Six months ago we began reading Peter’s first letter to the churches in ancient Roman Asia. And right from the beginning it was clear that Peter’s purpose was to change our perception of the world, and change our understanding of how we fit into this world.
And he started by saying that, really, we do not fit into this world.
He started by calling us “God elect exiles”: God’s chosen refugees. We have been called out of all the different nations of the world and gathered together into a completely new kind of nation: an international nation, a nation without political boundaries, a nation without a distinct culture or language, a nation united by only one thing: Jesus’ love for us, and our love for Jesus in return. In other words: we are supposed to be set apart from the rest of the world, not just on the outside — through baptism into visible worshiping communities — but also on the inside, through baptism into fundamentally different values.
And Peter went on to say why God chose us to be set apart from this world in this way: because this world is strictly temporary.
Jesus’ Church is designed to act as an ark of salvation, a safe space where the fires of Judgment Day will not reach. When that Day dawns, the doors of Jesus’ Church will be closed for the last time and it will become like…a seed planted safely in the depths of the earth while the fires of judgement sweep the surface clean. That seed will be like…an ark, a ship, that contains all the tools and personnel and expertise needed to settle a new world, to start a new colony of mankind. And when the fires have passed, when the ship has come to rest once more upon solid ground, when the rain of God’s grace falls and softens the soil, then the seed will sprout and break through the surface into a new world. The doors of Jesus’ ark will open…and they will never be closed again, because we will finally fit: we will finally belong to the earth, and the earth will belong to us.
But in the meantime, during these long ”last days” before Christ returns, the doors of Jesus’ Church remain open.
Which means that, even though we are completely set apart from the nations of the world in one sense…in another sense we are not completely set apart. And the reason for this is because we are still in the gathering phase of God’s plan: the door of Jesus’ ark remains open to receive more refugees just like us, and the door will remain open until the last possible moment.
And, as Peter has made clear to us throughout his second letter to the churches in ancient Roman Asia: this means that Jesus’ Church is also open to infection. Remaining open to God’s refugees as an act of mercy also means remaining open to infection by false refugees: Satan’s servants who will secretly introduce destructive heresies. They seduce the unstable; they entice new converts who do not yet know any better; and as Peter has said: many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.
And last week Peter reassured us that this is God’s plan for the Body of Christ. Every infection that seems to sweep Christianity actually serves to strengthen those who remain faithful, because these infections are actually proof that these are the ”last days”, the gathering days, the days of salvation and mercy. And so, instead of seeing the glass as half-empty, Peter is encouraging us to see the glass as half-full. Yes, remaining open to God’s refugees also means remaining open to infection by false refugees…but it would be better for us to turn that around and remember that remaining open to infection also means remaining open to refugees. Our Father has called upon us, as a Church, to take this risk for the sake of all those who are still out there: all those who have been called but have not yet been gathered in.
In other words: we live our lives as a sacrifice for the sake of others. Our lives are not ours to protect or to spend as we choose: we belong to our Father now, paid for by the rejection and the betrayal of his Son Jesus Christ. And because we now have God as our Father and Christ as our Brother, we are also called to remain open to the chances of rejection and betrayal. This is, very literally, how our community is called upon to preach the Gospel in a fallen world: by accepting the risk of infection for the sake of our fellow refugees.
And so, over the last six months, Peter has been telling us that we are safe within the ark of Jesus’ Church! — and yet we are not yet safe. There is still a possibility that the devil’s powerless roar might panic us into running back out through the open door into the devil’s mouth — or that Satan’s secret servants might deceive us back out through the open door into those realms still ruled by demons.
And this knowledge that Peter has given us, this change in our perception of reality — especially that second part! — has left us with one haunting question; at least, if you are anything like me, it has left you with one haunting question: how can I tell if I am on the right track? How can I tell if I am following the true knowledge of Christ, or if I have actually followed deceiving spirits and things taught by demons? How can I tell if I am in a true Church or a false one?
Peter has actually been answering this question all the way through his two letters. But like all good elders, like all good shepherds, Peter knows that reminders are always helpful, and a summary is always helpful.
And so here, today, Peter finishes his second letter with a review and a summary of everything he has written, so that we can be sure of our salvation, so that, every time those doubts come back to haunt us, we know how to refresh ourselves with the Gospel.
