"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lessons From 2 Peter 1:1-9: Diligence In Spiritual Growth

By Brian Anderson, Faith Evangelical Free Church, May 3, 2009

We don't just slide into being a mature Christian; it requires diligence. In 2 Peter, Peter is writing to a group of folks for whom he is concerned about their spiritual well-being. He is concerned about their continued progress in spiritual growth. He wants them to keep growing. He knows that continued spiritual growth is not something that they will just slide into and so he will urge them to be diligent.

We are going to look at 2 Peter 1:1-9 this morning. I trust that Peter's words will be a stimulus for all of us in our own spiritual growth. The first thing we see here is:

I. A Foundation for Our Spiritual Growth (vv. 1-4)

Verse 1 and 2:

Peter, an apostle of Christ, says that his readers have received a faith of the same kind as his. He is speaking of personal faith here, the ability to trust God, as opposed to the body of truth that is believed. His readers have the same kind of faith; the same precious faith as he does. There are no distinctions between Peter the apostle and his readers; all are believers by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
 "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord"
In Verse 2 Peter's prayer wish for them is that God's grace and peace would grow in their lives. This growth happens, he says, through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. As we come to verse 3, Peter begins to explain the foundation for spiritual growth out of which he will issue an appeal for diligence in spiritual growth.

Verse 3:

"seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence."
When Peter speaks of true knowledge of God here he is speaking of saving knowledge of God. It is similar to what Paul says in 1Timothy 2:3-4 when he says: 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires alll men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The one who has true knowledge has come to saving faith in God and I think he is specifically referring to true knowledge of Jesus here. It was Jesus who called us by His own glory and excellence. It is through Jesus' glory and excellence that people are attracted to Him and respond in saving faith. Peter saw this right? He was the one who was so struck by Jesus' person that one time he said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8). He was the one who saw Jesus' glory at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:2). But beyond all this he saw Jesus' whole life. It was a life that revealed his glory and excellence.

It is through saving faith in this One of glory and excellence that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness. God's power has given us everything we need to live life as God intended. His power has given us everything we need to live a life of godliness.

Verse 4:

"For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises,in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature,having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."
When he says for by these he is referring to the Jesus' glory and excellence. Jesus' glory and excellence were revealed through his incarnation. And so another way of saying this is that God, through his saving intervention in the incarnation, has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises. By promises I think he is referring to the promise of sharing in Christ's glory in eternity (3:13), but as well the promise that even now we can more and more share in his moral excellence on earth.

We have been granted these promises in order that by them [we] might become partakers of the divine nature. These promises, together with his divine power (v. 3) are at work in the believer's life helping us to share in the divine nature. He is not saying we become divine, but that we take on God's nature. We begin to grow in the family likeness.

All this is possible because through coming to saving faith in Christ we have escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Do you catch the magnitude of what Peter is saying here? He is saying that we can actually grow and share in the divine nature. God has done everything necessary that we might grow and live lives that look more and more like Jesus. Sometimes when it comes to spiritual growth, it is easy to believe that not much is really going to change in us. We think, "Sure I'm forgiven and I'm going to heaven, but I'm probably always going to struggle with anger or an unkind tongue or lust or greed or whatever." But that is not the vision that Peter is painting here. When we consider what Peter says here, we should be shocked at any believer who does not expect to grow spiritually.

John Ortberg, in a recent Leadership Journal article, shares this illustration that makes the same point: Imagine an alcoholic going into an AA meeting and hearing: 'We're so glad you're here. We want you to know that you are loved and forgiven through nothing you've done. Of course, don't expect to change too much. Don't expect to actually stop drinking. We don't like it when people suggest sobriety is possible. We believe that trying not to drink breeds arrogance and self-sufficiently. We have a little bumper stick: '12-steppers are not sober, just forgiven." (Ortberg, Leadership Journal, Spring 2009, p 32).

