But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness? (2 Peter 3:10–11—NKJV)

From our earliest recollections of childhood, each one of us can identify the things that were required of us which we did not like to do. Many families call these obligations chores. Obligatory chores usually start with quite simple tasks. How many of your childhood chores do you remember? Keeping the toys picked up when no longer being used, cleaning your room, mowing the lawn, coming to dinner at the expected time and in the expected manner, doing your laundry, getting your homework finished before you got to play, getting and holding a summer job, or helping out with the odd jobs your parents were trying to accomplish are all expectations placed upon a healthy young person in a healthy home.

Chores in childhood slowly grow in significance and ultimately yield to the obligations of adulthood. Adult-sized necessities often come with complicated duty. Many duties for which we are pressed into service lack clearly defined parameters and are not often as black and white as the orderly chores of childhood. Gone are the days of finish times, minimal obligations, bargaining collaboration, spotty consistency, and child-appropriate allowances. Adult obligations play for keeps, bear the burdens of other’s lives, and can be remembered in eternity with eternal consequences.

Peter is reminding us of the gravity of a very adult obligation—the duty of Christian life priorities. Every believer must view his life with the scope and from the purpose for which he was blood-bought by the substitution of his Savior. The scope is world-sized, the earth and all material things in it will perish some day and it will flee from the presence of the Lord to be replaced by a new heaven and earth. All we work for in material terms will be burned up and be no more. The purpose is brought into focus as the question is posed and allowed to answer itself, “since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conduct and godliness?” One commentator sees this question as actually an exclamation, something to the effect of “How astoundingly excellent you ought to be!”

Your obligation, as well as the obligation of everyone who claims to be a Christian, is to live excellently according to God’s standards of conduct and godliness, all holy behaviors and living. The words are in the plural, therefore the believer’s Christian life of duty continues to evolve, multiply, and enrich throughout his allotted time on this earth. Our word for obligation is found in the word “ought.” It is a necessity defined by “the nature of the case.”

Vine’s New Testament Word Studies demonstrates that there are five classes of obligations found in the New Testament stemming from this word, often translated as “must, ought, necessary, owe”:

  • Necessity arising from the nature of the case (the class utilized in this verse)—John 3:3 tells us we must be born again. The nature of the case is that the physical birth is not enough, there must be a rebirth, being born from above; it is the nature of the case. 2 Timothy 2:6 is another example. The nature of the case in our text is speaking of a very personal, potentially costly, yet glorious outcome of holy conducts and godlinesses.
  • Necessity of the circumstances—Momentary circumstances which come upon you with their unique obstacles to be overcome by God’s grace working through you (Matthew 26:35, John 4:4, Acts 27:21, 2 Corinthians 11:30).
  • Necessity of what is required—Tasks which seem to tax you beyond your comfort zone and to the fullest reaches of your ability (Luke 12:12, John 3:7, Acts 9:6, Hebrews 9:26).
  • Necessity of the law, duty, and equity—Duty to pursue fairness, justice, evenhandedness, and mercy (Matthew 18:33, 23:23; Luke 15:32; Acts 15:5; Romans 8:26, 12:3).
  • Necessity of God’s determinative will—The believer’s duty to pursue God’s plan above his own in the pursuit of souls (Matthew 17:10, 24:6, 26:54; John 3:14; Acts 3:21, 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:53).

Just as the disciples said to the religious authorities of their day, “We ought to obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29), so we need to declare it to others, as well as to our own rebellious hearts. This is never more imperative than when full-sized duties fall directly in your lap. Remember Matthew 11:28–30 is still in the book! Trust and obey.