The Apostle Peter’s second letter is a very important one for the modern believer. Peter was near the end of his life, and the new movement he had helped to pioneer was entering into its third decade. Peter’s thoughts on spiritual growth and maturity, truth and error, and the motivations of godly and ungodly men all combine to express one of the most important works on perseverance in the faith ever written.
In the second chapter, Peter focuses on false teachers. He cares about the progression of maturity and spiritual growth for his audience, and sees false teaching as perhaps the greatest threat to holy and blameless lifestyles of faith. These are sensual men, Peter warns, who offer beautifully wrapped empty promises that ultimately lead to “utter darkness”. “Sensual”, in the way Peter is writing, implies a self-centered pleasure-seeker. A “lover of pleasure”, as Paul would later describe them – one who does not have a necessary “love of righteousness” and of God to anchor their passions.
A Time of Pleasure Like No Other
We live in an era of history that presents more options for pleasure and passion than any other. The places where one can channel his or her passions are more technologically and culturally diverse than could ever have been possible in generations past. The food and drink of the nations and peoples of the earth can be set before us effortlessly. The pleasures of the nations are within the reach of more people than ever before. It may be possible that our capacity for experiencing pleasure is greater than any generation that has ever lived.
Onto this present stage strides the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth. The power of the New Covenant is the promise of union with Him by His Holy Spirit. Within that glorious union is profound joy, rest, and satisfaction as one begins to experience the incomparable pleasures of being loved by God. At His right hand, the psalmist promised, are “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). There is no more pleasurable experience our souls can enjoy than the indescribable love of Jesus washing over our hearts (Romans 5:5). For a pleasure-loving, pleasure-hungry generation, the offer of the gospel of Jesus is the most timely and beautifully pure means to experiencing the pleasure we were made for.
The Dark Side of Pleasure
Surprisingly, Peter introduced a “dark side” of the pleasures of being loved by God. With the experience of the love of God comes, by grace, an increase in our capacities to experience even more. (The Apostle Paul describes this briefly in his prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19) Therefore, the other side of this expansion of our capacities is the risk of succumbing to the enticement of false teachers, and after choosing sinful pleasures with seemingly little consequence. What is the consequence?
Peter tells us, hauntingly, in 2 Peter 2:19-22 –
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
The troubling part of Peter’s warning is the assertion that, “it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness“. When an increased capacity by grace to experience the pleasures of God’s love is diverted to sinful pleasure, the problem lies in the increased capacity. What I mean is this: what used to thrill us related to sinful pleasures, or even godly pleasure – will now bore us. It will take much more to ignite passion and pleasure within the soul of a man who has been “ruined” by the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
A stagnation, a type of paralysis, settles into the soul of a now bored and cynical believer who can remember the days of passion but cannot imagine returning to them. A cold, sterile acceptance – like a loveless marriage – has crept in because life can never be the same again for the one who has “tasted of the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4-6). What sounded beautiful to our ears in the early songs – “I will never be the same again” – can prove true in a tragic sense if that declaration is not followed through with later in life.
The secret is to set our lives – unapologetically – towards intensity and godly desire. Grace is our escort and our means to move forward. We cannot live a life of intensity because we want to. We can live a life of intensity and passion because we believe that Jesus wants us to (“You shall love the Lord with all…”) and therefore, He will help us to. A life of faith is a life of continually reaching for all that grace offers us. How far can the grace of God take me? How radically different can I live because of the power of the Holy Spirit? How passionate can I be? The continual challenge is to be stirred by the words of Peter again, and get up when I stumble, believing that the grace of God can overcome my weakness, my unbelief, and my immaturity.
I invite you to “go again”, that we might present ourselves to God in a fresh way today, allowing ourselves to be victims of His glorious grace once more. I pray that we never see the “dark side of devotion” that Peter described, but pursue and receive the grace of God unto its logical end in fullness.