Do please turn in your copies of the Holy Scriptures to 2 Peter chapter 1. You can find that on page 1018 of the church Bibles. Last week, we began to consider the teaching of Peter’s second epistle which is a call from the apostle Peter to remember the grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Peter faces his own approaching death. For Peter, remembering the truth in which we have been established is crucial if the two dominant concerns of his letter are to be realized in our lives. On the one hand, he wants us to remember the truth so that we can grow up into Christian maturity. Remembering the truth is vital if we are to mature as Christians. And on the other hand, he wants us to remember the truth so that we can avoid falling foul of false teaching. Remembering the truth defends us and protects us against error.
As we turn our attention this morning to verses 5 through 11 of the first chapter of 2 Peter, it is to the first of those twin concerns that Peter directs our attention. He wants us to know and he wants to press the truth home upon our hearts in order that we may grow up into Christian maturity. If you’ll take a look at the passage with me just for a moment, I want you to notice three themes in verses 5 through 11. First of all, there is a call to Christian maturity. Growing in maturity, as it turns out, is not a passive or an automatic thing. It requires effort. And so there is a call here to exert ourselves in the pursuit of Christian maturity. Then secondly, we need to notice the character of Christian maturity. So first the call, then the character of Christian maturity. In what is really a searching summary of godly virtue in verses 5 through 8, Peter outlines for us what spiritual growth ought to look like in our lives. The call, then the character, and finally verses 8 through 11, the consequences of Christian maturity. What happens in your life and in mine when we begin to grow and make progress toward godliness? The call, the character, and the consequences of Christian maturity.
Before we read the text, let’s bow our heads once again and ask for the Lord to help us understand and embrace the truth of His Word. Let us pray.
O Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life, You breathed life into the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision; now we pray that You would breathe life into our sin benighted hearts, that You would come and revive and awaken Your Church and that You would be pleased to use this portion of Your Word to that great end. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
2 Peter chapter 1. Let’s read from verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
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, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, 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 Savior Jesus Christ.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.
The Call of Christian Maturity
Well, often as a child I would exasperate my parents with my foolishness to which they’d sometimes say something like, “You know it’s about time you grew up, young man, and started to act your age and not your shoe size,” to which a smart mouth – which I never was, you understand – might reply, “Well you know, in Europe a size 9 is a size 42!” which of course would only be to prove my parents’ point. The fact is, we all need reminding, don’t we, that maturity is not automatic. It takes work. And so not unlike a parent worried about persistent immaturity, as Peter thinks about his readers’ Christian lives, he issues to them a summons to grow up, to grow up.
Here, first of all, is a call to Christian maturity. Look at verse 5 please. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…” and so on. Or look down at verse 10. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election.” Peter does not have a passive model of Christian growth, does he? He wants us to make every effort and to be all the more diligent in the pursuit of mature godliness. There is no growth that is not worked at in the Christian life. It does not come by osmosis; it comes by diligent effort.
Now there are two ditches to avoid on either side of the road here. Often driven by an overreaction to legalism, on the one side of the road there is the idea that Christian growth is all God’s work. It happens almost automatically and we are essentially passive in sanctification, growing in holiness. This is the, “Let go and let God” model, variations of which continue to persist in the church in almost every generation and have reared their ugly heads even in some of our own circles lately. This model focuses an awful lot on the Gospel of free grace, but generally fails to do adequate justice to Biblical commands. As a result, it tends to leave people floundering in their sin without adequate resources for practical change.
But then on the other side of the road is another ditch. It is the idea, also present in our circles, that growth in holiness is almost entirely our effort. We just have to try a little bit harder, pull ourselves together, screw ourselves up tight and push through. It focuses on the call, the Biblical call, to discipline and duty. The problem here is that these folks have very little patience for those of us who struggle to develop healthy disciplines. They can’t seem to understand why, despite our best efforts, we have not found it a straightforward thing to shake our persistent sin. No matter how many times they tell us to, we can’t seem to quite, “Just stop it!” and so there is a failure of compassion. Have you bumped into these extremes, I wonder? Maybe you find them alternating within your own heart from time to time. Maybe you’re temperamentally inclined to one or the other.
