Much Ado About Something
Preached by Jason Abbott
It’s not very difficult for us to imagine someone arguing against Christianity by asserting there’s no life after death—no divine punishment for sins committed and no divine reward for righteous deeds done. John Lennon argued in this way; didn’t he?!
Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Living for today… 1
Many, in our time, believe this is rather groundbreaking stuff. Yet it’s not. Instead, this view was precisely what Peter was writing to combat 2,000 years ago in this very letter. What we hear from the atheists and the agnostics of our own day was preached and propagated by a group called the Epicureans in Peter’s day. Consequently, it seems likely that the troublemakers who Peter is addressing here were teaching, in some form, an Epicurean philosophy. 2
They were teaching that:
- God doesn’t intervene in this world.
- Jesus isn’t coming back as he predicted he would.
- If Jesus isn’t coming back, he’s not judging anyone either.
- Therefore, we should live for the pleasure we can get right now.
Friends, if this doesn’t sound, to you, like a conversation you might have with somebody at Little Amps or Tröegs, then you’re not in touch with the views of our culture. This is precisely the thinking many will bring into a conversation against the claims of Christianity. Truly, we can learn a lot through what Peter says in this letter.
So, let’s read it and learn. (You can find it on 1166 in the brown Bibles.)
2 Peter 1:1-15
1 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. 5 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. 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. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, 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.
12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
As we move forward, we’ll want to look at the “doings” of this passage. There are three doers represented here. So, we want to consider (1) what God does. Then we want to consider (2) what we do in response. Finally, we want to consider (3) what Peter did and why he did it.
Let’s begin with:
1. What God does (vv. 1-4).
Just a few nights ago my wife and I briefly entertained a simple question which I bet most of you have asked and considered at some previous point in time. Namely, if you could spend an evening with any living person, who would it be? What person would you like to get to know—get on the inside with?
My answer was Sufjan Stevens—an indie, folk singer whose music I love. I’ve been to see him perform in concert numerous times over the last ten years. I’ve read a number of articles about his Christian faith and tumultuous childhood. Yet, for all the times I’ve been in a building with him and for all I know about him, I nevertheless don’t really know him…do I?!
Moreover, for me to really get to know Sufjan would require an invitation from him to me—not vice versa. Otherwise, we’d be talking of restraining orders and the like. No, for me to personally know Sufjan would require him to reach out to me. It would require him to do something to make the relationship possible between us. He would have to act first.
And, this truth is even truer when we’re talking about having a relationship with God! He must do something to make that possible! And the really great news, Peter tells us, is that God has done it in Jesus Christ. Look at what he says:
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, 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 (vv. 3-4).
Peter says God granted that we may know him—have knowledge of him. Consequently, this relationship with God has given us an unbelievable privilege—namely, to “become partakers of the divine nature.”
Now, what does that mean?
Well, it means that we know God and, therefore, become ethically like him. God grants us knowledge of him (relationship with him!) and it changes our lives. We become morally like God. We share in the divine nature of our Triune God when we become progressively holy—progressively free from sin.
Relationships change us. Good relationships for the better, bad relationships for the worse! This is why parents worry so often about their children’s friends. This is why married couples seem to progressively espouse one another’s views concerning things. (This is why dogs and their owners look alike!)
Now, these things don’t happen instantaneously. They happen over time. Husbands and wives share some views when they are first married but far more after thirty years of marriage. A child is surely influenced by his or her friendships, but not at the very moment they’re begun. No…change, through our relationships, will happen slowly over years and even decades.
So, if you’re a non-believer, who’s visiting with us today or listening online, and have a problem with Christianity because you see so many followers of Jesus who are jerks, please remember this point—nobody begins to follow Jesus one day and is made perfect by the next. No honest Christian would ever, ever claim that! Rather, we begin a relationship with Jesus and are changed over a lifetime.
This is why I’d like something like this on my tombstone:
Jason Michael Abbott
1974 to 20-whatever
By the grace of God in Jesus Christ,
Not quite as bad as he could have been.
This brings us nicely to our second kind of doing:
2. What we do (vv. 5-11).
If God grants us relationship with him—saves us from both sin and death—then we must change because of this good news relationship we have with God. We have a responsibility to begin to live differently. Here’s how that should look; here’s what we do in response:
[We must] make every effort to supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (vv. 5-7).
Notice that we start with faith in Jesus, and that that begins a beautiful climb of moral transformation. Our faith in Jesus must ultimately lead us to do good. Virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love: these traits slowly emerge through our cooperative work with the Spirit of God, who (through faith in Christ) lives in us.
There are many lists like this one in the Bible. And, it’s well worth your time to look at each trait and to better understand what it would mean to engender it. But, since we don’t have time for that here, I’ve put a footnote with some resources that will help you if you’d like to learn more about these traits.3
(Remember—our preaching of Scripture shouldn’t be the end of your study but only the beginning of your study of God’s word. If sitting under our preaching, on Sunday mornings, is the extent of your nourishment on the bread of God’s word then you’ll be an anorexic Christian at best!)
Well, before we turn to today’s final point, allow me to draw your attention to the benefit we have when we work to acquire (in cooperation with God’s Spirit) these holy characteristics. Peter encourages us:
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. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (vv. 8-11).
Friends, do you see the benefit? It’s not that acquiring these qualities earns for us a place in God’s eternal kingdom. Rather, Peter is teaching us that growth—in these ways—confirms that we’re already members of God’s eternal kingdom through faith. Growth, in these characteristics, encourages us that our faith is real. It’s not merely intellectual assent. It’s not simply a membership in an organization. No…transformation in this way is nothing less than proof that the kingdom of God has come upon us through our relationship to Jesus Christ.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll doubtlessly say it again. Keep a prayer journal. Write down your struggles with sin and your prayers for holy transformation. Then, every so often, look back in it. Look back 10 years and see what’s changed. If you’re struggling against sin in cooperation with the Spirit, I’ll bet a lot has. And, if a lot has changed, if sins have been replaced by virtues, then be encouraged that your calling and election are sure.
Well, let’s move now to the final thing being done here:
3. What Peter did (vv. 12-15).
Look at what he says:
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things (vv. 12-15).
So first, Peter expressed what God has done in Jesus Christ—the good news. Then next, he expressed how what God has done should inform what we do—starting with faith, we should progressively acquire divine nature characteristics. Finally, he revealed his strategy—to remind them again and again of these things and, also, to put in lasting triggers to remind them of these things when he’s gone. That’s what Peter did. (He’s a one trick theologian!)
Friends, what are you looking for in a church…something new or trendy? Are you looking for a place that’s going to accommodate the current cultural fads? Are you looking for a progressive, hip church?
Or, are you looking for a church in which you will be reminded ceaselessly of the ancient, unchanging doctrines of God—of the immutable gospel?
Peter knew that those opposing him were preaching a new, sexy message—live for what makes you happy and don’t fear judgment for doing what you want! But friends, Peter also knew that any real hope for real happiness must be anchored in the bedrock of the one who never changes. So, he reminds them of this gospel. And, I pray that we may be the kind of church that does the same. Amen!