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Short Sighted Believers*
(2 Peter 1:9)
by Zane C. Hodges
For he who lacks these things is short sighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
The writer of this article has been nearsighted since grade school. My 7th grade teacher noticed me squinting as I tried to read the blackboard. She shared this observation with my parents, who saw to it that I got a pair of glasses. I have worn glasses ever since, although their style has improved over the ugly wire-rimmed spectacles which were my very first pair. (Not my parents' fault--that's what they wore in those days!)
But some believers need a pair of "spiritual spectacles" because, according to Peter they, too, are shortsighted. After opening his second epistle with a rich statement about God's provision for godly living (2 Pet 1:3-4), Peter exhorts his readers to develop strong Christian character (vv 5-7). He promises that such character development will produce fruitfulness (v 8). But then he adds a warning (v 9).
According to Peter, the character-deficient Christian is "shortsighted." What does Peter have in mind? Since the epistle as a whole lays heavy stress on the reality and certainty of the Lord's coming (see 1:11, 16, 19, and 3:4-14), the Apostle is probably thinking of believers who no longer look ahead to the Rapture. Instead, their vision is severely limited to the here and now.
People who live simply for the present time, or for the present world, are tragically "shortsighted.
But that is not all. A Christian who lacks the qualities mentioned in vv 5-7 is also "blind." Commentators have wrestled needlessly with the supposed tension between calling a person both shortsighted and blind. Even the NKJV attempts to harmonize with the translation, "shortsighted, even to blindness." But the Greek text does not say this.
In fact, the word order of the original text actually calls for a translation like this:
Thus the term blind is actually the first-mentioned trait of the character-poor believer, while shortsighted is the second.
We may say, therefore, that a person without the vital qualities of vv 5-7 suffers from spiritual blindness since he does not see reality, life, or Christian experience as God sees them. He is blind to the spiritual truths which he needs to grasp in order to function properly in this present world. Like a blind man, lacking either cane or guide-dog, he trips and stumbles constantly (see v 10!).
But a person who is blind to the spiritual realities of life from God's viewpoint is also shortsighted about the future. He is not challenged by the Second Advent to be a better man than he is (see 3:11-14). There is no need to twist these concepts into a formal and physiological harmony. Metaphors need not be physically compatible to be clear and comprehensible. On a spiritual level, a person can be both blind and shortsighted.
And he can also be forgetful. So Peter charges that the Christian who lacks the proper character "has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins."
But note! This individual is a Christian! He has been "cleansed from his old sins." This statement by the Apostle makes it unmistakable that he can conceive of a "cleansed" believer as lacking the qualities found in vv 5-7. He deplores the spiritual condition of such a person, but he in no way raises questions about their salvation.
Peter was certainly a spiritual realist even if many modern theologians are not. He does not take it for granted that spiritual growth will occur automatically or inevitably. Indeed, the character development he thinks of cannot occur apart from the believer "giving all diligence" toward that end (v 5). This does not mean, of course, that the believer does this all on his own. God supplies the basic resources and provides help along the way. But Christian growth will not occur apart from our diligent participation in the process.
In what sense, then, does the non-growing Christian "forget" his past cleansing? Both in Greek and in English, the word forget can also mean "to lack concern for," or "to neglect." New Testament examples of this significance, with a Greek verb meaning "to forget," are Phil 3:13, and Heb 6:10, 13:2 and 16. The expression used here by Peter (literally="receiving forgetfulness") no doubt contains a similar connotation. The blind and shortsighted believer is disregarding and neglecting his past experience of God's forgiveness.
Even when we remember that we are forgiven people, we have "forgotten" what that means if our lives do not reflect true growth in grace (see 2 Pet 3:17-18).
In summary, then, Peter declares that character-deficient Christians are "blind" at the present moment, "shortsighted" about the future, and "forgetful" of God's grace in the past.
Shortsightedness, therefore, in a believer, is a symptom of something even more serious: lack of continuing growth in grace. If I am no longer excited by the prospect of the Lord's return, there will be a flatness to my Christian experience, followed by outright spiritual deterioration (see Matt 24:48-49).
May the Lord keep us "longsighted" for His coming again!
*Adapted from "Exposition of Second Peter," in The Kerugma Message 2 (Spring 1992), published and sent out free by Kerugma, Inc., POB 141167, Dallas, TX 75214.
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