July 12, 2020
Heinrich Heine was born to a Jewish family in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1797. He was poet, journalist and literary critic. It’s interesting to note his cousin was Karl Marx, with whom he shared a friendship, although they disagreed politically. In fact, for his political views, Nazi Germany later burned Heine’s works. I’m not sure if it was because of his political views, which opposed socialism, or because he was a Jew. But eventually, he received the notoriety he deserved – in fact, the University of Dusseldorf was renamed Heinrich Heine University in his honor.
By the way, while born into a Jewish family, Heine converted to Christianity as a young man. And so, it was on his deathbed many years later he said these famous words, you’ve perhaps heard them, “Of course God will forgive me, it’s His job.”
Why do I share that? Because while it’s true that God’s “job” is to forgive those who seek His forgiveness through the work of His Son, we should not view His grace so flippantly. Because I fear that is the attitude of many professing Christians today. There is a strong emphasis on grace, and there should be; but also a strong presumption on grace, which there should not be. What do I mean? Many have the attitude, I prayed the sinner’s prayer, I asked Jesus into my heart, so I’m saved. I can live however I want; He’ll forgive me. I haven’t really lived like a Christian, but God will forgive me, after all, it’s His job. Let me say it this way, have you ever thought about sinning, jumping on an internet site, perhaps, thinking, well, I’ll ask God to forgive me – I know He will.
I said it this way last week, you can’t call yourself a Christian and live like the world. You can’t call yourself a follower of Jesus, and not follow. Let me say it rather strongly: you cannot pray a prayer, and live life for yourself, and expect to make it to eternal life in heaven. I know those are provocative, controversial words. There has been much discussion, even controversy, over so-called, Lordship salvation. That is, can you be saved by calling Jesus Savior, without ever acknowledging and surrendering to His Lordship? Said more simply, can Jesus be your Savior without being your Lord? Can you live like the devil, but think you’ll make it to heaven, because it’s God’s job to forgive you?
I have said something like this once or twice before, I say it occasionally: I don’t know of a more important message I have ever preached. I want you to listen carefully. In this passage, Peter will tell us, be all the more diligent – expend every effort to make your salvation sure. Oh, to be clear, he is not saying we earn our salvation by working. But he is clearly saying, because God has saved us through the work of His Son, it should change our lives. If it does not, there is no assurance of salvation.
You’ll remember from last week, after his salutation, I suggested Peter preaches a short message in chapter 1, verses 3 to 11, to set the stage for the rest of the book. He actually preaches gospel truth – truth the false teachers were denying – before he takes the false teachers to task. And my concern for the church today is there is a sort of easy-believism that, while not saying what the false teachers were saying, the result is the same. The result is, many who profess to know Christ, don’t do what He says. (Lockridge) They have prayed a prayer, seeking to use Jesus as a sort-of fire escape out of hell, without surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Peter, and Paul, and John, and James make clear – you can’t do that. You cannot expect to call on Jesus to save you from your sin, if you have no intention of turning from your sin. You cannot call yourself a follower of Jesus if in fact you are not a follower of Jesus.
Again, Peter preaches a message. The outline of his three-point sermon – because every good sermon has three points – looks like this:
- God Has Given Everything for Christians to be Spiritually Mature (3-4)
- (Therefore) Christians Should Pursue Spiritual Maturity (5-9)
- (In fact) Christians Must Pursue Spiritual Maturity to Enter Heaven (10-11)
I know, that hardly looks like a Christian sermon. After all, it says way too much on what we do instead of what God has done. It’s way too much on Christian responsibility instead of on God’s grace. It expects way too much of us. And yet, don’t miss the order. We talked about this last week – the order is critically important. I could restate Peter’s Sermon Outline like this:
- God Has Given Christians Everything for Life and Godliness (3-4)
- God Therefore Expects Christians To Pursue Life and Godliness (5-9)
- Christians Pursuing Life and Godliness is Proof of Point One – of Salvation (10-11)
Again, the order is critically important. God acts – we respond. And our response is proof of God acting in our lives. If there is no response on our part, there is no proof of God acting. So, last week we saw Christians have received His divine power to pursue life and godliness through our knowledge of Christ. Further, Christians have received His precious promises to that we can become partakers of the divine nature – we can be like God in moral virtue, since we have escaped this world’s corruption. Not that we are perfect, but we begin a lifelong process of being transformed into the image of God. That marred image of God is being recreated in us through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, as we work with Him to become more like Jesus. How? Our text today – II Peter 1:5-11.
