“His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
For the last few weeks, I have been taking my congregation (and you as well) on a journey to understand how to read the Bible a little better than they did before. This has mostly been Christianity 101 type of stuff, and the next two parts of the series will be no different. I had been planning on this series for a few months and was pretty excited about it. Engaging with the Scriptures and encouraging followers of Jesus to do that in their own lives is something I’m pretty passionate about. But personally, I don’t always practice that passion as well as I feel it. As I fell asleep last night and when I was lying in bed for a bit this morning before getting up, I was thinking about what I would be writing about today. Leaving for the office a little later, I still didn’t know. Then God did what God has a knack for doing and gave it to me in a rush. We’re going to spend a little bit of time this morning engaging with the Scriptures together and seeing in action why doing it can make such a difference in our lives.
When you’ve been thinking about and writing about Bible study, big, national press releases about things like the American people’s patterns of engaging with the Scriptures tends to catch your eye. Well, this morning as I was reading through my emails, I came across the results from a recent survey from the American Bible Society. For the last several years, they have been tracking what percentage of American’s report having some level of engagement with the Bible. From 2018 through 2021, about half the country reported engaging with it on some level. In the last year that number has dropped to 40%. In other words, ten percent of the country has stopped indicating they have sufficient interest in the Scriptures to engage with them in any kind of way during the year. That’s a huge swing in interest! Teaching people not only how, but why to engage with the Scriptures is more important than ever!
That was all on my mind as I was listening to one of the Focus on the Family daily podcasts. I found this particular podcast a few months ago and, honestly, I was pretty leery getting into it. I remember Focus on the Family from the James Dobson years. He did a lot of good things, but he was also pretty politically driven toward the end of his tenure there. The lead host is Focus President, Jim Daly. Initial hesitation aside, I’m really glad I found it. It is greatly encouraging. Jim’s heart is to have conversations and to build and strengthen relationships that point people to Christ. He’s not a bomb-thrower in even the slightest amount. In fact, one of the things he’s done pretty regularly during his time as President is to engage folks in the area (Colorado Springs) who would otherwise be his ideological and cultural enemies in conversations designed to understand them better and to show them the love of Jesus without any preconditions or ulterior motives. That is, he practices what he preaches.
This morning’s podcast featured and interview with author Gary Thomas. That was interesting in and of itself because I had been telling someone about one of Thomas’ books recently and couldn’t think of his name. He was talking about pursuing the Christian virtues in intentional, disciplined ways so that we can grow in our relationship with Jesus. It was both practical and challenging. One of the passages he cited as particularly instructive in this aim is one that served as the basis for a whole sermon series of mine a few years ago. This was the verses I cited for you just a second ago and the several that follow them. It was a really needed reminder for me that if we are not actively pursuing our own, personal growth in the image of Christ, then we won’t be growing. We won’t be moving in the direction of godliness. And when we aren’t moving in the direction of godliness, while we certainly pay the price for that ourselves, it is paid even more directly by the people around us, especially those we are closest to like our spouse and kids. The whole thing was a needed reminder of just how important these verses are. But it is only a passage of Scripture that is going to accomplish anything meaningful in our lives when we engage with it. So…let’s engage with it.
What Peter writes here is amazing. All I want to do here is to simply walk us through what he says. What conclusions or applications you need to draw from that I will leave up to you. Peter starts by telling us that by His divine powers (what exactly those are, Peter doesn’t specify…He’s just being God), God has given us everything required for life and godliness. There is nothing we need to have eternal life and to perfectly reflect His image that He has not already provided for us. That’s pretty amazing all by itself. There is not a quest to go on, no journey to take, no Herculean effort we must put forth. Everything we need He has simply given us. How? Through the knowledge of Him. Specifically, Peter says “through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” That is, God didn’t call us because of anything inherent in us. We didn’t deserve. We didn’t earn it. We weren’t particularly worthy of it. None of that. He did it because He is good, His glory is vast, and He wanted us to be a part of that. When we know Him – and that’s personal knowledge, not mere head knowledge – we have all we need for salvation. Wow.
Peter goes on to say that by this same glory and goodness – in other words, because of His being God – He has given us “very great and precious promises.” And indeed, the promises of life and godliness alone are very great and precious. The promise of having our sin erased isn’t so bad either. And He did all of this so that, or for the reason of seeing you share in His divine nature. That doesn’t mean we are going to somehow ascend to godhood ourselves. This is talking about our reflecting His image as we were designed to do. When we do this, Peter says, we will escape the corruption that is in the world. Just let that one sit on you for a moment. You can escape the awful, sinful corruption of this world. How? By knowing God and living through Him. Now, this doesn’t mean it won’t still collaterally affect you, but you won’t be a part of the rot yourself. Again, wow.
Because God has done all of this for us, we’ve got some work to do of our own. That statement represents a point of much greater tension than you might expect. One of the great debates of the Christian faith over the course of its history is where we draw the line between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. That’s not nearly such an easy thing to do as you might think. There are some folks who want to lean hard in the direction of divine sovereignty over the whole of the salvation and sanctification process. There are also those who would lean hard in the direction of human responsibility. And while there are certainly more passages that point in the direction of pulling the line pretty far in the direction of divine sovereignty, there are nonetheless places that seem to indicate we’ve got a part to play in the process as well. It seems, much to the consternation of theologians who want everything about the faith to be tied up in a neat little bow, that the Scriptures hold the two positions in an uncomfortable (for us) tension. God is totally sovereign, and we are totally responsible. It is all His doing from start to finish and we have a vital role to play in the process, without which the thing can’t move forward. It is one of the great both-ands of human history. When someone asks which one you think it is, respond with a confident, “Yes!”
In any event, Peter tells us here that in light of God’s doing everything for us, we’ve got some work to do of our own. We must have faith in God. That’s where our knowledge comes from. Everything starts with faith. Nothing is possible without faith. But once we have faith, we’re not done. We are to make every effort (in other words, we need to work pretty hard at this) to supplement our faith. That is, we take our faith and make it richer and stronger and greater by adding some things to it. And what exactly are we adding to it? Goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. That’s not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start in the right direction. If we are not growing in the virtues of Christ, then our faith in Christ really isn’t doing very much for us. And if our faith in Christ isn’t doing very much for us, it’s an open question whether or not we really have it at all.
That’s where Peter goes next. “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure [that is, you are growing in them], they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Your faith by itself isn’t enough. And, yes, that sounds as dirty to say as it did to type. Salvation is by faith alone through grace. Period. No exceptions. There is no amount of good works that will have any impact on our coming to a saving relationship with God through Christ Jesus. There can’t be. At the same time, if we don’t work diligently to grow and strengthen and enrich our faith so that it becomes the thing which animates the whole of our existence, it will atrophy, shrivel up, and die. To put that another way, if we aren’t growing in Christlike virtues, our faith-fueled knowledge of Jesus will be useless. We may claim salvation because of it, but it’s a fair question whether we even have that much going for us. If our knowledge doesn’t lead to growth, we don’t really know what we claim to know.
Peter’s conclusion here is powerful: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” If you want your knowledge of God to mean something…well…it has to mean something. That will only happen when you are growing in the virtues that naturally come from this knowledge, which itself will only happen when you are regularly and consistently engaged with the Scriptures. What you need to do with this is on you. I know that I’ve got some more growing to do. I hope you’ll commit to doing it with me.