The Importance of Real Life Change
Text: 2 Peter 1:5–11
Main Idea: Steady progress in practical godliness is the silent but powerful proof that we truly belong to God.
I. The Call to Ever-Increasing Godliness (2 Peter 1:5–7)
II. The Protection of Ever-Increasing Godliness (2 Peter 1:8–9)
III. The Assurance of Ever-Increasing Godliness (2 Peter 1:10–11)
Good morning. I’d like to open our time together with a question that flows from today’s passage even though it may not be evident on the surface: “How do you really know that you are a Christian?” How can you know that God has raised you from spiritual death to spiritual life, credited you with the infinite righteousness of Christ and united you to the person of Christ Christ on account of your faith, and that you will be ushered into everlasting joy upon Christ’s return or your death? How can you know? How can you have assurance?
Well, if we surveyed the people that attend the broad range of evangelical churches in America, I expect that we would run into two primary answers.
On the one hand, we might hear: That’s easy, all you have to do is believe. And if you can remember the time you “asked Jesus into your heart” you can be assured that you are saved and will enjoy everlasting life — Once saved, Always saved. Case closed!
But, on the other hand, we might hear: You know, this is one of my greatest fears in life. I believed in Jesus when I was younger but I’ve committed so many horrible sins in my life, I just don’t know any more. And to be honest, deep down, inside I am worried that I have forfeit my salvation.
Yet, in between these two answers we often run into a third answer that plagues countless Christians. Though very few are willing to voice or admit their concern:
I’d love to have a deep, settled conviction that I truly belong to Jesus. I wish I had it… But, I struggle to have any sense of security or assurance. Yes, I remember the day I came to faith in Jesus and I know the Bible inside and out. And I never fell into a pattern of radical sin. But, I just don’t feel any sense of joy in Jesus nor do I feel like he has really done anything in my life…And to be honest, I ashamed to admit that in the dark hours of the night I find myself wondering if I’m a defective Christian or if the gospel is really real.
Well, as we turn to our passage in 2 Peter today, Peter is going to point us to the means by which God ordained us to experience greater and greater assurance— a life of ever growing godliness.
On the one hand, the Bible is clear. Sinful humans are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the theological foundation of our assurance.
But on the other, the Bible tells us that, God’s saving grace never leaves us “alone in our sin.” No, it necessarily overflows in the life-changing fruit of our salvation. And it is this personal experience of real life-change that grants us greater and greater assurance.
And it is important that we understand this relationship before we turn to our text today, so that we do not confuse the supernatural source of our salvation (God’s grace in Jesus Christ) with the necessary, observable fruit of salvation in our everyday lives. Because Peter’s main point today is: Steady progress in practical godliness is the silent but powerful proof that we truly belong to God. 
The Call to Ever-Increasing Godliness (2 Peter 1:5–7)
The Protection of Ever-Increasing Godliness (2 Peter 1:8–9)
The Assurance of Ever-Increasing Godliness (2 Peter 1:10–11)
The Call to Ever-Increasing Godliness (2 Peter 1:5–7)
The Exhortation (1:5a)
The first thing that I want you to see in Peter’s exhortation to this energetic pursuit of Christ-like virtue in verses 5–7, is that it is firmly anchored in AND empowered by God’s grace in Jesus Christ (in verses 3–4).
This is important because it helps us see that Peter is not promoting some form of works-based-righteousness. NO! He is telling us that God did not save us so we could “sit back and relax” in the past grace of our conversion and justification. He saved us and granted us his divine power (v. 3) so that we might actively pursue a life of real-life change (or to put it in theological terms: sanctification).
- Justification: is the once and for all judicial act of God by which he declares the law to be perfectly satisfied in respect to us on account of our faith in Jesus Christ by crediting us with the infinite righteousness of Christ.
- Sanctification: is the progressive and cooperative work of God and the believer, by which we fight against sin and pursue righteousness by God’s grace so that we can be more-and-more like Christ in our every-day lives.
Note, the key difference is that justification is entirely God’s work and that sanctification is our cooperative work with God.
The second thing that Peter wants us to see, is that no one drifts haphazardly into greater degrees of sin-killing, Christ-exalting, godliness—no one! Sanctification, at its core, is a matter of sanctified sweat. What I mean by this is that, if we “double click” on the verb “supplement” (ἐπιχορηγέω) we quickly discover that the Greek term behind it means to “generously provide at one’s personal expense.” Sanctification (growth in godliness) is a focused and costly pursuit.
