Today we are in 2 Peter chapter 1. We’re focusing on verses 5-11, but I’d like us to start by reading verses 3-11. Follow along with me as I read 2nd Peter 1:3-11. And would join me in standing in honor of the reading of God’s Word:
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, 4 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. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 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. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 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.
Here’s the question I want to ask to get us started, ok? Where does effort on our part fit into the Christian life? As new creations, by His grace—not by our effort or doing—where does effort, exertion, or even work fit into the Christian life? Because it might just be that this word that I have up here in big, huge letters is something we’re afraid of in the church. Maybe not when it comes different parts of lives—our families, our jobs, school, whatever else. But when it comes to spiritual growth, or sanctification, it may just be that the average Christian just not put all that much effort into it. Even though we’re told throughout the new testament that we are to pursue holiness. Today we have Five Pillars of the Pursuit of Holiness. That’s how we’re organizing our time, directly from this text.
- Holiness is motivated by the grace of God (5).
I want to teach you a bit of theology this morning. Whether you know it or not, you are a theologian. Theology is simply what you believe about God and our relationship to him. So whether you know it or not, you’re a theologian. The question is whether or not our theology is biblical.
There are two theological terms I want to teach you this morning. This may not be new to all of you. But the first is justification. The second is sanctification. Now, you don’t necessarily need to remember those terms, but the concepts we must understand. Justification is an act of God in which He declares a sinner to be “just” on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. That’s justification.
If you were here last week, we hit this hard. Because Peter wrote about it in verses 3 and 4. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” He has granted to us all things that pertain to life. That’s spiritual life, eternal life. That is justification. That is 100% an act of God, right? Our salvation is dependent upon the mercy of God in Christ. We receive that mercy, but it’s 100% a divine act of God. But sanctification is a little bit different. Sanctification, this second theological term, is the process of becoming more and more holy. That is what we’re talking about this morning from verses 5-11.
Holiness, or Godliness, or sanctification—It is ultimately motivated by the grace of God. I love in verse 5, before Peter gives us this miniature sermon on pursuing holiness, he says, “For this very reason…make every effort.” Don’t miss those first few words! What is the reason, what is our motivation for pursuing holiness? It’s the grace of God. Don’t forget from last week how Peter described our faith. In verse 1, he’s writing this letter to “those who have obtained faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
2. Holiness involves great effort on our part (5).
This may surprise you to hear. Justification if 100% an act of God, his mercy. Sanctification, though, we’re involved! The first part of verse 5 is crucial. Peter writes, “Make every effort,” and then he goes on to describe the process of spiritual growth. Now, to be clear: this doesn’t mean that we contrive within ourselves holiness. This doesn’t mean you need to read every Christian self-help book you can get your hands on. The picture here is not one of God doing the saving, and then leaving us to our own devices: “I saved you, now your job is the pursue holiness!”
This is still very much God working in you. But it’s different from justification in that you and I are called to exertion! Effort! And not just a little bit of effort, every effort! So here’s the question: what is your greatest ambition in this life? What’s your greatest goal? Is it to take care of your kids or grandkids? Is it to work as hard as you can and be as successful as you can? Is it to live a life of peace and relaxation, maybe even leisure. Again: what’s your greatest ambition?
And then my second question: why is it not holiness? Why is it that so many other areas of our lives get so much focus and passion, and our faith gets such a small amount of attention? I love being a gospel-centered church, a grace-centered church. I hope that’s an accurate way to describe ourselves. But it’s very easy to think that the pursuit of holiness is somehow in tension with resting in our identities in Christ. But there’s no tension, this is part of what it means to be a child of God. We are putting off the old self and putting on the new.
JC Ryle put it like this: “The child of God has two great marks about him: he is known for his inner warfare and his inner peace.” So there is this unstoppable, indescribable peace that is real and rooted in the gospel. At the same though, we take spiritual growth and holiness seriously! We give ourselves, body and soul, every day and night, to the pursuit of holiness. The 3rd pillar of the pursuit of holiness:
3. Holiness is how we partake in the divine nature (5-7).
If you were here last week, you may remember that Peter wrote that through the promises of God, we can partake in the divine nature. That doesn’t mean that we become gods, but it does mean that our character can reflect the character of God. We can become like him, more and more, in a moral and holy sense. And so, Peter gives us some examples of Godly character traits.
“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.” These are some examples of how we become more and more Godly. Now, I wouldn’t read too much into the order of this list. Some teachers and writers read way too far into the order. And I don’t think that’s Peter’s goal here, to give us an order of priorities— “First you work on this. Then you work on this. Then you work on this.” However, it might be worth nothing the first and the last of these characteristics.
First, it’s all rooted in faith, right? “Make every effort to supplement your faith.” And it all culminates in love in verse 7. That’s a great summary of spiritual growth. It’s all rooted in faith, which is the foundational Christian virtue, right? And it ultimately it culminates in love. Because we are a people who have received such a great love, unwarranted and undeserved, we too become a people of great love. Toward God and toward other people.
