In this series I have been writing about what I called the Bible’s most systematic and detailed call to growth in grace. It is found in 2 Peter 1:5-7, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.” In this blog it is my purpose to set before you first a summary illustration and then five summary applications of these verses.
I. Summary Illustration
I remember being quite bothered by this passage when I first began to study it. Here is why. I have told you a number of times especially early on in this series that it cannot and does not teach the building block or lego-block view of sanctification and growth in grace. Now I have had to say that because at first hearing the passages may sound like that to many people. Are we not to add or supply these graces to one another? This sounds like laying one brick of sanctification on top of another. Now we know that this building block view of growth in grace is wrong. Let me give you two good reasons for this.
- First, this is a description of what Peter calls “growing in grace.” Look at 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Indisputably 2 Peter 1:5-7 is Peter’s extended description of what it means to grow in grace. Growth is not a building block kind of thing. It is an organic development kind of thing.
- Second, we know that none of these graces is genuine unless it is only in connection with the others. Faith is not genuine unless it is attended with moral excellence. Peter cannot mean to imply that at some time or for some period faith is without moral excellence. If that were the case, it would not be true faith. This is true for all of these graces. For instance, Paul says that if we don’t have love we are nothing and no true Christians in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. “I am nothing,” he says. Thus, the building block image of what Peter is saying here cannot be correct. It would contradict everything we know about the inter-relatedness of all saving grace.
After considerable thought trying to find an image or illustration which did more justice than the building block image to what Peter is saying here, the illustration that finally came to me was very helpful to me. I hope it is to you. It is drawn from the arena of plant life and better fits with the image of growth in grace with which Peter is working.
It is the image of wonderful flower. You have seen how flowers, say roses, which you may buy in the bud gradually open wider and wider revealing more and more petals within the initial bud. Suppose a flower in which each opening internal circle of petals was a new and splendid color. The initial bud might be white, but as it opened the next petals visible might blue, and then yellow, and finally at the center of it all perhaps red petals would be revealed. You could say that as the flower opened it was supplying the initial and external white petals with blue, yellow, and red petals. Thus, it is with growth in grace. It is not as though faith is without moral excellence, but as it opens it reveals within moral excellence. It is not as though moral excellence is ever truly without knowledge, but as it opens within it you see knowledge. It is not as though knowledge is ever without self-control, but as it opens you see self-control within the knowledge. I want you to think of growth in grace like this wonderful gradually opening flower. Love is the innermost bud, but it is contained in the faith which is the first visible grace. Thus what you have is an artificial and external building block structure, but a gradually unfolding organic development in which the full splendor of grace is progressively revealed in its full glory. So Peter is saying to the Christian grow, unfold, bloom, and reveal in your life the full splendor of the glory of the grace of Christ! Each of my summary applications builds on the image and illustration of this beautiful flower.
The Basis of Progressive Sanctification: This beautiful flower of which I have been speaking can only be opened up by the power of God’s grace!
Under this heading it is my burden to remind you and press upon you the emphasis with which Peter began this exhortation. It is that growth in grace is not a self-help program, but a gospel program that takes place by grace through faith. This is why faith is first. This is why nothing goes before it. This is the whole point of verses 1-4. God by His sovereign grace lays the foundation for the Christian life by giving us faith, putting us into possession of faith. Then it is through this faith trusting the great promises of God that we grow in grace.
The Christian life is not a bicycle. It is an automobile. Its power is not your spiritual muscles, but God’s sovereign grace. Its secret is not the exhausting pumping of your spiritual legs, but the pressure of faith on the accelerator of grace. The engine of faith running on the gasoline of grace powers the Christian life. This is the power plant of the Christian life. God purifies our hearts by faith. He breaks into the human heart by creating the doorway of faith and through that doorway come the resources of His sovereign grace. The life that we live in the flesh, then, we live by faith in the Son of God. We must keep on believing in the power of God’s grace to forgive and subdue our sins and keep taking that grace by the empty hand of faith. By faith we keep putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. This is Peter’s point in beginning the list with faith. Nothing goes before faith, because we are saved by grace through faith, and we live the Christian life by grace through faith.