Well how do you avoid these two mistakes? Peter shows us the better way. He doesn’t fall into either trap, does he? Look again at verse 5. Don’t skip past the way verse 5 begins. Notice what he says – “For this very reason, make every effort…” You see the point? Our effort is necessary. “Make every effort.” We must stir ourselves up to spend all our energy in the pursuit of spiritual growth. There is no passivity, no “Let go and let God,” no automatic sanctification possible. But we are to do it all, “For this very reason.” What reason, Peter? Verse 3 – “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Verse 4, “He has granted to us His precious and very great promises so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through sinful desire. And so, for these reasons in light of all of this, and so, “make every effort,” resting on the supplies of abundant grace. In light of the never failing provision of God for your every spiritual need, given the very great and precious promises of the Lord, for this reason make every effort.
You see his point, I hope. The more you understand the wonder and the depth of the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ, the more you find yourself resolved to spend and be spent in every effort to please Him and to honor Him. Are you struggling to make progress toward Christian maturity? Do you feel like it’s stalled somewhere along the way? Perhaps you have tried to give yourself to diligence but somehow in your thinking you have severed the connection between dependence on the promised grace of God and faithful, fruitful obedience. And so your obedience stalls. You can’t quite seem to realize all that God has commanded you to do and to be. Certainly we need to understand there is no progress without obedience. We also need to grasp there can be no faithful obedience without the supply of God’s grace. So there is a call here to Christian maturity, resting on the help that God supplies to give ourselves to diligence in obeying His commands.
The Character of Christian Maturity
Then secondly, notice the character of Christian maturity. Grace propels you so that you are making every effort to grow now. What should that look like exactly? Well look with me at verses 5 through 8 please. Let me highlight two key words that bracket this whole section before we go any further. The first word is “supplement.” Do you see that word in verse 5? “Supplement your faith.” It’s an interesting word that was used, actually, for a wealthy patron of the arts, especially of the theater, who would provide for a particular production out of their abundant personal resources. It later came to be used for any sort of patron or benefactor, especially perhaps in a civic context, in a city, where a sense of civic pride and duty compelled them to philanthropy without regard to the personal costs. Peter is saying we are to make generous provision without regard to the personal cost for our own growth in Christian character. Spare no expense. Do not quibble at the costliness of obedience. Give your all to it. That’s the message.
The second key word at the other end of this part of the passage is in verse 8. It’s the word, “increasing.” “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective.” Peter will not allow us to plateau, do you see. There is no room in the Christian life for moderation when it comes to this issue of growing in godliness. There is no room to say, “Good enough. Faithful enough. I go to church enough. I know enough. I love Jesus enough.” Listen, no one ever said to themselves in the dark, secret places of their own heart, “I love Jesus enough.” No one ever said that who wasn’t driven to say it by a desire to make room for the secret idols of their heart. “I love Jesus enough. That’s enough Christian obedience. Jesus has had enough of my time. Got to leave a little room in my heart, after all, for my approval idol, my pleasure idol, my college football idol, my work idol, my family idol. They have to have a significant portion of my heart affection.” Look, another way to make Peter’s point and to say these things should be ours and increasing, is simply to say, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Jesus says, “I want your whole heart. I want more of you. I want to pervade your whole self. Every priority, every conviction, every action, every relationship, every minute of every day. Everything. I want it all!” There’s no moderation in growing in Christian godliness.
Well okay, Peter. What does that look like? What should that look like? Notice this list of virtues that describe for us the path of holiness. Many commentators make the point that there is no particularly discernable order in Peter’s list here in verses 5 through 7. When you are preparing a meal in the kitchen, some recipes call for each ingredient to be added in a very specific time and in a very specific order. Right? So first of all you add this and stir until brown, and then you add that and then you bring it to a boil, and then you simmer it for 10 minutes and then you add this, and so on and so forth. You get the order wrong, it’s entirely possible you will spoil the whole meal. Other recipes, however, are much more straightforward. Those are the ones that I like. They just say, “Combine all the ingredients and stir frequently over medium heat.” Or maybe even, “Microwave on full power.” Peter’s list here is less like the former and more like the latter of those two recipes. You see, he’s not really that concerned about the order so much as the presence of all the ingredients. You’ve got to have them all. That’s the point. So you can’t ever say, “I have an excuse, you know, for a lack of self-control in my life because Peter says I have to have knowledge first. So let me get knowledge down and then I’ll start working on my self- control.” You can’t do that; that’s not Peter’s point. He’s not really focused on the sequence and the order of things. We need to have all of these together, growing in all of them.