So, Peter says, the Lord is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. The doors of Jesus’ Church will remain open until the last possible second, until the last possible refugee has been gathered in.  But we are not going to know which refugee is the very last refugee: the day of the Lord will come like a thief.
The door will close, and Judgement Day will begin.
And what is that Day going to look like?
The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Now…this is a very dense sentence, because it has meaning on both a physical and a spiritual level:
When Peter says “the heavens will disappear with a roar” he is referring to the skies over the earth: the clouds, the moon, the stars, the sun.
But in the bible “the heavens” also refers to the ”heavenly places”: the spiritual world, the realm of angels and demons. For instance, the Old Testament prophets often combined the images of falling stars and darkened moons with the defeat of spiritual powers and authorities.
So when Peter says “the heavens will disappear with a roar” he is not just talking about terrifying signs in the sky, he is also talking about the final defeat of Satan’s angels.
When he says “the elements will be destroyed by fire” he is referring to the basic building blocks of our physical world: earth, air, water, atoms.
But in the bible this particular word for “the elements” also refers to the kind of fallen angelic beings that rule over nations — the kind of celestial beings that the false teachers have enslaved themselves to.
So when Peter says “the elements will be destroyed by fire” he is not just talking about the collapse of our planet’s ecology, he is also talking about the final destruction of those angels who were long ago put into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgement: fire is their judgement.
And when Peter says “the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” he is talking about some radical re-ordering of this physical planet.
But in the bible that word for “laid bare” is also the word for “found”, which is the language of judgement, as in: “The criminal was found guilty.”
So it is clear that Peter is not just talking about how the bones of the earth will be exposed, he is also talking about how every action by every person who has ever lived will be brought out into the light to be “found” guilty or innocent.
Oh. So…everything we have done will be laid bare?
That idea sends a bit of a chill up our spines, doesn’t it? Because I am pretty sure that most of us do not have to think for more than a few milliseconds before we remember things we have done, things we have thought about doing, that we hope will never see the light of day. Well…apparently they will see the light of day.
And now we all have a very urgent question we would like to ask, right: what are we supposed to do about that?
Or, to ask that question another way, verse 11: Since everything will be destroyed — and exposed! — in this way, what kind of people ought we to be?
Peter’s answer is simple: You ought to live holy and godly lives!
That answer sounds crushing, doesn’t it? That sounds like the answer that every other religion in the world gives to this question. Every person in the world eventually asks, “What should we do to minimize our suffering and shame on Judgement Day?” and every religion in the world answers, “Just work harder! Just try to make sure your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds!” And that is what it sounds like Peter is saying here also.
But that does not work for us, does it! Because most of us have been trying — and failing — to be good for most of our lives, and telling us to “just work harder” doesn’t really help, it just adds to our condemnation. And even if we did not care much about being good in the past, now that we have become Christians and we know what is expected of us, what are we supposed to do about those things we have done in the past? Telling us to “just be good” now is not going to save us from the soul-destroying shame of seeing our past replayed before the throne of God!
Isn’t Christianity supposed to be different? Isn’t Christianity supposed to offer better answers than the same old “work harder” nonsense that all the other religions preach?
Good News, friends: it is different. It does offer better answers.
See: Peter’s answer is simple…but it is deeply connected backwards to what he wrote in his first letter, which is deeply connected backwards to what the Old Testament prophets wrote.
And this is important to realize. Because if we just open our bibles and read this verse as a stand-alone verse, then we would conclude that Peter is telling us to just work harder. And we would conclude that Christianity is the same as Islam, the same as Buddhism, Hinduism, Marxism, Capitalism, radical environmentalism — the same as every other religion that just tells you to work and try to make sure your good deeds outweigh your bad.
But if we realize this verse is simply a summary of a thousand other verses, well…that changes things. It forces us to dig deeper and ask, “What does Peter mean by the word “holy”, by the word “godly”?
And when we look back to Peter’s first letter, we find that he defined holiness very carefully. This is what he said: “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do: live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.”
In other words: live out your time here as refugees, as people who do not quite fit into the nations of this world.
