Growing in faith and assurance

2 Peter 1: 5-11

Introduction

It’s quite an anxious time for new parents when the health checks happen. Is baby developing and doing all she is meant to? Is baby growing? Is she putting on weight. Failure to grow is a cause for concern. So too with Christians. Are we growing spiritually in Christ?

The context of what we are about to be encouraged to do is found in verses 3-4.   We have everything we need from God to do this. Our ability to grow in sanctification is found in the wonderful promises already given to us. It is important that whenever we seek to know how to live for God that our exhortations to good works are rooted in grace. As someone else once put it “The imperatives must follow the indicatives.” We can’t simply work ourselves up, fix ourselves, put the effort in to change ourselves so that we become better people. We are not called simply to follow an example, Jesus isn’t just a moral teacher. Our ability to follow him comes from him. He first of all calls us, saves us, declares us to be holy and gives us his righteousness.

Notice as well before we get into the detail that the purpose of this call to grow in godliness is found in verses 10-11. We seek these things in order to “make our calling and election sure” as some older translations put it. What that precisely means, we will come to later but we can say from the start that these verses are to do with “Christian assurance.” How do I know that I belong to Jesus, am saved and have eternal life? Well there will be evidence or fruit of repentance.

A Look at the text

V5-8 The call to supplement our faith

V5a The NLT is right then to emphasise that we are acting in response to the faith we have, the trust we have in God’s promises.  Trust in God is central to our daily life as believers. I’ve recently uploaded a video to our YouTube channel looking at John 14. There, we see that Jesus reminds his disciples that they can trust him to keep his word that he is preparing a place for them and will return. Faith is about trust in God’s character.  

This means that we are not adding things that are lacking. This is neither works righteousness, nor faith plus works righteousness. It is not that God gives us a second chance when we believe but then it is over to us. Rather, everything we need is already present in salvation. I guess you can liken it to the seed that has everything already present, buried in the ground and soon to break through the soil and grow into a tree, It’s the little embryo with all of its DNA there just waiting to grow into the full mature adult he or she one day will be.  The reformers argued that we are saved by faith alone but faith is never seen alone

V5b -7 Peter then lists a sequential chain of characteristics that the believer should be growing into, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patience, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, love.  Some people think that this is meant to be logically sequential, that we need moral excellence before knowledge, godliness before love etc.  However, that does not seem to quite fit. In what way does morality precede knowledge?  Rather the sense we are meant to capture from the chain is that we are constantly growing in character as more and more positive character traits develop.

Worthy of note is that things like knowledge and virtue which were seen as the foundations for a good life in Greek thought are present but rather than being the foundations, themselves grow out of God’s grace, his revelation and salvation.[1]

Knowledge (v5) is important to our growth as believers. Note that whilst general learning is to be valued, this is primarily about our knowledge of God. The fear, or the knowledge of God is the root of wisdom.  The Dutch reformed theologian and 19th century prime-minster said that all we can really do is think God’s thoughts after him.  How do this? How do we allow knowledge of God to shape our lives, especially in a time of crisis. Well it has to be by paying attention to Scripture. We will need to set aside more time for prayerful study of God’s word, not less.  I am encouraged that pastors are seen by the government as key workers, though I think they are looking at it purely in terms of the good works we do in the community. However, the key work that elders in the church are called to is to feed God’s people with his word and guard them from false teachers. 

A chain of characteristics focus on the perseverance of the believer (v6). We are to be self-controlled, and patiently enduring.  In other words, we are not to be swayed by what is happening in the world around us.  Indeed, if these characteristics are gifts from God, then we perhaps do better to emphasise that we are controlled (filled with) the Holy Spirit. Endurance then means that the circumstances of life do not leave us floundering, giving up, being way-laid.  We are not to turn aside from the path. We are not to go after idols.

V7: Another theme running through focuses on love. I link godliness into this. To be like God is to love him and our neighbour whole-heartedly. There should be brotherly affection (Philadelphia). The means that we have a specific concern for God’s people. We should take care of one another in the church. Indeed, this is where practical love starts. It will flow out from there in love for our neighbours and community.

