My ninth-grade English teacher pulled off a phenomenal feat: she motivated a bunch of teenagers, who at first couldn’t care less about expanding their vocabularies, to learn 120 vocabulary words. I think I could score 100 on a test on those words today, almost fifty years later! I still know the meaning of sesquipedalian (a person who uses long words), erudite (scholarly), osculate (to kiss), pensive (thoughtful), and many more.
How did she do it? She used several methods. For one thing, she would use the words in a humorous way, so that you had to know the meaning of the word to understand the joke. She also used the words in sentences with students’ names. If she used your name, you wanted to know what she was saying about you: “I saw erudite Steve osculating with pensive Pam.” Steve and Pam (and the rest of the class) wanted to know what that meant!
Also, she had the equivalent of a contest, where we had to find all 120 words in print, cut the sentences out (this was before the copy machine was invented!), and paste them into a notebook. So we all competed with one another to find sesquipedalian, osculate, cogitate, petulant, and all the other words. Years later, in my thirties, I went over to her house and thanked her for being such a great teacher. She knew that motivation is a key to learning and she was a master motivator!
That leads me to ask, why would anyone want to spend significant time and effort in this New Year to read and study God’s Word? Why expend the energy and discipline to set your alarm early enough to get out of bed and spend time with the Lord each morning? Why say no to temptation when yielding would feel so good? Why be patient, kind, gentle, and self-sacrificing towards others, especially when they don’t seem to appreciate your efforts? In short, what motivation is there to be diligent to grow in godliness? What’s in it for us?
Perhaps you think that it’s wrong to ask those questions. Shouldn’t we do those things apart from any benefit to us because they’re the right thing to do? But Peter asked essentially the same thing and the Lord did not rebuke him. Peter said (Matt. 19:27), “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” Jesus replied (Matt. 19:28-29),
“Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”
Jesus was saying that the eternal benefits should motivate us to endure whatever hardship we now encounter in following Him. In our text, Peter is spelling out the benefits of growing in godliness to motivate us to persevere in the process. He’s saying,
The benefits of growing in godliness are fruitfulness,
assurance, perseverance, and eternal blessings.
In verses 1-4, Peter sets before us the resources that God has graciously provided for us: He has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness through knowing Christ and through His precious and magnificent promises. Then in verses 5-7, he shows our responsibility to grow in godliness, as summarized by seven qualities that we are to add to our faith. Now (8-11) he shows the results or benefits of growing in godliness to motivate us to hang in there when it would be easier to go with the flow of the world and the flesh. If we grow in godliness, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that our lives are fruitful in light of eternity. We will enjoy the assurance of knowing that God has called and chosen us as His own. We will not fall away from the faith. And, when we step into eternity, there will be a grand welcome!
“These qualities” refers back to the seven qualities that we are diligently to supply on the foundation of our faith in Christ (1:5-7): moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Peter explains why (“For”) we should apply all diligence to supply these qualities (1:8): “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then he explains further and warns (1:9), “For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” Note three things:
Peter states his point negatively to call attention to what happens if you do not grow in godliness: you will live a useless, unfruitful life. Nobody in their right mind would set out at age 20 and say, “I’d like to waste my life!” Nobody writes out a plan for a wasted life: “I think I’ll devote three hours per day, 21 hours per week, to watching television!” (That is the national average!) “I also plan to become addicted to alcohol and drugs. I plan to live so selfishly and with such disregard for others that I will shred all of my relationships. Also, I plan to spend far more than I earn so that I will run up huge debts.” No one plans to be useless and unfruitful! And yet, many people end up that way!
But, to put it positively, how can I be useful and fruitful in my Christian life? How can I use the time, talents, and treasure that God has entrusted to me so that one day I will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? It’s easy to be busy in the Lord’s work, but I don’t want to be just busy—I want to be useful and fruitful.
As a pastor, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that fruitfulness is measured in terms of numbers: “If I can pastor a large, growing church, write best-selling books, and travel all over the world to influence thousands of other Christian leaders, I will be fruitful.” Ministering to large numbers may indicate success in human terms, but we need to measure fruitfulness by God’s criteria. In church history, there are a few well known men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. But there are thousands of faithful, fruitful men and women whose names are known only to God. What distinguished these faithful saints to God and made them fruitful was that they devoted themselves to growing in godliness.
In 1981, I read the two-volume autobiography of C. H. Spurgeon. He was an amazing man whom God used mightily. One day as I was jogging in the woods, I asked the Lord one of those “far beyond all you can ask or think” prayers. I prayed, “Lord, use me as You used Spurgeon!” I didn’t hear any voice, but almost instantly the thought popped into my mind, which I believe was from the Lord, “Which Spurgeon? Charles or John?”
