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Growing in Godliness

  I.      Introduction

We’re starting a new book today that looks a lot like the last book we were studying.  We will study just the first few verses of 2nd Peter.

1st Peter was written to the early church, and the early church had big problems to overcome.  Many in the congregation were devout Jews, proud of their legalism and their rules of do this and don’t do that.  The other half were pagans and gentiles who didn’t believe in following rules at all.

Come to think of it, we have those same problems today in our churches.  Some people that tell us what we should and shouldn’t do.  Other churches that tell us that the bible is a good book but you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

2 Peter was written about 4 years later, and for a different purpose.  Peter knew his death was coming and he wanted to strengthen the churches before he was crucified.  Peter wanted to the church to be knowledgeable about their faith, and 2 Peter teaches us the foundations of our faith, the basics of our salvation, the basics of the scripture itself, the basics of how to recognize false teaching, and the basics of how to live while we wait for the certainty of the return of Christ.  slide2

In other words, 1 Peter was written to the church about the dangers outside the church; 2 Peter was written about the dangers inside the church.

II.      The Foundation of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:1-2

Let’s look at just the introduction to see Peter’s purpose for this letter, in 2 Peter 1:1-2,

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

This is more theologically complex than a simple, “Dear Church, it’s me, Peter.”  Peter describes the very foundation of Christianity, what it means to be a Christian.

First, Peter describes himself as servant or a bondservant, but that’s a little lightweight.  The Greek word is “doulos” and means one is who is devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interest.  In other words, Peter is not just a follower of Jesus Christ, but one who has entirely given himself to the service of Christ.

Why does Peter do this?  I think the answer is the 2nd word, “apostle” of Jesus Christ.  Peter is an ambassador of the Gospel, a personal witness to Christ’s life and ministry, and specifically sent out with a mission.  In other words, Peter saw Christ in person and heard the Great Commission.  How could Peter do anything else but obey the Son of God?  While once a fisherman by trade, now Peter is the “rock” that Jesus Christ will build His church.

He’s addressing his letter to fellow believers, but he goes a step further and says these believers have received the same kind of faith as Peter did.  Peter’s faith isn’t a different kind of faith than you and I have, it’s the same.  The same faith Peter received is the same saving faith we receive, and it links us to our eternal life with Christ.  Notice that Peter says this faith is something we receive; it is a gift.  We cannot boast in our faith, that one person’s faith is stronger than another.  Faith, like life itself, is a gift from our heavenly Father.  And that faith must be centered on our God and Savior, Christ Jesus.  Some churches teach a weak form of faith, that Jesus was a good man, and perhaps what is true for you isn’t true for me.  And that’s not true, at least it is not for me.  The righteousness we have, like our faith and our life, is a gift from God through Jesus who is both God and Savior.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.

And with this knowledge that our faith and our righteousness is a gift comes grace and peace in abundance.  It’s a gift that we don’t earn, it’s given freely to us so that none of us are lacking in ability to do the work God has placed before us.  Any righteousness we have is “through” Christ, or “in” Christ, as 2 Peter 1:1 says.  We don’t have righteousness on our own.  We fall short.

And what do we do in response?  This grace and peace is ours through knowledge.  It is one thing to say, “yeah, sure, I trust Christ.”  But when the storms of life blow in and our boat is shaken, we are tempted to swim to shore on our own power.  That is because our faith and trust is weak.  To strengthen our faith, we must also strengthen our knowledge by reading God’s word and studying like we are today but also on our own.  Then we can understand God is in full control, from parting the Red Sea, through knocking down the walls of Jericho, to sending his holy and righteous son to take the punishment for our sins, to His love for all me throughout all time, to His love today for me.  With knowledge, we have a better understanding, our faith and trust is deeper, and grace and peace grows abundantly.

III.      The Resources of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:3-4

So let’s go on to 2 Peter 1:3-4, where Peter discussed the importance of biblical knowledge in more detail;

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Peter tells us that this knowledge of Jesus, our study of the bible, provides not just righteousness, not just increased faith, not just grace and peace in abundance, but this knowledge is all the power we need to live the abundant life as well as be free from the corruption of this world.