In the bible, living a holy life is not simply about morality or behaviour, it is about being set apart: it is about where our identity comes from, it is about who we belong to — it is about loyalty. When we live loyal to God and to each other, then we are living holy lives. And holiness — set apartness, living in loyalty — leads to godliness, as we discussed two weeks ago: conversion happens from the outside in as well as from the inside out. If we are more loyal to our birth nations and our birth families than we are to our brothers and sisters in Christ, then it actually does not matter how “good” our personal behaviour is, we are actually living unholy lives.
So when Peter says you ought to live holy and godly lives he is telling us to make sure our lives are centered around and centered within the ark of Jesus’ Church. He is telling us to root our identity in Christ — as individuals and as a community — and then to make sure that this identity is proven and fixed in place by living in ways that please the Saviour who bought us.
Now: why is this important? How does this save us from the shame of having every secret sin exposed on Judgement Day?
This is how:
Remember, when the terrible Day dawns, and the doors of Jesus’ ark are closed for the last time, everyone who is found within those walls will pass safely through the fires of judgement. Peter tells us that the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare: we are supposed to understand that everything we have done during our lives — the bad as well as the good — will be tested and judged, and we are supposed to feel uncomfortable about that thought! But then Peter tells us that we are supposed to take this uncomfortable feeling and let it remind us to live holy and godly lives. In other words: we are also supposed to understand that everyone who centers their loyalty and their lives around Christ and Christian community will be saved from suffering and shame on the Day of Judgement.
So Peter is not saying, “When you are afraid, just work harder! Just try to make sure your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds!” He is saying, “When you are afraid, remember who you belong to, remember where you belong: cling to Jesus, cling to one another, live holy and godly lives, live loyal and loving lives —
 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”
People who fear that their sins are unforgiven do not look forward to the day of God or speed its coming, they are afraid of judgement, and they do everything they can to slow it down — or even pretend that it will not happen at all, like these false teachers are doing.
But people who find their identity in Christ and in Christian community are no longer afraid of judgement — so they do look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. And that is the kind of people Peter wants us to be.
That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
— it will be absolutely terrifying to everyone who is found outside the ark of Jesus’ Church —
 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
We will pass safely together through the flames, and we will emerge on the other side. The great ship of Jesus’ Church will descend, and come to rest on the top of a great mountain. The doors will open and we will be free.
So those verses were really a good review and summary of Peter’s first letter: we are refugees, set apart in an ark, waiting for our deliverance from the world outside, a world that is destined for destruction. We are not here to take over the world politically or culturally or even spiritually — that would be a waste of our time, since everything is going to be destroyed. But since everything is going to be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought we to be? We need to be the kind of people who invest our lives carefully in what is going to last, the kind of people who look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
But what does that mean: speed its coming? Does that mean we can actually speed up the process somehow?
Well: yes. That is what Peter is saying.
Okay. So now we want to know: how? What does this look like? What are we supposed to do to speed its coming?
That is what Peter describes for us next, in his review and summary of his second letter:
 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this — and wanting to speed it along! — make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
What does this mean? And how does this speed the day of God?
Well, in Peter’s first letter, he described Jesus as a lamb without blemish or defect. Then, in his second letter, Peter described these false teachers as blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. Here Peter is telling us to make every effort to be the opposite of the false teachers, and to be like Jesus: spotless, blameless, and at peace with him.
And all this is the language of sacrifice from the Old Testament: animals brought for sacrifice were to be “without spot or blemish”. And this is the language of judgement: we are to make every effort to be found spotless. The image Peter has in mind here is this picture of the Old Testament priest standing in the gateway of God’s temple, carefully examining each lamb as it is brought to him to make sure it is a worthy sacrifice. Those that have blots and blemishes are rejected; those without spot or blemish are accepted.
What this means is that Peter wants us to think of our lives as lambs that we will present to Jesus for inspection on Judgement Day, because the condition of our lives on that Day will reveal whether we truly loved God as our Father or not. If we truly loved God as our Good Father, then we are going to bring him the best, the strongest, the cleanest lamb we’ve got, because we want to please him! But if, like the false teachers, we show up on Judgement Day with sick lambs, stunted lambs, crippled lambs — lives full of carelessly broken laws, selfishly broken relationships — then it will be very obvious to everyone what our true priorities were while we lived on earth.
Peter is still talking about loyalty and love here. The false teachers are blots and blemishes because they are reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you: they pretend to love Christ and Christian community, but actually they love only themselves. But we will be found spotless and blameless because we are at peace with Christ: because we spent our lives for him and for one another.