I stopped jogging and just stood there so I could think about the implications of that question. John Spurgeon was the father of the famous Charles. He was a faithful pastor in England for many years. He actually outlived his famous son. If it had not been for the famous Charles Spurgeon, no one would have ever heard of John Spurgeon. Yet, he and thousands of others like him were godly, fruitful servants of the Lord. It was as if the Lord was saying to me, “You focus on being as faithful and godly as John Spurgeon and leave it to Me as to whether you become as influential as Charles Spurgeon!” Peter is telling us, “Focus on growing in godliness and you will be fruitful in your Christian life.”
When Peter says, “in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” is he talking about growing to know Christ more deeply as you grow in godliness, or is he talking about coming to know Christ at the point of conversion as the basis for growing in godliness? There could be some of both here. Peter later talks about growing to know Christ more deeply (2 Pet. 3:18). But since Peter has talked about “the true knowledge of Christ” in reference to conversion (1:3), I understand him here (1:8) to be saying, “If you have truly come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be growing in godliness and seeking to be useful and fruitful in serving Him.”
John Calvin observes (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on 2 Peter 1:8, p. 374), “For the knowledge of Christ is an efficacious thing and a living root, which brings forth fruit.” In other words, if God has opened your eyes to the glory of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), so that you have come to know Him, your life will show it. You will be growing in the godly character qualities that Peter lists (1:5-7). And you will be seeking to make your life useful and fruitful to the Master who shed His blood to redeem you. If you’re not living with a view to how God can use you to bear fruit for His kingdom, then you’re wasting your life.
This does not mean that you must go into so-called “full time Christian ministry.” Rather, it means that in whatever situation you find yourself, whether at home, at school, or at work, you have the mindset that you want to be useful and fruitful for the Lord Jesus Christ. Life is a vapor (James 4:14)! Don’t waste it living for selfish pursuits or for things that will perish. Live so as to grow in godliness so that you will be a clean vessel, “useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21b).
Some understand verse 9 to be referring to those who are not truly saved, who may have been following the false teachers. One reason for this view is that Peter changes from the second person in verse 8 to the more impersonal third person in verse 9, but then reverts back to the second person, along with the warm “brethren” (the only time Peter uses that word) in verse 10. Also, the word “blind” seems to fit the unbelieving, but not true believers. But to say that those in verse 9 are not truly saved, you must say that they were never really purified from their former sins; they only claimed to be purified, perhaps through baptism.
I think, rather, that Peter was talking about some in the church who truly had been purified from their sins, but now they were drifting. Peter shifts from “you” to “he” so as not directly to accuse the majority of his readers. But if his word of warning applied to some, they should take heed. “Blind” and “short-sighted” are used somewhat synonymously. The literal translation is, “they are blind, being short-sighted.” These people were so focused on their present circumstances that they were not growing in the qualities mentioned in verses 5-7. They had become virtually blind to what Christ had done for them in cleansing them from their sins. This forgetful and willful blindness, due to their temporal focus, quenched their motivation to be diligent to grow in godliness.
So Peter brings us back to motivation. To grow in godliness requires applying all diligence, because you won’t grow effortlessly. Growth in godliness requires hard work and discipline over the long haul. What motivates you to keep at it? Answer: Remember what Christ did for you! He shed His blood on the cross to purify you from your sins. Remembering God’s grace shown to you at the cross will motivate you to apply all diligence to keep growing in godliness. Without keeping the cross in view, you will drift into ungodly living and will waste your life in light of eternity. So the first benefit of growing in godliness is fruitfulness in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 10 follows from and applies verses 8 & 9: “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you.” “Brethren” shows that Peter is talking to Christians here. “Be diligent” is the verb related to the same noun in verse 5. Peter is saying, “One way to be certain that God has called and chosen you is to be diligent to grow in these godly character qualities.” The same message sums up the book of First John, but is stated specifically in 1 John 2:28, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (see, also, 1 John 3:18-21).
We will look at assurance next. But here, Peter again is emphasizing that growth in godliness requires diligence. It doesn’t happen without deliberate, concentrated effort. If you’re cruising on spiritual autopilot, then take heed to Peter’s exhortation to be all the more diligent to make certain about God’s calling and choosing you. The way you do that is to be diligent to grow in godliness.
There are a lot of mistaken notions about assurance of salvation in our day. Most evangelicals think that if you prayed to receive Christ, you are eternally secure and should never doubt that fact. But they overlook the clear biblical truth that new life in Christ always manifests itself in the fruit of godliness. As a result, there are thousands of professing Christians who are not growing in godliness, but they think that they are eternally secure in Christ.
