All things are beautiful because you made them, but you who made everything are inexpressibly more beautiful. —Augustine, Confessions
“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12–15 ESV)
Though the saints instinctively know they need the word of God, I’m afraid many go astray in realizing how it is they need it. Many go to the Bible seeking some kind of mystical experience. It is as though they’d rather hear something through the Word rather than simply understand the intended meaning. Certainly, reading the Bible is a supernatural experience. Through the word God creates life. Through His word He sustains life. But what if I told you that one of the principal reasons you should read and study the Bible is to remember? Would you be let down? Are you wanting something more? Is this too plain and simple for you?
When I take time to seriously study the Bible I almost always learn something new, and yet, more than that, I am remembering afresh. Approaching the Bible always looking or something new is a dangerous venture. Heresies are born that way.
Here Peter writes to remind those who are established in the truth. Unfortunately, many have sat under such poor teaching that they are not established in the truth. Even so, those who are truly children of God know enough so that their biggest problem is not what they don’t know, but what they’ve forgotten.
We all need to grow in knowledge, a knowledge that is essential to our spiritual vitality, still, the greatest threat to our spiritual health isn’t what we have yet to learn, but what we might forget. How many of your sins involve forgetting that God is holy? How often do you act as if God were not omnipresent? How frequently do you respond to life as though God were not sovereign? Likewise, how often do you forget the Father’s unfailing covenant love and mercy to you in the Son? How often do you forget that the saints stand justified by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ?
Oh how great is our forgetfulness. It is not as though these are minor details. We’re not forgetting to brush our teeth. We’re forgetting to breathe. Beyond forgetting the weather forecast, we forget that the Sun has risen. Indeed, our greatest problem isn’t ignorance, but forgetfulness.
But there is grace. A grace to remind us of grace. The Bible is a book of reminders. Gather on Sunday to sit under the preaching of the word to be reminded. Sing to one another to remind each other. Partake of the Lord’s table to remember. Read good books to remember. Listen to and sing songs rich in Bible theology to remember. Read and study your Bible every day to remember. Meditate on the Scriptures throughout the day so that you remember. Memorize Scriptures so that you might recall them. Work through your catechism again and again to remember. Listen to good sermons or podcasts while you drive, exercise, or work to remember.
Martin Luther knew all to well our propensity to forget. I leave you with these words from his commentary on Galatians.
“It [the gospel] is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
“My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will. You require continence. A certain writer has said (Wisd. 8: 21): ‘As I knew that no one can be continent except God grants it, and this very thing is part of wisdom, to know whose gift this is.’ By continence we are collected together and brought to the unity from which we disintegrated into multiplicity. He loves you less who together with you loves something which he does not love for your sake. O love, you ever burn and are never extinguished. O charity, my God, set me on fire. You command continence; grant what you command, and command what you will.” —Augustine, Confessions
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5–7 ESV).
Before you deal with these, you must remember those. These because of those is a fundamental principle. Before you make every effort, you must see the reason why you should do so, namely, the two grants mentioned in vv. 3–4.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (ESV).”
You are not to make every effort to gain the grants; you are to make every effort because you have the grants.
Many churches are thick on command and thin on promise, which means they get neither. If you don’t understand the promises of vv. 3–4, you can carry out the command of vv. 5–7. Paradoxically to some, it is that church that is soft doctrinally that is more about law than grace. Show me a church that is atheological and I will show you one that is anti-promise. To teach the promises of Scripture you must teach doctrine. Doctrines like election, calling, substitution, propitiation, redemption, and covenant are essential to understanding God’s promises. You don’t need any doctrine at all to teach five steps to a better marriage. You don’t even need God’s law. Because we don’t teach God’s promises, we don’t teach God’s law either. We’ve substituted those of man in both instances. Thus it is that we get neither grace nor law.
When God gives His law to His people it comes as grace on top of grace. This means that there must be grace for the law to come on top of. If there is no foundational grace, then the only kind of grace the law conveys is not constructive but destructive as it shows us our need of Christ. But to those redeemed by the blood of the Passover Lamb, God prefaces His law in this way, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1–3).