And as Peter has already pointed out, the truth about how we lived our lives will be laid bare on the Day of Judgement. We will be accepted or rejected based on the quality of our lives, because the quality of our lives will reveal who we really belonged to.
That is what Peter means by make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him: make sure you belong to Jesus’ flock.
But how does us making every effort to belong to Jesus actually speed the day of God?
Ah. This is how:
The idea that God’s people can speed up Judgement Day by belonging to him actually begins in the Old Testament.
Probably the most famous verse that contains this idea is found in 2 Chronicles 7: “If my people will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways — if my people will repent — then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” And there are also many other places where the prophets teach that God is waiting for the complete repentance of all his people before he begins the process of judgement and restoration.
And then Peter actually said this himself in one of his sermons that he preached in the Book of Acts. He said, “Repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, and times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah.”
And really, in the Book of Acts, Peter was just preaching something that Jesus had already said in the Book of Matthew: “The gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Making every effort to be found spotless speeds the day of God because making every effort to be found spotless means living lives of repentance. When every single one of God’s people have turned aside from their wicked ways and begun to live lives of repentance, making every effort to belong to God: then the end will come, then the day of God will arrive.
This is why Peter goes on in verse 16 to say:  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.
In all of this, Peter is really just repeating what he told us last week: the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, he is patiently waiting for the complete repentance of all his people. When the very last of God’s chosen refugees makes it through the door and finally belongs to him, the day of the Lord will come like a thief and that will be the end.
If we want to speed up Judgement Day, then what we need to do is make every effort to live lives of repentance, to preach lives of repentance — to preach sermons of warning so that every last refugee can find their way to salvation.
However, the opposite is also true: if we want to slow down Judgement Day, then we need to slow down our own movement toward repentance, we need to discourage others from repentance, we need to avoid sermons of warning, we need to give people a false sense of peace and security.
And that is exactly what these false teachers are doing, as Peter reminds us next:  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. Now, Paul’s letters do contain some things that are hard to understand —
— but these things can be understood if we make the effort to compare what he is saying with the Old Testament prophets and the rest of the New Testament apostles —
But these false teachers are not trying to understand: as ignorant and unstable people, they deliberately distort what Paul is saying, they twist it to say what they want to say, just as they do all the other Scriptures — to their own destruction.
These false teachers deliberately ignore Paul’s warnings about Judgement Day because, if they took Paul seriously, then they would have to take Judgement Day seriously. And if they took Judgement Day seriously, then they would have preach repentance the way Paul did. And if they preached repentance, then they would have to repent of their greed for power and prosperity and pleasure. They do not want to repent of these things, and so they deliberately distort Paul, they deliberately distort God’s Word, they delete Judgement Day and repentance from their preaching…to their own destruction and the destruction of everyone who follows them.
 Therefore, Peter says, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.
Here, with his closing words, Peter has returned to the central theme of his letters: we are safe within the ark of Jesus’ Church! — and yet we are not yet safe. We have a secure position here! and yet we need to remain on our guard so that we may not be carried away.
And this just takes us back to that question that haunts us: how can we tell if we are on the right track? How can we tell if we are in the true ark of Jesus Christ, or a false one?
This is the question Peter answers once again in verse 18:
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Are you interested in being on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall? Then do this: be on your guard by making every effort to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Okay. But let’s get practical here: how can we make sure we are growing in this grace and knowledge?
Step One: start by making every effort to seek out a local church, a Christian community, that will teach us how to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We all need older, wiser Christians that we can learn from, and we all need younger brothers and sisters that we can help guide. That is how true growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus happens: in community.
So do not listen to teachers who tell you that all you need is your bible and the Holy Spirit to guide you. They are actually teaching you how to become your own false teacher in a church with a congregation of one. They are teaching you to despise authority.
Okay. So we have found a local church. How can we tell if it is teaching us to grow in the true knowledge of Jesus Christ?
Step Two: make sure our church gets its knowledge of Jesus Christ from the Old Testament and the New Testament. We all need to be introduced to the original source material as much as possible.
So do not listen to teachers who rely on testimonies and stories to impress you. Testimonies and stories are fine, but if those testimonies and stories are not clearly connected to God’s Word, then those teachers are exploiting you with fabricated stories, they are seducing the unstable.
