2 Peter was written to address false teaching that was already creeping into the church. I suspect what Peter saw in the first century church is much the same thing that we can see in the 21st century church. He saw people becoming confused about what it meant to truly be a believer. People were “members of the church”, they called themselves Christians, but they didn’t understand what that meant from a divine perspective. As a result, their faith had no power in their own lives.
This morning as we work our way into the main body of the letter it seems that Peter begins with the idea that “the best defense is a good offense”. The best way to defend against error is to immerse ourselves in what is true. The best way to keep from drifting in our faith is to work hard at strengthening our faith.
We see this in sports. In pro football we have seen that teams that can score a bunch of points can sometimes get by with a weaker defense. The strategy is simple. If you have a strong offense you will score a lot of points and you will keep you defense off the field. The other team can’t score if they don’t have the ball!
Before we get to the specifics of the offense strategy Peter makes a few points,
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Peter tells us that we have what we need to live as God wants us to live. Some teams (seems like they are usually Chicago teams) have offensive strategies but do not have the personnel to make the system work. Peter assures us that we have the ability to live godly lives through our relationship with Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
Then Peter tells us God’s goal for our lives,
4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
The Goal God Pursues
We are told that God wants to accomplish two things. He wants us to Participate in the Divine Nature. God desires that we become partners in the divine nature. There are some who misuse these words. They say when we come to Christ we become “little gods”. Some even go so far as to say we are just as much an expression of God as Jesus was! That is heresy and blasphemy.
We participate in God’s nature, we do not share His nature. God is eternal, we are not. God is all-powerful, we are not. God is perfect, we are not. God is all-knowing, we are not and we never will be. We will never be little gods!
Peter is saying that God desires that we be part of His family. He wants us to know Him, love Him, and walk with Him in fellowship and life. God wants His imprint to be seen in and through us. Just as every child reflects various elements of their parents; it may be their eyes, nose, toes, or even personality; God desires for His nature to be reflected in us. He wants us to be like Him in that way.
Second, God desires that we Escape the Corruption of the World. You can’t reflect the divine nature, and still embrace the corruption of the world. God’s desire in our redemption is to help us escape the quicksand of worldly thinking and living. He wants us to be free from the bondage to desires, whims, and cultural pressures.
God’s goal is not simply for us to “have an experience with Him”. He wants us to walk and live in the joy of life. He wants us to know real deliverance from the bondage that sin brings into our lives.
The world around us looks enticing. The values of the world sound freeing. But they are really like a trap. The trap is baited with that which looks desirable. In fact, the one entering the trap believes they have discovered a great treasure. Once you have taken the bait you are trapped. Freedom is gone. Life is restricted. Death may be imminent. God wants to deliver us from the trap of the world’s corruption.
The Strategy for Reaching the Goal
God has provided what we need but there is still something for us to do. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones illustrates this well with a farming analogy.
We are given the farm, we are given the implements and all that is necessary, we are given the seed. What we are called upon to do, is to farm. It is no use telling a man to farm if he has not a farm; if he is without land and without seed and without the implements, nothing can be done. But all of these are given us, and therefore, having received them, we are asked to farm. But even then we are reminded that that does not guarantee the increase. ‘It is God who gives the increase.’ The famer may plough and harrow, he may roll the land and sow the seed, but in the absence of the rain and the sunshine, and many other factors, there will be no increase.
God has given us the tools. Now it is our job to use those tools to accomplish the work He has given us to do. He tells us how in verses 5-9.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. [1 Peter 1:5-9]
It all starts with faith. Peter tells us that we must “add to our faith”. In other words, to allow God to work in us; to find that godly freedom that we were created to know, we need to build on the faith that led us to cry out to Christ.
There are some people who work hard to be good and virtuous. I have been reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was a man who desired to live a virtuous life. He made a chart of the virtues he wanted to develop and kept track of his progress. Each week he would focus on developing one particular virtue. When he finished working through the list in this way he began again!