The Danger of Spiritual Complacency (especially for mature Christians): This beautiful flower must be continually opening throughout the Christian life!
2 Peter is written to those who have been Christians for some period of time. It is written to those who are viewed as established Christians. Just a few verses later than our passage in the first chapter and then again in the third chapter Peter himself makes this application to established Christians.
2 Peter 1:12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.
2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness
One of Peter’s clear purposes in this exhortation to growth in grace is, then, to warn established Christians about the danger of spiritual complacency.
The Identity of Christian Priorities: The opening up of this beautiful flower in our lives is the true priority of the Christian life!
Another great value of this exhortation and its list of virtues is that it reminds us what the true priorities of the Christian life are. Every brand of Christianity is in danger of degenerating into a kind of formalism and externalism that equates Christianity with things that may be fine in themselves, but are not its true priorities. Thus, witnessing becomes the mark of maturity in some churches. In others it has been not going to movies, or super-strict Sabbath observance, or not smoking, or not dancing, or not drinking. In others it is a certain style of dress to which you must conform. In other churches the mark of Christian maturity is being active in church-work, Christian service, or Christian volunteer organizations. I am not commenting on the merits or demerits of any of these things. My simple point is that Peter’s list of virtues puts the priority on the heart, heart-graces, and spiritual virtues. It is possible to be perfectly conformed to all the externals I mentioned and many others, and not be growing in grace at all.
The Mark of Authentic Christianity: If the flower of a supposed faith opens only to show a black center, what you have is not the Christian flower or genuine Christianity!
In the immediate context of this exhortation Peter lays out five reasons why growth in these graces is so important. The substance of each one is that these graces are the indispensable mark of genuine Christianity. Let me quickly summarize those reasons:
- 1st Reason – Growth in grace constitutes us those who are not fruitless (v. 8).
- 2nd Reason – Growth in grace means that we are not spiritually blind (v. 9).
- 3rd Reason – Growth in grace makes certain that God has called and chosen us (v. 10a).
- 4th Reason – Growth in grace assures us that we will never apostatize (v. 10b).
- 5th Reason – Growth in grace assures us of an entrance into the eternal kingdom (v. 11).
You see the point? It is the face of a monster and not a human face if it is without a chin, or a forehead, or two eyes, or a nose, or a mouth. Even so it is not genuine Christianity if any of these graces are simply missing. True Christianity may not be mature, but it is complete. Every false way is hated. Every true virtue is pursued.
The Attractiveness of Growing Grace: Growth in grace is the secret of an attractive and useful Christian life. Each grace unfolds within the previous like a flower opens to display more and more of its beauty. Such a flower is attractive to men. Such growth in grace is useful and attractive as well.
Look at 2 Peter 1:8. Two words are used in this verse to describe the state of uselessness that is the opposite of the attractive and useful condition of the growing in Christian.
The professing Christian who is not supplying these graces in his faith is described as useless. The word also means unprofitable, worthless, idle, or unemployed.
The professing Christian who is not supplying these graces in his faith is also described in verse 8 as unfruitful. The word also means barren, useless, or unproductive.
If we have this wonderful flower of grace opening more and more in our lives. It will make us both useful and fruitful Christians. There is a tremendous attraction and usefulness in the Christian who is genuinely growing in grace. There is no contradiction between growing in grace and being truly useful and fruitful to others. Growth in grace is the path to true usefulness.
The secret to increased fruitfulness and usefulness in the kingdom of God is growth in grace. Do you mourn over your comparative unfruitfulness? Here is what you can do about it. Grow in grace. Supply these graces in your faith. Grow in moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. These qualities in you and increasing will according to Peter make you fruitful and useful.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.