Every time we start a new book of the Bible, we like to reiterate why we are committed to verse-by-verse, expositional preaching, usually through entire books of the Bible. A few quick reasons—for some of you, you’ve heard these several times before.
- It helps ensure that we hear from God, not merely from the preacher.
- It teaches us to be God-centered, as opposed to man-centered.
- It helps us emphasize what God emphasizes.
- It helps us to understand context.
- We can’t skip the hard parts.
- It teaches people how to study the Bible on their own.
Those are a few reasons we preach like we do, in all our language groups. So today, we kick off 2nd Peter, and plan to finish it just before Christmas. As you’re turning to 2nd Peter, let me give a bit of background.
We don’t know the exact timing of Peter writing this letter, but many scholars believe it was written while Peter was in a Roman prison, and likely only shortly before his execution for being a Christian. The New Testament doesn’t tell us how Peter died, but tradition tells us that Peter was crucified after Emperor Nero blamed Christians for a terrible fire that almost completely destroyed Rome. And with his death, Peter requested to be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy of dying in the same manner that Jesus died.
So, most likely, this is written shortly before was is executed. These are his final remarks to the same churches he wrote to in 1st Peter. And in this letter his focus is on how Christians can live lives pleasing to God even in the midst of opposition. That’s what it’s about. And Peter lays out the foundation of his whole letter in the first few verses. Let’s read 2nd Peter 1:1-4. That’s our text for this morning. 2nd Peter 1:1-4.
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.
I love this short letter for many reasons. But one of them is that Peter doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. He just gave us basically a summary of his whole letter. But in particular, he gives the foundation for everything he’s going to write. Especially in verses 3 and 4. So what I want us to do is look at three realities of knowing Christ. You may or may not have noticed that phrase the “knowledge of God” in verse 2 and then again in verse 3.
This will come up repeatedly in 2nd Peter. In fact, in chapter 3, Peter writes that we’re to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” But we have to keep in mind, “knowledge” in Scripture is much more than simply knowing facts about God. Knowledge is a very personal thing in Scripture. In the Old Testament, we see that word used to describe intimate relationships between people.
So what Peter is getting at here, as he’s introducing this letter, is that his readers will only grow in grace and peace as they grow in their relationship with Christ. I know the word “relationship” can get kind-of fuzzy sermons and vague, but I think that’s a good way to understand the “knowledge of the Lord.” In other words, we know him personally. We love and obey him. So, to organize our time: Three Realities of Knowing Christ. That’s where we’re headed.
1. Our righteousness is not better or worse than other Christians.
In these first two verses, Peter gives his readers a greeting. And for the most part it’s a pretty standard greeting, but there is one part that is unique. “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” This is Simon Peter, arguably the most important figure of the New Testament outside of Jesus Himself and Paul—being clear that his readers, and all believers, have a faith of equal standing with his. How can that be? I’m sure most of us in here would hesitate saying we have faith of equal standing to that of Peter. So how can that be?
Well, he shows us how: “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” It is only because of the righteousness of Christ that any of us can be called children of God. In other words, our relationship with God is not measured by the extent of our faith. Our relationship with God is measured by the object of our faith! What’s the object of our faith? Christ! How can our faith be equal to that of Peter? Because we place our faith in the same God and Savior Jesus Christ. That’s how.
This was especially important for Peter’s Gentile readers. These are people who were not Jewish, and are likely being told by false teachers that they needed to accomplish more in order to gain favor with God. In order to reach the same standing as Jewish Christians. No, these Gentiles, like most of us, in Christ, receive full adoption into God’s family. As Christ takes our sin upon himself, we in turn receive the righteousness of Christ.
That’s why it makes no sense for any of us in this room to think we’re better or worse than anyone else in the room! When it comes to righteousness, we have all been adopted into the family of God because of Christ. Not because of anything we’ve done. This is an important thing for all of us to hear this morning. If you think you’re more holy– in a positional sense, than those around you—you have misunderstood the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you think you’re less holy—in a positional sense, than those around you—you have misunderstood the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t levels of spiritual maturity. We can all grow in holiness and Godliness. And we’re all in different parts of that journey. We’ll see a whole lot of that next week. But what this does mean is that your identity as a child of God is not dependent upon your performance. It is dependent upon the righteousness of Christ. And guess what? That doesn’t change for any of us, does it? Does that make sense? By the righteousness of Christ, our faith has equal standing before God. Praise God, yes?! The 2nd reality of knowing Christ:
2. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness.
That comes directly from 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.”
God’s divine power has granted all things that pertain to two things: life and godliness. Life, that means spiritual life, or eternal life. God’s divine power has provided for us eternal life. How? Through knowing the one who called us. Through knowing Christ! But God granted not only life in Christ; he also granted to us all things that pertain to godliness in Christ.
One of the biggest things we’re going to see over the next two months is that we must not stay the same as children of God. Our righteousness is all of the same standing because of Christ. And yet, practically speaking, we still must “make every effort” to grow in godliness. Because that’s the purpose for which we were called. And God has given us everything necessary for spiritual growth, for growing in Godliness.
