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- 2 Peter 1:5 - 11
Never too early
Are you thinking about your new year’s resolutions yet? I know we are only in the first part of November but 2018 will be here quite quickly, as the recent snow has reminded us. So what, if any, are your plans for the New Year? And if you have some plans, does spiritual growth or becoming more like Jesus make the list of goals for the coming year? Now, maybe you haven’t thought of spiritual growth as something to prioritize or think consciously about but that is what we will see today in these 7 verses. Make spiritual strengthening and Christ-likeness a goal for your life, in fact a primary goal for your life.
A recap from last week
Before we get to the list of qualities that we are to be growing in or are to be growing in us, we need to briefly recap last week. The theme of last week was the Christ given ability to live a Christ-centered life. God has given us all things that pertain to life and Godliness. He supplies for us what He demands from us. And we are partakers of the divine Nature. This means that whatever qualities we are to grow in are things we have already been given through the Spirit’s indwelling.
So we will not be setting out on the trail of self-improvement or self-attained awesomeness or legalism (self made holiness). Rather, we will set out on the path laid out for those who have been born again, have been given all that we need to grow and have become partakers of the divine Nature through union with the Son.
Do and who
What some of us do when we read the Bible is rush to the “do” passages and gloss over the “who” passages. So we want to know what to do but we have no idea who we are. And we often wrongly assume that if we do the right thing, we will become the right kind of person. But this is not the way the Scriptures teach us to think. Identity must be first. And that is why verses 3 and 4 (Christian identity) comes before verses 5-9 (Christian activity). Right identity leads to right action. So what do some of those actions look like?
Make every effort
“For this reason,” Peter says. Or because you have all these amazing things in you through union with the Son, “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.” Before we dig deeper into this string of qualities that we are to increase in, let’s look at a few things. Peter says, “make every effort.” This is the first command or imperative, instruction that we are given in II Peter. It points to rigorous, purposeful, thoughtful effort to do something. This is not make every effort to be saved, to be loved by God, to attain perfection by your efforts or to be cleansed from all the wrong you’ve done. Those things have already been given to us by Jesus’ effort.
Making the right effort
This effort is to access and draw from and grow in qualities embedded within each Christian. Sometimes we are making every effort to do something that does not require any effort at all but simply faith. And then we have no time left in the day to pursue what we are told to pursue. Here, Peter wants us to get the order right. Pursue the right things and spend you energy there and not on something else.
The beginning point
The first thing is to supplement your faith with virtue. Faith is the beginning point of our being saved. Without faith in Christ, there is no ability to become like Christ. And the fact that faith is the first thing on this list points to the primary and essential quality that we are to have: faith in God. To that faith, we are to supplement or add to or have come alongside virtue.
The word supplement is used in the English language as a secondary quality that is to be added to a primary quality. So you eat your 3 meals and then you take a vitamin and supplement. Or you have your primary job and then you have supplemental income or a way to make a little extra cash. To supplement is to add to, not take away or replace.
I think that is the idea here. And the reason, I think, that faith is first on the list is so that we don’t assume that faith can ever be replaced by some other quality. Without faith, we cannot please God and without faith none of these other qualities will be possible.
To faith we are to add virtue. Virtue is moral goodness and quality of character. It is not moral perfection, absolute holiness with no room for improvement. It is rather a heart-prompted desire to do what is right and good. And of course, the ability to have virtue comes from partaking in the divine Nature, that is God Himself. As the Psalmist says, “I say to the Lord you are my Lord, I have no good apart from you.” And with God, we have God’s goodness in us and the ability to grow in virtue.
We are to add to virtue knowledge. Knowledge consists of 2 primary things. Knowing the person and work of Christ, Who He is and what He did. And knowing who we are now in Christ and what we are to do now through the power of Christ. Any knowledge that does not have the redemptive work of Christ at the center may lead to allot of confusion as to what the Christian life should look like.
Not mainly facts
So when we think about knowledge we are not mainly thinking things like, which king had the shortest reign in Israel (Zimri) or how many times did the people march around the city of Jericho (13). This is treating the Bible like a game of trivia. (Which is kind of fun and certainly not harmful). But I think we gotta be careful not to think of the Bible as information and facts to memorize.
