Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Sermon: 2 Peter 1: 1-11 Growing in Godliness
It’s always really sad to see someone who doesn’t live up to expectations; who doesn’t reach their full potential. Whether it’s a football player who is on the team, but doesn’t put the effort in; or someone in work who doesn’t pull their weight; or a pupil whose grades aren’t where they could be. They’re ineffective and unfruitful.
How much worse, then, to be a Christian, to have a knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and to be ineffective and unfruitful. Like an adult who has never really grown up, there’s little maturity. Such a waste.
As we begin our new series in 2 Peter, the apostle Peter wants to make sure that we aren’t going to be ineffective or unfruitful as a Christian - that the knowledge we have of the Lord Jesus will be effective in our lives, and that we will be producing the fruit of godliness. How can we be effective and fruitful as Christians?
It’s the concern of the whole letter - our growth in godliness, but don’t just take my word for it. Very often, as we look at the letters in the New Testament, we can see the theme clearly because it is what starts and ends the letter. So if we top and tail 2 Peter, what do we find? 1:2 - ‘May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.’ Turn over to 3:18 ‘But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.’ Growth in grace and knowledge (with the day of the Lord in view).
In these verses, Peter is going to tell us how we can grow in godliness, and it all boils down to remembering what we have received, and making every effort. Now even as I say that, you might be thinking, surely they are contradictory? Stay with me, and we’ll see how they fit together.
So first of all, then, what we have received. Let’s look at verse 1. Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. It’s the standard way of opening a letter at the time - not putting the name of who it’s from at the very end (as we do), but right at the start. It’s Simeon Peter, Peter, a servant and apostle. This is one of the twelve, one of the three, one of the prime leaders of the early church - the one who took the lead on the day of Pentecost.
How amazing would it be to get a letter from Peter. I’m on Twitter, and sometimes some of my friends try to get a ‘tweet’ from a famous celebrity - a wee message direct to them from their favourite singer. Here we have a letter from one of the top men in the church, but he says something even more amazing straight away: ‘To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’
We might think of ordinary Christians being on one level, missionaries slightly higher, Christian celebrities higher still, and Peter and the apostles right at the top with a much more important level of faith - no, says Peter - to be a Christian means you have a faith of equal standing with the apostles. But it’s not something we have worked up ourselves, or performed for ourselves - no, we have obtained it through the righteousness of Jesus (our God and Saviour).
What a great start, as we think about how to be effective and fruitful as Christians - recognising that we are on an equal standing with the apostles, not second class or amateur league compared to them. But there’s more. Verse 3 - ‘His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.’ As well as giving us our faith, God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness - everything we need to live a godly life, becoming more like Jesus. How has he given us these things? What do they look like? It’s through the knowledge of him who called us. As we come to know the Lord Jesus, as we come to know more of him through the Bible, we see what pleases him, we see how he lived, and we are given the resources to do it.
There’s still more! Verse 4 - God has ‘granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature...’ We have been given faith, given all we need for godliness, and on top of all that, we have been given God’s precious promises. Through the rest of the letter we’ll see more of these promises, but you can immediately think of what some of them are - forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, comfort, assurance, hope of eternal life / heaven and many more. Through these promises we come to share in God’s eternal life, escaping the world’s corruption of sinful desire.
As a Christian, even this morning, you can see how much God has given you - faith, everything you need for godliness, and precious promises. As you think of all these, you might say to yourself, well, if God has given me all this, then I can just sit back and relax. It’s all in hand. You might even have heard the saying ‘Let Go, Let God.’
If that’s your slogan, then what Peter says next will give you a great shock. Look at verse 5: ‘For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue...’ and so on. It’s not that someone else has taken over and is promoting a kind of works do it yourself religion - no, it’s because God has given us all these things, for this very reason, make every effort.
It’s the same kind of “both and” we find in Philippians 2: ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you...’ So what is it we have to make every effort to do?
Supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Such a list, and we don’t really have time to explore each of them in the detail we would like. Suffice to say that these are the marks of the Spirit working in our lives - you’ll notice certainly similarities to the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. I don’t think Peter is saying that you necessarily follow in a strict line; that you have faith, then add virtue (wait until it’s good) then add knowledge - rather that each of them are increasing. They’re rooted in what God has given us, they’re based in the faith we have received, and yet we can make an effort to increase them.
What happens if we don’t have these qualities? Peter goes on to tell us in v8-9. The reverse of verse 8 suggests that if we don’t have these, then we’ll be ineffective and unfruitful, as we see further in verse 9: ‘For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.’ To reject this work of the Spirit in your life, to refuse to make an effort to become more like Jesus, Peter says, is to be nearsighted so much as to be blind, forgetting the sins that have already been forgiven and cleansed. It’s to say to yourself, well, I’m not so bad really, am I?
As we come towards the end of the passage, Peter gives us some encouragement to be effective and fruitful as Christians; to keep making the effort towards godliness. ‘Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’
Peter isn’t saying here that our calling and election is made sure because of our works - but rather that our works are a sign that we have been elected, chosen by God, called by him, that we are being kept by him, and that we are heading for this rich welcome into Christ’s eternal kingdom. Do you see that? You, who have been given a faith of equal standing to Peter, won’t be entering heaven through a back door, through the tradesman’s entrance, just about making it and no more. No, there’ll be this great welcome, this richly provided entrance. We are headed for heaven - what an encouragement to keep going, making the effort, pushing ahead.
So how do we apply this passage? What will you take away with you today? Perhaps you haven’t even started on the journey. You can’t supplement your faith with anything, because you haven’t even got faith in the first place. This assurance, these qualities aren’t really for you until you are a Christian - to try to perform these qualities by themselves won’t provide any assurance. You see, we can’t make it on our own - we need that righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ to make us right with God. We’re here, we’ll be delighted to help you find out more about how to become a Christian.
Or maybe you’re someone who is an activist. You come to every Bible passage, every sermon wanting to know the one thing you need to do. Perhaps your mind is racing with ways to make every effort to improve these qualities. Remember that our effort must be rooted in what we have received - pause, and remember all that God has given you - your faith, everything you need for godliness, his precious promises.
As you remember God’s mercy towards us, take some time by yourself this week and work through the list - ask yourself - how is my self-control; how am I doing with virtue; where are the areas I need to work on, making an effort in? How can I continue to become more like Jesus?
Think as well about this time last year, or five years ago - are they, in the words of verse 8 ‘yours and increasing’? To ask these questions and to be serious about answering them means that we’ll together become more effective and fruitful as Christians - and all for the glory of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 22nd May 2016.