Make Every Effort to Grow
2 Peter 1:5-11
April 18, 2015 | Brian Bill
Listen to how an article from the Washington Post begins: “It is every pilot’s worst nightmare to hear strange sounds coming from a plane. An exploding engine. A cracking exhaust valve. The metallic ping of a bolt sheering under pressure. At 35,000 feet, even the smallest of sounds can signal serious trouble. So it was surely a frightening moment on Monday when an Alaska Airlines pilot heard a banging noise only a few minutes after takeoff.
“The problem wasn’t a broken instrument, however, but rather a drowsy luggage handler. Passengers on the flight from Seattle to Los Angeles were shocked when their plane returned to the airport almost immediately after taking off. They were even more stunned when rescue workers waiting on the tarmac popped open the plane’s cargo hold and removed an airport employee. The employee had apparently dozed off while loading suitcases and woken up in the sky.”
This got me thinking about the Christian life. Some Christians have fallen asleep surrounded by baggage and as a result they’ve been grounded. Friend, listen. You can’t take off spiritually if you’re asleep and you won’t fly if you’ve bedded down with your baggage.
We’re going to see today that there can be no coasting for Christians. If we want to grow in grace we can’t be spiritual sluggards or pew potatoes. Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Peter 1:5-11. Let’s stand and read together:
“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
If you want to take off spiritually, these three elements must be present in your life.
- Add to your faith (5-7)
- Abound in fruitfulness (8-9)
- Assurance of forever (10-11)
2 Peter covers a lot of topics but is primarily a book about Jesus Christ as this word art graphic shows. Last week in verses 1-4 we learned that we already have everything we need to live life and everything we need to grow in godliness. While we might not have everything we want we already have everything we need. Because of that we’re to unleash God’s power, utilize His promises and undertake our partnership with Him.
Today our focus is on using all that we’ve been given. Peter starts with our position in Christ before moving to our practice as Christians. Once we know about our resources we can focus on our responsibility. To say it theologically, the opening verses deal with our justification and this next section helps us dive into our sanctification. We move from knowing about grace to growing in grace.
This is going to take some work. No napping allowed. And it’s time to cut the baggage loose.
I like what Don Carson says, “The dominant biblical pattern is neither ‘let go and let God’ nor ‘God has done His bit, and now it’s all up to you,’ but rather, ‘since God is powerfully at work in you, you yourself must make every effort.’”
Actually that popular phrase, “Let go and let God” is not all that helpful. A better phrase would be this, “Trust God and get going.”
We don’t work hard in order to be saved but we work hard because we are saved.
Most of us want instant growth
Have you ever looked at a mature believer and wished you could be like him or her? Wouldn’t it be great to know the Bible and be able to pray and lead people to Christ and exhibit joy and peace and goodness and knowledge and self-control and perseverance and godliness and kindness and love? Most of us want instant growth, forgetting that what is behind a godly life is a person who has persevered through pain and problems. Spiritual development only comes through practicing spiritual disciplines like time in the Word, prayer, fellowship, fasting, giving, witnessing and serving. Or to say it another way, we must gather, grow, give and go…and when we do it will show.
Here are two truths to keep in balance.
- God is committed to our growth. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” God is committed to our growth because He’s the one who planted us. Isaiah 60:21: “They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.” When we grow we show His splendor.
- We must be committed to our growth. Check out 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Paul reminded us in 2 Corinthians 10:15 that when we grow, the scope of the gospel grows as well: “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand.” And Paul applauded the Thessalonians for not being stalled spiritually in 2 Thessalonians 1:3: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”
Listen. It’s not all up to God and it’s not all up to us. God has designed it so that we work in partnership with Him. Philippians 2:12-13 captures our responsibility and God’s role very clearly: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [that’s our part]; for it is God who works in you [that’s God’s part] both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
But having said that, it’s not a 50/50 arrangement but a 100/100 deal. We are 100% responsible to grow in discipleship and we are 100% dependent on the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and gives us the grace to grow.
We could lay it out like this.
- Dream – Where do you want to be?
- Decision – What decision will you make to get there?
- Disciplines – How will you discipline yourself to make it happen?
It’s easy to dream because it doesn’t demand anything. The problem isn’t so much with our desire to grow spiritually because almost everyone wants to grow. Our problem is, like the disciples, our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak (see Matthew 26:41). We all could dream about going to the Olympics but it’s only those who decide to do so and then live by some strict disciplines that actually end up on the team.
Randy Alcorn writes: “The choices we make every day program our minds, either for godliness or ungodliness.” Peter is calling us to make three choices right now.