His point is that when someone goes to AA there is an expectation that they can change. We would be shocked if they didn't have this attitude, right? In the same way, we should be shocked when we don't expect to change in light of the foundation that God has laid in Christ for our growth. We should expect to change.

Do you have this expectation? Do you believe that you don't have to be the same person you are today; that you can grow and become more like Jesus because of what God has done in your life? Peter lays a foundation for our spiritual growth. It is all about what God has done. His divine power has granted everything pertaining to life and godliness. He has made it possible for us to share God's nature. But here's the deal, we don't just slide into being a believer who shares God's nature. It takes diligence. Peter says that:

II. Diligence is Required for Our Spiritual Growth (vv. 5-9)

Verse 5-9:
"Now for this very reason also applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love."
In light of all that God has done, we can be diligent to pursue spiritual growth. And so he gives the command, that we apply all diligence to supply these virtues. To be diligent means to do everything we can to grow. The NIV says, "make every effort." God has laid a foundation for us, but we have a responsibility to work hard in cooperating with God in our spiritual growth.

The command here is supply. This word, supply, which the NIV translates as "add" is not stated before the rest of the virtues, but it is implied. In New Testament times this word was used of making a rich or lavish provision. It originally referred to a person who paid the expenses of a chorus in staging a play (Blum, Expositor's Bible Commentary, 269). These individuals would compete with others to out give each other in making provisions. And so the word came to mean "generous and costly cooperation" (Green, Tyndale, 76). Peter is commanding that our effort not be to just add a little of these virtues, but to add them lavishly.

Peter gives a list of eight virtues that we are supply. He begins by saying, in your faith supply moral excellence. Faith, as we have already talked about, is our ability to trust God. He says start there and to it add moral excellence (NIV - goodness). Moral excellence is a word used in non-Christian literature to mean the proper fulfillment of anything. As one commentator said, the excellence of a knife was to cut or the excellence of a horse was to run. So, in the same way, the excellence of a believer is to take on Christlikeness. That is our proper fulfillment.
To moral excellence we are to add knowledge. This is a form of the word used earlier for knowledge. It points to practical wisdom; a wisdom that can distinguish between good and evil. We are to add that.

To knowledge we are to add self-control. This is the ability to master one's desires and passions. It is the ability to say "no" to one's body regarding food or drink or sex; literally every aspect of life.

To self-control add perseverance. Perseverance is the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances. It is the virtue of not giving up.

To perseverance we are to add godliness. This is the same word that was used in verse 3, where it says that God's divine power has given us everything we need for godliness. It refers to living with reverence towards God; living rightly before God. Godliness has a very practical awareness of God in every aspect of life.

To godliness we are to add brotherly kindness. This is love or affection for one's fellow believer in Christ. It is the virtue that causes us to bear one another's burdens, to pray for each other, to encourage one another.

And then finally, to brotherly kindness we are to add love.
Love is considered the highest Christian virtue. It is a deliberate desire for the highest good of another; but it doesn't just desire good for another it is demonstrated in sacrificial action for that person's good.

Now, I don't think Peter was trying to develop the full range of virtues that we are to put on. He is painting a picture of the kinds of things we are to pursue. He then finishes this section by saying (Verse 8 and 9):

"For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins."

These virtues are to be ours and they are to be ours in ever increasing measure. This is what the true knowledge of Jesus produces. This is the normal Christian life; it is one of continuous spiritual growth. And when we experience this growth, we will not be useless nor unfruitful. Rather, we will be useful. We will be fruitful. And I think that is a desire of all of us. We want to be useful and fruitful for the kingdom of God. But this growth is not something we just slide into; it takes diligence.
How would you evaluate yourself? Would you say you are being diligent to pursue spiritual growth. Or would you have to say that you've just sort of been floating along in your Christian life, not really pursuing growth?