Of course, we all sin.  It’s in our nature.  But let me contrast the response of 4 types of people, and you might think I’m making up these categories, but I’m not, they’re all listed in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 –

  • The nonbeliever: this person may have a sense of right and wrong, but it’s not well-developed. He believes what the world tells him, that premarital or same-sex relations are ok, that lying and stealing are ok in the right circumstances, that truth is relative.  Non-believers can be very moral individuals, of course.  But their morals are not based on solid rock, they are based on shifting sands.  The New Testament term for “unbelievers” is “ψυχικός,” “psuchikós;” Natural, pertaining to the natural as distinguished from the spiritual.slide8
  • The baby Christian. We use this phrase for new believers who do not have a strong spiritual foundation yet.  They have professed their belief, but often still rely on the world for support.  They lack knowledge of the Lord, but the Holy Spirit continually prompts them from within to seek truth.  When times get tough, which they will, they are challenged in their faith: do they trust the world, or do they trust Jesus?  The Greek term for “infant believers” is σάρκινος or sárkinos; with propensities of the flesh unto sin; νήπιος nḗpios; an infant, child, baby without any definite limitation of age, usually referring to immaturity and lack of instruction.slide9
  • The backsliding Christian. This is an uncomfortable place to be, but it happens to all of us at some point in our lives where we have decided we have a valid excuse for not obeying those prompts by the Holy Spirit, and our disobedience grieves the Holy Spirit.  Eventually, one of two things happens; we either rededicate our obedience to the Lord and again seek His face, or the Lord gives us over to our desires and hardens our hearts.  Paul refers to these as “Carnal Believers,” σαρκικός or sarkikós; having a tendency to satisfy the flesh, implying sinfulness, sinful propensity, carnal.  These carnal Christians are disobedient or even in open rebellion.  By now, they should have matured, but they are stuck in their sin nature.  It’s hard to tell them apart from non-believers.  They are not destined for hell, but they are missing out on the abundant life.slide10
  • And finally, the mature Christian. These are πνευματικός or pneumatikós; persons who are spiritual, enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  The mature Christian, or perhaps I should say, the maturing Christian because nobody ever reaches full maturity.  Perhaps we can agree that Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was a mature Christian, but Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3 verse 12,slide11

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.

Maturity is the goal and maturity is the journey.  Full maturity is the destination we never quite reach.

IV.      The Growth of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:5-7

What is another word for this maturity?  The simple answer is “sanctification,” but then there’s a whole confusing definition on what sanctification means.  And this is important, but the English language is going to trip us up with how we are to understand God’s work in our lives.slide13

The Webster’s Dictionary defines sanctification as “to set apart for sacred use: to consecrate, to make free from sin: to purify.”  So we can understand the basic definition of sanctification as being separate, to be set apart.  In the Greek New Testament, the prefix “hag-“ is used for several words –

  • Hagiasmos: holiness, consecration, sanctification
  • Hagiosyne: holiness
  • Hagiazo: to sanctify, consecrate, treat as holy, purify
  • Hagios: set apart, holy, saint, sacred

The basic idea of the Greek prefix is to stand in awe of something or someone.  So let’s summarize it with this definition:

To be sanctified is to be made holy.

I’m going to follow a rabbit trail here, one of those enlightening observations that I think is important here.  I grew up Catholic and believed that “saints” were some long-dead super-Christians.  The apostles were saints, like St. Paul and St. Peter, and then there’s a whole mess of other super-Christians that become saints, like Saint Joseph of Arimathea is the patron saint of pallbearers, and Saint Isadore, the patron saint of farmers.  At the website Catholic Online, I found 149 patron saints listed.

But the word for saint comes from the same root prefix used for holy, sanctified, consecrated, set apart.  Romans 1:7, Paul addresses his letter to the church of Rome,

To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

And in Colossians 1:2,

To the saints in Christ at Colossae, who are faithful brothers.

Saints are not some long-dead super-Christians.  Saints are the believers in Christ, members of the Church, our brothers and sisters.  Saints are you and me, set aside for God’s purposes.  Now, whether we walk in the manner of saints, well, that’s what the books of Ephesians and Colossians are all about.  The books of Ephesians and Colossians describe how saints ought to live, in unity, truth, love, wisdom, light, that saints ought to talk in a manner worthy of the Lord.  The behavior of the saints ought to reflect the name of the One whose name we bear.

