II Peter 1:3-11
The other day my brother and sister-in-law were looking at some old pictures of herself from when she was a little girl. One of the things they noticed was that one of their daughters looks exactly like she does on those pictures. Those of you who are parents or grand-parents would probably agree that if we are told that our son or daughter or one of our grandchildren look like us, we would be thrilled.
Do you think that our Father in heaven is thrilled when His children look like Him? Is it our desire to look like our Father?
Godliness is not a word we hear too often these days. We have all been created in His image, but because of sin that image of God has been shattered in us. How is that image restored? Do we have any hope that it will be restored? Do we desire it to be restored? “Godliness” is the word which describes the restoration of the image of God so that we once again look like our heavenly Father.
As we grow older, there are a lot of things which we leave behind. When I talk with young people, they have a great deal of ambition regarding a life’s career. As we get older and particularly after we retire, that ambition does not have the same intensity. Middle aged people are often deeply interested in being healthy and looking good. I think this becomes an intense desire at this point in life because we know we are beginning to lose the battle with health. After a while a person wants to be as healthy as possible, but you don’t entertain delusions of being able to play hockey or look 25 anymore. You know that old age brings with it the loss of physical health and you give up on certain hopes. The pursuit of godliness, however, goes in the other direction. Rather than an ambition which diminishes with age, it is an ambition which can increase. The older we are, the more we understand that godliness is the only thing that is of eternal value and worth pursuing until the day we are finally transformed completely into the image of God when we are taken up into glory.
This morning, I would like to talk a little bit about what it means to pursue godliness. The text which will help our thinking is II Peter 1:3-11. Let us read the text.
I. God Has Given Us Godliness
The first question which is raised in this text is to answer the question, “Where does godliness come from?” The great promise of this text is that godliness is a gift of God. Notice the wonderful promise in verse 3, which says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” In other words, God, by His power has given us this gift of godliness. How is that power given to us?
A. Through the Knowledge of Jesus
The answer to that question is given in the same verse. Godliness comes “through our knowledge of Him…”
One of the main problems with the Pharisees was that although they knew all about God, they did not know God. When they met God, in the person of Jesus, they did not recognize Him. This ought to be a significant warning to us. The Pharisees knew God’s Word, but they did not know Him. We can get to know God through His Word, but we must have that understanding and that pursuit in our minds and in our hearts. We cannot stop at knowing His Word; we must allow His word to bring us to the knowledge of Him.
How do we get to know Him? It is in getting to know Jesus. God has revealed Himself most clearly in Jesus and as we come to know Jesus, we will come to know God.
There is a story in Acts 4 about Peter and John, Jesus disciples who had been simple fishermen, who were teaching about Jesus in the temple. The religious leaders were disturbed about this and arrested them and as they listened to their answers, the religious leaders declared in Acts 4:13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Godliness had come to them because they had been with Jesus. May we spend time with Jesus so that we can get to know God.
B. Through His Call
But coming to know Jesus does not come because we have sought or pursued Him. Godliness through Jesus comes because God has called us. The text says, “…through our knowledge of Him who called us.” It is important to recognize that even though we have destroyed the image of God in us, God is still willing to take the initiative to make us into His image once again. What a blessing! What a sign of His love for us!
What is even more wonderful is the recognition that this call arises out of “His glory and goodness.” God calls us to godliness because if we become like Him, He is glorified and He desires to do this for us, for His glory and because He is good. In other words, God is thrilled when His children look like Him and desires that they will look like Him.
C. Through His Promises
Out of His glory and goodness, God has also given us a number of promises by which we get to know Him and become godly. What are the promises of God by which we come to know Jesus and so become godly?
I believe that they begin with the promise of His forgiveness which comes to us on the basis of the death of Jesus on the cross and is given to us when we believe. God has promised that all the evil in our hearts and all the deeds of wickedness which we have done are removed from us when we believe in Jesus.
In Jeremiah we read about the new covenant which God was going to make with His people in which he would write His law on their hearts. God has fulfilled that promise with the coming of the Holy Spirit who gives us power to walk in a new way.
God has also promised that in spite of our corrupt hearts, we will see Him face to face because He has cleansed us. Seeing Him face to face will happen when Jesus returns and God establishes His kingdom for all eternity.
These are the promises by which we come into a relationship with God by which we will be made into God’s image.
D. We Will Participate in the Divine Nature
And that is the precise promise found in the end of this section in verse 4. Because of the promises of God, we will “participate in the divine nature.”
In this section godliness is defined as a desire for God and no desire for the corruption caused by the evil desires in the world.
Charles writes, “…our union with Christ, based on grace, enables us to resist lust and live godly lives of goodness and moral excellence.”
In these two verses we have a great message of encouragement regarding godliness. God has made it possible for us to look like Him. He has given us the divine power to become like Him. It begins with His calling to us which comes out of His glory and goodness. It is given to us through the promises of God and is achieved through a relationship with Him, as we come to know Him. God assures us that godliness is achievable because He makes it achievable.
II. We Must Pursue Godliness
But, do we achieve godliness only by the power of God? We cannot do it without the power of God, but there is also a part we play.
