As he challenged fellow Christians to reignite their passion for the second coming of Jesus, Peter asked, “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God . . . ?” (2 Peter 3:11, 12).* These are vital and encouraging words for us as servants of the Lord in the last days of earth’s history as the Great Controversy theme comes to a climax. This passage in 2 Peter contains a question, an answer, and our hope. Taken together, they determine and define the quality and world perspective of the life of the believer. Let’s think together about what these verses mean to Seventh-day Adventists in the twenty-first century awaiting and hastening the Lord’s return.
What Kind of People?
Peter’s question implies that there are different kinds of people, and that they are identifiable on the basis of their commitments and the quality of their lives. He is particularly interested in the followers of the Messiah, the Christ, who are his fellow believers. They are a people among many other peoples, who have come from different cultures and from different geographical areas, but who have been called together by the power of the living Lord into one people. There is a particular profile to them, a uniqueness that should be the possession of all in order for them to be the kind of people they ought to be.
The question Peter raises is an important one, and it can be addressed to each one of us. What is your/my profile as a believer? What should a Christian look like? The question may not be a popular one, particularly in the Western world, where an overemphasis on individualism poses a serious threat to the identity of the community of believers. A believer shouldn’t claim that who I am is a personal matter. We belong to a people—a remnant people. Guided by the Spirit of the Lord and grounded in God’s revealed Word, we have chosen to join a world community, a unique people. Therefore it is appropriate and even indispensable to raise the question
“What kind of people ought we to be?”
I realize that the question could be heard as potentially echoing elements of a legalistic way of life. But Peter isn’t promoting legalism. He is interested in the impact of the saving grace of Christ on the life of a community of faith that is waiting for the coming of the Lord. The waiting makes it necessary for him to raise the question. The Christian hope isn’t yet a concrete reality. We are still pilgrims on a journey; we wrestle with the reality of waiting. The question deserves a very personal answer as well: What does it mean to you to wait for the coming of the Lord? The question isn’t about the psychological component of the waiting—Should I be fearful? Should I be uncertain? Should I be joyful?—but about how waiting for Him determines the quality of our lives as followers of Jesus.
There is a uniqueness to the identity of the church that we must constantly underline and that is inseparable from its message and mission. It is related to the biblical concept of truth, and therefore directly connected to the person of Jesus, who without any apology claimed to be the truth (John 14:6). His uniqueness has transformed the lives of millions of Christians throughout history and will transform the cosmos itself. To those who follow Christ, Peter asks the daring question, “What manner of persons ought you to be?” The question assumes the need to express and preserve the identity of a believer in a world where we are constantly
confronted with distracting and even counterfeit commitments and lifestyles.
You Ought to Live . . .
Peter’s question isn’t a rhetorical one, left without an explicit answer because it assumes that the readers will be able to answer it. The question deserves a clear answer—and Peter provides one. The question implied uniqueness, and the answer explicitly points to it: “You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11, NIV).†
That’s it! Clear and simple! To wait for the glorious return of the Lord means to live holy and godly lives, lives open to the revival of true godliness that the Spirit of Prophecy pleads for, saying: “A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work. . . . A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer” (Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 121). This isn’t so much a challenge as it is a magnificent gift granted to us through and in Christ.
Holiness isn’t natural to humans or to creation. In fact, what is holy is essentially unique and absolutely distinct from what has been created. Only God is holy in Himself. He is holy because He is the Creator and Redeemer. There is no one like Him in the cosmos; He is the Holy One of Israel!
Holiness reaches us through the presence of God among us and in our lives. To be holy is to belong to Him. Concerning Jesus, Gabriel said to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you . . . ; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
The holiness of God was manifested in the Israelite sanctuary, but it is now embodied in Jesus, who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It came to us in the gift of the Child, and through Him holiness is accessible to humans. It is to this divine gift that Peter is pointing as he answers the question “What manner of persons ought you to be?” His answer is, “In a world characterized by the unholy and the ungodly, let the Holy One be embodied again in your lives as individuals and as a people.”