Having said that, I do think we can categorize these graces generally into three broad groups. Look at the list again in group one. There are what we will call upward graces. Verse 5, “Supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge.” Faith, virtue and knowledge. First of all, there has to be faith. We need to believe the Gospel because faith alone saves. Right? Faith is the foundation grace. Without this you can’t have any of the others. Faith is that instrument by which we take hold of Jesus. Do you have faith in Christ? That’s where all of this begins. Faith alone saves, but as the old saying goes – “The faith that alone saves is never alone in the believing heart.”
To faith, Peter says, we need to add virtue. Interestingly, the same word translated here as “virtue” is the word we saw already back in verse 3 to describe Jesus; His own glory and excellence. That word “excellence” is the same word now translated as “virtue.” You see what Peter is teaching us. Christian godliness is not marked by some abstract list of ethical values maybe drawn from stoic philosophy or some other source. No, Peter is saying, “I want you to be like Christ. I want His excellence to start to be mirrored in your life, in your heart. Jesus is the template and the model.”
And then to virtue, he wants us to add knowledge. Twice before Peter has spoken to us already about knowing Christ – remember back in verse 1 and again in verse 3. The word this time, however, shares the same root but has a slightly different shade of meaning. In verse 1 and verse 3, the word for “knowledge” really refers to that intimate saving knowledge of Christ Himself – not just knowing about Him but knowing Him for ourselves. Here in verse – where are we – verse 7, 6, 5 – work backwards; we’ll get there eventually. Verse 5, the word for “knowledge” does in fact refer to growing in understanding of the truth about Christ and how to live in the light of who He is and what He has done. He wants us to go into the Word more and more, see Him, love Him, delight in Him, and learn to trust Him and obey Him more and more. So these initial graces – do you see them – faith, virtue and knowledge, we might say are upward, Godward in their essential orientation. We are to trust in Christ, become like Christ, and study to know Christ more and more from the holy Scriptures. I wonder if that’s a description of your life. Is that how you live? Is that the deepest aspiration and longing of your heart? To trust Jesus, be like Him, and know Him better?
But there’s more, isn’t there? To the upward graces Peter adds three more. They are largely inward in orientation this time. You’ll see them if you look at verse 6. We are to add self-control, steadfastness, and godliness. Do you see those three? Self-control first of all. Let’s be straightforward about this. Whatever other graces might adorn our lives, they are all undermined, aren’t they, if you don’t have self-control. There’s no use, you know, hanging a picture on your wall if the hook will not bear its weight. Self-control is like a sturdy nail that holds all the other graces of godliness in place. And of course that self-control has to last. It’s hardly worth the name if it doesn’t last. And so Peter says, “To self-control, I want you to add steadfastness.” The word means perseverance, “stick-to-it-tiveness”, we might say. He wants us to stay the course. And then thirdly, he also wants godliness. Here again, notice the beautiful balance of Peter’s teaching. Verse 3 says, “He has granted, by His divine power, everything that pertains to life and godliness.” Godliness is His gift. But now in verse 6, Peter calls us to add to our own faith, godliness. Godliness is the gift of God and godliness is our work. Both are true. The term “godliness” means personal holiness, of course. It is the shining out from our lives of the model perfections of God, mirrored, albeit imperfectly, in our own characters.
Upward graces, inward graces, and then the final group we’ll call outward graces. Look at the last two in Peter’s list. We are to have brotherly affection and love. The first focuses mainly on how we are to treat and respond to one another within the fellowship of the local church – brotherly affection, towards Christian brothers and sisters. And then the second is broader and more general and it is how we are to love and care for all people. Isn’t it so helpful that Peter ends his list with these two? He is reminding us that a Christian who is really earnest about being godly, who really wants Christian maturity but who is impatient with people, who loves the cut and thrust of controversy, to be sure, but does not care for the wounded hearts and the broken lives of his neighbor, that Christian has not even begun to understand what Christian maturity looks like.