We’ll cover these verses according to that earlier sermon outline. In verses 5-7, Peter lists a number of virtues to be pursued as Christians. Then, in verses 8 and 9, he has some strong words regarding the necessity of pursuing those virtues. Then he commends us to making certain of our salvation in verse 10, which will result in an entrance into heaven in verse 11. Yes, I know, if you are imbalanced on your understanding of grace, these verses will bother you – you may think, hmm, maybe II Peter doesn’t belong in the Bible after all. But of course, Jesus, Peter, Paul, James and John all say the same thing.
The point is, we may focus too much on grace, and not enough on responsibility. We like divine sovereignty and forget human responsibility. We may focus too much on justification, and altogether forget sanctification. Peter argues, if there is no sanctification, growing in Christ, then there has been no true justification, and there will be no future glorification. Do you see why I say this is a most important message? Did you know the NT does not so much focus on a past profession for assurance of salvation as much as a present confession, and a changed life.
So let’s look at the list of virtues to pursue in verses 5-7. Don’t miss the way he begins, “Now for this very reason” which points us back to verses 3-4. Because of what God had done for them (escaping corruption), because of what God is doing (participation in the divine nature), because of what God will do (the promises yet to be fulfilled), because of God’s work in our lives – you do your part – apply all diligence. Make every effort. The words speak of working hard, diligently, expending every effort with haste. We see right away this is incredibly important. Growth in virtue is of utmost importance and deserves utmost effort. It’s interesting to note that growth in these virtues don’t just happen automatically – they require or attention, focus and hard work.
Make every effort to supply – add to – the word speaks of making whatever cost necessary. Providing at your own expense to add to these things. Interestingly, having dealt with the false teachers in chapters 2 and 3, he gets to the end of his letter and says, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things (that is the return of Christ and the coming judgment), be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless…”
Peter lists eight virtues or qualities. This was a common practice, a chain-saying that appears as kind of a staircase. Take this step, then add the next one. Now, there isn’t a specific order here, like, once you have faith done, then, and only then, can you add moral excellence, and once you have that done, add knowledge. Rather, they are a list of virtues to be pursued concurrently. Now, there is probably an intentionality is starting with faith, and ending with love. We are reminded of Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” And in Colossians 3:14 says, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” The point is, we pursue these virtues, with the ultimate goal being a love for God, and a love for His people. Let’s briefly define each of these:
Starting with faith. Earlier from verse 1, we defined faith as the ability to trust God about gospel truth – the ability to trust God about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for sinners. And through His death and resurrection, to trust that faith in Him as the perfect, sinless God-man, dying for sinners, being raised from the dead, and repentance from sin, results in salvation. Justification – that our sins are removed, and we receive the righteousness of Christ. Further then, this faith results in faithfulness – a commitment to the Gospel.
You see, we don’t stay there. We don’t just stay with faith in the Gospel, as important as that is. In fact, it must begin there. But from there, the Gospel changes our lives. We move on to pursuing Christlikeness, the divine nature, to being restored in the image of God. So, to faith, we supply at diligent expense, moral excellence. This is the same word as in verse 3 where we see Jesus called us by His own glory and excellence. The word could be translated virtue. Meaning, just as our Savior was morally virtuous or excellent, so also should we, if we call ourselves His followers. We pursue moral excellence. There should be an honorable, moral virtue about us.
And to moral excellence, we add knowledge. This is a key and important theme in the letter. There is a true knowledge of Christ, built on the foundation of the Word of God, and experienced in our intimacy with Him – time spent with Him in prayer and seeking His will for our lives. This is key to understanding Peter’s use of this word – we know Christ, and we want to follow Him, seeking His will for our lives.