The divine plan is to have a holy people who wait for the coming of the Lord. Such a people will be unavoidably visible and will be a blessing to the human race. Through Jesus, the Holy One, they have become God’s property. Notice that the answer to the question isn’t a list of things. A list would set limits or circumscribe the potential of the Christian life through the work of the Spirit. The call to holiness goes deeper—and higher—than that by pointing to the unlimited possibilities of character development. As the Spirit of Prophecy has so beautifully reminded us, “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children.
Godliness—godlikeness—is the goal to be reached” (Ellen G. White, Education, p. 18). Each of us is called to make a heart-commitment to the Lord Jesus each day. Divine holiness is transferable through the Son of God! It demands from us a daily and permanent contact with Him.
The church, as a global people of God, must display to the world and to the universe the glorious holiness of God. “The Lord desires His church to show forth to the world the beauty of holiness. She is to demonstrate the power of Christian religion. Heaven is to be reflected in the character of the Christian” (Ellen G. White, Lift Him Up, p. 275). This holiness isn’t only a pious life characterized by a daily devotion to God. That is part of it. But beyond that, it is a life of moral and spiritual integrity grounded in the love of God.
We shouldn’t ignore the moral dimension of holiness. This is further emphasized by the term “godly,” which refers to Christian respect for and submission to God’s will and the moral life. The overwhelming moral corruption in a world that pays no attention to God’s law makes it indispensable for us to live a holy and godly life. Our lives are to be a powerful witness in favor of the superiority of such a life, one that is placed at the service of God and others.
The message of the church, built on the moral teachings of the Bible, helps us understand the nature of a holy and godly life. “No church can advance in holiness unless its members are earnestly seeking for truth as for hid treasure” (Ellen G. White, Maranatha, p. 132). When that truth is incorporated into the life of the church, it provides our true identity. We must proclaim that truth in the fulfillment of our mission, but above all we must display it in a holy and godly life. This is surely one of the most urgent needs of the church as it actively waits for the glorious appearing of our Lord
As You Look Forward . . .
The holy and godly life is displayed by God’s people during the time of waiting. People who live this way are future-oriented. We shouldn’t allow our past to cloud our minds and nurture feelings of guilt. We shouldn’t let it define or determine the quality of our lives in the present. We are totally unable to do anything with our past; we can’t redress past experiences. But God can, and He, in fact, has done it. Our past was taken care of through the forgiving grace of God in the sacrificial death of Jesus. In Him, God deleted our past forever and provided for us a transformed life that can bring glory to Him. That’s why the power of God’s holiness is to be manifested in the life that we now live. We must leave the burdens of the past to the Lord and live in the present a holy life, a life of service to others. Our expectation—our future life with Jesus—changes the shape of daily life. We have hope for the future because of Jesus—what He has done for us on the cross and what He is doing for us in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary as our interceding High Priest and coming King.
The cross opened up for us the possibility of a future free from the enslaving power and presence of sin and evil. The nature of that future is suggested by the answer that Peter provides to the question “What manner of persons ought you to be?” As we eagerly expect our future eternal life, Peter reminds us, “We ought to live holy and godly lives now.” Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins reminds us that the mere passing of time doesn’t necessarily make us ready for His coming. Only those who wait purposefully, with “lamps trimmed and ready,” daily supplied by the oil of the Holy Spirit, are growing in the holiness that prepares us to meet Him with peace and joy. Only a people who are continually praying for revival and reformation will be experiencing the changed lives and transformed influence that make the preaching of the good news of Jesus credible to millions of lost men and women. Truly waiting for Jesus and living a holy life is one and the same thing. We must constantly keep on looking forward to the day of God.
The question remains: What kind of people ought we to be? The answer continues to challenge us: You ought to live holy and godly lives—revived lives, reformed lives, lives filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
As you look forward to the coming of the Lord, “commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Ps. 37:5). As we commit ourselves to the Lord and through prayer plead for revival and reformation in our lives personally and in the church as a whole, the Holy Spirit will work in our lives, preparing us for the latter rain and the Lord’s imminent second coming. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the holiness of Jesus will be increasingly seen in the lives of God’s people, and individuals everywhere will be attracted to His remnant church as they see the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of those who are waiting for His soon appearing.
* Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this reading are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
†Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ” 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. Is holiness a challenge or a gift?
2. What makes the people of God different in the modern world?
Ted N.C. Wilson is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. This was published September 23, 2010.