1. Add to your faith.
Consider these qualities that we’re to go after in verses 5-7: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” It’s interesting to me that Peter, who is known from the gospels as a very impetuous man, is here laying out a deliberate and disciplined approach to spiritual maturity.
When Peter says, “for this very reason,” he’s drawing our attention back to the opening verses. The phrase “giving all diligence” is quite strong. It refers to eagerness, earnestness and zeal and has the idea of moving quickly. Exodus 12:11 provides a word picture from the Passover that helps us capture the meaning: “Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste.” As someone has said, “Faith doesn’t just stand around with its hands in its pockets.”
Spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic.
It’s an attitude of expectancy that leads to immediate action. It’s having zealous diligence that executes decisions with swiftness and priority. It’s the opposite of being a lazy believer or a sleepy spiritual slacker. Let’s remember this: Spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic. These Christian qualities won’t develop accidentally or spontaneously. There’s no way to grow spiritually without deliberately working at it. Years ago, J. Vernon McGee in his unique style, wrote this: “The Christian life is a very serious business. However, we have made it sort of an extra-curricular activity.” We might say it like this today – Jesus is not just an app to download.
The word “add” is beautiful as well. It originally referred to a wealthy patron who would lavishly pay the wages for singers in a chorus or actors in a play. He would cover the expenses for everything, from their salary to all the technical elements. These patrons would go over the top, supplying everything in abundance. It was also used of keeping the choir in tune.
In a sense they were like sponsors. An example would be how a company does everything it can to have a world-class PGA golf event.
We’re to “add” these next seven elements in order to create a harmony of holy living, not grudgingly but generously. Before we look at each one, let me make some observations:
- These qualities are character traits of God.
- This is not a list to keep in order to be saved but qualities that come about as we work out our sanctification.
- We can’t take a pass on the ones we don’t like.
- We’re called to a diligent and disciplined life.
- These qualities build on one another. One commentator likens it to making a cake. You need all the ingredients and they need to be added in the correct order. We add and God does the multiplying. Another commentator sees these qualities as rungs on a ladder.
- This is a list of inward character qualities, not outward performance-based activities.
- This list is different and yet has some similarities to the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. I believe Peter’s list was compiled because these qualities are in dramatic contrast to the false teachers he will describe later in the book.
- Faith is the foundation. If you don’t have faith, you won’t be able to build on anything of value. As we learned last week, faith is obtained or given to us.
Let’s take a look at these seven ingredients that we must mix together. This parade of virtues should be evident in each of our lives, for they have already been given to us. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are increasing daily. And notice they are in the present tense, meaning we should ask this question: “Are these qualities truly increasing in my life or am I in a spiritual rut?” As we go through each one give yourself a “thumbs-up” or a “thumbs-down” for how you’re doing. Simply put your hand on your lap and point your thumb up or down accordingly.
- Virtue. This can be translated as moral excellence and the courage to do what is right. Someone put it this way: “Your ideal is what you wish you were. Your reputation is what people say you are. Your character is what you really are.” Your character is who you are when no one is looking. How are you doing in growing in virtue? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
- Knowledge. Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” I love what J.I. Packer says: “What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God.” It’s important to know God if you want to grow in God. Are you increasing in knowledge of God?
- Self-control. This literally means, “To hold one’s self in.” It’s the opposite of self-indulgence. Proverbs 25:28: “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.” We need to practice self-control with our tongues, our tempers and our temptations. Thumbs-up or thumbs-down on controlling yourself?
- Perseverance. This means to bear up under trials or more literally, “to remain under.” It’s the idea of enduring when circumstances are difficult. We must work at endurance and remain constant over time so that we persist in the pursuit of godly character. If self-control has to do with physical pleasures, perseverance has to do with pain. This is a challenge because our natural tendency is to pursue pleasure and flee from problems. Are you hanging in there or have you bailed?
- Godliness. This refers to practical religion or as one commentator puts it, “practiced religion.” To be godly is to have a spirit of reverence and respect for God in all matters so that we walk in view of His greatness. The Latin phrase is to practice Coram Deo, which means to live before the face of God always. How would you grade yourself on godliness?
- Brotherly kindness. It’s important to have nothing but love for fellow lovers of God. It’s been said: “To dwell above with saints we love, that will be our glory. To dwell below with saints we know, well that’s another story!” Jason Crosby preached a great sermon last Sunday night in which we were reminded to love our enemies. Is there anyone you’re struggling to love right now? 1 Peter 1:22 says, “Love one another deeply, from the heart.” Are you growing in this or headed south?
