“….Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18a).
Reading: 2 Peter 1:1-11 These opening verses of 2 Peter are the focus for our message, but the theme is summarized in the closing verse of this Epistle, 2 Peter 3:18a.
INTRODUCTION: “Real men ……” Real women……” “Real Christians ……. grow!” To be more precise (according to the Apostle Peter) a real knowledge of Christ and a real experience of His grace will lead to growth in Christian character. This is the Apostle’s “thesis” as he exhorts his readers in 2 Peter and confronts false teachers and teaching.
Let’s consider how Peter addresses this matter of Christian growth in the first part of his Epistle. We will consider three fundamental truths related to Christian growth. There is much more to this subject than we can cover at this time. But, this text gives us an example of the importance of personal growth on the part of believers.
Growth is a concern in almost every arena in life. Parents seek the growth of their children and often keep track of that growth carefully. Teachers test the development and growth of their students’ knowledge of particular subjects. Companies track growth in almost every conceivable way to assess the health and the prospects of their organization. People seek to grow in various areas of their lives: better health, better relationships, better use of time, and so much more.
If you are concerned about your own spiritual growth, this section of Scripture is extremely relevant and instructive. It is also a key passage as we think about the spiritual growth of other individuals or a church family.
The Apostle begins by affirming the real spiritual life and experience of his readers. They have a genuine “like precious faith” (1). It is interesting that the Apostle views the faith of his readers as something obtained in parallel to his own faith. Surely this would be an encouragement to his readers and indicates that he views them as true followers of Christ. Faith indeed is precious, something emphasized in 1 Peter. The trials of this life help to test and purify faith (1 Peter 1:6-9).
The Apostle’s greeting indicates that it is in relation to the knowledge of God and Jesus that grace and peace are to be multiplied (2). The righteousness of God and the Saviorhood of Jesus have already been mentioned. 1:1) These believers had genuine faith and real knowledge of God and Jesus (their) Lord. The emphasis on knowledge should be seen in light of the concern about false teachers and false knowledge that dominates the second chapter of this Epistle.
Faith and knowledge go together, and they are the prerequisites for true growth in the Christian life. In other words, you cannot think about growth in the Christian life if you do not have spiritual life! Foundational to our life in Christ is the knowledge of Him and faith in Him. So, the prerequisites for Real Christian growth are genuine faith in Christ and real knowledge of Christ.
When students sign up for certain classes in school, especially in college, they are often made aware of the prerequisite courses they must take before they can move to the next level of courses. It is vital for us and those we seek to “disciple” to have genuine faith and real knowledge before there can be growth. By including these in Peter’s opening remarks he is indicating that his readers are real Christians who can receive what he is about to teach.
Peter then moves on in his opening statements to affirm that these believers had everything they needed for true spiritual growth. They have God’s provisions for growth in life and godliness (3-4). What provisions does Peter emphasize?
First of all, God’s power is stated as having provided all that is needed for life and godliness. God is the source and his divine power makes life and godliness possible. So, true spiritual life and growth in godliness are not dependent upon human abilities or personal achievements. This power is revealed through the knowledge of God. Here again, Peter affirms the importance of real knowledge. And this is knowledge of the God who called us by glory and virtue.
Second, God’s promises are referred by Peter as he speaks of these as being available through the knowledge of God. What specific promises Peter has in mind are not stated. But, it is clear that Peter wants his readers to know that they have what they need to grow in Christ. God’s promises are what give the believer stability, hope and direction. The believer can rely upon the promises of God. And when you combine the promises of God with God’s power, you have the necessary provisions for true growth. What is important to stress is that this power and these promises are for growth in life and godliness. God’s provisions are not for some display of personal supernatural power or for personal gain with wrong motives.
These provisions are for God’s purpose for our lives, and that purpose is true growth. To put it succinctly believers are to be partakers and escapers (4). The very character of God (godliness) is to be the description of those who have knowledge of and faith in Christ. This is God’s purpose for His people. Those who have God as their Father are to display the characteristics of their Father. This does not mean that we somehow become a part of God. No, never! It means that His nature is displayed in us. The next section will clarify what this means practically.
The positive is matched with the negative. To be a partaker, there must be a separation from the corruption of the world. So, included in God’s purpose is the escape from the corruption that is characteristic of our world. This corruption is not just something that passively happens, it is entered into through lustful desire. This personal process of lust leading to corruption is what the believer needs to be rescued from, this is the great escape that is needed. This is God’s purpose for us now and for eternity. And it is through God’s power and promises that we can be partakers and escapers.