The definitions of saint, set-apart, consecrated, holy, are all intertwined.  They all come from the same Greek prefix, and they all apply to all Christian believers.  To be sanctified is to be a saint.

So, are we sanctified?  Or are we being sanctified?  Or will we one day be sanctified? slide17

The answer is yes to all three, but the word “sanctification” is used in three different ways.  In fact, different churches use the word in different ways which cause misunderstanding among Christians when in fact we’re often saying the same thing.  If you choose to study the doctrine of sanctification, it’s important to realize how confusing it can be unless you realize all the different ways it can be used and misused.

Are we sanctified?  Absolutely, we have “Positional Sanctification.”  When we repent, we confess our belief that Jesus Christ is Lord.  At this very moment, we are redeemed.  We are cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus.  We have been forgiven of all our sins, and we are made holy before God through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  This is a one-time event; we are saved.  Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and although we are sinners, we are pronounced “not guilty” as Christ has taken our punishment and we are made free.  The wrath of God for our sins has been satisfied.  We are once saved, always saved, our eternal life has begun from that moment.  Sometimes we call this “salvation,” but again, the English word doesn’t full capture the nuances of past, present and future.  I’ve usually used the word “justification” based on previous studies.

Sometimes this can be called “regeneration,” and this is also what we mean by “born again.”  I think “Positional Sanctification” is an accurate term that captures this one-time event.  Hebrews 10:10 refers to our “positional sanctification,”

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

When we have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and we have “Positional Sanctification,” we are set apart from the world for God’s purposes.  The Holy Spirit enters the life of the new believer, and we are made free from the penalty of sin, once and forever.  We are sanctified.slide18

Are we being sanctified?  Absolutely.  We have “Progressive Sanctification.”  We are experiencing God’s plan for our lives.  Where we still find ourselves still in the world, the Holy Spirit continues to set us apart for God’s use.  This is what we usually mean by “spiritual maturity.”  While we are already holy and set apart, we are now becoming more holy and set apart.  This is where Christians that follow Christ find out we switched sides in the battle between good and evil.  Where once we were children of the devil without realizing it, now we have decided to follow Jesus and we are on a collision course with the world, we are opposed by Satan, and even our own sinful nature continues to fight against our new spiritual nature and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.  2 Corinthians 7:1 says it this way,

Therefore, 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.

This is a confusing time for all believers, and this is when we learn to trust in Jesus more and more.  The conflict that we are engaged in makes us continually ask, “Does God know what is going on in my life?”  And as we grow in spiritual maturity, we begin to realize that the conflict we are experiencing is proof that God is at work.  We are continually asked, with higher and higher stakes, to decide if we want to place our trust in the world, or place our trust in God.  It is how God tests our faith and grows us spiritually.  When we first become a believer, we are free from the penalty of sin, but as we grow in spiritual maturity, we become free of the power of sin.  We are being sanctified.slide19

Will we be sanctified?  Absolutely.  Even though we have been sanctified, and are being sanctified, we will also be sanctified.  We have “Ultimate Sanctification,” or sometimes called “Glorification.”  This is the final stage in the salvation process, our future glorification as a believer.  We are glorified when we are transformed into the likeness of Christ and presented to the Lord as holy.  The presence of the Holy Spirit within us during spiritual maturity is the guarantee for our glorification, which includes the redemption of the body, the eternal inheritance that can never spoil, and deliverance from the future wrath of God.  We will be sanctified.  Where we once were free from the penalty of sin and then the power of sin, once we are glorified, we are free from the very presence of sin, forever and ever, amen.  1 John 3:2 says,

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Once a believer, once our faith in Jesus Christ is proclaimed, Steps 1 and 3 are guaranteed.  We are positionally sanctified and free of sin, and we are ultimately sanctified, glorified and dwelling in our eternal kingdom.  It’s the middle step, progressive sanctification, that is entirely voluntary.  It is our lifelong journey to become more Christ-like, recognize we cannot do it on our own, and grow our trust in the work of the Holy Spirit within us.slide20

  • We are saved, are being saved, will be saved
  • We are holy, are being made holy, will one day be holy
  • We are sanctified, are being sanctified, will be sanctified,

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So we are studying 2 Peter 1, I bet you forgot, didn’t you?  Let’s look at verses 5-7,

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

This is a beautiful description of sanctification.  Which sanctification?  The second one, our Progressive Sanctification on the road to spiritual maturity.  It is completely voluntary, of course.  We already have the gift of salvation.    In the sanctification process, each step moves us closer to full spiritual maturity, but it is entirely up to us.  Just because the Holy Spirit shows us the path doesn’t mean we have to walk it.

