Much of my adult life has been spent employed in some form of Christian ministry: preaching, editing adult Sunday school material, and teaching in a Christian university. Over those years I’ve received a steady stream of information about the numerous resources that exist to assist a follower of Jesus in attaining spiritual maturity. There are tools covering Bible study, prayer, worship, fellowship, small groups, discipleship, and numerous related subjects. Today the amount of such materials, available in print and electronically, is staggering.
Thus it is more than a little humbling to read what Peter had to say in the first century on the matter of becoming all we’re intended to become in Christ. At the beginning of his teaching on growth in 2 Peter 1:3-11, Peter wrote, “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” (v. 3). Everything we need? At that point, the Bible as we know it was not yet completed. The invention of movable-type printing in Europe was nearly 1,400 years away. The fisherman-turned-apostle could not have imagined what the future held in terms of Christian publishing. Yet even in the days of the church’s infancy, he could affirm that God had provided “everything we need” to achieve a godly life.
This is not to criticize or discourage the use of other resources (including The Lookout, for example!). It should, however, cause us to pause and reflect on what is necessary for Christian growth.
Knowing and Growing
While the study of Peter’s words in verses 3-11 often focuses on the qualities found within verses 5-7, it is important not to overlook what precedes that list. Peter explained that “everything we need” to attain godliness comes through knowledge: it is “our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (1:3; see 1:2). In that knowledge lies the access to the “divine power” that provides what is necessary to reach the goal of a godly life.
While the word Christian has been misused and misapplied over the years, the essence of the Christian life remains unchanged: a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. John defined eternal life like this: to “know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We generally associate knowledge with facts and data. And while knowledge of the truth of Scripture is what makes a person “wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15), the knowledge of which Peter wrote is more than just something that fills one’s mind. It allows the individual to “participate in the divine nature” and escape the corruption of a world reeling from the impact of evil desires (2 Peter 1:4).
The phrase divine nature should bring to mind the promise the serpent seduced Eve with in the Garden of Eden: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Those words were also an invitation to “participate in the divine nature.” But that must be done on God’s terms, not Satan’s or any human being’s. In contrast to Satan’s twisted promise, God’s terms provide an escape of the world’s corruption through embracing the “very great and precious promises” offered by our loving Creator.
It is “for this very reason,” because of our participation in the divine nature, that followers of Jesus are then encouraged to “add” the qualities found in verses 5-7 to their conduct and character. William Barclay noted that the Greek word translated add is derived from the Greek world of stage and drama. The director of a play “added” from his own resources to the expenses provided by the state so that the performance could be the best possible. The word suggests “a willing and lavish generosity.”
Thus it is clear that the “divine power” provided to Christians must be coupled with a rigorous, disciplined effort on our part. Twice in this passage Peter included the exhortation to “make every effort” (1:5, 10). This is in keeping with Paul’s combination of the heavenly and the human in Philippians 2:12, 13: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
The qualities Peter listed in verses 5-7 are often pictured as rungs of a ladder signifying steps of Christian growth, beginning with the foundation of faith and climaxed by love. This analogy is fine, as long as we do not think of the climbing as solely a matter of self-improvement. Nor should we think of reaching the top of the ladder in terms of attaining (in our lifetime) all of the qualities Peter set forth.
In fact Peter did not treat these qualities as tasks to be completed; rather, we are to “possess these qualities in increasing measure” (1:8). Together they constitute a description of a life lived in proper relationship to God, to others, and to the circumstances one encounters in the process of navigating through life in a broken world. These qualities transcend time and culture. They were certainly not intended only for Peter’s audience. No “statute of limitations” applies to them. Today they can characterize a believer in a primitive African village as well as in inner-city America. And one can never outgrow the need for these qualities. There is no age or stage of life, no circumstance or situation a person may encounter, that is not made better by practicing the virtues listed by Peter.
The key is to maintain an intimate relationship with the one who supplies the divine power to continue the growing process. Even when we find ourselves “decreasing” physically, that does not have to impact what is happening within (2 Corinthians 4:16).
The Grand Finale
While Peter preceded his listing of the qualities of Christian growth with a look back, he concluded with a look forward. He anticipated that those who have pursued their knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ “will receive a rich welcome (or “grand entrance” in the New Living Translation) into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). All the blessings that we have received through God’s divine power (v. 4) will attain their consummation in that kingdom. His “very great and precious promises” will reach their fulfillment, including our eternal residence in the place prepared for the faithful (John 14:1-3). Our participation in the divine nature will be completed: “When Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We will finalize our escape from the corruption of an evil world by dwelling in a place where “nothing impure will ever enter” (Revelation 21:27).
Years ago I received a master of divinity degree from the seminary where I studied. That degree was granted, in large part, due to the amount of knowledge I had obtained through the variety of courses I took at the school. But Peter calls all Christians to pursue a “master of divinity” based upon their knowledge of and relationship with Jesus. That “degree requirement” has not changed since century one; it is still what gives us “everything we need” to be everything our Creator designed us to be. May we continue to “make every effort” as we await our own “grand entrance.”
Dr. Doug Redford serves as minister with Highview Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.