I admire Franklin’s diligence. However, he was clear that he did not believe in God and did not embrace Christ. He pursued virtue because he believed it is best for society if people live virtuously (and it is). It turns out that Franklin’s “virtue” was pretty “selective”. He treated his own family shamefully and at times twisted the truth for his own purposes. This is what always happens to the people who try to be virtuous without God. Their virtue tends to be self-serving.
Peter reminds us that the first step to experiencing the character of God in godly living and freedom from the bondage to sin is to surrender to Christ as our Savior and Lord. This involves recognizing our sinfulness and then reaching out to receive the grace and mercy offered by Jesus Christ. We must embrace and welcome Him as the only one who can save us and as the one who deserves to be Lord and Master of our life.
If you have never entered into that kind of relationship with Christ you can work hard at being a “better person” but you will never experience the life and deliverance that can come only as God works in us. So, before we go further into this list of characteristics to cultivate, please examine your own heart. Have you embraced Christ as your Savior? Have you, by faith in God’s promise, reached out to Christ to save you by His perfect life and sacrificial death? If you have never done so, I encourage you to do that today. The words you pray are less important than the attitude of your heart but here is a suggestion,
O God, I know that I have run from you. I have tried to live my life by my desires rather than by your commands. I am imprisoned in my sin. Today I turn to Jesus and cling to Him as my Savior. I believe His death paid for my sin and His resurrection makes it possible for me to know you. Fill me now with your Spirit and live in me, O Lord. Help me to know you and to live life the way that honors you and will alone lead me to freedom and life. Amen.
Goodness or Virtue The second characteristic to pursue is goodness or virtue. It means doing the right thing (what God commands) regardless of the outcome.
Think about becoming engaged or married. You express love and commitment and because of that expression of promise the one you love believes you are going to live differently. Dating and flirting with others will cease. You will give that person priority in your heart and in your time and energy. Grand expression without the subsequent change in living is unacceptable. It is the same in our relationship with God! He calls us to live the faith we profess.
Peter wants us to understand that declaring trust in Christ and escaping the corruption of the world go hand in hand. The person who has genuine faith is working to obey and follow Christ in the way they live.
Knowledge. People who are energetic without knowledge will run after any new thing. This is what happens sometimes in cults or religions that are perversions of the Christian faith. There is enthusiasm but it is an enthusiasm without knowledge. We need to channel our energies in the right direction.
One of the heresies of the early church was called Gnosticism. It taught that the body was evil, that Christ was not really human, and that we needed a secret knowledge that was hidden from the uninitiated (much like Scientology today). Instead of seeking a secret knowledge, Peter urges us to seek the true and experiential knowledge of Christ. He urges us to know Christ, who is wonderfully knowable!
The story is told of a religious gathering where a famous actor and an elderly minister were both present. The actor, while not on the program, was nevertheless asked by the emcee to come forward and give a word. At a loss as to what to say, he turned to the elderly minister and whispered, “I don’t really know what to do.” The seasoned pastor shoved his Bible into the hands of the actor and replied, “Just read Psalm 23.” The actor stood and with his eloquent voice read the psalm. When finished, he wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he turned to the minister and announced, “Well, I’d like the minister to come up and say a few words on this.” The minister surprised everyone by merely reciting the psalm again and then sitting down. The actor leaned over to him and said, “You did much better than I, and now I understand why. I knew the psalm, but you knew the Shepherd.” That’s the kind of knowledge we should be after.
How do we gain this kind of knowledge of God? We develop the same way we develop intimacy with anyone: by spending time together. We build intimacy with God by walking with Him every day and learning through obedience to trust His counsel.