Okay. So we have found a church that seems to preach from the Old and the New Testaments. How can we tell if it is preaching scripture properly?
Well, a church that does not understand the New Testament properly tends to become legalistic. A church that does not understand the Old Testament properly tends to become lawless. But a church that understands how all of scripture points to Jesus will know how to love the Old Testament law of God without becoming legalistic. So:
Step Three: make sure our church is strong on the need for obedience to the law of God, but gracious about things that are not central to the law of God — like food and clothing, music, language and various other customs.
So do not listen to teachers who minimize God’s law, who minimize the need for repentance and obedience, who minimize the reality of Judgement Day. They say they are promising you the freedom of positive thinking, but actually they are leading you into slavery to deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
Okay. So we have found a church that seems strong on the need for obedience, but gracious when it comes to other matters. But how can we tell if it is striking the right balance?
Step Four: make sure our church keeps reminding us that we are God’s chosen refugees. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we belong to God. Because we belong to God, we no longer belong to this world. Because we no longer belong to this world, we will experience rejection and suffering. A properly balanced church will teach us that obedience to God’s law will result in rejection and suffering, and it will teach us how to handle this.
So do not listen to teachers who want to teach you how to avoid rejection and suffering. Do not listen to those who want you to disguise your obedience so you can fit in, so you can infiltrate the world’s systems and transform them from the inside-out. They are actually teaching you disobedience. They are actually teaching you how to belong to the world again, they are teaching you how to deny the sovereign Lord who bought you. If you follow them, you will not transform the world, but the world will transform you.
But, Step Five: let’s make sure our church is also teaching us how to obey God’s law out of love, not out of fear or guilt or greed. A properly balanced church will teach us to see our lives as sacrifice lambs that we are protecting and nurturing and growing so that, one day, we will be able to present them to our Father and hear him say, “Well done, my children!”
So, do not listen to teachers who tell you that your purpose on earth is to learn how to love yourself. Do not listen to teachers who tell you that all your desires are good simply because they are your desires. There are teachers in our world today — there are teachers in Modern Asia today! — who want you to believe that sexual lust is not really a sin as long as you do not act on it; that greed for prosperity is not really a sin as long as you do not actually steal from someone; that the lust for power and control is not really a sin as long as you claim that Jesus is the Lord of your life. They say they are preaching grace, but they are actually teaching you to return to your own vomit.
In summary, here: how can we make sure that we are on the right track?
By making sure that we are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
How can we make sure that we are growing?
By making sure that we are eating the right food with the right family. Remember, through Jesus’ sacrifice, we belong to God now. We have his Holy Spirit, his DNA, living in and among us. That DNA will produce fruit! — if we feed it properly, if we have a family that will feed us properly.
So if you are here today and you are mostly on your own in your faith, if you are wondering now whether you are really growing properly, if you are looking at yourself and trying to figure out if you are really saved…then stop! That is a fruitless exercise. None of us can see ourselves clearly: we all tend to overestimate our obedience in the places where we are actually weak and underestimate our obedience in areas where we are actually making progress, we all tend to assume we are in the ark of Jesus’ salvation when really we are not and assume we are not when we really are —
Instead, why don’t you put aside all that modern introspective nonsense, and try this: join a Christian community, join a church full of people that can see you clearly where you cannot see yourself. Join a church where there are shepherds — older men and women — who can challenge you to obedience where you need to be challenged, and encourage you where you need to be encouraged. Join a community that serves good food from the Word of God every week and throughout the week. Because if you truly have the Spirit of God, you will grow in holiness and godliness. And if you grow in holiness and godliness, then you can be certain that you are on the right track.
That’s it, brothers and sisters. That is Peter’s assurance for us: if we are eating God’s dinner with God’s family then God’s Spirit within us will respond, and on the Day of Judgement our lives will be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. That is our Father’s promise!
But let me close with this: that does not mean our lives will be sinless. That is not what our Father is looking for. In all of history there has been only one sinless, spotless, blameless lamb — and we are not it! No: what our Father will be looking for on the Day of Judgement is a family resemblance. As each one of us approach the throne to present our lives before him for inspection, our Father will be looking to see if the DNA of our lives is descended from the DNA of Jesus’ life, if our lambs are descended from that perfect Lamb.
To that Lamb be glory both now and forever!