As I've meditated on this passage the past couple of weeks and even as I took the Spiritual Life Survey recently, which made me think about my growth, it has been kind of a slap in the face. I've realized that there have been times in my Christian life where I've been much more diligent in my spiritual growth. God has been rekindling a fresh desire to pursue growth; to work harder at it. How about you? What is your desire?

God has laid a foundation for your spiritual growth. He has done everything pertaining to life and godliness. But our growth takes diligence on our part. Now I want to give a picture of what being diligent in spiritual growth might look like, but before I do that, let me give a couple of points of clarification. First, even though we are to be diligent to pursue growth, we need to remember that God causes the growth.

Paul said, I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). And so our efforts at growing are always a partnership with God. Secondly, we are talking about internal transformation; not just working on external behaviors. The Pharisees were really good at that, but that didn't please God. And so
there is always a bit of mystery in how internal change takes place. It is not always, if you do A, you get B. But nonetheless, we are called to work at it.

So, having said that, let me give you a picture of what it might look like to be diligent in spiritual growth, I want to look at one of these virtues that Peter talks about. Peter says that we are to put on self-control. What might it look like to diligently supply this to our faith?

First, I think it involves regular self-evaluation. In self-evaluation, you take time to ask yourself how you are doing with self-control? You might do this in the evening as you get into bed. Was I self-controlled today? Where did I fail to exercise self-control. Or you might do this through keeping a journal. From time to time then you can go back and read through the journal and look for patterns and see progress or the lack thereof.

As you do self-evaluation, you will undoubtedly see shortcomings and so confession is another part of diligence. Maybe as you do self-evaluation, you remember that you were not self-controlled in a situation at work and you lost your temper. As God reminds you of that situation, you can simply agree with Him that it was wrong. You thank Him for His forgiveness and then invite Him to work in that area afresh. Another thing you can do is pray. You can regularly and specifically pray that God would grow self-control in your life. You can pray about specific situations where you are tempted to not exercise self-control. When you pray like this, you position yourself in a place of trust. You are trusting God. And that is important. Pursing growth is not all about us. It is something that we cooperate in with God. We need God. It becomes a dangerous thing if we think we can grow in these virtues merely by our own effort. Pray keeps us in a place of trusting God.

Another thing you can do is lean into the body of Christ. Surround yourself with people who can help you. For me, evaluation, confession and prayer, as I seek growth, are things that I also do with other people. So, you could invite a good friend to give you some feedback on what they see regarding self-control or lack thereof in your life. And instead of just confessing your sins to God, you can confess them to this friend (James 5:16). There is something powerful about this. And you can pray with them about your pursuit of self-control. Growth happens best, I think, as we connect with the body of Christ.

Finally, the last thing I will mention in terms of how you can practically pursue growth in self-control would be to practice appropriate spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are activities that I can do by direct effort that help me do what I cannot now do by direct effort. There are a whole list of spiritual disciplines that for centuries believers have found helpful - things like study, worship, service, prayer, fellowship, fasting, solitude and many others.

So, if you are working to grow in self-control, especially related to losing your temper, you might choose to practice the disciplines of silence and solitude. You might try to find daily time to get away from the noise of the TV and radio and people, just to be silent and alone with God. And then in that time, you seek to listen to God and to connect with Him. Such connecting with God, can fill you with peace and self-control.

Or maybe you want to practice fasting. Maybe one day a week you will go without food for an entire day. As you do this, you find by saying no to your body's cravings in one area that you find a greater sense of control in other areas. This is how the disciplines work. They help us do what we cannot now do by direct effort by doing something that we can do by direct effort.

Obviously, there are other things that we can do to pursue growth, but hopefully this gives you a picture of what it looks like to be diligent to add these virtues to your faith. This is a lifelong process. We will never fully arrive until we go to heaven. But this is a process that we are to be on all of our lives. It is some in which we co-labor with God.

* Note: Spiritual Growth Assessment Tools to follow over the next two days as we continue to look at 2 Paul 1:1-9 in our daily meditations.

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