Grace Works (II Peter 1:1-11)
Passage: 2 Peter 1:1–1:11
I. His Deliverance, Our Deeds
When it comes to what we do for God and what God has done for us, the relationship between those two things is, quite often, misunderstood.
What do you believe about God's deliverance and our good deeds?
Some professing Christians, whether they would state it explicitly or not, believe that God's deliverance works together with our good deeds to make us right with God. These people create an unholy alliance between our deeds and God's deliverance.
Other Christians react to another extreme and claim that good deeds have no relationship to God's deliverance. These people believe a person who believes in Jesus can be heaven-bound but live the rest of their life on earth as a hell raiser.
What do you believe? Listen to how the Apostle Paul demolishes these two false beliefs in just three verses: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Our deliverance is not a result of our works. It is all of God. Full stop. But our deliverance recreates us for good works, the very deeds that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
Listen to another way Paul expresses this idea: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (I Corinthians 15:10)
To be saved by grace is not be saved by works. It's to be saved for works. To be saved by grace is to be saved for a life in which that same grace works in us to accomplish God's will.
II. The Passage: “All Things that Pertain to Life and Godliness” (1:1-11)
This morning, I want another Apostle, the Apostle Peter, to help us understand more about these grace-works that God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Turn with me to II Peter 1:1-11.
A. Peter’s First Lesson (1:1-4)
Let me read verses 1-4 for this morning: Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
We know from the rest of this letter that false teachers had crept into the church or churches to which Peter writes. As he indicates in chapter 2, these teachers were introducing “destructive heresies” into the body.
These men were saying that Jesus was not coming or had already come, and this was driving many to conclude that not seeing Jesus in the flesh meant they were free to live in the flesh, to “indulge in the lust of defiling passion” (2:10), and to “revel in the daytime” (2:13).
Notice how Peter begins to build his case against such heresies. First, he identifies with his readers. He writes you have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours …we share a common salvation, and it is one that is so precious, so valuable; worth fighting to protect.
Secondly, he points them back to toward true north. The Grace and peace that you need, writes Peter, will only come through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. That’s where we need to look if we’re to confront these destructive ideas.
Now the third thing he does is to makes clear, in verses 3 and 4, that their disobedience, and potential disobedience, fueled by these destructive heresies, has nothing to do with what God desires and has made possible for all followers of Jesus.
They cannot say, “We just don’t know enough”, or “We just don’t have the right gifts”, or “We just don’t have enough of the Spirit, or enough grace”, or “We just haven’t experienced our translation to glory yet…that’s why we’re “so influenced by our corrupt desires””.
Peter states it clearly: God has given us everything, everything we need for life and godliness. What we have here is probably a Semitic figure of speech: “life” and “godliness” simply means “a godly life”. God has given us everything we need to live a godly life.
And it is this truth that brings us to our first lesson on grace works from our brother Peter:
The grace-works that God has called us to and equipped us for are nothing less than complete obedience.
What do you do with this command from Jesus? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
I’ve heard it stated many times: “God is not calling us to be perfect”. But isn’t He?. Didn’t He send His Son to die for that reason? He’s calling us to Christlikeness, and Christlikeness is perfection. What is a godly life? It is a god-like life, a Christlike life, a life that is characterized by the character of God himself.
Remember, complete obedience is not simply inaction in regard to evil. It is always action in regard to love.
When Jesus talked about complete obedience, He said: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Complete obedience is loving God with our all, and loving all with God’s love.
And we have, according to Peter, everything we need to pursue such a goal. If a godly life were like a building a house, Peter would argue that we have everything we need to complete the project. “Well I don’t have the right tools.” Yes you do. “Well I don’t have the blueprints”. Yes you do. “Well I don’t have the skills, or the helpers, or the..” Yes you do. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…
But someone might say, “But I have a sinful nature, and I live in the midst of this sinful world…perfection is an unrealistic goal.” To which Peter would respond…
[God] has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
Look at what Peter goes on to write about this call to complete obedience: Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these [for the coming of Christ], be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (II Peter 3:14)
And the Apostle Paul issues the same call to his readers: Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (II Cor 7:1)
So am I saying that we can actually become perfect in this life. No, I don’t believe that. But listen to how Paul explains it in Philippians 3: Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…
Notice that Paul takes time to point out that he has not arrived. He speaks from the same position all of us are in. And he doesn’t spend time talking about whether or not we can really become perfect in this life—no look at what he goes on to stress…
…but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
What Paul is emphasizing here is the “pressing on”. We bring glory to God when we attempt to attain the unattainable. Complete obedience is the goal we have been called to pursue and equipped to pursue.
