What We Need More Than the Mountaintop Experience with God
As you pursue spiritual formation, please don’t wait for mountaintop experiences or voices from heaven to initiate change in your life. God has already spoken by his Son (Heb 1:1–3), and the apostles took great care, at times upon pain of death, to write it down for our assurance. If you want to hear the voice of God, all you need to do is open the book and read. See and hear your Master within these pages.
“I need to hear a voice from heaven.”
That’s what Robert, an atheist, told me after we met together to read the Bible for most of an academic year. We had studied John, Romans, and selections of the Old Testament to examine both the claims of Christ to be the Savior of the world and his resurrection from the dead to vindicate those claims. In the end, Robert refused to believe, asserting it was nothing but a cleverly devised myth.
Now it’s one thing when an atheist approaches the Bible this way with respect to converting to Christ. But surely true followers of Jesus wouldn’t approach the Bible that way with respect to their spiritual formation. They wouldn’t require a voice from heaven before repenting of sin or conforming to Christlike character. Right? … Right?
Consider Jonathan, rejecting counsel to refrain from sexual sin because he hadn’t yet heard an inner voice from God telling him to stop. Or Claudia, desperately wanting to share the gospel with her unbelieving roommate, but crippled with fear until the Holy Spirit tells her precisely when and how to do so. Or Anderson and Samantha, hopping from church to church, attending conference after conference, waiting for God to speak audibly and do something miraculous to restore the joy in their marriage. Or Nathaniel, investigating monastic orders under the impression that only there could he escape the world’s defilement and draw near to Christ.1
The apostle Peter heard a voice from heaven during his mountaintop experience. And he concluded that the spiritual formation of Christ-followers relies not on repeating such an experience but on something even more certain.
Let’s look at how 2 Peter 1 reveals both our desperate need for the knowledge of Christ to shape us and the priority of the Book to form us.
Our greatest need
Peter writes his second letter to the second generation of Christ-followers who would have to carry forward the true faith without direct intervention or direction from the apostles. Upon assuring them that their faith is every bit as legitimate as his own (2 Pet 1:1), he expresses his chief wish: that God’s grace and peace would take the form of ever-increasing knowledge of God and Jesus (2 Pet 1:2).
What Peter wants for generations of Christians after him is nothing short of “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:11)—which will take place at Jesus’ “coming” (2 Pet 1:16, 3:4, 3:12). And entrance into this future kingdom is provided now for those who practice the qualities (2 Pet 1:10) that supplement faith: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Pet 1:5–7).
Please note that Peter’s focus is on the future. He is not talking about how to “get saved”; he’s talking about how God is shaping his people so they may enter his eternal kingdom on the day of judgment.
Spiritual formation does not itself cleanse us from our sin. It is the direct result of having already been cleansed of sin (2 Pet 1:9). Having been saved by grace through faith (the starting point in 2 Pet 1:5), we are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4b) and grow in Christlike character (2 Pet 1:5–8). Practicing these qualities is thereby something of a dry run for our entry into the eternal kingdom when Christ returns (2 Pet 1:10-11)—a kingdom where only righteousness can dwell (2 Pet 3:13). This complete process is what it means to multiply the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet 1:8), which is our greatest need (2 Pet 1:2).
In short, Peter wants subsequent generations of believers to be ready for the kingdom of righteousness when it fully arrives. In order to get there, they must know Jesus Christ more every day and become like him. Peter took great pains to ensure we could find this very knowledge after he was gone (2 Pet 1:12–15), especially since he knew detractors would rise up (2 Pet 1:16, 2:1–3).