no results from your effort, appropriate the spiritual power that is yours in Christ and pursue the moral excellence of God himself, becoming a partaker in his godly character.” And in case we missed the point, Peter uses another word to describe the life we want to avoid—UNFRUITFUL. This synonym for ineffective means, not delivering what is expected, failure to bring the desired result, wasted effort. Peter is saying, “Yes you are called to seek the spread of Christ’s agenda of righteousness over the earth, and it does feel like we are losing. But that restoration of righteousness is to begin in our own hearts by overthrowing sinful desires.” If you stay focused on THAT MISSION, your life will never be INEFFECTIVE or UNFRUITFUL!

So, let’s continue to dig into this PROCESS of fighting our sinful desires to become more Christ-like. As we saw last week, Jesus’ mission of bringing the kingdom of God to earth involves nothing less than a re-creation of the world, one person at a time. As we unraveled 2 Peter 1:4a, we noted that we’ve been granted all the power we need that pertains to godliness, a word that describes being 100% motivated by a desire to please God. Verse 4a introduced step #1 in the process of accessing divine power to become Christ-like—knowing God intimately. We saw that this teaching is consistent with Paul’s words, And we all, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another and Jesus’ teaching that the fruit of godly character comes from abiding in him.

VS 4b: Step #2 To Develop a Christ-like Heart--Living by Faith in God’s Promises

By which he has A) granted to us his precious and very great promises, B) so that through them C) you may become partakers of the divine nature, D) having escaped from the corruption that is in the world E) because of sinful desire.

A.Granted his precious and very great promises. Peter uses strong emotional words here. The word for precious means “costly” or “dear.” The cost of our redemption is never far from Peter’s mind, who had said in his first letter, You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet 1:18-19). Very great translates the Greek word MEGAS, used in the English word, megaton and megawatt.

The promises of God are the foundation of our faith. Saving faith is not mere intellectual assent. James corrects that view. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder! (James 2:19). Biblically understood, faith is trust. Saving faith is trusting the death of Christ alone as the atoning sacrifice for sin, instead of trusting my good works. Similarly, becoming Christ-like happens through faith—trusting the power of Christ to empower holiness in us. As Paul summarizes in Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Living by faith every day is the call of those who belong to Christ. The righteous shall live by his faith. (Hab 2:4, Rom 1:17). Living by faith means living in dependency upon Christ’s provision for us. The foundational principle of the kingdom is that those who are blessed are the poor in spirit, those who recognize their utter spiritual poverty and dependence upon God. Theirs is the kingdom of God.

B. So that through them. Here, Peter reveals step #2 in the process of developing a Christ-like heart—i.e. trusting the promises of God. I believe TRUSTING God’s promises is God’s means of setting our hearts free from the concerns that dominate them so Christ-like desires can replace them. Our hearts are driven by impulses like our insecurity, the need to prove ourselves, our fears, our anxieties, a host of unhealthy preoccupations, all of which shape our desires—what we WANT.

Freedom from such compulsions comes by trusting specific promises of God.  


Worry about material needs.

  • Phil 4:19. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
  • Matt 6:33. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Fear of failure.

  • Joshua 1:8. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
  • Ps 1:1-3. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Fear that the future will bring more than I can handle.

  • Jer 29:11. ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
  • Is 43:2. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

Doubt that surrendering to God is to my benefit.

  • Ps 34-10. The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
  • Matt 7:9-11. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
  • Rom 8:31-32. If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Fear of being alone.

  • Heb 13:5. I will never leave you nor forsake you.
  • Is 41:10. Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my right hand.

Fear of being ridiculed for my weaknesses.

  • Heb 4:15-16. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
  • 2 Cor 12:9. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Fear of being ridiculed for my stupidity.

  • James 1:5. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 
  • Matt 7:7-8. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Passivity and laziness causing me to fail to get the most out of life.

  • Ps 37:4. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
  • Prov 3:13-15. Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
  • 1 Pet 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.

The security of being unconditionally wanted and loved.

  • Zeph 3:17. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
  • Rom 8:38-39. For I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!
  • I Pet 5:7. You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.