So, in this tightly knit set of sentences, Peter makes it clear that there is a solid basis for the expectation and exhortation for his readers’ growth in Christ. The potential for growth is there, and it is there for every true child of God.
Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on how important this is. For the fragile Christian, the knowledge that God has provided what is necessary for real growth in Christian character is extremely encouraging. It is so easy to get discouraged if we think it is “all on me” to grow in Christ. Yes, there are the prerequisites: there must be genuine faith and real knowledge. There must be life for there to be growth. This is true in the physical world as well as the spiritual world. But, given a true spiritual life, God has provided what is needed for growth and His purpose is exactly that.
For the self-confident Christian driven to achieve growth, there is corrective truth here. Just as salvation is of God, so growth is dependent upon God: His power, His provision.
There is no room for boasting or self-congratulation because one considers themselves a growing Christian. Praise God if there is growth, and praise Him for the growth.
Given the concern of the Apostle in this Epistle, there is another application that needs to be considered. Growth in godliness is the evidence of true spiritual life. A follower of Christ should have a desire to grow in Him. This growth is a “partaker and escaper” type of growth. We are not to be corrupted by the world around us, but to be like the God who has saved us. Chapter two reveals that the false teachers that Peter denounces did not display the type of godliness that he is presenting here. Peter is concerned that we see the connection between our standing in God through faith and the character of our lives. To spell this out more specifically, we need to move to the next section of Peter’s Epistle.
Having the resources does not guarantee that the child of God will use them. In the next section of his Epistle, the Apostle affirms the need for personal diligence in matters of growth (5). There is a pursuit that is a part of the life of the growing and maturing believer. He says that because of their knowledge of God, “giving all diligence,” they are to “add to [their] faith….” Notice that this diligence is qualified. “All” diligence is needed. This is to be a priority that leads to a personal activity and responsibility. So, the believer is directly involved in this call for growth. It is not just automatic without the diligence and focus of the believer. Added to or with faith should be:
These characteristics are presented as Specific Attributes that are the evidence of true spiritual growth. These seven character qualities don’t replace faith, they are added to faith or built upon faith. They are a description of the growing life of someone who has genuine faith and real knowledge of the Lord Jesus. These are potentially available to every true believer, but available to those who pursue spiritual growth.
This is not a ladder of salvation, it is a list of essential character qualities that should be evident in the life of a true child of God. Each quality is important and they are inter-related. It is not a surprise that the list starts with faith as the foundation and ends with love. The list has some overlap with the fruit of the Spirit presented by the Apostle Paul, but it does not match exactly (Galatians 5:22-23). Having said that, the individual attributes in 2 Peter 1:5-7 are not unique in the New Testament. There is a wonderful commitment and pursuit that should characterize the true Christian. There needs to be a concern to grow, not just in terms of activities, but in terms of character attributes. A fuller study would involve a careful definition of each one of these attributes. Today my main purpose is to demonstrate from this text the importance of a commitment to personal spiritual growth. If the Apostle’s readers, including us, were to ask, what do you mean by Christian growth? This list is his answer. His concern is to alert us to the need to do what is necessary to develop and demonstrate these attributes in our lives. In a general sense, this list stands in direct contrast to the description of the false teachers in chapter two who do not seem to be concerned about such attributes.
I attended a wonderful Christian school between the ages of 14-18. The school had a motto at that time. It was really a concise statement of a philosophy of education. The statement was “Character before Career.” So often people are just thinking about what they want to do in life, where they might live, and how they will make money. Or they are thinking about how they will function in ministry positions. This statement indicates that it is important to develop character as the main priority.
It might be helpful before we move on to ask, what attribute are you most lacking in your life? Maybe this can become a matter of prayer. One possibility would be to do some Bible study of that attribute. You could share with someone that you are needing to grow in this particular area of your life. Having said this, I don’t think the Apostle wanted his readers to start choosing one attribute over another in some arbitrary way. They all are important. This list is “painting a picture” of virtues that can be reviewed and studied whenever we desire.
The Apostle does not give us a lot of “how’s” in this section. Certainly two “how’s” are to pursue growth, and to avoid false teaching. I think it is appropriate here to say that the regular means of grace are available to help us. We have already affirmed God’s provisions and purpose for the Christian. God’s Word must be read to know His promises and the nature of His power. We have the gift and privilege of prayer that can bring the need for true spiritual growth before the Lord regularly. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to help us grow spiritually and to be empowered for witness and service. We’ve already referred to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which indicates the Spirit’s role in our lives. We must seek to walk in faith and obedience, and we can be encouraged in our own walk by walking together with other believers. God has provided what we need.