It always moves in these three directions. Upward – it wants to know Christ and become like Him. Inward – it wants to change and put sin to death, to control self, and to press on no matter what. And outward – it cares about serving others, not just ticking boxes on a list of Christian duties. The call to Christian maturity. The character of Christian maturity. How are you doing when measured against Peter’s list? Perhaps you have some repentance to do before God this afternoon.
The Consequences of Christian Maturity
Then finally, look at verses 8 through 11 and notice what we learn about the consequences of Christian maturity. Peter mentions four in particular. Each are signaled by the little word, “for.” Do you see it in verses 8 through 11? Verse 8, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse 9, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind having forgotten that he is cleansed from his former sins.” Verse 10, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Verse 11, “For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Mature Christian Character Prevents Fruitlessness
So there are four consequences from growing in Christian maturity. Do you see them in the text? The first is in verse 8 where Peter says growing Christian maturity prevents fruitlessness. It prevents fruitlessness. “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I very much doubt that anyone wants to be ineffective or unfruitful, but Peter says the cultivation of Christian maturity, godliness, is the only way to avoid being ineffective or unfruitful. The root cause of churches that bear little fruit, that see no conversions, that plant no churches, that send no missionaries, that do not care for the poor, the root cause of Christians that are unproductive of spiritual fruit or effective ministry, the root of it all is a failure to grow up in godliness and likeness to Christ. They have ceased to make every effort or be all the more diligent. They are dialing it in. They are unconcerned. They are coasting. They may be the country club at prayer, perhaps, but they are not recognizably an outpost of God’s new society, an embassy of the kingdom of heaven whose lives reflect the character of their king. Why press on toward Christian maturity? Because it keeps us from being ineffective and unproductive in our Christian lives and in our church.
Mature Christian Character Prevents Forgetfulness
We bear fruit, which is the second thing – rather, which is the first thing. The second thing is connected to it. It also prevents forgetfulness. Verse 9. Fruitlessness, now forgetfulness. To lack godly character, Peter says, is like being so nearsighted that you are effectively blind having forgotten that you were cleansed from your former sins. Here is the point. Some of us are inclined to use the Gospel to solve our guilty consciences without much real intention of change. We look at pornography. We drink to the point of intoxication. We lie and we deceive. We fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. And then, shame, gruel, condemning, begins to wash over us as our sin, its reality, becomes clear in our consciences. So what do we do? Well, we may well run to the cross. What a relief, after all, to know that Christ has shed His precious blood for my forgiveness. Praise the Lord – “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Praise the Lord for the Gospel. Glorious truth.
But friends, we haven’t really grasped the Gospel properly in all its life-giving, soul-transforming power if we only ever run to it in order to relieve ourselves of guilty feelings and then are not also compelled by that Gospel to live a life of growing personal holiness, to change in its light. We have forgotten, Peter says, that the same cross that pays the penalty of my sin, the same blood that cleansed me from sin’s stain, has also purchased the holiness that I am called to live out every day. I have forgotten that I have been cleansed from my former sins if the Good News no longer results in these qualities increasing in my life. So it’s a good question to ask ourselves, isn’t it? How operative is the Gospel in my life really? How operative is the Gospel in my life really? Growing Christian maturity is one important way Peter says you can measure that. Moral fruitfulness, not fruitlessness, is linked to Gospel-mindfulness, not forgetfulness. So maybe we need to get back to basics, back to the cross, back to the blood and righteousness of Christ and start over with the fundamentals of the good news and press them down a bit more deeply into our hearts and into our consciences.
Mature Christian Character Ensures Perseverance
Then look at verse 10. The third consequence of growing Christian character, this time, Peter focuses on perseverance. You see that in verse 10? “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Think about the last part of that verse first. It’s easier to understand, isn’t it? “If you practice these qualities you will never fall.” That’s a straightforward statement. What is the value to me, to you, of pressing forward in all diligence, making every effort towards Christian maturity? Peter says it’s the way to persevere. You’ll never fall. Godliness is preserving in its character. Maturity weathers the storm.