B. Peter’s Second Lesson (1:5-7)
Look next at II Peter 1:5-7…For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
Look at where Peter goes in verse 5. For this very reason…what reason…because God has given us everything we need to grow in Christlikeness, to live in holiness, to pursue perfection…for this very reason, make every effort…
Peter is telling his audience, “Since God has granted us these promises, since He has given you such tools, USE THEM, PUT THEM TO WORK!” Notice that effort or diligence is listed first to give it the emphasis. Peter tells them, “Bring it alongside of your faith in order to fill out your faith.”
When it comes to the list of virtues Peter gives us here, notice how important the first and last virtues are.
Notice that faith is mentioned first, and that all of the other qualities are to be added to the foundation of faith. But also notice, that faith is not described as something we can add, only something we can add to. This is not surprising since up in verse 1 faith is described as something we have received. Faith is the gift of God.
But also notice where the list ends. It ends with love. Love is the crown jewel of the virtues and the end to which we are ultimately called.
So in verses 5 through 7, Peter is calling his readers to pour all of their energies into working their faith out in a life characterized by goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and above all, love.
But what we see here points us to our second lesson from Peter on the nature of new life: While grace-works ultimately come from God, they nevertheless require hard work.
Many Christians have come to believe that following Christ is about a lot of things, but hard work is not one of them.
In fact, if you talk about what YOU need to do in the Christian life, what steps YOU must take, about YOUR part in all of this, you will be quickly labeled a legalist, or man-centered, or accused of preaching a works-based salvation.
It’s strange: We lament about our struggles with sin, but seem unwilling to really struggle against sin. In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney confirms this observation. He writes:
So many professing Christians are so spiritually undisciplined that they seem to have little fruit and power in their lives. I’ve seen men and women who discipline themselves for the purpose of excelling in their profession discipline themselves very little “for the purpose of godliness.” I’ve seen Christians who are faithful to the church of God, who dearly love the word of God, trivialize their effectiveness for the Kingdom of God through lack of discipline. Spiritually they are a mile wide and an inch deep. There are no deep, time-worn channels of communing discipline between them and God. They have dabbled in everything but disciplined themselves in nothing.
Remember what Peter writes here: “Make every effort…make every effort!” To do what? Well, look at what Peter writes…To add virtue to your faith, that is, make every effort to live virtuously in this life. Be a man or woman of integrity in all you do.
Additionally, make every effort to grow in knowledge. Don’t be swayed by the anti-intellectualism of our age. What we know matters! God has given us his word that each of us might know Him better and live according to His will.
On top of that, learn to master your heart, mind, and body. Our culture simply encourages us to feel, think, and act impulsively. But we should people characterized by self-control, not as an end in itself, but in order that we might be able to give ourselves over to God for His work. You can’t give what you can’t control.
Furthermore, learn to be steadfast, to endure, in spite of your circumstances, in spite of how you might feel. Stand firm, persevere.
On top of that, be devoted to and acknowledge God in everything you do. Our goal is not simply to be known as good people, but as God’s people; our goal is to be godly.
Finally, make every effort to love one another. Learn how to care for another and pray for God’s heart for His people. Jesus said that this kind of love would be our calling card as His ambassadors.
Listen, in harmony with what Peter writes here, when the Apostle Paul wants to describe living the Christian life, he doesn’t compare the believer to a scribe or to a potter or to a Roman senator. No, he uses images that stress stress and strain and labor: the athlete, or the soldier, or the farmer.
Think about the metaphors that Jesus used to describe the life of a disciple: Building a house, building a tower, pulling in nets filled with fish, plowing a field, going out to war, working in the harvest, taking up the cross. These are all grueling tasks.
But as we make every effort, let's not fall into the trap of believing it's all about us. Here's another good corrective from Paul: For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:29)
C. Peter’s Third Lesson (1:8-11)
So we’ve seen how Peter is calling his readers to “make every effort” to add these 7 virtues to the gift of faith that God had given them. Peter wants them to grow in their faith!
But why should we desire to see this kind of growth? Why is it so important? Well Peter goes on to give his readers two incentives in regard to this kind of growth, first a positive reason, then a negative reason.
The positive incentive for growth is this: 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter is asking us, “Is it your desire to lead an effective and productive Christian life? Do you want to make a difference for the glory of God? Do you want God to use you in the lives of others?” If you do (and we should), then growing in these virtues is the way in which we make ourselves available to God for His work.
In fact, as Peter argues, growing in these qualities demonstrates that we understand this fact: ‘to truly know Jesus is to truly live like Jesus’.
But in contrast to this kind of growth, in v. 9, Peter describes those who lack these virtues:
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
Here’s our negative incentive. Why should we desire to see this kind of growth? Why is it so important? Because its absence points to a very serious problem.
Peter describes those who lack these qualities as nearsighted and blind. The combination of these words probably is meant to communicate something like, “blinded by one’s nearsightedness”.