In verse 10, Peter brings together two things that we often separate: God’s sovereignty in calling and choosing us and our responsibility to be diligent to grow in godliness so that we grow in assurance about God’s calling and choosing us. In chronological order for us, God’s calling comes first. This means that we heard the gospel and God opened the eyes of our darkened understanding and imparted new life to us so that we believed in Christ (1 Pet. 2:9; 2 Pet. 1:3). Then, after believing in Christ, through His Word we come to understand that the reason God called us to salvation is that He first chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5). Our salvation is totally from God. If He had not chosen us and called us, we would still be lost in our sins.
How, then, do we gain the assurance that God has called and chosen us? First, have you heard the call to repent of your sins and believe in Christ and did you obey that call? Second, how do you know that your repentance and faith were genuine? The answer is, God changed your heart so that now you desire to grow in godliness so that you will grow to know Him better. You desire to please and obey the Lord who gave Himself on the cross to rescue you from judgment. As 1 John 2:3 says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” And, you take none of the credit for your salvation. You realize that it is all due to God’s sovereign grace in calling and choosing you while you were still in your sins.
So, the benefits of being diligent to grow in godliness are fruitfulness—you won’t waste your life; and, assurance that God called and chose you to eternal life, as confirmed by your desire to be diligent to grow in godliness.
Peter further explains the idea from 1:10a: “for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” “These things” refers back to verses 5-7. But, does Peter mean that if you are diligent to practice these qualities you will never sin? That seems unrealistic, in that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The Lord’s Prayer tells us to ask forgiveness for our sins often. So Peter does not mean that we can attain to sinless perfection if we practice these things.
Rather, in the context of the false teachers who had turned away from the faith, Peter means that if you are diligent to grow in godliness and thus confirm your calling and election, you will not turn away from God and commit apostasy as the false teachers had done (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman & Holman Publishers], p. 305).
Believers who are cultivating the godly qualities listed in verses 5-7 are walking closely with the Lord. They are seeking to know Him better and to please Him every day. As they practice these things, it will safeguard them from stumbling in the sense of falling away from the faith. Jude, which parallels 2 Peter 2, ends his short letter (Jude 24), “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy….” The means that God uses to help us persevere in the faith is to motivate us to grow in godliness.
Verse 10 also teaches us that moral failure is almost always at the heart of false teaching. False teachers come up with their wrong doctrine to justify their immoral lifestyles. Whenever someone starts teaching weird doctrine, almost always something is wrong morally in his life. Finally, Peter gives us an eternal benefit:
Verse 11 explains (“for”) verse 10: “for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” “Supplied” is the same word that we saw in verse 5, which meant to richly supply as a philanthropist would supply the chorus or theater. Peter means that if we are diligent to grow in godliness, God will welcome us into our eternal dwelling with Him in heaven. Thomas Schreiner explains (ibid., p. 306, italics his), “Peter was not concerned here about rewards but whether people will enter the kingdom at all. He insisted that people cannot enter it without living in a godly way.”
This is not to say that salvation is by works, but rather that genuine salvation always results in a life of growing godliness. If you’re not applying all diligence to grow in godliness, you need to examine yourself. Maybe, like those in verse 9, you have forgotten what Christ did for you at the cross. If so, confess your sin and take steps to grow in godliness. But if you can shrug off the cross, then you aren’t headed for heaven.
The abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom (this is the only time “eternal” is used with “kingdom”) may have behind it the picture of a returning war hero who is welcomed into the city with great fanfare. In the same way, “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (this designation of Christ is only used in 2 Peter [here], 2:20; 3:2 [Lord and Savior], 18) will welcome those who have been diligent to grow in godliness into the eternal city.
So Peter is motivating us to be diligent to grow in godliness by showing us the benefits. Looking back, see what God has done for us in Christ. By His divine power, He has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness (1:3). He has granted us His precious and magnificent promises so that by them we have become partakers of His divine nature (1:4). We have the very life of God in us. And, He has cleansed us from all our sins (1:9). He took the initiative to choose us and call us to salvation (1:10). In light of these great benefits, be diligent to grow in godliness.
In the present, growing in godliness will give us the joy of being useful and fruitful to the Lord, so that we don’t waste our lives. It will give us assurance of salvation. It will keep us from stumbling and falling away from the Lord. In the future, the Lord will welcome us into His eternal kingdom, where we will dwell with Him in indescribable blessedness forever. In light of these great benefits, be diligent to grow in godliness.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation