Godliness Takes Diligence
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Peter 1:5-8
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Read vv. 2–9
As you all know, I grew up in a small farming community in Illinois. One of the farmers we went to church with was Carol Graves. Carol is one of those guys who can’t sit still. He’s always busy, and he doesn’t wait for things to happen, he gets them done.
Carol farmed the same way. He was always the first farmer to start planting, even if the ground was too cold for the corn to germinate. Carol had to get started. And he was the same way in the fall. He was always the first one to start harvesting even if the corn was still pretty green and wet.
One of his lines that he would often use in the spring to say it was time to get started was, “The corn won’t grow in the bag.” His point was that you can have bag after bag of the best seed corn in the shed. But it doesn’t matter how much potential the seed corn has to produce a bumper crop, it won’t produce anything, unless you get out in the field and plant it. Turning potential into profit requires hard work.
And Carol’s line, “The corn won’t grow in the bag,” provides a good parallel for our text this morning. Last week, we saw in vv. 2–4 that God has given the Christian lots of potential for a fruitful Christian life. Through the gospel, “His divine power has given…” As a result, we have all we need to “be partakers of the divine nature.”
But “The corn won’t grow in the bag.” Therefore, in vv. 5–8, Peter challenges us that we have to put all that potential to work. We have to diligently apply the power of the gospel. So, vv. 5–8 provide an important complement to vv. 2–4. They also force us to specifically reflect on where we are thriving and where we need to try harder as we pursue the “divine nature.” I’d like to break our study down into 3 questions.
I. How should I pursue godliness (v. 5)?
The heart of this text is the 7 virtues we are to develop around saving faith. But before we get to these virtues, notice that Peter mentions 3 ways we are to pursue them. The first way is…
In Reliance on God’s Grace. Notice that v. 5 begins by saying, “But also for this very reason.” What reason does Peter have in mind? He’s clearly looking back on the gospel realities in vv. 2–4. Christians enjoy grace and peace through the knowledge of God. We have divine power, and God has assured us that we will partake of the divine nature.
So, Peter grounds our pursuit of godliness in the realities and promises of the gospel. Paul does this many times. He begins his letters with the truths of the gospel, and then commands us respond to God’s work by pursuing godliness. The indicative (God has changed me) feeds the imperative (grow in godliness).
This emphasis is important, because the only way I can truly become godly is by the grace of God. Yes, in my flesh, I may be able to make some nice reforms, but I will never develop the “divine nature” deep in my heart. I need grace to develop the qualities in this passage.
Second, a clear vision of grace is essential to protects us from either a self-righteous pride over what I have accomplished or despair when I fail. When I succeed, it is all grace, and when I fail, God’s grace is more than enough. So, pursue godliness in reliance on grace. 2nd…
With Diligent Effort. The phrase, “giving all diligence” is jam-packed with meaning. The verb Peter uses means “to apply, bring to bear, make every effort.” It looks back on vv. 2–4, and it challenges us to take full advantage of the grace we have received, to work hard to fully apply God’s mighty grace.
And then Peter adds the adverb “diligence.” This word speaks of 100% effort and responsibility. Don’t think of a casual walk in the park but of an Olympic sprinter, who is straining every muscle in his body as he pushes toward the finish line. That’s how we are to pursue godliness.
And to drive all of this home, Peter adds the word “all” to say, “Yes, God wants you to give everything you have.” So, Peter is calling us to pursue godliness with 100% focus and effort.
I love how Jerry Bridges illustrates this in, Transforming Grace. He states, “My observation is that most of us who are believers practice what I call a ‘cruise control’ approach to obedience…When you are driving on the highway you can accelerate to your desired speed, push the cruise-control button, and take your foot from the accelerator pedal…You don’t have to watch your speedometer to make sure you’re not going to get a ticket for speeding, and you no longer have to experience the fatigue that comes with constant foot pressure on the accelerator…However, we tend to obey God in the same way. To continue the driving analogy, we press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our behavior up to a certain level or ‘speed.’ The level of obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. We don’t want to lag behind them because we want to be as spiritual as they are. At the same time, we’re not eager to forge ahead of them because we wouldn’t want to be different. We want to just comfortably blend in with the level of obedience of those around us. Once we have arrived at this comfortable level of obedience, we push the ‘cruise control’ button in our hearts, ease back, and relax. Our particular Christian culture then takes over and keeps us going at the accepted level of conduct. We don’t have to watch the speed limit signs in God’s Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind…By contrast…race-car drivers are totally focused on their driving. Their foot is always on the accelerator as they try to push their car to the outer limits of its mechanical ability and endurance…They are driving with all their heart, soul, and mind” (pp. 116–117).