In 1864, Charles Spurgeon said this: “You shall never find true faith unattended by true godliness; on the other hand, you shall never discover a truly holy life which has not for its root and foundation a living faith upon the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then Spurgeon said this: “Woe unto those who seek after the one without the other! There be some who cultivate faith and forget holiness; these may be very high in orthodoxy, but they shall be very deep in damnation….There are others who have strained after holiness of life, but have denied the faith; these are comparable unto the Pharisees of old, of whom the Master said, they were ‘whitewashed tombs.’”
God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. They go together. Repentance and faith. Peter, James, John, Paul, Jesus Himself: all of them emphasized repentance and faith. They are two sides of the same coin. To turn away from being our own kings and gods, and turning in faith to our God and Savior Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to be a believer.
And here’s the kicker for all of it: God is the source, not us! Peter writes it as clearly as can be: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” That doesn’t mean that we’re passive in this, but it shows us that we could never be Godly on our own. Not one of us has that capacity or potential, outside of the divine power of God.
That should make us the most humble people on earth, by far! Any and every ounce of holiness that characterizes your life as a Christian—you did not accomplish that on your own! It is only by the divine power of God that we may live Godly lives. It reminds me of our newborn baby at home, May Ruth. She’ll be six weeks old on Tuesday, which blows my mind. Already it feels like time is flying. But May-May (what we call her)—she is absolutely dependent on others for everything.
Newborn babies can see, but not well. I believe it takes six months for a baby’s vision to be fully in focus. That’s why she will cross her eyes occasionally, which always makes me laugh. She doesn’t yet know how to use our arms. They just flail about. She depends 100% upon her mother for sustenance. We have to change her diapers. I guess our other kids aren’t quite old enough yet that we can recruit them for that (assuming they’ll ever be old enough to recruit them to change diapers). May is completely dependent upon others. She gets everything from outside of herself.
That is how we are as Christians. And yet sometimes we think we can do things on our own. Sometimes we think we accomplish things on our own. How absurd. That’d be like baby May, if she could talk, saying, “Get off me, I’ll change my own diaper.” No, no. She needs us like we desperately need God. And by his grace, he gives us all things that pertain to life and godliness. The third reality of knowing Christ:
3. Knowing God means escaping corruption and becoming like Him.
Let me read verses 3 and 4 one more time: “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.”
So this personal relationship we have with the Father through Christ, that’s this knowledge Peter is writing about—it’s much more personal than how we often think of knowledge. That relationship with the Father increasingly compels us to escape the corruption of the world. It’s not that we become like God in the sense that we become gods. The Mormon Church, in particular, gets into trouble here by teaching that we can, in fact, become gods.
Peter explains what he means in these very verses. What does it mean to become partakers in the divine nature? It means we’ve escaped the corruption that is in the world. This is a little side-note, but so many of the questions we have about what the Bible teaches can be answered simply by reading the surrounding context. That’s a worthwhile sidenote.
So this is the process we see here. We’ve been called to the glory and excellence of God. That’s our calling, to perceive and even partake (as we become more and more like Christ) in the glory and excellence of God. So here’s the formula: the more we treasure and partake in the glory of Christ, the more we will escape the corruption of the world. Again: the more we treasure and partake in the glory of Christ, the more we will escape the corruption of the world!
Why is that corruption even there? Why is it even a temptation for us as human beings? Because of sinful desire; that’s what Peter writes here. Knowing God is not merely about doing right vs. doing wrong, though that’s certainly part of it. The question is, what do we desire? Because we’ve been called to his glory and excellence. God wants us to see just how magnificent he is, and how wonderful it is to live lives of holiness, and just how trite and temporary it is to live lives directed by sinful desire.
This is more than just knowing about God’s glory and excellence. It’s about enjoying God’s glory and excellence. Living in light of God’s glory and excellence. You can’t just know about it. That’d be like knowing about the greatness of the Texas Rangers, recognizing the multiple records they broke this postseason, and yet remaining an Astros fan. Sorry, I had to bring the Rangers up at least once.
One commentator put it like this: “In the Christian life, you can’t just know that there’s glory and excellence out there; you must be included! You must go with God, who has made a way for you to enjoy his glory and excellence. He’s made a way for us to live in his glory and excellence. That’s his divine power.”
The “divine power” in verse 3 is ultimately referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the gospel of Jesus Christ, God has provided everything we need for life and godliness. The question we ask this morning, and we’ll continue to ask throughout our time in 2nd Peter, is, are we walking in this divine power? Is this really who we are? Are we partaking in the glory and excellence of Christ, or are split by the corruption of the world.
As we study 2nd Peter together, I sure hope knowledge and facts are not our primary goals. The goal is life and godliness. The source is divine power. The means of getting there is knowing Christ personally. How do you begin a relationship with Christ? Through repentance and faith. Turning from your sin and trusting in Jesus alone to save you.
My prayer is that this letter will change you. That you will not look the same in 8 or 9 weeks when we finish working our way through this. My prayer is that “grace and peace be multiplied to us in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” My prayer is that we would “escape the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” And that we would become like God, transformed more and more into the image of Christ.
Do you know and trust in the very great promises of the Lord? Have you participated in the divine nature through faith in Christ? For eternal life. For Godliness: the way to fight sin and pursue Godliness is to fight with a greater desire. Do you see and behold the glory and excellence of God so much so that sin isn’t even worth it? Those are a few of the questions we’ll be asking in the coming weeks.