Love however is about more than practical expressions of care, as important as those things are. 1 John 4 roots out knowledge of God’s love in the Cross. How do we best love our church family? We love them by pointing them back to Jesus. If a friend from the church is discouraged, distracted, disgraced, the Gospel is the answer just as much as when they first believed. How do we best love our neighbours? We love them best by telling them about Jesus.  We probably won’t get many opportunities like this when we are able to share the good-new. People are open and have questions. We have the safety of a simple invite via face-book or twitter. The threshold of just watching a live stream safely at a distance is much lower to cross than having to come to an event or course.

Why do we need to grow these characteristics?

V8 Explains why we need these characteristics. The ESV starts the verse with “For” When we see that word at the start of a sentence, it points us to look backwards. We are now going to be given a reason for what we have already been told. There are benefits to having these qualities and not just having them but seeing them grow or having them in overflowing abundance. The benefit is that we will be effective and fruitful for Jesus. It is no good us having a testimony of salvation if there is no evidence of a changed life. It is no good talking about the God who is love and who has loved us if people cannot see that love in us. It’s no good talking about hope if we are about to give up.  Words and deeds go together. It is neither or. Of course, if we are growing then we will not be perfect yet.  There is no point imposing some new legalism on each other. However we should be able to see God at work in each other’s lives. I was struck by the testimony about Mike Ovey that one of his colleagues shared at his memorial service. Many had paid tribute to his humility, patience and compassion but the colleague pointed out that it wasn’t that Mike was naturally brilliant at all those things, rather he worked hard at it every day. Paul would refer to it as taking every thought captive and putting sinful desires to death in the flesh.

V9. So if we lack these characteristics, the opposite is true. We are ineffective and unfruitful. Indeed, Peter refers to such people as short-sightedly blind. I was talking with a Christian who is registered blind recently. He said that he really struggles with what he sees as “ableist language. Talking about people being spiritual blind, he says, gives a poor image of blind people. You see, there is a difference between being born blind or losing your sight through ill health and wilfully refusing to see. Here we have people who screw their eyes up tight shut to avoid seeing  God’s purpose and ways. This short-sightedness chooses to look at what is just in front of us and to miss the hope we have as we look forward into eternity. It is no surprising that such people lack endurance and self-control,  they lack knowledge of God’s purpose and so are more likely to be knocked off course. It is not surprising that they become selfish and unloving. If all I have is today then I will make the best of it and look after number one.

The purpose of growing in Christ (v10-11)

V10  starts with a “therefore” if “for” causes us to look back and to give an explanation or reason, “therefore” pushes us forward, this is the purpose, implication or application of what we have just been reading. 

We seek to grow in godliness so that we can “confirm” our “calling and election.” Or “make it sure.” This is all about assurance. As I said at the start, the outworking of the gospel in our lives is the evidence that Christ is present.  Notice Peter, like Paul talks about calling and election. The New Testament letter writers focus on that sense that God chooses us.  I frequently come back to the point that this is not meant to be a philosophical debating point about predestination. Rather, the point is pastoral. We are encouraged that God chooses to love us. As the old children’s song put it “Jesus loves even me.”

Practising these qualities will protect us from falling. Remember that this remains completely a matter of grace. It is God who equips us. It is God who keeps us from falling.

The result (v11) is that we can look forward in hope. There will be the joyful day when we will be with Christ. Peter says we will enter the eternal kingdom richly. There is a Biblical idea of reward. This is what Piper calls “future grace” because it is all God’s work. We may also think back to what Jesus said and Peter’s earlier letter with the idea that we store up treasure in heaven, spiritual treasure. That treasure, those blessings are available to draw upon from heaven in this life. We will need patience and love now but I think we also see that they are there to equip us for eternity. We have the hope that we will see Jesus and will be like him. Therefore we get to work on purity and godliness now so we are well prepared for the day of transformation.

Conclusion

Are you growing in Christ? Could it be that our heavenly father, who loves us, is using these present circumstances to help us to grow. He is taking away the material, intellectual and religious props we lean on so that we depend on him completely for food. It is then that we will start to grow.


[1] See Schreiner, 299,

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