But, what are we providing in this pursuit? More faith? No. Our faith is already present. He is calling us to make every effort to add these godly virtues to our faith.
The So-Called “Ladder of Virtue” (1:5b–7)
So, as we consider the list itself, it’s important to highlight at least two things.
One, the most remarkable thing about this list is that Peter is calling us to the most un-remarkable pursuit! Notice, he is not focused on our big sins nor calling us to die as martyrs. No, he is addressing the mundane, underlying heart issues that will either lead us to every kind of sin OR Christ-exalting righteousness.
- Virtue is a term that emphasizes moral excellence.
- Knowledge in this context, is not cold, erudite head-knowledge BUT an ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ himself.
- Self-control is harnessing our inherent reflexes that lead to sin.
- Perseverance is the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty.
- Godliness is a life that increasingly reflects the character of God himself.
- Brotherly love is gospel-centered devotion to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Love (ἀγάπη) in this context is NOT a feeling provoked by the beauty or worth of an object. Rather, it’s a costly commitment to pursue what is best for the one being loved.
Don’t miss this, these characteristics are the basic manifestations of Christian maturity, whether it be your pastors and elders or the person who has been a Christian for 12-months.
Number two, Peter is not laying down a specific order in which we should pursue these characteristics. As if he is calling us to master virtue before we pursue: knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. No. He is pointing us to the fact that true Christians never stop pursuing real life change (3:18)… They make every effort to constantly ADD these Christ-like characteristics to their preexisting FAITH in Christ, by the power of risen and exalted Jesus Christ.
See, when Peter calls us to “make every effort to supplement your faith,” he wants us to see that God’s “power” for godliness (v. 3) is not something that stops us in our tracks and compels us to change, as if his “power” suddenly turns us into holy remote-control robots. No. He wants us to see that we encounter God’s grace and power for godly-living as we pursue real-life change in faith-filled earnest effort. And this preserves our utter dependence on supernatural grace and maintains the centrality of faith in our effort…
But, this presses us into the question, why? Why is this so important? Well, it’s because this real-life change by the power of God does two important things for the true Christian:
- It protects us from ineffectiveness (1:8–9)
- It reveals the authenticity of our calling (1:10–11)
Real Life Change Protects us from Ineffectiveness (2 Peter 1:8–9)
The Real-Life Benefit for Those Who Do (1:8)
Notice, Peter wants us to see in these verses that our progress in virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly affection, and love is not “the optional cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of our faith.” No. He wants us to see that our ever-growing progress in these virtues is the God-given means by which God protects believers from being “ineffective” and “unfruitful” in their Christian life. And while these terms don’t sound very threatening because they define much of the American Christian experience, they are weighty terms.
Jesus used the word “ineffective” to describe idle workers who were wasting their day in the marketplace instead of working (Matthew 20:3, 6).
James used the word “ineffective” to describe the utter uselessness of faith without works (James 2:20).
Jesus himself tells us that every person who is truly united to him in faith will bear fruit (John 15:1–17). And he tells us in Matthew 7:20 that we will be able to recognize the true nature of a tree over time by its fruit.
See in these terms, Peter is warning us that a consistent lack of grace-empowered life-change over time is in direct conflict with the gospel— God has given us everything we need for godly living!
But even worse, this consistent lack of progress over time may —may— actually be a sign that someone never came to faith in Christ to begin with. This is what’s ultimately at stake!
The Underlying Problem of Those Who Do Not Pursue (1:9)
So for the moment let’s consider the true believer. After all, Peter is writing this letter to true Christians. And his insights in verse 9 seem to pinpoint one of the primary reasons that true Christians abandon their pursuit of godliness— “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
See the fundamental problem with the “professing Christian” who does not eagerly pursue these virtues or manifest these fruits of faith in their life, is that they are blind in two directions.
When they look to the future, it’s just a foggy-murky haze, the promises of God are completely obscured by a stunning blur of worldly longings. I think that is what it means by shortsighted— we cannot see past this life.
And even worse, when they look to the past, the forgiveness and peace and joy that gave them so much excitement at first is all but forgotten.
But in this two-fold blindness (past and future) what’s happening? The Christian still remembers doctrinal truths and stories about Jesus Christ BUT is forgetting what it means to actually know and be united to and to love the risen and exalted Jesus Christ himself.
Ineffective and unfruitful Christianity doesn’t expose a single fault in the gospel, or reveal a deficiency in God’s promises to us, nor does it prove that our sin is more powerful than the power of God.
Rather, it exposes one OF two things about the person in question. (1) they have taken their eyes off of Jesus. Or (2) they never really knew Jesus to begin with. And the truth of the matter is that, this side of heaven it is very difficult to tell the difference between the two. Which is why Peter concludes this section with a call to confirm our calling and election.
Real Life Change Reveals the Authenticity of our Calling (2 Peter 1:10–11)
The True Threat (1:10–11)
Friends, these last two verses are why I brought up the question of assurance at the beginning of the sermon. What I mean by this is that verses 10 and 11 help us see that the ultimate danger in verses 8–9 is not the danger of entering the kingdom with no rewards. It’s the clear and present danger of not being saved at all. That’s what is at stake in these verses!
Don’t miss this, when Peter calls us to “confirm our calling and election,” he is using a legal term that stresses the proven validity of something. And what kind of proof does he have in mind? Our active pursuit of sanctification.
Just look at the logical relationship between verse 10 and verse 11.
- If you practice these qualities you will never fall (v. 10). But what does he mean by fall? Fail to be a nice person? Fail to effective? No! Fail to enter the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
- Notice verse 11 says “For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom.” And what “way” does Peter have in mind? All we have to do is look back to verse 10: eagerly pursuing the qualities listed in verses 5–7.
The Grounds of Our Assurance
Now I realize that this may seem counterintuitive to some, so bring in some other passages to clarify the issue.
Romans 8:29–30 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
2 Corinthians 5:15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him whofor their sake died and was raised.
Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness (sanctification) without which no one will see the Lord.
Matthew 7:21–23 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
What do we see in these verses? God wants us to know that we are his! He wants us to have joyful assurance! And according to these verses, our subjective sense of personal assurance is NOT dependent on our doctrinal convictions about the gospel (as true as they are) BUT our conformity to the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Or to put it another way, The reassuring evidence and assurance of our election is our ever-increasing but ever-imperfect growth in godly-living.
So let me highlight the way that our passage in 2 Peter challenges three commonly held beliefs about Christian assurance.
One, these verses are in direct conflict with the “frozen chosen” view of the Christian life. Peter does NOT point his readers to their heart-felt belief that they are “called” and “among the elect” as a comfort. No. He raises it as a challenge! “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election!!”
Two, in a similar way, these verses expose the deficiencies in the “once saved, always saved” view of the Christian life. Notice, Peter does NOT point to the moment they responded in faith to Jesus’ call in the gospel as a comfort BUT a challenge . Is your faith nothing more that a past religious event OR is it a present power that produces real-life change?
See the problem with once saved, always saved is that while it rightly emphasizes God’s free and sovereign grace in the gospel and God’s power to preserve the true believer; it avoids or ignores the countless warnings against any “so-called Christian life” that is persistently unproductive, dead, and fruitless!
Three, Peter NEVER indicates that a lack of godliness might cause a person to lose or forfeit their calling and election. No. He tells us that a persistent lack of and disinterest in godly living may —may— be a sign that we were never “called,” and have never truly been among “the elect.”
The Question of Assurance
So how can you know that your faith is real? How can you have increasing assurance that your teenager’s or young adult’s first-grade profession of faith at VBS or Sunday School was really real?
How can you know that you and your child have been saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone?
How can you have a deep abiding assurance that you or your child have been forever united to Christ by faith?
How can you know that you and your child will be ushered into everlasting joy upon Christ’s return or your death?
Well according to Peter, the evidence that you have been united to Christ by faith is that you are making every effort to advance in the qualities of Christ-likeness. Because when it comes to assurance: Steady progress in practical godliness is the silent but powerful proof that we truly belong to God.
 Or to put it another way, while the unchanging objective ground of our assurance is God’s free and sovereign grace in Jesus Christ; our subjective experience of assurance is bolstered by our growth in godliness.
 Adapted from, Michael P. Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 94.
 “The grace of God enables what it demands;” (Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 90).
 Matthew Harmon, Philippians: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2015), 372–73.
 Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 50 of Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1983), 184. Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 298.
 Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 302.
 Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 91.
 John Piper, Sermons From John Piper (1990–1999) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
 Harmon, Philippians, 375.