What it is
The Bible is primarily a book filled with Christ-centered realities that are meant to transform the way we think and act in the world. Through a growing knowledge of God and God now in us, our character will be shaped to be more like Christ, more virtuous as we are impressed and changed by His goodness. It is difficult to yell at our kids when Jesus has been so eternally gentle with us.
To knowledge we are to add self-control. This may be a frustrating one for some of us. Because self-control is very difficult to gauge. Does this mean I don’t grab the 3rd handful of chips? Does this mean I don’t talk to my wife about what is bothering because I am trying to keep it together and control my emotions? Self-control for some of us may sound like self-mastery of emotions and instincts that are not necessarily sinful. But biblical self-control is not micromanaging our humanness. Biblical self-control is maintaining the ability to be human in a way that honors God.
And we see examples of this in many places. The disciples one time were walking with Jesus and they reached out and plucked some grain and it was on the Sabbath. The religious people got really upset about this. But Jesus defended his disciples. Why? Because they were hungry and there was food so they ate it. David did the same thing several centuries earlier. Jesus threw over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. Paul called out Peter for his hypocrisy with the Gentile believers.
Governed by the Lord
There is within the Scriptures, genuine expression of human emotion and instincts that are not sinful. And this includes sexual expression and enjoyment between husband and wife within the covenant of marriage. To be self-controlled is to have your God-given desires and emotions governed by the Lord Jesus so that the satisfaction of these things brings God glory.
Paul in his letter to the Colossians had to beat back on the notion of self-made religion, ascetism and severity to the body that are somehow a sign of spiritual elitism or even self-control. And Paul says that kind of false control has no value at all in stopping your indulgences. Self-control must have Christ at the center, not us at the center.
To self-control, we are to add steadfastness. This is both commitment and loyalty to Christ and to Christ’s work for us. It is the unwillingness to swerve off the path or the assignment that God has given to you. This is staying committed for the long haul, the thick and thin, the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life as a Christ follower. It is not always easy.
And there is a deep connection between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to our work. So we stay faithful and loyal to Christ by being faithful to our family or our job or our church body. And we stay faithful to our family, our job, our church body by being faithful and loyal to Christ.
To steadfastness we add Godliness or God-likeness. This should not be a surprise to us although it may sound a bit intimidating. What does it look like to be Godly? And can anyone be Godly or is it just for the mature, seasoned Christians? Godliness is attainable for any person who has God in him or her no matter the age. And it begins at the point of conversion.
Titus 2 says the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and to (by implication) live a life of Godliness or God-likeness. So this Godly life begins right at the point of receiving God’s grace. We are trained to be Godly by God’s grace. And this is true for all believers whether you’re 12, 21, 61 or 101.
Brotherly affection and love
There are two more qualities now to look at. To Godliness add brotherly affection and to brotherly affection add love. And you thought you had nothing to do in 2018! Brotherly affection is warmth of care and concern between members of the same spiritual family. This affection and care for one another is not and cannot be self-generated. It is rather a part of the salvation package. Peter says in I peter 1:22, “having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from the heart.”
A purification of the soul
So sincere brotherly or sisterly love from the heart does not happen without a profound purification of the soul. We do not naturally love God and we do not naturally love each other. These things are Spirit generated from within through the rebirth, the receiving of a new nature. Now we are to exercise what we already have. You have sincere brotherly or sisterly love now love each other with that love.
Agape love (a characteristic)
Add to brotherly affection, love or agape love. This is the kind of love that Jesus said would characterize his followers. John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Now the disciples were ministry minded people. They were doers, as Christ was a Doer. He would send them out into the world to change the world and that is what they did.
However, Jesus does not say, the world will see the connection between you and Me because of how hard you work. No, He says that people will be able to identify you as Christ followers by the obvious love you have for each other. Without that love, we are clanging cymbals and gongs and all that we do accounts for nothing. Love is not a throw away, disposable take it or leave it quality in the church. It is to be the primary way we are identified as Christians.