To knowledge, we add self-control. This is an interesting word – it only appears three times in the NT, to include here and in Paul’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. That’s important because self-control is not self-mastery. You see, in the Greek world, self-control was viewed as a good virtue to pursue. You even had entire philosophical systems like Stoicism which sought to master self-control. The problem, as sin readily reveals, is we cannot control ourselves – not on our own. We need the indwelling, empowering Holy Spirit to give us divine power to exercise self-control. You see, evidence of the filling of the Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit. And the filling of the Spirit is a moment-by-moment surrender to His control.
Which brings us to an important understanding of what we are talking about. Is it God, by His grace, that enables us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ such that we live godly lives? Yes. Is it us working, applying all diligence, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and live godly lives? Yes. Because, He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it like this – Sanctification, that is, growing in holiness – is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives with which we cooperate. It is a both/and. We couldn’t do it without the Spirit in our lives. But, we don’t just let go and let God. We work with all diligence, knowing it is God who is ultimately working in and through us. Paul said it this way in Philippians 2:
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;
13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure.
So, who’s working, is it God, or me? Yes. It is you, proving the reality of your salvation, and the presence of the Spirit in your life. And so, if you are not supplying these virtues, growing in them, you are proving you do not have the Spirit of God in you. You are not working out your salvation with fear and trembling.
This self-control by the Spirit is important in this letter, because these false teachers had given themselves over to fulfilling natural and sinful desires. To self-control, add perseverance or endurance. This is a central and necessary part of the Christian life. This idea of persevering in the faith appears over 30 times in the NT. Of course, we saw this idea of perseverance in I Peter – in the midst of persecution, persevere. Remain faithful in your commitment, firm to the end. Now he says, in the midst of false teaching even within the church, persevere in the faith. Don’t give in – don’t be deterred or distracted. Remain faithful.
To perseverance, supply godliness. It speaks of a respect of and reverence for God. It’s the same word as in verse 3 – don’t miss it, you can pursue godliness – that is, being like God in holiness, because He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him.
To our godliness, we add brotherly kindness. We know this word, it philadelphia – it’s brotherly love. We’ve talked about this before – brotherly or familial affection was prized in Greek culture. It was appropriate to show love for biological family – brothers, sisters, moms, dads, sons, daughters. But in the Christian faith, we are family – thicker than blood – so we are brothers and sisters in Christ. This was a strange phenomenon in the Greek world – as it should be in ours. You are my brothers and sisters – and I love you. And whether you like it or not, you have to love me.
But just as he said in I Peter, “Since you have…a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,” here also he says, to your brotherly kindness or brotherly love add love. Agape love. A sacrificial love that would do anything for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let me say it this way – wouldn’t you do about anything for a family member? Mom, Dad, brother, sister, son, daughter. So also here. And notice, I said do. You see, love is not just a feeling – true, sacrificial love acts. It does something. You don’t just feel warmly toward your brothers and sisters, you act lovingly toward them. It heads the list in Paul’s chain of virtues called the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. And notice, love remains after faith is no longer necessary in I Corinthians 13. This is the apex of the virtues, for Jesus said, “By this will all men know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.”
So, Peter says, make every effort, apply all diligence to add to these Christian virtues in increasing measure – the idea is, in abundance. For, verse 8, if these qualities are yours in abundance, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. He uses two somewhat synonymous, interesting words. The first is useless – used here and in Matthew 20, for example. That’s the parable of the workers of the vineyard, where the landowner found men in the marketplace, standing idle. Useless. They weren’t working. That’s the idea here. It’s also found in James 2, faith without works is useless, same word. So, if you increase in these virtues, your faith will not be useless. The second word is unfruitful, used for example by Jesus when He said fruitless trees are worth nothing but to be cut down. It was what He did when He cursed the fruitless fig tree in Matthew 21. It was unfruitful, good for nothing. It was not doing what fig trees are supposed to do – produce fruit. So also, as we grow in these virtues, we too will do what we are supposed to do.