But should we choose to answer the tests with our faith, we grow in spiritual maturity.

The first step is just to be good. If you are a new Christian with faith but without much knowledge of the bible, just try to be good.  Say nice things and do nice things.  It’s a great first step on the road to spiritual maturity.

But sometimes it’s not always apparent what being good is.  Let’s say I’m friends with a man who is having an affair.  Do I tell him I just want him to be happy?  Or do I tell him something else?  What would God want me to tell him?  To be good, we add to our knowledge, we study the bible to understand what it means.  With knowledge of God’s will, what it means to be good becomes more clear.

So, armed with a little knowledge, I blurt right out to my friend that I think he’s going to Hell because he’s having an affair.  And now my friend won’t return my calls.  And I realize that knowledge must still grow, and I learn that my words must both be true and kind.  In my new knowledge, I was so eager to be true that I forgot to be kind.  I learn self-control.  I apologize to my friend, I say I’m sorry, I was judgmental and rude in the way I said what I did, please forgive me.  My friend is still having an affair, but I so want him to understand the love of Jesus like I do that I persevere as his friend.  I understand that loving my neighbor means loving sinners, for we are all sinners, falling short of God’s glory.  My friend doesn’t come to Christ today, or tomorrow, but I persevere.

And I learn through this perseverance that Christ suffered in every single way, and died for me, and I understand a little of how a holy God amongst sinners must feel.  Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  And he’s not angry at us because of our sin, he’s among us because he wants to save us from our sin.  And I want to be more like Jesus and my life reflects the Holy Spirit living in me a little more each day.  Is my life demonstrating godliness?  Do others see me and do they see Christ in me?  I live my life of godliness among friends and family that are impacted by my life, and I am encouraged by my Christian brothers and sisters who share a mutual affection with me and pray for me and I can do the same for them and I realize that it’s not just me that has struggles, but my Christian brothers and sisters struggle, too, they are facing tests just like I am and I want to encourage them to be strong in the face of the enemy but the enemy isn’t other people but the principalities of this world and when there is persecution I realize my enemies, too, need to know the love of Christ and I realize that Christ loved me while I was still a sinner, that I understand now why I should love my enemies because my enemies, too, are made in the image of God and God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son so that no one may perish but have everlasting life, and the best way to let my enemy know the love of Jesus is to be good to him and I realize in my spiritual journey I’m starting over at the beginning learning what it means to be good.

  V.      The Benefits of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:8-11

It’s a lifelong process.  I am being sanctified, I’m being set apart for the Lord’s use, I am being made, slowly and sometimes struggling, into the image of Christ.  And even when I think I understand, I realize that my brain is probably only about 3½ lbs and will probably never be able to fathom all the mysteries of this universe that an omnipotent, omniscient God breathed into existence, or why God would look out across the expanse of time and space to give his grace and mercy to me, but the more I get to know God, the more I want to know God and His unfathomable love for me.

2 Peter 1:8-11 tells me that my sanctification will eventually lead to my glorification, my ultimate sanctification.

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

VI.      Conclusion

My life now is messy, but I have grace and peace in abundance through the knowledge God has provided.  My sanctification has a purpose.  One day, my visit to this planet will come to an end, and God will call me home.  My destination is secure, and the peace that surpasses all understanding washes over me when I think of the love that saved a wretch like me.  And though a life dedicated to growing in Christ puts me square in the middle of a spiritual conflict with the forces of evil, I know my God loves me and will never forsake me and one day I receive a welcome, not just any welcome, but a rich welcome, into an eternal kingdom with Christ Jesus.  And I hope, and I’m sure you do to, that when we arrive the words “Well done, good and faithful servant” will ring in our ears joyfully forever and ever.

To God be the glory.

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