(N.B. this sermon was preached at First Church, Papakura, not at Mornington. It is a reworking of the sermons preached on 1 June.)
Read 2 Peter 1:3-11.
Twice in that passage, Peter says, “make every effort”. That should get our attention. He is saying, “Leave no stone unturned. Do not skimp on this. Leave nothing undone.” Clearly this is top priority – whatever it is. What is it that is to receive this sort of attention? He is talking about our spiritual growth.
Can I say at the outset that it worries me that so many Christians think that all that is really important is that we made a commitment – we prayed the sinner’s prayer – at some point? It troubles me that people think that that is all that is required and their salvation is now assured. I think we will see that Peter says something very different here. Growth should be a top priority for us.
In v.3 he says to make every effort to grow spiritually. In v.10, he says to make every effort to confirm our calling and election. Are you a Christian? Are you sure? Prove it; confirm it.
In these verses Peter talks about 8 characteristics of a disciple and five benefits of spiritual maturity.
V.3 says that God has given us everything we need for a godly life. That is an extraordinary statement. We can live godly lives. We lack nothing. God has given us all of the resources we need to be spiritually mature disciples of Jesus Christ. And behind all of those resources is the power of God. By His divine power He has given us everything we need for a godly life.
We receive those resources through our knowledge of Him – through our relationship with Him. God has limitless resources that He freely makes available when we have a relationship with Him.
And all of this is so that we might participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world caused by evil desires. I am really looking forward to escaping the corruption of this world. Don’t you long to live in a world where there is no war, no violence, no crime, no selfishness, no pain, no sickness?
I am not quite sure what participating in the divine nature is going to be like but that sounds pretty good too. Don’t you long for Jesus’ return and the coming of His Kingdom in its fullness?
That is God’s purpose for us – He has promised us this future – and that is why He has given us the resources – so that we might experience His future. But notice how v.5 starts with “for this very reason”. Because God has a wonderful future for us and because He has given us everything we need to live godly lives, we are to make every effort. We might think, “Well God has done so much we don’t have to do anything.” In fact, the opposite is true. God, in His grace, offers us so much but He calls us to respond. Do not miss out on God’s Kingdom. Make ever effort.
Make every effort to do what, specifically? We are to add 8 characteristics to our lives. It is as if Peter gives us an 8-step process to spiritual maturity. The Christian journey starts with faith in Jesus but faith is not enough. Peter says to add goodness – or some translations have “virtue”.
But that is not enough either. To your goodness add knowledge. Mature Christians know stuff. They know the word of God. They know how to live in order to please God. But knowledge is not enough either. To our knowledge we are to add self-control. Self-control means that we are not controlled by our passions – our appetites. Rather than do what our old self wants, we do what is right.
To self-control we are to add perseverance – the willingness to keep going and to remain faithful to God, despite hardships and suffering. Baby Christians don’t have that stickability. That comes with maturity.
To perseverance we are to add godliness. Godliness means God-likeness – being God-like in our thinking and motivations and actions. To godliness we are to add mutual affection – caring for one another. And then we are to go one step beyond that to love – agape – sacrificing, selfless love.
Of course, Peter doesn’t mean that we wait until we have one perfect before we move on to the next. If had had to have perfected faith first, I would never be good.
Question: Do those eight qualities provide a profile of Christian discipleship? Christians trust God, live lives of virtue, know the things of God, are self-controlled, persevere, are godly in their thinking and attitudes, care for one another and love selflessly.
What do you think? Is that a profile of a Christian? Is there anything you would like to remove from the list – not because that would make life easier, but because you don’t think it is required for discipleship? Is there anything you think should be added to that list?
You might say, “But there is no action there. Don’t disciples have to do things?”
Actually, every one of them requires action. Faith without works is what? Dead. Real trust in God will produce a lifestyle of trust. If we trust God we will do whatever He says. Goodness is virtue in action. Knowledge requires we act on that knowledge. Self-control and perseverance are visible in what we do and what we don’t do. If we are godly, we bring godly thinking and attitudes to all we do. Brotherly kindness and agape love clearly involve our actions towards other people.
I think we could use those eight qualities as a checklist for our own discipleship. How are we getting on? I also think that people with those eight qualities really stand out as being different. Make every effort to add these things to your life.
