I read at some point before the elections about President Obama making visits to people’s backyards to talk to them about the economy and the general state of the country. Of course, these visits were all scheduled in advance, probably weeks in advance. I can only imagine the preparation a family would put into getting their yard ready for such a visit. I can see them busily getting the yard cut, trimming hedges, maybe even repainting the lawn furniture. As we read this verse in II Peter, our hearts should be stirred with similar anticipation. We’re waiting not for the arrival of an earthly ruler of a temporary government; we anxiously await the arrival of our Savior and the King of Kings.
Peter grounds his argument here, his call for a proper response on the part of his audience, in the truths of the preceding section. The judgment of God is coming despite the mocking of those who laugh at the thought of God’s judgment (v 3-7). This judgment will be cataclysmic with violent, devastating effects to the earth and the universe (v 10—take that tree huggers). Therefore, when Peter asks the rhetorical question “What sort of people ought you to be” he bases it on the revealed truth that “all these things (the earth and the universe) are to be destroyed in this way (a fiery, universe-wide destruction)”. His call, then, is for his readers, and us, to take into serious consideration the fact that the God who created this universe which became tainted by sin is going to destroy that universe as judgment on that sin. If God is going to do that, how should that affect us and how we live?
I believe Peter tells us it should affect us outwardly. He says we should be people of “holy conduct”. Now, as we look at how we spend out time, how we treat people, how we talk, what we read, and what we watch, can you and I honestly look in the mirror and say our conduct is “holy” (i.e. set apart for God)? I am ashamed to say that I would have to answer “No” because there are times I’m rude to people in the store or that I’m unkind to my children and wife—not to mention a veritable host of other things. When consider, as Peter instructs to here, the judgment of God which is the result of sin, we should confess our sins and repent. In fact, that seems to be the point Peter is making here as well.
Observe that Peter says not only should the judgment of God affect our conduct, but we should also be people of “godliness”. In other words, meditating on God’s judgment of sin should not just affect us outwardly, but also inwardly. We should grow in Christlikeness. As Paul says in Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh”. Therefore, we know that any “goodness” that is in us would be there because we are becoming more like Christ through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This spiritual transformation would then lead us to more holy conduct. It’s not a matter, then, of right “doing” but rather of right “being” that Peter calls us to here.
Further, notice that Peter says that meditating upon the day of the Lord should be central to our affections. He says in verse 12 that we should be “looking for and hastening the day of the Lord”. Now, I’m not entirely sure what he has in mind here. I mean, the Greek word translated “looking for” means “to await, expect” which makes sense and I understand that. However, “hastening” is a bit trickier to figure out. It is used in the NT to describe someone doing something in a hurry or calling for someone to do something quickly (i.e. Luke 19:5-6). That doesn’t really help me much because as I read Peter’s admonition here, my question is “How do I hasten the day of the Lord?”
Perhaps Peter had in mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:14 that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world “and then the end will come”. I think another and perhaps better way to understand what Peter says here is to imagine a kid at Christmastime. As a child, you remember feeling like the old Chipmunk’s song “Hurry Christmas, hurry fast”. You had this sense that you would just burst if Christmas didn’t hurry up and get here. Perhaps, rather than actually doing something since the day of the Lord will come when God wills it not when we act, the idea Peter is expressing here is that we should be eagerly anticipating this day of the Lord. We should be excited about the prospect of God putting an end to sin on the day when “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” We know on that day, as Peter describes in verse 13, we will have ended for good our struggle with sin because we will come to dwell in a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Amen, brothers and sisters.