I don’t think we are supposed to keep this list of attributes as a check-off list in the sense that “I’ve mastered this one, now I move to the next.” I am not sure that any of these attributes are totally “mastered” in the sense that you can’t be more virtuous, or more knowledgeable, or more self-controlled, or more persevering, or show more brotherly kindness or more loving. No, they are a constant picture of the character that we must pursue. This pursuit needs to be central and primary in our lives.
The Apostle moves on to present some practical reasons why this matter of growth is so important. So, lastly, we will consider:
In the next few verses, the Apostle Peter reveals the significance of this pursuit of growth. You might even describe this section as the reason for real growth in character.
Again, we need to keep in mind that the Apostle will address false teaching and false teachers in chapter 2. These false teachers lacked the very qualities he has presented here. Their teachings, which are not based on real knowledge, do not encourage the type of growth in Christian character that Peter presents. The Apostle clearly states that having these wonderful qualities (referred to in verses 5-7), and abounding in them, is very important indeed.
Such growth in character will result in a spiritually fruitful life, avoiding barrenness and unfruitfulness (8). I would think that we all here today would like to have lives characterized by fruitfulness. We want faithfully to be effective and influential through our lives and ministries. The answer to fruitfulness is not just learning techniques, or even to learn objective truths. We need to be growing in character and conduct, more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Think again about these qualities: virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and of course love. As the Apostle Paul clearly states, the greater or the greatest is love (1 Corinthians 13:13. For Peter, love ends the list, nothing is added to it.
Not having these Christian character qualities will reveal a shortsightedness and a bad memory as far as one’s cleansing from sin is concerned. To be cleansed from “old sins” should mean that the pursuit of holiness and maturity will follow. Indeed, there should be diligence to demonstrate in the child of God’s life one’s “calling and election” (10). In short, growth is the evidence of life!
Our salvation should be demonstrated in our desire for personal sanctification. God’s initiative in our lives is to be matched by our response and diligence. Furthermore, the believer who is truly growing in grace and knowledge “will never stumble” (10). Such a believer can have a life characterized by confidence and stability. The confidence is in the Lord’s calling and work in their lives. Also, the growing Christian will be stable in their Christian walk.
A solid Christian character will enable a Christian to weather the storms in life as he/she depends upon God’s power and promises. If you keep peddling a bicycle you keep going forward, even if you are going slowly. If you stop peddling you eventually stop moving and then you can even fall off the bicycle. You have to get up and get back on the bike to start going forward again.
Lastly, this type of spiritual and personal growth results in an abundant entrance into “the everlasting kingdom” (11). What glorious prospects for the true child of God! Note that Peter doesn’t just speak of getting into heaven, he speaks of an entrance that will be supplied abundantly. To put in crudely, Peter is not talking about “barely making it.” He is talking about the ultimate destiny of a fruitful, confident, stable Christian life.
There is no boasting in what Peter is saying. He is just encouraging his readers to know that such growth in Christian character is what the Lord wants to see in our lives. It will lead to the Lord’s “well done” as we finish lives lived to the glory of Christ by seeking to show forth these wonderful attributes.
CONCLUSION: The Apostle Peter indicates that his death is close at hand (1:14). With this in mind, as well as the false teaching that could potentially influence these believers, he calls for personal diligence leading to real growth in Christian character.
The last part of the letter reminds us of the coming of the “Day of the Lord.” The knowledge of the “Day of the Lord” is another incentive for pursuing holiness and godliness now (3:11). The closing two-fold exhortation of this Epistle helps to put these opening verses we have considered in perspective:
“…Beware lest you fall from your own steadfastness, being led away by the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18 NKJV)
So, based on the truths of these verses it is safe to say that:
PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for your grace and knowledge given to me. Strengthen my faith and increase my knowledge of you. Lord, I am grateful that you have given to me everything I need to grow in you, depending upon your power and promises. Thank you for your purpose for my life. Lord, I want to be more like you. Help me to grow in your likeness as I walk with you, and diligently use the means of grace that you have given. Show me where I lack growth and may your Holy Spirit do His work within me. I want to be fruitful, stable, and consistent in my Christian life. Help me to live in the light of eternity. Help me to desire your “well done” more than anything. May it be so for your glory! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.