Peter is writing to those who stand righteous by faith in Christ (1:1). The Christ in whom they stand has granted them all things that pertain to life and godliness (v. 3). He has granted his great and precious promises through which they partake of the divine nature (v. 4). For the reason of those two grants, we are to make every effort at these virtues. All our effort then is an expression of faith in Christ. Before you make every effort at these virtues, make sure there is a faith to supplement first, faith in the Christ of those promises.
There is a delight which is given not to the wicked (Isa. 48: 22), but to those who worship you for no reward save the joy that you yourself are to them. That is the authentic happy life, to set one’s joy on you, grounded in you and caused by you. That is the real thing, and there is no other. Those who think that the happy life is found elsewhere, pursue another joy and not the true one. Nevertheless their will remains drawn towards some image of the true joy.” —Augustine, Confessions
Fill in the blank.
The pastor announces, “Hey church, Jesus has given us everything we need for ____________!”
So what’s rattling in your noggin? I bet most Evangelicals would have answers related to either evangelism and growth or finances and buildings. Jesus has given us everything we need to be BIG. I think many responses would indicate just how deeply the prosperity heresy has infiltrated the ranks. Of course, she is dressed up as a sexy spy rather than gaudily made up—prosperity soft rather than prosperity over-the-top. That said, how few would answer godliness?
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 2:3–4).
All we need for life and godliness, Christ has granted us by His divine power. If you’re checking the Scriptures for an exchange policy, hoping for some measurable bigness instead, I’m afraid you’ll find you don’t have an authentic receipt. You’ve received no grant from Christ at all. You don’t have to make godliness attractive to the saints.
Still, though the saints rejoice at this promise, godliness remains one of those words we throw around but seldom pause to define. Our text speaks of “life and godliness.” The pairing links them together as one. Godliness is a way of life. Godliness is life. As sin is death, so godliness is life. In this way we see that godliness is akin to holiness and righteousness. It is a way of looking at the same thing from a different angle.
What particular aspect is brought to the fore by speaking of godliness? The original could be translated as “piety” or “devotion.” The reason godliness is such a good translation is that these are the words used to define what godliness means. Unfortunately, we think of a pious person as one who puts on a show of religious devotion. Though the hypocrite is devoted, it is only to the religion of self. But true piety is godliness—a life devoted to God. The only alternative to piety then is idolatry. Calvin defined true piety in this way:
“I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.”
The verity of Calvin’s definition is born out by this text. True piety is the result of God’s goodness, not the cause of it. This motive distinguishes true piety from false. Godliness is a gift, not an attempt to garner God’s gifts. Here we have gospel-godliness—a godliness that flows from the grace of God in Christ our Savior.
You can never be more devoted to Jesus than Jesus is to you. Any devotion you demonstrate to God is a gift. You can never out give Jesus, for all your giving is a gift. We are like toddlers trying to splash our dad more than he splashes us. Our hands are so tiny and his are so large. God gives oceans and we return thimbles which we have filled from His oceans.
Jesus gives us everything needed for life and godliness. An earthly and benevolent king may desire to give his subjects many things, peace and safety chiefly, but no matter how great his power, he is limited. There are always threats. Jesus divine power grants and there are no threats nor thresholds. A good father may promise a good thing to his daughter that is well within his ability, yet a thousand evil may prevent him still. But the one who gives what is requisite for godliness is God incarnate. Limitless power grants you limitless resources—everything you need for life and godliness.
This promise thrills the saints and outs the ain’ts. If this promise doesn’t thrill you, then the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, everything true and beautiful you are seeking in your prosperity-soft harlot minus the lies, is not for you. As J.C. Ryle so clearly put it:
“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.”
“And yet, my God our maker, what comparison can there be between the respect with which I deferred to her and the service she rendered to me? Now that I had lost the immense support she gave, my soul was wounded, and my life as it were torn to pieces, since my life and hers had become a single thing.” —Augustine, Confessions