2 Peter 3:8-13 (NRSV)
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, 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, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
The Apostle Peter paints a cataclysmic picture of Christ’s return. It is an image of the universe melting away in an unimaginable heat. The earth remains, stripped bare, its people exposed before God, their inner holiness and evil undeniably on display.
Peter’s words could be just mind-boggling symbolism, of course. But as I’ve pointed out in the past, symbols are a simple way of understanding a more complex reality.
If we believe the Bible is communicating God’s truth, then we have to acknowledge the experience of judgment will be at least as overwhelming as what we see here, and likely more so. We will come face-to-face with our holy creator while stripped bare of our pretenses and self-delusions.
Peter’s letter is a call to ready ourselves, to plunge into our own personal purifying fire. It should help us to know this: What comes out of the fire is far greater than what went into the fire.
Peter would have been familiar with Malachi’s Old Testament prophecies of a day when God’s appointed one would come to act as a “refining fire” and “fuller’s soap,” purifying what has been tainted by sin. The prophecy is not so much about the refining process as it is about what comes out, gold and silver in their purest forms.
After his images of fiery destruction, Peter also alludes to the “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” We submit ourselves to purification by God’s Holy Spirit not out of fear, but in joy, knowing God’s purifying work through Christ will establish a greater way of living. We ready ourselves for a place in the new creation.
So, how do we submit?
Many of you have made that first step, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. Those of you who have not—well, Peter makes clear that God is patient until the time of patience ends.
Our faith leads us to a new level of engagement with God. The early Methodists had a simple set of rules to live by as they pursued holiness. They are just as instructive for us today.
First, do no harm. What are we doing that damages others? How do we stop doing those things?
Second, do good. Again, the principle is very simple. Do we do good in every way we can, whenever we have the opportunity?
Third, stay in love with God. I’m borrowing Rueben Job’s paraphrase of John Wesley’s more elaborate statement, “By attending upon all the ordinances of God.” By this, Wesley meant participating in public worship, studying God’s word, receiving communion, praying, and abstaining from activities that can distract us from God.
When we follow these rules, we open ourselves to the refining work of the Holy Spirit. And we do not regret the loss of any sin that is burned away.
Lord, make us ready. Amen.