Self-control. This is an exhortation Peter has used several times in his letters. If we cannot control ourselves we will inevitably get into trouble. Self control requires that we take an honest look at our strengths and weaknesses and then take action to strengthen our strengths and work to overcome our weaknesses. It is about developing a Christ-controlled will that allows us to,
- Say no to friends who will lead us away from Christ
- Show discernment in the things we feed our mind through our ears or our eyes
- Say no to casual and selfish sex, saving intimacy for marriage
- Say no to laziness in our spiritual life working hard at developing Christ-like character.
- Be disciplined in making time for the Lord each day.
- Control our calendar so that we choose our priorities (hopefully with God’s wisdom) rather than letting others choose our priorities for us.
Perseverance or Steadfastness. I like this description of the Christian life: it is “a long journey in the same direction”. Perseverance means we keep going. Though we stumble and sin, we keep getting back up to pursue that which is holy and good.
In every athletic sport part of the training is endurance training. Every team spends a lot of time running. The point is to develop endurance. The team or individual that is victorious is not the one who can do well in spurts . . . they must be able to perform with excellence throughout the contest and the season.
When it comes to our walk with Christ, perseverance is
- Continuing to read the Bible even when you “aren’t getting anything out of it”
- Continuing to do what is right even when your actions are misunderstood and slandered.
- Continuing to honor God in your giving even when the money is really tight.
- Continuing to serve even when it doesn’t seem to be bringing any results.
- Continuing to love another even though they do not return the kindness
Godliness is living with a God-orientation. It is living with God’s heart and according to God’s priorities. The person who develops godliness is a reflection of God’s character. True godliness cannot be fabricated. True godliness is a reflection of the very character and spirit of God. It develops from our relationship with God.
Brotherly Kindness and love the principle is simple: when we are right in our vertical relationship with God, it will necessarily impact our horizontal relationship with each other. Peter is not talking about mushy feelings. Brotherly kindness and love is evidenced in the way we treat those around us. It is revealed in the way we talk to each other, about each other, and in the way we help, encourage, and walk with each other. It is shown by our willingness to forgive and overlook offenses. It stands in stark contrast to what passes for love in the society around us.
Peter encourages us in developing these qualities with these words,
8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
Just as a farmer must tend the fields, so we as believers must give constant attention to our souls. Once again Peter has reminded us that being a disciple of Christ is more about character than it is about certain behaviors. God is concerned more about our heart than our press clippings. When we pursue godly character we experience a rich harvest. We will be effective, productive and we will grow in our relationship with God.
However, there is a negative side: Peter says the person who is not pursuing these character traits will become ineffective and unproductive. They will become blind and not see danger or how far they are drifting from the Lord. Here’s a test: if you feel your faith has become “blah”, if you have “lost interest”, or your “spiritual passion” is diminishing, then it is an indication that you have neglected to develop these qualities in your life. It is time to get back to the basics.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones again writes convicting words,
Sometimes I wonder whether the main difference between the modern Christian and the Christians in the last century is not just at this very point—that they were so active and we are so idle. Those men went to prayer meetings and they prayed; they had their fellowship meetings, and their class meetings. They wanted to talk about the spiritual life and the problems of the spiritual life. They lived their Christian life; they organized missionary societies. There was a great activity in their life. But somehow the idea has crept in that to be a Christian means a general subscription to certain views, and an occasional attendance at the House of God and the means of grace. We sit and listen, we receive, but we do nothing – there is no Christian activity in our lives.
Sadly, we have grown lazy. We cannot have a strong relationship with Christ merely by going to church one hour a week. We must remind ourselves daily that our life is found in Christ and in Christ alone. We must fight to maintain our relationship with God even as we would fight to maintain our relationship with our spouse or children. The challenge is to follow Him diligently, not as our punishment, but as our joy, our delight, and our wonderful privilege.
As we learn to use the tools God has given us to develop our faith we will discover a new joy and strength in life. We will grow in our intimacy with God. We will begin to reflect His character and others will see Jesus through us. When this happens, we will no longer be confused about the goal of faith. We will be moving toward what God wants us to be. And because of this, we will thank Him every moment of our lives.