As reformed Christians, we sometimes talk about the perseverance of the saints. Have you come across that phrase, “the perseverance of the saints”? It’s a wonderful truth. We mean by it that God will keep all His people so that none of them will ever ultimately be lost. And the accent typically falls, quite properly, on God’s gracious work in us and for us. “He will never leave us nor forsake us.” “He that began a good work in us will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” “Those whom He foreknew He also predestined, and those whom He predestined He also called. Those whom He called He also justified; those whom He justified, these He also glorified.” He preserves. He finishes what He starts. He keeps His people. Praise God for that truth.
But the accent in this verse does not fall on God’s work in preserving us but on our duty in persevering. And we need to affirm both sides of this great truth. God will keep us, but we must persevere. We must press on. We must stay the course. He works the grace of perseverance in us but He does not do it for us. Peter is saying that the cultivation of godly character is stabilizing and strengthening. It is a preserving thing. The path of perseverance, in other words, is the path of holiness. He never assures us of finally crossing the finish line while we are presuming upon His grace and living like the world. God will keep us, brothers and sisters, but He will not keep us in sin. He never preserves us in rebellion. No, the path of perseverance is marked by growing Christian maturity. If you practice these qualities, Peter says, you will never fall.
And to reinforce that point, we need to hear the message of the first part of verse 10. Look at the first part of verse 10. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these things, you will never fall.” How do you know, how do you know you are among the number of those chosen by God out of the mass of fallen humanity to be His beloved children? How do you know you are among the elect of God? You know it, you confirm it, Peter says, by Christlikeness. You confirm it by godly graces, maturing in your life. You confirm it by persevering to the end along the path of holiness. So you come to my study one day and you say to me, “Pastor, I’m not sure I’m really a Christian. Maybe I’m not among God’s elect.” Well of course you’re not sure you’re elect; you’ve been sleeping with your girlfriend for months. If you live like an unbeliever, you have no right to any assurance of your salvation. Frankly, if you live like an unbeliever, the fact is, you may be an unbeliever. So what should you do? You need to repent of your sin and come back to Jesus right now and cry to Him to have mercy on you and submit your rebellious heart to the rule of His Word and begin at last to live His way. That’s how you confirm your calling and your election.
Mature Christian Character Receives an Eternal Provision
Mature Christian character prevents fruitlessness, it prevents forgetfulness, it ensures perseverance. Finally, look at verse 11. Mature Christian character receives an eternal provision. Verse 11, “For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In the run-up to Memorial Day, someone posted online a colorized photograph of a naval vessel – a cruiser or a destroyer or something of that sort – arriving at a US naval port at the end of the war. And every inch of deck – maybe you saw this picture – was just filled with soldiers, thousands of men sitting on steps, crammed into every corner, standing crushed together, shoulder to shoulder, chest to back like sardines in a can, all of them eager to arrive home at last. Now imagine with me for a moment that ship sailing into port. And as it draws near the deck, the band begins to play and the crowd starts to roar and the sound is deafening and the ticker tape begins to fall, flags are waving, and everyone is full of joy. The victors have returned home at last! What a celebration that must have been.
For those who run their races with perseverance, who grow in Christian maturity till they arrive at the heavenly home port, for them, Peter says, there will be a glorious welcome. There will be richly provided for you an entrance – some translations actually say a “welcome” into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The angels will rejoice. The Church triumphant will sing praises to the Lamb. And we will mix our own voices with theirs, adoring Jesus who bought us and kept us and now has brought us home. That, that, Peter is saying, is a destiny worth pursuing. Pursue it with all your might, growing Christian maturity.
Let’s pray together.
O Lord, forgive us for being content, for settling, for immature judgment, for worldly priorities. Forgive us, please, for trying to coast in our Christian lives, for saying that we love You enough. Teach us, please, teach us to know You, to become like You, and to persevere until we see You face to face at last. For we ask this in Christ’s name, amen.
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