When we are failing to grow in grace by growing in these virtues, we demonstrate that we are not looking beyond this life, to the call of our heavenly Master, that we are not looking back to the cross, the epicenter of our salvation. We demonstrate that we are nearsighted, focusing solely on worldly pursuits, as we subscribe to worldly wisdom.
I think we see here our third lesson from the Apostle Peter: Grace-works provide us with assurance in light of our practice, not just our profession
When I use the word assurance, I mean (to quote Don Carson), “a Christian believer’s confidence that he or she is already in a right standing with God, and that this will issue in ultimate salvation.”
In recent times, many in the church have argued that this kind of assurance is completely realized when you profess faith Christ. They say that if you’ve made that kind of profession, your assurance that God has done something in you should be completely based on God’s faithfulness to His word, that God will honor His side of the deal by forgiving your sins and allowing you into heaven, even, I repeat, even if your life seems unaffected by such a profession.
But while the faithfulness and truthfulness of God must always be recognized as the foundation for any discussion of assurance, look at what Peter writes in verses 10 and 11:
10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Notice first that Peter is addressing the issue of assurance. The word translated “sure” in v. 10 is the Greek word bebaian, which has somewhat of a legal sense and with the verb here could be translated as “confirm”, “make certain”, or “certify”.
Next, notice the assurance Peter is calling them to “make sure” is an assurance of their salvation, but even more specifically, an assurance of their election by God.
Now wait a minute. Is Peter saying that we can know, at least in some sense, whether or not we have been chosen by God to be His son or daughter? Absolutely. The key question that we must ask, the key to our entire discussion this morning is, “How? How can we make certain that we belong to God?”
Peter goes on in v. 10...For if you practice these qualities …What qualities? If you add to your faith, virtue and to your virtue, knowledge…and so on. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, Peter is saying, they give evidence that God is at work in you.
How can I know if God has chosen me to be His son or daughter? According to Peter, you should be living like His son or daughter. How can I know whether or not God is going to welcome me into His kingdom? According to Peter, you should be living like a subject of that Kingdom, in submission to the King.
For Peter, the primary method through which we can know whether or not God has truly done something in us is to examine whether or not God has been and is truly doing something in us.
But someone might say, “How can Peter make such an assertion, without any respect to someone’s personal testimony, individual life circumstances, and struggles? Why is he so matter of fact about these qualities and assurance in the Christian life?”
Because…that’s just the way it is. That’s just the way new life is. Peter understood the nature of new life in Christ. He understood that new life is a dynamic, transforming force. He understood what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28-30:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.[What was God’s purpose?] 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined [ or elected], he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Do you see? God has made it clear what new life is all about. It is about a progression toward a greater conformity to the image of Jesus. That is the nature of new life. That is just the way it is.
But wait a minute…doesn’t all of this smack of works? Aren’t we making these qualities the basis for our salvation? No way! That’s not what Peter is doing.
The basis for our salvation and the foundation for our assurance is the reality of Christ’s finished work on the cross and the character of God. Our spiritual growth, our progression toward a greater conformity to the image of Jesus is simply an evidence Christ’s work has been active in our lives, according to the faithfulness of God.
Here’s an example. If I take a train from Los Angeles to New York, my arrival in the ‘Big Apple’ will not be attributable to anything other than the power and speed of that train. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot have an assurance that the train is moving and in the right direction.
In fact, there are many things that can confirm that for me. The noise, the movement of the car, the direction of the sun out the window, and the changing landscape that rushes past.
But those things don’t get me there. They are just signs that I’m on a cross-country train ride because that’s just the way a cross-country train ride is.
III. Be All the More Diligent
So what does all of this mean for us? Well hopefully, the application is fairly obvious. Hopefully, you’ve been challenged to do the very thing Peter was calling his original readers to do: Therefore, Way of Grace Church, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.
There it is. These is the challenge that Peter gave to his readers 2000 years ago, and this is the same challenge that God is giving to us this morning through Peter.
Do you have an assurance that God has called you to himself (i.e. saved, born again, redeemed, justified, converted)? If so, what is that assurance based on? Does true faith seem to be working itself out in you, according to the image of Christ, according to the qualities listed by Peter, and in increasing measure?
If your Christian life has not been characterized by progression toward a greater conformity to the image of Jesus, but by continuing conformity to the world, shouldn’t you be concerned?
Listen, missing a quiet time does not prove you are not a Christian. A failure to speak to a co-worker about Christ does not prove you are not a Christian. Even periods of spiritual dryness should not lead us to automatically doubt our salvation.
Our assurance should not be shaken by the fact that we fail. We should be shaken when we fail to care that we have failed, and our failures are not causing us to grow in grace.
Grace works. And when it works, there are grace-works. Strive for complete obedience. Make every effort to be like Jesus. And as you strive and struggle, grow in your assurance that, as Philippians 2:13 expresses it, it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.