When I think upon the doctrine of election and God’s amazing grace, I think about all of those times in which God has had an attitude of long-suffering toward me (and I think He still does). He called me to conversion a few times before I willingly gave Him my life. Long-suffering. My plan was to make a career out of graphic design and God wanted me to go into ministry. I said, “no,” for a long time before giving in. God had long-suffering toward me. I got into college and still pursued my own way, thinking that I knew more than most others. God still chose to humble me so that He could build me up in His grace. Long-suffering. I started in ministry and got concerned about gaining numbers, so I started planning more events to build a ministry and it cost me study time. I gained numbers in vain because I failed to genuinely make disciples, yet God chose to continue to build my life up for His glory. Long-suffering. I remember standing before my students while I was in my first vocational ministry position, and confessing to them that I had been building an empire of dirt. There is no doubt, in my life, that God has long-suffering and steadfast love for me.

Here, I simply want to rest in this promise. God is long-suffering. As we make our election sure, God is long-suffering. As we put away unsound doctrine, God is long-suffering. Why is God long-suffering? What does God’s long-suffering nature mean in our lives?

2 Peter 3:1-13 HCSB

Dear friends, this is now the second letter I have written to you; in both letters, I want to develop a genuine understanding with a reminder, so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles. First, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff, living according to their own desires, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation.” They willfully ignore this: Long ago the heavens and the earth were brought about from water and through water by the word of God. Through these waters the world of that time perished when it was flooded. But by the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.

But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God. The heavens will be on fire and be dissolved because of it, and the elements will melt with the heat. But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell.

Willful ignorance

In a manner of recapitulation, we remember that, in chapter 1, Peter admonished genuine believers in Christ to make their election sure by gaining knowledge of Christ and letting that knowledge be applied to their conduct; making those who are elect both hearers and doers of the word, in which we find everything needed for life and godliness. In chapter 2, Peter warns against false teachers who are in the midst of God’s people and who bring in destructive doctrine; which comes from human greed and covetousness. In this text, Peter makes yet another warning. There will be scoffers who come in the last days. These scoffers will assume that their words and their own desires are more important than the words that have been given by God in His scriptures. Many of them will mock God, whether verbally or via insinuation, for not fulfilling His promise. They will not recognize the great work that God has been doing through history and in their time. These scoffers will have hardened hearts toward God because they willfully ignore the very word of God.

God, by His word, created the world. In Noah’s day, He destroyed the world by His word. By His word, God preserves the current heaven and earth until the day of judgment. Everything that God does, He does by His own word. This makes perfect sense when even salvation is a work of God’s election from the foundation of the world. When God provides godly fruit in our lives, He does so by His word. When God grows a healthy church, He does so by His word. When God brings people to conviction, He does so by His own word. When God sanctifies His people, He does so by His word. I wonder if we have such a faith in our God that we truly believe His instruction to be more powerful than our own words and our own desires. Here, we might just need to ask ourselves a couple questions to get us thinking about what Peter is writing to us. How might we know whether we are scoffers or genuine disciples of our Lord, Jesus Christ?

The test with which we measure ourselves is the test of willful ignorance. There is an ignorance that is not willful. There are those who haven’t been Christians long enough to have read God’s word thoroughly and those who don’t have a copy of God’s word to read. Willful ignorance occurs when a person chooses to not look to God’s instruction for whatever reason. I’ll give a couple examples, here.

    1. The person who has trusted more in the teachings or intelligence of a person rather than checking claims against the text of Scripture has willfully ignored God’s word in favor of the words of that person. If I think so highly of what Matt Chandler, Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, or Augustine say that I never actually check the text of Scripture, then it is likely that my heart will be hardened toward God because of my own idolatry. Listening to or reading from good teachers is necessary, but imperfect, errant, and fallible people can never be a substitute for God’s perfect, inerrant, and infallible word.
    2. The person who invests more into a five-minute devotional based on one or two verses of Scripture than into the genuine reading and study of God’s pure word willfully ignores the pure word in its context and favors the impure reading of Scripture mixed with the words of people. Short devotionals might be good, but they cannot substitute for a pure reading of God’s word.
    3. The person who criticizes or complains without first checking God’s instruction to be sure that their critique is in line with God’s plan and purpose, willfully ignores God’s word in favor of his or her own word, desire, and preference.
    4. A church that operates in any way that is not clearly based upon God’s word willfully ignores God’s word in favor of the imperfect words and desires of people. On this subject, and I think that there are a great many organizational churches that need to heed this word: God is under no obligation to bless our plans for our lives or for the organizational local church. God will, however, move heaven and earth to produce fruit through those who abide in His instruction (also see John 15).