Having and increasing
If these qualities are yours (which they are through Christ) and are increasing, they will keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. So notice the 2 things about these qualities. We have them and we are to increase in them. They are permanent but they are not stagnant or static. They exist in us and they are to increase in us.
Keeping us from being ineffective
And here is what having and increasing in these things will do: they will keep us from being ineffective and un-fruitful. To be ineffective is to life a life of little to no consequence. It is to be thoughtless, goal-less, spiritually aimless and therefore fruitless. To be unfruitful is to have no discernible good works that point back to or verify a vibrant faith. We are not saved by works but we are saved with good works following closely behind.
So see this list as an invitation. There are real, tangible, realistic goals for us to pursue in our life. We are not aimless mists being blown around by storms. We are God’s people, saved by God’s work, equipped to do God’s will for us in the world. And God’s will for us is that we abound in every good work, be filled with the Spirit, have and exercise and grow in these qualities given to us already by the rebirth. Whatever other goals you have for your life are not to eclipse or replace the goal to become like the Lord Jesus Himself.
Nearsighted and blind
Whoever lacks these qualities, does not exhibit, exercise and grow in them is “so nearsighted that he is blind.” This is a curious statement. Because this is not a picture of a person out doing “bad things.” This is a portrait of a person who is spiritually lost and confused. This is a person who has lost or her way and has forgotten something very, very important: that he has been cleansed from former sins.
Now, if you know someone that you think might be spiritually blind, disengaged, un-inspired, bored, spiritually out of tune is this how you would diagnose the problem? Is it a memory issue? Allot of us would come to a person like that ready to tell them all the things that he or she needs to be doing. You need to go to church, get a job, stop that habit or drop that hobby, or get to bed earlier or eat healthier, read the Bible more and so on. Very few of us would diagnose spiritual apathy with an identity issue. But that is exactly what Peter is saying.
A forgotten identity
The person who does not exhibit these qualities has forgotten his or her identity as forgiven and cleansed. He has been plunged into self-obsession and needs to be infused with gospel hope. He is surrounded by beautiful truths and needs to simply see them once again. Christ is our holiness. There is no other. The former sins of the past are so far removed that they may as well been committed and dealt with 10,000 years ago.
Re-engaging with gospel truth
We do not wake up from spiritual apathy by working or trying harder. We wake up by re-engaging with the gospel truth that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This of course happened to the prodigal. He was re-awakened to his identity and returned home expecting a scolding and received instead a party for the ages.
Confirm your calling
“Therefore,” if all of this is true, “brother and sisters, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Notice what Peter does not say. He does not say, therefore church memorize this list, drill yourselves every day, grade yourselves from and an F to an A to see whether or not you are doing this well. He in fact ends this where verses 3 and 4 began. He points us again to Christ’s work in making these things possible. Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election by practicing these things.
Our calling and election is God’s sovereign hand in securing our salvation through the life, death and resurrection of the Son. We are called and elected by God to become increasingly like Him.
So now we can get busy increasingly becoming like Him because that is what we are called and elected to do. So it makes perfect sense. And when we practice these qualities, we do not make our calling and election real. We rather confirm through our life, the way we talk to people and pay our taxes and show up for work that we have been called and elected already. So the qualities do not save us. They verify that we are saved. If we do this, we will never fall.
The gospel path
For in this way, or by living like this and practicing these qualities there will be richly provided for us an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is a gospel path. We are saved by grace. We are changed by grace that prompts us to practice Christ-likeness. And then we are brought to the eternal kingdom of God by the same grace of God that got the whole thing started.
Another way to see it
So another way to see the sequence is this: Born again by God. Empowered by becoming partakers of His divine nature. Responding to the emerging qualities of God in us and increasing in them. Gaining entrance into the kingdom of our God by the invitation of the Son. That is the complete gospel package. Jesus comes, saves, empowers, prepares a place for us and brings us home forever. That is a reason to not only praise Him on Sunday morning. That is a good reason to praise Him at all times. Let’s pray and praise Him together.