True Christian faith is a life-changing faith. Period. It leads us on! It does not let us remain the same. True Christian faith compels us toward virtue, or goodness. Toward knowledge. Not just general knowledge and wisdom, but a personal knowledge and relationship with Christ. Toward self-control! We’re not driven by our emotions or by lust or greed. We are marked by self-control. Toward steadfastness! We’re not fickle and all over the place, spiritually speaking. Over time, we become steadfast, reliable, unmovable. Toward brotherly affection. That doesn’t mean we’re all best friends, but there is a love for brothers and sisters in Christ, especially. And then toward love in general. We love God more than anything, and we love others. This pursuit, this journey is how we partake in the divine nature. The 4th pillar of the pursuit of holiness:
4. Holiness makes us effective and fruitful in our lives (8-9).
What a critical warning we see in verses 8 and 9. “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.”
Wow! Think about maybe the most common reason people give for why they don’t like Christians or the church. Think about that for a moment. I’m sure there are lots of reason, but at least one of the top reasons people give is the Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. The church is full of hypocrites. Now, on one level, I just want to tell them, “And that’s why we’re inviting you!” Right, on some level, every human being is a hypocrite. But, I also think there is something to this critique. No, it doesn’t excuse anyone. But there is perhaps a higher level of hypocrisy in the American church than should be.
J.C. Ryle wrote this in the 19th century, and I think it’s certainly applicable today: “I believe there is far more harm done by unholy and inconsistent Christians than we are all aware of. Such men are among Satan’s best allies. They pull down with their lies what ministers build up with their lips. They cause the chariot wheels of the gospel to drive heavily, to ply the children of this world with a never-ending excuse for remaining as they are.”
Perhaps the greatest hindrance to the gospel being spread in our culture over the last few decades is that Christians look and act just like the world. We have become ineffective and unfruitful. And Peter says that if that’s you, you are so nearsighted that you are blind! You are so focused upon yourself, that you have forgotten that you’ve been freed from the penalty and the power of sin! You’ve been forgiven, and now, you’re to move forward in pursuing holiness. The 5th and final pillar of pursuing holiness:
5. Holiness reveals that we truly do know God (10-11).
Verses 10 and 11: 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.”
Pursuing holiness is one way we can know that we’re part of the family of God. Pursing holiness is how we confirm our calling and election. I know in the Christian world there’s a lot of pushback on what I’m about to say, but it’s biblical nonetheless: the most immediate assurance that you are truly a believer in Christ is whether you are walking and living as a believer in Christ! No, that doesn’t mean you do anything to earn favor with God. Or earn your salvation. But it does mean that people who have been radically changed by the gospel of Christ live like people who have been radically changed by the gospel of Christ.
We see this throughout the New Testament. You can read the entire letter of 1st John, that’s one of the main themes. As an example, let me read 1st John 1:6-7. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Let me put it this way: there is no such thing as a “non-practicing Christian.” There is no such thing as a carnal Christian. Christians are a practicing people. It all starts with faith, no doubt. But faith continues on. I’m not saying God expects us to be perfect. No, in this life, we cannot be perfect. God doesn’t expect perfection, but he does expect progress.
This takes effort on our part. Grace-driven, sacred effort. God’s divine power working in us. We’re not doing this alone. None of us can be holy by our own effort alone. And yet God calls us throughout the New Testament to strive toward holiness. The language of exertion, will, effort is everywhere in the New Testament!
Be diligent, verses 5 and 10 here. Let us strive to enter that rest, Hebrews 4:11. Strive to enter through the narrow door, Luke 13:24. Be diligent to present yourself approved, 2nd Timothy 2:15. Pursue the things that make for peace, Romans 14:19. Abound in the work of the Lord, 1st Corinthians 15:58. Be a good soldier of Christ, 2nd Timothy 2:3. I discipline my body and keep it under control, 1st Corinthians 9:27. Fight the good fight of the faith, 1st Timothy 6:12. This should be our greatest passion in this life, the pursuit of holiness.
When I was growing up, I wasn’t very good at a lot of things. But I tried really hard. I wasn’t a great hockey player, but I tried hard and became one of the best players on my team. I wasn’t a great soccer player, but I tried really hard. I wasn’t great at drawing, but I tried really hard. I wasn’t great at cross country or powerlifting, but I would practice and run so hard to get better. I’d say I didn’t have much natural gifting in those areas.
But when it came to music, I excelled. When I started playing the trumpet, I had a gift for it. I enjoyed it greatly, and I did well. I made the Texas All-State Jazz Band twice, including 1st chair. I even got to go to TCU on more than one music scholarships. I’m not saying that to toot my own horn. I’m saying that to tell you, as believers in Christ, we are not fighting against who we are by striving for holiness. We are fighting to become who we already are in Christ!
God’s divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. The Holy Spirit has taken up a dwelling in our hearts. We have everything we could possibly need to become more and more like Jesus. To grow in our holiness. And yet, so often we are slothful and lazy. Peter tells us this morning, stop it! Wake up! Make every effort to supplement your faith! Wake up! By the grace of God, make every effort.