By the way, for us today – unfruitful is the same word Jesus used in Matthew 13 and the parable of the sower. Some seed feel among thorns, which choked out the seed. The thorns are called the worries of this world, and the deceitfulness of wealth. And as a result, Jesus says, the seed is unfruitful. No real spiritual life. Of course, the seed that fell on good soil – what happened? It grew and produced fruit. True spiritual life.
Please notice, if you are increasing in these virtues which require action, you won’t be useless or unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note – you can increase in knowledge – but if that knowledge does not produce increasing character – you are useless and unfruitful.
James said the same thing in the second chapter of his letter. It’s caused lots of confusion through the years – some have suggested he contradicted Paul and salvation by the grace through faith alone. Luther called James a right strawy epistle – not very valuable is the idea. But James was simply saying what Peter says here – here’s how James said it:
14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. [faith alone saves, but faith that saves is never alone]
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
19 You believe that God is one You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
Then James gives the examples of Abraham and Rahab, who proved their faith by their works. And he sums the passage with these words,
26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Do you see – a faith that does not change you and start you on the path of useful and fruitful sanctification is not saving faith. Provocative, controversial, yes. It is not that works save you – it is works that prove you have been saved.
Look at verse 9, “For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” This is a challenging verse. If you don’t have these qualities, and are obviously not growing in them, then you are blind, being near-sighted or myopic – the idea is, you are blind to what God has done, being short-sighted. You are so focused on what is near – you are distracted by the things of life, and so you have forgotten what the gospel accomplishes – being purified from, saved from your sins. The implication is, to not grow in these qualities is to persist in your sin – those supposedly, formerly forgiven. And the implication is, your former sins have not been forgiven, since there has been no work-producing faith.
This is my concern. This is why I believe this to be a most important message. We have too many in the church who name the name of Christ, but don’t live like followers of Christ. And James question is, can that kind of faith really save you? The answer is, no. True faith receives the forgiveness of sins, and the indwelling presence of a changed, fruit-producing, useful life.
So, the final point of Peter’s, and my sermon. Christians pursue spiritual maturity to enter heaven. To be very clear, it is not spiritual maturity that produces salvation – it simply proves the reality of salvation. Look at verse 10, “Therefore [the resulting conclusion of the matter], brothers, be all the more diligent – a form of the same word in verse 5, make every effort, make every expenditure, to make certain about His calling and choosing you. Calling and choosing are synonyms – it could be translated, His elective calling. Election speaks of the state of being chosen. I’ve been saying, His calling is always effective. Those whom He calls to salvation respond in faith – also a gift from Him. But now he’s saying, and those effectively called proved it by their changed lives.
Peter says, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure – firm – that you are growing in these virtues. Again, to be all the more diligent, verse 5 and making every effort speaks of zeal, effort – every expenditure of energy. This is the very proof of salvation we’re talking about. It needs to be of highest priority, for which you make the highest of physical and moral expenditure. Yes, it is true, other places in Scripture say that God will keep you firm and steadfast. But here, Peter says, do your part. Sanctification is a work of the Spirit – with which we cooperate. Participate. It is of highest importance. One author says it this way:
“This teaching may sit uncomfortably with some people’s theology, but it is the other side of the coin that has one side that God makes us firm and on this side that we make our own salvation firm. And it is our side of the coin that the believers 2 Peter addresses need to hear, for they have among them some who think that their salvation is firm enough without their pursuing any of these virtues.” (Pillar NT Commentary – Peter Davids) I can live like the devil and still belong to God – no, you can’t.
For, as long as you practice them, you will never stumble – you won’t fall. Fall into sin? Perhaps. Fall into your former sins? Perhaps. Fall away from the faith which you once professed? Yes. You see, if there is not fruit, there is not life-producing faith. So, your part in the sanctification process is to make every effort – work diligently to prove the reality of your faith.
And by doing so, verse 11, for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. The opposite is also true – if they are not present in your life, the entrance into the eternal kingdom – that is heaven – will not be supplied to you.
So my brothers and sisters. Expend every effort to be found in Him. And you will receive an entrance, abundantly supplied by the gospel, into God’s eternal kingdom.