As we read on in this text, we learn what our part is. We need to cooperate with God in what He initiates in us and in what He wants to do in us. I like the way The Message puts it when it says, “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given,”
Notice that in this text, we are invited to pursue godliness on the foundation which God has already laid. We are invited to work at godliness because God has initiated in us the building of godliness. Verse 5 says, “Make every effort.” Verse 10 says, “Be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.” We have a part to play.
In fact, in verse 9, the failure to understand that we need to participate in pursuing godliness is called blindness and a failure to understand what our salvation and forgiveness mean. If our Christian life is simply a desire to avoid the consequences of sin, we have not understood the power of what God has done in us. Salvation is not just the promise of eternal life. It is a new life based on the forgiveness of God and the presence of the indwelling Spirit. So we do have a part to play in pursuing godliness. It is important to know that it is founded on what God has begun and on His power present with us, but it will not happen apart from our cooperation with Him.
A. Building Godliness on Faith
How do we build godliness on the foundation which God has supplied?
It begins with faith. The text says in verse 5, “Make every effort to add to your faith...” Faith is the beginning point but to that faith there are other things which we must pursue.
First is goodness. It must be our constant search not simply to live at the level of the lowest common denominator, but to discover what is good and to live according to what is good.
To goodness, we must add knowledge. Lifelong learning is not just a good strategy for life, but an excellent strategy for the Christian life. We can never say we know enough about God and His ways.
To knowledge, we must add self control. Today self discipline is sometimes frowned upon by some people. But godliness will not happen without self discipline and a willingness to set boundaries in our life.
Some days, all we can do is persevere. When all around us others do not walk the way we want to walk, we may be tempted to give up. When life gets so difficult that we do not know why we have chosen this difficult path, we simply need to hang on.
As we do these things, we also need to keep on discovering and pursuing what it means to be like God. Although the overall theme we are considering is godliness, the actual pursuit of godliness is also a part of it.
Since one of the main characteristics of God is compassion and caring, we also must pursue love. In pursuing godliness, we might be tempted to look at others as less than they should be. This is where the compassion that is like God’s compassion comes in. When we are filled with compassion for our brother, we will also need to continue to pursue love, even for our enemies.
B. Through the Knowledge of Jesus
I find that the next phrase in this text is interesting. In verse 8 we read, “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.
There are two things which are interesting in this phrase. One is that the pursuit of godliness is a process. We will not suddenly and immediately become like God. We must possess these qualities, but the text speaks of doing so “in increasing measure.” This also allows us to be patient with ourselves and with one another recognizing that we are all on a journey of growth towards God.
The other interesting thing is that if we are growing in these things, we will come to know Jesus more and more. This is interesting because we said in verse 3 that we come to godliness by the knowledge of God. But in verse 8 it says that it is as we pursue godliness that we come to the knowledge of Jesus. This once again tells us that it is in relationship with Jesus that we achieve what God has designed us for. We cannot have it without a relationship with Jesus. As we pursue godliness we grow in our knowledge of Jesus, which causes us to grow more in godliness. It looks like this might be circular reasoning, but it is more like spiral reasoning. The more we know Jesus, the more we become like Him. The more we become like Him, the more we know Him. And that is how we grow in godliness. It is another way of saying that we need to be busy in the pursuit of godliness and in the pursuit of a relationship with Jesus. May we be found doing so!
III. The Promise of Godliness
At the very end of the passage, there are two promises. The conditional phrase is “If you do these things…” and in response two promises are given.
A. You Will Never Fall
The first promise is that we will never fall. We have said that the pursuit of godliness is a journey by which we are becoming like Jesus in “increasing measure.” If that is true and our experience tells us it is, then there are times when we may stumble. There are times when we fail to live up to what God has redeemed us to be, but the more we become like Jesus and the more diligently we pursue godliness the more certain we are that we will not fall.
B. You Will Receive a Welcome
The other promise is a marvelous hope that is ours in Christ.
Have you ever gone to an event and you were not sure if you were really invited? What does it feel like to go up to the door and wonder if the host is going to look at you strangely, wondering what you are doing there? If you get there and you open the door and the host welcomes you in warmly and invites you to have a seat and engages you in conversation, you know that you belong and you feel welcomed.
That is the kind of welcome we are promised if in relationship with Jesus through faith in His blood, we pursue a life of godliness. Then we will know, beyond a doubt that we belong, that we will be welcomed into our eternal home.
The phrase, “rich welcome” adds glory to the promise. Not only will He let us in, but it will be a rich welcome. When we arrived at certain hotels when we were in Israel, they treated us to a welcome drink – a refreshing fruit punch which was both tasty and quenched our thirst. I had never had that happen before and it felt like a rich welcome. I imagine Jesus standing on the other shore, holding a welcome drink and spreading His arms to hug us as we come towards Him. That is the kind of welcome we are promised if we understand what our salvation means and pursue godliness and the knowledge of Him.
What is the pursuit of our life? Is it to live comfortably until the end? Is it to enjoy this life as much as possible? Or is it to pursue godliness through a relationship with Jesus. If we do that, we will not only find a life that is good now, but we will be able to look forward more and more to the rich welcome we will receive when our life is over. As other things lose their attraction, as much of life begins to pass us by, as we realize that many earthly pursuits are a dead end, may we rejoice to continue and even intensify our pursuit of godliness.