Hesitation to give generously because of depleting my resources

  • Luke 6:37-38. Give and it will be given to you—yes, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will they pour into your lap.
  • Prov 3:9-10. Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Discouragement over tough unchanging circumstances

  • Rom 8:28. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
  • Heb 12:9ff. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Our hearts were designed to be compelled by love for God and love for others. But instead, it is driven by self-preoccupation. We need to first dispel these heart compulsions by training ourselves to trust God’s comprehensive promises to provide everything we need. Then our hearts become FREE to LOVE as we were created to.

C. (So that) you may become partakers of the divine nature. Partakers is the word, KOINONOS, which is the word for followship, i.e. the sharing of life. Again, we are struck by the truth that this moral excellence is not an external manufactured Christ-likeness, but it is the character, the heart of Christ produced in us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is noteworthy that Peters first great sermon, given on the day of Pentecost was about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is part of the New Covenant.

D. Having escaped from the corruption that is in the world. The Greek word for flee is PHEUGO. The word used here adds APO, from. So APOPHEUGO means to flee from. The emphasis is upon intentionality—deliberately turning away from the corruption caused by evil. Corruption refers to destruction brought about by a corrupting influence, thus the destruction brought about by sin. As oncologists hate cancer, we are to abhor evil (Rom 12:9) because of the way it destroys life.

F. Because of sinful desire. To build a Christ-like heart in us, the Holy Spirit must extinguish “sinful desire” in us. One of the challenges we face in this heart transformation process is that the sinful desires inside our hearts are hard to see. Perhaps it helps to realize that our hearts were designed to be compelled by love for God—to love him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and consumed with love for others—you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Bit, we love ourselves instead. Let’s try to see how self-love supplants these two callings to love.

Love for God: The DESIGN Compared to REALITY

  • Loving God is our highest calling:  But we default to self-interest.
  • Pleasing him should matter most: But the acceptance of others matters more.
  • Praise should happen frequently because we adore God: But instead, we grumble about what is going wrong (interfering with our ease and comfort).
  • Looking beyond our blessings to be grateful to God for them should happen regularly: But that takes effort and life tires us out too much.
  • Loving God means remembering that we were created for His glory: But asking “what will glorify God in this situation” gets shoved to the back of our minds.
  •  Loving God means setting aside time to enjoy him: But often he gets the leftovers of our time.

Love for Our Neighbor: The DESIGN in I Corinthians 13 Compared to REALITY

  • Love is patient: But we project hostility towards others whose imperfections inconvenience us.
  • Love is kind: But instead of focusing on the other, our insecurities preoccupy us with whether or not we are making a good impression.
  • Love does not envy: But we feel displeasure and discontent for our plight when others enjoy pleasures that we don’t, instead of being glad for them.
  • Love doesn’t boast. But unconsciously we default to wanting to make sure we make a good impression on others, instead of wanting to exalt them.
  • Love is not rude. But we disrespect many image bearers of God. (If you doubt that think about what you say about other drivers.)
  • Love does not insist on its own way. But we tire of putting others first.
  • Love is not irritable. But when we feel grumpy, we don’t want to overlook others’ deficiencies and treat others as interruptions rather than human beings.
  • Love is not resentful. We can give more than 50% for a while. But eventually we start balancing what we are giving against what we are getting back.
  • Love does not rejoice over evil. But we feel pleasure inside when our opponent loses or suffers.
  • Love rejoices in the truth. But we bend or hide the truth to avoid embarrassing disclosures that would lower others’ opinions of us.  

The moral rot of self-love in our hearts is more pervasive than first meets the eye. But the habit of trusting God’s rich array of promises to care personally for all of our concerns empowers us to escape the corruption of self-love the rules our hearts. So, Christ’s divine power restores our hearts to what they were created for—loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving others well.


For Further Prayerful Thought:

  1. Why do you think Peter tries to motivate his readers to fight the battle against evil desires and supplant them with a heart like that of Jesus—by appealing that such effort guarantees that their commitment to Christ will not be INEFFECTIVE or UNFRUITFUL?
  2. Step 2 for accessing Christ’s power to overcome selfish attitudes (from verse 4b) stresses that the power to partake of Christ’s moral excellence comes through his precious and great promises. How can living by Christ’s promises dispel the turmoil and self-preoccupation that tend to rule our hearts?
  3. Which specific promises of God stood out to you?
  4. Which selfish compulsion of you heart needs to be expelled by claiming a promise of God?