Series: 1 and 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.
“I’ll never change the patterns of the past.”
“I’ll never be free of my addiction.”
“People must learn to accept me as I am.”
“I’m just going to let go and let God.”
Do we have the power to change destructive habits and thought patterns?
I’ve often heard Christians speak with defeat and resignation about stubborn sins, desires and habits that are causing misery in their lives and harming their loved ones. They argue that the brokenness of our fallen world means that they can’t change their basic impulses and will never be free to flourish in the Christian life, growing more joyful, loving, patient, self-controlled, stable and kind as the years roll on.
I’ve seen other Christians just “let go and let God”, waiting for a spiritual breakthrough. The implication is that because we can do nothing without God, we must simply wait for him to do the work of transformation in our lives. “Be still and know that I am God” is a verse often misquoted in support of surrender.
But look with me at what Peter says about the power to change and grow in his second letter to Christians living in AD67, amidst unimaginable obstacles and atrocities:
“To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours. 2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 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. 4 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” (2 Peter 1:1-4).
There are many superlatives in this passage! The Apostle Peter is convinced that if we’ve been born again, we have the Holy Spirit living in us. Christ’s divine power and his great promises provide us with everything we need to live a godly Christian life! God allows us to ‘participate in the divine nature’ in order to keep us from sin and help us live for him. Grace and peace are ours in abundance, despite our circumstances!
These privileges and promises of our precious faith are not some pipe dream for a select few special Christians. They were purchased for every child of God by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:19; 3:18). CH Spurgeon reminds us how staggering this promise of divine power is for every Christian, without exception:
“These things come to us through His divine power! What stupendous issues are grasped in that term, divine power! It was this which digged the deep foundations of the earth and sea! Divine power! It is this which guides the marches of the stars of heaven! Divine power! It is this which holds up the pillars of the universe…”
In fact, the same divine power that God used to raise Christ from the dead is available to every believer to live the Christian life. In Paul’s letter to Philippian Christians, it is on the basis of the “power of the resurrection” that the apostle declares “I can do everything through him who gives me strength! (Phil 3:10; 4:13) There’s nothing defeatist or resigned about Paul’s conclusion.
Jesus has risen! Do we fathom what this means for the Christian life? It’s the basis for our ‘new birth’ and ‘living hope’ (1 Peter 1:3), our brand new identity and new destiny (1 Peter 2:9-10). We are no longer who we once were!
But as Christ’s royal priesthood and holy people, we cannot live the Christian life in neutral gear, waiting for God’s divine power to propel us forward via a lightning bolt or weekly emotional fix! No, Peter commands us to “make every effort to add to our faith….to make our calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:5-7; 10). We bear the responsibility to strive, run, add and wrestle for our faith. Surrender is not an option!
Yes, it is God who works in us by his grace to will and act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13), but our self discipline is needed to persevere (Phil 2:12; Eph 2:10). We do have to run the race that God has set before us (Heb 12:1-2). We do have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). We do have to use the means of grace God has provided—his Word, prayer and his people (Phil 4:6-7; 2 Tim 3:14-17; Heb 10:25; Heb 3:13). We do have to take up the armour of God and stand firm in the evil day! (Eph 6:13). On auto pilot, we will surely drift away (Heb 2:1).
This a paradox we must embrace if we are to live godly, useful lives.
Knowing and growing.
Knowing God is key to living a godly life (2 Peter 1:2-3). Peter repeats the word ‘knowledge’ three times in this passage, because growing comes through knowing. But this is not just head knowledge or information. It is knowing God personally and growing in relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. It’s nothing like ‘knowing’ someone on social media.
Lydia Brownback describes this deeply intimate knowledge of God as “a personal, committed relationship in which our deepest satisfaction is found in God’s presence—talking to him in prayer, worshipping him with other believers, and studying all he says to us in his word. This is the knowledge Peter wants for his readers.” (Lydia Brownback, Living Hope in a Hard World).
We are powerless to change if we ‘look within’ or ‘follow our heart’, because our hearts have no power to transform us (Jer 17:9). But, by knowing God and growing in our relationship with the Lord Jesus, we are empowered with everything we need to live an effective and productive life, even as we face many obstacles and adversities (2 Peter 1:8; 4).
No matter where we are in life, we need to persistently know and grow in Christ. Then we will be able to look beyond our troubles and recognize his victories of grace in our lives, and be thankful. We will love Jesus more and more in response to his goodness and grace to us.
Make every effort.
Precisely because we’ve been forgiven from past sins, and because God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, Peter goes on to describe the active process by which believers change and grow. He gives us the regimen for our faith to flourish, and it involves concerted effort and determination on our part. We are not passive passengers:
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 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. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-10).
Reading through Peter’s letters, it’s clear that God’s moral yardstick hasn’t changed. What God hated in the Old Testament, he still hates. What God expected of his people before, he still expects of us today (1 Peter 2:9; 1:16-17; 4: 2-3). Our sin is still a chronic condition that will attack our faith until the day we die.
But our sin has also been defeated and our chains have been released! “Through Christ’s death, those who turn to him are delivered from both the penalty and the power of sin” (1 Peter 2:24-25). To ensure that we don’t fall from our secure position, Peter concludes, “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with God” (2 Peter 3:14-18). According to Peter, laziness is just blindness and ‘letting go and letting God’ is not an option. Nobody can live the Christian life for us—we must ‘make every effort’. Peter says it three times to make sure we’re clear about our personal responsibility.
So, you see, faith is never just believing a set of doctrines, though it is that. It’s a living faith, which either grows and flourishes, or withers and dies. Faith needs to be exercised daily in godly actions and character, in the practice of moral discipline.
After all, didn’t Jesus say that the seed that falls on good soil always produces good fruit (Mark 4:8)? And his brother James wrote, “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead…I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:17; 18). Dick Lucas expressed this connection well:
“The man or woman who makes an effort is a man or woman of faith.”
Although these virtues are fruit of the Holy Spirit, they don’t come to us automatically. They are built brick by brick through our effort and willing co-operation. They are not optional, but necessary– like eating well, brushing our teeth and making our bed is necessary for a productive life. They are not stagnant virtues, but more like budding, growing, ripening fruit. We never master one and then move onto the next, but work on all of them at the same time. Our work has always mattered to God (1 Cor 3:13-15; Gen 1:26; 2:15). Let us be good bricklayers!
If you do these things…
In the months leading up to his death, Peter implored suffering Christians to “make every effort” to build on their faith foundation: To know God more and more (knowledge); to act with virtue and excellence (goodness); to govern themselves personally (self control); to nurture a steadfast character (perseverance); to act with love (mutual affection) and to imitate God’s holy character (godliness) (2 Peter 1:5-7).
Jesus, too, told believers to keep seeking persistently the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. To keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking…For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks and keeps on knocking, the door shall be opened (Luke 11:9-10).
Let’s be encouraged by Peter’s assurance: “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 Saviour Jesus Christ”. (2 Peter 1:10-11).
Father, thank you for your limitless grace and the Holy Spirit. Although we’ll never be perfect, you’ve given us your divine power to grow in goodness every day. Thank you for the small victories of grace we see in ourselves and those we are praying for: the calmer response to stress and illness; the ability to overlook a wrong; kindness to a person who needs our help. We treasure you as the One who gives us victory day by day. When we’re overwhelmed with troubles and our sinful impulses, help us to know that you’re working in us, giving us your strength to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Today we trust in your great and precious promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In Jesus’s precious name, Amen.
Listen to this song by King & Country, which reminds us that the Christian life is anything but passive.