His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness
The apostle Peter has in mind a very definite idea of Christian growth as the ongoing work of God in a human being. It involves both life (living human life well) and godliness (our life in God).
The great evangelist George Whitefield was profoundly affected spiritually by a little book, The Life of God in the Soul of a Man, by Henry Scougal. That book, in both title and content, expressed the very essence of what Peter would say is true of Christian Growth, that it is about exploring the capabilities of God in the context of the fullest possible expression of God’s intention for us as human beings.
There are two basic questions that the growing disciple of Jesus Christ ought to come to terms with:
• How do we become all we can be in God, considering His resources and capabilities?
• How do we live up to all we are intended to be as human beings and who they were designed by God to be?
In the very first verse of this, Peter’s second letter, he demonstrates two expressions of this human/divine duality even in how he introduces himself:
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
He does not introduce himself simply as “Peter” like in his first letter but “Simon Peter”, his earthly family name (“Simon”) joined with the name given to him by our Lord (“Peter”) through a divine calling by the God/Man Jesus Christ.
Peter then goes on to say that he is both a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Again we see the two sides of the coin—a life lived as both servant and an apostle, a calling to fullfil the best in a human life can offer, in the context of a divine appointment.
The exciting and fulfilling teaching of the Bible on Christian growth is that God wants disciples of Jesus Christ to appropriate all things of God unto themselves while at the same time growing up into the fullest and most robust expression of what God has intended for human beings to do and be.
This book will be an exploration of a list of things that Peter tells us we need to add to our faith: moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly love and agape love.
There are several different kinds of lists presented in the New Testament that portray facets of the Christian life, of the Christian themselves as they are equipped by God. This one is somewhat distinct in that it contains several attributes that are not specifically Christian in their origin. They are instead very important character attributes prized in Greek and Roman culture. Why does Peter present things this way? When we look at the attributes Peter lists as a whole, it seems that he has very intentionally framed this with reference to both human expectations and divine capabilities.
God wants us to pursue the best of what it means to be human. This touchs our human motives (virtue), our control over our own human bodies and passions (self-control) and it culminates in redeemed human relationships (brotherly love).
God wants us to pursue this in keeping with the excellence of the divine nature of the Triune Godhead. We are to know God and all of this works (knowledge), we are to put on God (godliness) and we are to love both God and men with a truly divine love (agape love).
Not only is this an expression of human and divine synergy, there also is a logical progression in Peter’s presentation. He starts with ground of our life of faith: our motives and understanding, he carries us through the process of spiritual formation and finally, he shows what growth produces: relational fruit.
The pathway that God has us on as believers is one that begins in faith but works towards love. In Luke 2:52 it tells us: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” That passage is, of course, similar to what it says about the Old Testament prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 2:26, “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people.” In a very succinct way, both passages tell us about the point of beginning, the pathway of growth and outcome of that growth as both Jesus and Samuel’s sphere of influence with both man and God became greater. The means of God’s grace were multiplied over time into the fruitfulness of favor before God and man, great relational fruit.
Peter very definitely wants us to see what we are given as a birthright as Christians, what improvement or use we are to make of what we are given and to what end we are to aspire—all in one sweep.
To make this model of Christian growth memorable to the reader I have chosen to organize it around a metaphor of a very common process in nature, the growth of a common plant or tree. This kind of analogy is used in Scripture itself. My promise to the reader is that I will be careful not to press this bit of literary theatre in unnatural or unnecessary ways.
Below is a graphic to illustrate what Peter says in this short section of Scripture The diagram may not make immediate sense, but allow me some time to explain it to you.