- Love. This is the capstone of all virtues. While we’re to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re also to love everyone. Agape love may involve emotion, but it must always involve action. Love doesn’t say, “I’ll love you if…” or “I’ll love you when…” Love says, “I love you. Period.” We don’t wait to “feel” love before loving; we’re to love no matter how we feel. How about it? Thumbs-up or thumbs-down?
Here’s the question. Will you decide to go after these things? And here’s the harder question. Will you discipline yourself to do so?
Friend, if you want to survive spiritually, you better get on the ball. Let me just say that you’re probably going to need help. You may need an accountability partner. You may need some coaching or some mentoring. If you’re not in a LifeGroup, you need to get in one. Or plug into an adult Sunday School class. Listen. God doesn’t make us holy against our will or without our involvement.
When someone tells me they want to make a change I often ask this question: “How badly do you want to get better?” And so I ask each of you, “How badly do you want to grow in grace? What are you going to stop doing and what are you going to start doing?” If not now, when? You can’t get to where you want to be unless you do what you need to do.
Some time ago I read “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. Here’s something I wrote down: “A religious person that liveth not according to discipline, lies open to great mischief to the ruin of his soul. He that seeketh liberty and ease, shall ever live in distress, for one thing or another will displease him.” (Page 99)
Spiritual growth is neither automatic nor inevitable—we must dream and then decide and finally be disciplined and devoted. Maturity is not just a function of time. Here’s some good news. You can grow because you’ve been given all that you need. Now it’s a matter of using all that you have. Be diligent and be disciplined and you will grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How are you doing at adding to your faith?
2. Abound in fruitfulness.
When we’re serious about growing we will be effective and productive. This is what Peter says in verse 8-9: “For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” Notice Peter uses the phrase “these things” two different times. What things? The seven character qualities listed in verses 5-7.
I love how we’re to “abound” in these things, which means “to have much or more than enough; to have a surplus.” It reminds me of what Paul said in Philippians 1:9 where he longs for our love to “abound more and more.” When we abound in fruitfulness, three things will happen.
- We’ll go forward. We won’t be “barren.” This word means to be slothful or idle. Instead, we’ll be moving forward. Proverbs 19:15 says: “Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.” No believer should be barren. We don’t have to grow colder as we grow older. Do you know if you’re not moving forward with your faith, you’re actually going backward? There’s no way to coast as a Christian. Christians who just float never stay in the same place. If you coast, you’ll be toast. That’s what happened to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4.
- We’ll be fruitful. We won’t be “unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not just knowing about Jesus, but actually knowing Him personally. The word “knowledge” here refers to becoming thoroughly acquainted with someone. Jesus put it this way in John 15:5: “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.”
- We’ll be focused. When we’re spiritually sleepy and stagnant we can become “shortsighted,” able only to focus on what’s right in front of us. That can lead to becoming “blind” to what really matters and then we can end up “forgetting” that we’ve been set free from the baggage of our old sins. When these seven character qualities increase, we will be able to see our salvation more clearly.
Add to your faith. Abound in fruitfulness. There’s one more ingredient…
3. Assurance of forever.
We see this in verses 10-11: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Once again we called to be “even more diligent” which means to make every effort.
That reminds me of Hebrews 6:11-12: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Peter wants us to make sure we’ve really been saved. This is so important that you don’t want to hope or guess or wonder. If you’re not sure you’re saved, you need to settle that right now. There are two results of having certainty of your salvation.
- Holiness now. The phrase “never stumble” means that you won’t lose your footing in your faith and that you’ll be less prone to stumble into sin.
- Heaven later. And “an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Faith saves us but assurance satisfies us. The word “abundantly” was used of an athlete returning home after competing successfully.
In a similar way, if you are saved, your entrance to heaven will be supplied with abundant applause because you’ve trusted in the finished work of Jesus Christ!
I learned that the trapped baggage handler also made a frantic 911 call from his cell phone. When someone picked up he exclaimed, “I’m trapped in a plane.” The stunned dispatcher replied, “You’re where?” The man, with his voice shaking amid the roar of the engines in the background, screamed, “I’m inside a plane and I feel like it’s moving in the air. Flight 448. Can you please get somebody to stop it?” Amazingly, the baggage handler is doing fine and is back on the job.
Friend, call out to God if you’re trapped today. Make the call and He will rescue you and put you back to work. No matter where you are right now, it’s time to take the next step. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been spiritually asleep up until now. Take the next step. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been bogged down with baggage. Take the next step. It doesn’t matter if you feel like your faith has been grounded. We can take steps because Jesus stepped toward us and gave us salvation. And we can do it because He’s given us everything we need for life and godliness.
Spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic. When we add to our faith we will abound in fruitfulness and have the assurance of forever. We have all we need and when we use all that we have we will grow…and it will show.