Unfortunately, this means that there are many people who refer to themselves as followers of Christ, but whose hearts are actually hardened toward the God of the universe because they would rather live by their own words and desires. It also means that there are many, many groups of people who refer to themselves as churches, but who are not bearing Godly fruit. God has given clear instruction for the local church. Since there are so many ‘churches’ that operate by another standard, namely human word and desires, many of these groups are playing church without actually being the church; and the people in them playing Christian without actually being or making disciples of Jesus Christ. There are scoffers in the midst of God’s people today, just as there were in Peter’s day. These are the ones who choose to remain ignorant of God’s word. I heard someone say that ignorance is not a sin. It can be overcome. To choose to remain ignorant, though, is stupidity, and there is nothing honorable about stupidity.

Willful obedience

In thinking on this, I learn something very important about the word that has been given by the sovereign God, the One in whom our election is made sure. God’s word is perspicuous and perlocutionary. God’s word is perspicuous, meaning that it is clear and follows easily. There are some things in God’s word that are difficult for us to understand or to accept, but the story follows easily and logically from Genesis to Revelation. It is clear and makes sense. God is sovereign, people rebelled, people earned death, but through Christ God offers life. When we read in context, God’s word is abundantly clear on how we ought to respond to God’s grace, strive for obedience, organize our homes, set our priorities, and operate the organizational church. God’s word is not only perspicuous, it is also perlocutionary. This means that God’s word not only gives clear information but that its content affects us in such a way that it draws us to purposeful action in response to its words. This indicates that it is impossible for any person to genuinely listen to or read the word of the sovereign God without also purposefully changing at each juncture.

Every time the genuine Christ-follower, then, opens God’s word or listens to a sermon that is built upon God’s word, he or she is changed. If there is no change, it means we have hardened hearts toward God. Change, for some reason, has become a sort of cuss-word in the organizational church. We get stuck in our ways. This is not just a problem of one generation. We all actually get stuck in our own ways. When we do this, we resist the very work of God, which He performs through His own word. Willful obedience is the opposite of willful ignorance. To be willful about our obedience, we are resolved to change according to the word each and every time God’s word is opened. In light of election, change is a good thing! It means that God is working and we are being built up by Him! What a beautiful idea.

Knowing this, there is an obvious question we must ask. How long has it been since we have willfully changed in response to God’s instruction? As individuals, do we see that we are changed by God’s word each week or each day? In our ministries, do we find that we change the way that we do things in response to God’s word? As a church, are we resistant to change or is it something that we get excited about?

I have gotten to the point where I just get really excited about change. It means that God is doing a great work. If there is no change, we easily grow stale. Change, though, is difficult. Change means things will not remain the same. Change causes us to be uncomfortable or have to learn a new way. Change can be scary because it forces us to actually have faith; we don’t really know for sure how things will turn out. So, we often like to try to hold on to what is or the way that we have done things for the last twenty, or thirty, or forty years. The truth that we learn from this passage, though, is that when we stay the same, we are like the scoffers who willfully neglect God’s word. If God is perfect and He is always the same, then we should not fear change because God is our all in all.

Willful long-suffering

For those who do fear change, there are some encouraging words for us. First, God does not withhold His promise. He is timeless, which I believe is the way this passage ought to be interpreted (not to try to prove that Scripture is consistent with evolutionary theories). God is long-suffering toward us because He does not desire that any should perish, but all should come to repentance. Even when we are willfully ignorant, God’s long-suffering means that He continues to draw people to Himself that they might repent and change despite their holding themselves back and despite the failures of His people. This is another beautiful idea discovered only if we explore the doctrine of election: that God would not give up on His people.

To expound on this just a little more, I must ask this question: If God is the one who desires to draw people to repentance, don’t we think that His word would facilitate that change in others better than what we have built? If we lose a life that we have built or an organization that we have built or a structure that we have built because God has called us to change by His word, do we not think that our loss in favor of God’s word would enable us to bear much more fruit than if we were to try and hold on? Change, if wrought by God’s word, is worth every price we would pay.

In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?”

As for me, I will use the words of Johnny Cash before he passed, “You can have it all, my empire of dirt!” Give me Jesus. Give me the word of the Lord. I will change because I would rather have life and I would rather bear the fruit that can only be produced by Christ.

Lord, we thank You for Your long-suffering and steadfast love. Help us to rest in You.

For those who abide in the Lord, there is a great promise:

But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God. The heavens will be on fire and be dissolved because of it, and the elements will melt with the heat. But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell.

Our empires of dirt will burn away anyway. We live for a new earth, where righteousness will dwell forever and ever. Thank the Lord that we don’t have to find our identity in what we have built for ourselves. We get to be partakers in His glory, which is eternal!

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