If you are going to please the Lord in the pursuit of godliness, you need to approach the Christian life like it’s the Indy 500, not like it’s a casual Sunday afternoon drive. Godliness requires “giving all diligence.” The 3rd way we pursue godliness is…
With Steady Patience: Peter provides an important counter-balance to diligence. The command in v. 5 is “add” (i.e., “supply, supplement”). It was commonly used to describe generous gifts by the wealthy. So, the idea here is that Christians must work to generously add godliness to the faith we received in the gospel.
On the one hand it communicates a sense of urgency. We cannot be content with a small portion of these qualities. No, we should pursue a generous quantity of virtue, knowledge, etc.
But there is also an important assumption built into the command. Namely, none of us have arrived. No matter if you are a brand-new Christian with loads of baggage or the Apostle Peter, we all have much to add to our faith.
So, even while I press forward with diligent effort, I must remember that transformation does not happen overnight. It’s a lifelong and often painfully slow process. Therefore, don’t get discouraged when you crash or when change doesn’t happen as fast as you would like.
Remember that you have “exceedingly great and precious promises.” You can change, and you wil change. So, keep adding to your faith. In sum, pursue godliness in reliance on God’s grace, with diligent effort, and with steady patience. The second question is…
II. What character qualities must I pursue?
Peter command us to “add” 7 qualities to our faith, speaking of saving faith. So, v. 1 described Christians as those have been given “precious faith” by which we have been saved. Therefore, God is commanding us to build on the gospel foundation we have received, not as a means of salvation, but as a necessary outgrowth of what God has done.
When you read through this list, it sounds like Peter is saying that we need to perfect these qualities one by one, as if you master virtue first, then knowledge, and so on. But that’s not what Peter means.
You will never master any of these, so if you wait until you master virtue to move onto knowledge, you’ll never get get to it. As well, the fact that you are working on one quality is never an excuse for sin in another area. By God’s grace, we are able and responsible to obey all that God has commanded. Finally, if Peter intended to create a list of priorities, he would not put love, which is the supreme Christian virtue at the end.
Rather, this is simply a list of important qualities that every Christian must develop along with others the NT mentions. First, we must generously supply our faith with…
Virtue: This is the same word Peter used in v. 3 to describe the character of Christ. In both vv. 3, 5 it is a general term for moral excellence. Think of someone with outstanding character. It’s a person of integrity, honesty, responsibility, and hard work. No one is perfect, but this person has blameless character. You can’t make any charges stick against him.
Sadly, our culture values virtue less and less. We know that our politicians are liars and cheats, but we just accept that it’s necessary for the political game. Most people don’t have any problem telling a lie if it solves a problem.
But we must make sure that Scripture shapes our character and what we value in others. By God’s grace, work to be truthful, responsible, upright and edifying in all that you say and do.
Knowledge: We talked a lot about knowledge last week. In vv. 2, 3, Peter used the Greek noun epignosis to describe how we come to know the Lord in salvation. But vv. 5, 6 use simple form gnosis. In this context, it describes knowing God’s will, discernment, wisdom, or practical insight.
Again, we live in a culture of impulsive, emotional decision making. Just look at the political adds on TV. None of them make a logical argument; they just tug on your emotions. “Follow your heart,” we say. The problem is that your heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked.”
Instead, the Scriptures command us to study hard so that we know the mind and will of God as revealed in Scripture. And then, develop wisdom, where we are skilled at combining every factor and arriving at wise decisions rooted in biblical priorities.
This is a vital skill to godliness. If you’d like to think about it more, I’d encourage you to listen to a sermon I preached last August from Philippians 1:9–11, entitled “Making Excellent Choices.” We covered some crucial material that day. You will never thrive spiritually and glorify the Lord well, if you don’t thoughtfully pursue what is excellent according to Scripture.
Self-Control: Remember that the false teachers influencing Peter’s readers had nothing of self-control. Instead, they gloried in sexual passion and lust. But self-control is essential to godliness, because your heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. I can guarantee that an undisciplined Christian walk will be meager, weak, and unfruitful.
One of the scariest verses in Scripture is Ephesians 4:27, which states that a person who is ruled by anger gives Satan an “opportunity.” In other words, anger creates an unusual weakness that Satan can exploit. The same is true any time strong and unsanctified passions rules your life.
If you want to be godly, you must control your passions and, “Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov 16:32).
Perseverance: The Greek word hupomona, and it’s one of my favorites. The root mona means “to abide, remain,” and the prefix hupo means “under.” So, perseverance literally means to remain under a heavy load. Rather than running from hardship, God wants us to build the strength, courage, and discipline to embrace the heavy burdens he puts on our shoulders and to carry them with grace and joy.
The NT consistently teaches that this kind of patient strength is essential to godliness. Why is that? Life is hard, and the path of discipleship is generally not lined with roses. Rather, Jesus compared discipleship to carrying your cross. A cross isn’t just heavy; it is an instrument of cruel execution.