Peter’s words here are valuable for us to evaluate your own lives but, if this is a useful profile of discipleship, they are also useful in our disciple-making. As Christians we are called not only to be disciples but to make disciples, so here is a useful curriculum for us. These are the characteristics God wants to see in our disciples.
That is helpful to know but it raises a really big question: How do we build those sorts of things into people’s lives. We can teach someone how to pray, and that is really important, but how do we teach that person to live by faith, or perseverance? I am not saying it is impossible. I am just saying we need to think about how we make disciples.
Unfortunately, we don’t have time to think about that now because I want to move on to the 5 benefits of spiritual maturity.
V.8 “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure”. It is not just about possessing them but about growing in each of them.
But that is also a condition: “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.”
One of the things I value most highly is productivity which is a strength and weakness. It is a weakness because I always feel I should be productive and I struggle to do nothing. But God also values productivity. Jesus talks a lot about bearing fruit. Our lives are meant to produce something. Or remember the parable of the talents – the praise given to those who had multiplied the master’s business and the condemnation of the third man who had buried the master’s money. He had preserved it; kept it safe, but the expectation was that he would increased it. When I stand before God, I want to know that my life made a difference; that it counted for His Kingdom; that there was fruit.
Peter says that the way to avoid being ineffective and unproductive is to have these qualities in my life and to be growing in them.
The second and third benefits are stated negatively. The person who does not have these qualities is near-sighted and blind. The immature disciple can’t see; doesn’t get it; doesn’t understand the things of God; doesn’t see what God is doing; doesn’t hear His voice; doesn’t see what God is revealing. If we remain babies, we have a baby’s understanding. If we don’t grow up, our thinking will be worldly.
The opposite is to be able to walk with God and hear His voice, and, when you read His word, to see what He is revealing; hear what He is saying. But that knowledge of God and His ways comes as we grow. So, the second benefit of maturity is revelation and understanding and closeness with God.
The third benefit is also expressed negatively. Those who don’t have these qualities forget that they have been cleansed from past sins. Imagine forgetting they you have been forgiven. That effectively means not knowing that you have been saved. That’s a bad place to be in but people who aren’t experiencing more of God currently, begin to doubt their past experience of God. The third benefit of growth is confidence: confidence in what God has done and confidence in what God will do.
At this point, Peter again says, “make every effort”. This is where he says, “Make every effort to confirm your calling an election.” Peter does not take salvation for granted. We are to confirm it. Show me that you are a Christian. In fact, we are to make every effort to confirm it. This is high priority. The proof of our salvation is not some past experience. It is the change in our lives and it is our character now.
Benefits four and five are conditional. If you do these things. If we are adding these godly qualities to our lives and living them out. If we are growing as disciples, then…
Benefit four: you will never stumble. What a fantastic promise. Life is tough. There are all sorts of obstacles and temptations but God promises that you will keep on going. You will cross the finishing line. You will receive the prize, your salvation, if you are growing in these qualities.
Benefit five: you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Many Christians would say, “I don’t have to do anything. I am saved by grace not works. I prayed the sinner’s prayer once. I’m OK.” Really? This passage says there is a condition: If you do these things.
Christians have been born again by the grace of God. It is a free gift. And God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. That is grace. And God has made wonderful promises. That is grace. But that is exactly why He then calls on us to use all of those resources. Because He has been so gracious, and has provided so much, you make every effort to grow to maturity adding these godly qualities to your life. If you do, you will be productive, you will have understanding, you will know that you have been forgiven, you will not stumble and you will be received into Jesus’ Kingdom.
If we don’t? If we do very little, what happens? In the Bible it is not about starting the race but finishing it. God has given us everything we need to finish this race victoriously but we have to make use of those resources; run the race; make every effort. The promises are for those who finish the race – and we all can because God has given us everything we need.
So, Peter lists eight qualities that I suggest provide a profile of a Christian disciple. He lists five benefits of spiritual maturity: productivity, understanding and confidence, a promise that we will, in fact, finish the race. We will not stumble and we will receive a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
But His emphasis is: make every effort to grow. The benefits are promised to those who grow.