Serving Christ isn’t easy. If we spend our lives whining about how hard it is and meditating on all that’s bad, we will have no joy and we will go nowhere. Instead, James 1:2–3 command us “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (same word).” Embrace every hardship as an opportunity to build the perseverance that is foundational to a godly life.
Godliness: In this list, godliness distinguishes the character development of Christians from the mere moralism of so many other people. Christians aren’t just looking to be chivalrous and moral, like Ghandi or the Dalia Lama.
No, godliness means that I approach all of life with a godward focus. I am always conscious of God’s presence and his watchful eye. I walk with God. Therefore, life is never just about getting stuff done, living a good life, or character development.
Rather, I want to glorify the Lord to those around me and please him in all I say and do. 1 Corinthians 10:31 states, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” All of us can grow in this area. We all easily get wrapped up in what is right in front of our eyes. By God’s grace we need to grow a sense of God’s presence, conscious dependence on him, and a vision to glorify him even in the most menial of tasks.
Brotherly Kindness: The Greek term here is philadelphia. It combines philos, which means love and adelphos, which means brother. It means “brotherly love.” Since, the next quality is agapa, Peter probably intends to especially emphasize the love that Christians are to share with each other.
The Bible teaches that we are family! Yes, families don’t always see eye to eye, but we should share a genuine love for each other that creates an eagerness to serve each other and a strong sense of security with each other. When you gather with this church, you are with brothers and sisters. That love isn’t going anywhere, and if you need anything, we are here for you.
How much are you investing in this family? Do you come to church each week looking to build relationships, express love, and serve others? Are you conscious of the needs of others, and are you looking for needs? Do you regularly and specifically pray for the people of this church? Do you make phone calls, write letters, and invite people into your home, because you want to bear burdens, build disciples, and manifest Christ?
If your knee-jerk reaction is to moan about how people aren’t doing that for you, you’re missing the point of the text, because Christian love is about service, not being served. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” All of us need to add a generous supply of brotherly love to our faith.
Love: There’s not a great difference in meaning between this term and the last. Peter probably intends to broaden the context to every relationship and to the character of our hearts. Christians ought to be people whose hearts are full of sacrificial care and concern. We are hardwired, to look out “for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4), because that’s what Christ did for us.
Of course, this sort of love is the foundation of the biblical ethic. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal 5:14). Therefore, we must work by God’s grace to add a generous supply of Christian love to our faith.
I imagine that all of us could pick out 1 or 2 of these qualities that need extra focus in our lives. And we can all grow in all of them. So, commit to adding a generous supply of all of them. And do so knowing that God’s divine power has given you all that you need to do so. And God’s “exceedingly great and precious promises” assure you that you will make progress if you are in Christ. So, press forward in pursuit of the “divine nature.” 3rd question…
III. What will godliness yield (v. 8)?
Notice again that the goal is that these 7 qualities exist in every Christian. Not just that, the goal is that they “abound.” By God’s grace, we want to pursue a generous supply of them all. And what will happen as we grow in these qualities? “You will be neither barren (useless)…”
To turn that around to a positive, “You will be useful and fruitful…” Here in v. 8, the word knowledge is again epignosis. So, the primary focus is an intimate knowledge of the Lord rooted in conversion. To be more specific, a growing faith yields…
Assurance of Salvation: In other words, when I can see that God is changing me, and I can see the fruit of “His divine power” changing my character, it assures me that Christ truly lives in my heart, and I really do belong to him.
We’ll talk a lot more about this, when we come back to 2 Peter in a couple of weeks, but Peter emphasizes in vv. 8–11 that God’s sanctifying work should give us great assurance that we are in Christ. Rather than evaluating our salvation based on a prayer we prayed or if we feel God, the best evidence of salvation is sanctification, that we are taking on the divine nature.
Yes, we all have a long way to go, but don’t focus on how far you have to go; focus on how far you have come. I wish I was growing faster than I am, and I’m sure you do too. But it’s pretty incredible to look back and to consider all that God has taught me over the years and how much progress he has made in me. All of it encourages me, that Christ really is at work, and he will continue that work, and someday, I will be in glory!
And God wants you to enjoy the same assurance. Be encouraged by all that God has done, and will do. Think about the fact that someday you will see Christ, and he will finish the process. You will fully reflect the “divine nature.”
Of course, that also means that if your life is contrary to these qualities, there is a good likelihood that you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ at all. God saves us to change us and to glorify himself. As Martin Luther once said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” If you have questions, I’d love to talk with you about how you can find true assurance of your salvation.
But don’t miss the fact that Peter’s primary point is to encourage Christians, to see what God has done, what he is doing, and what he will do. It is a wonderful privilege to know the Lord. Let’s rejoice over this great gift, and by God’s grace, work to develop a generous supply of godly character.