Teaching series from 2 Peter

Insights into Christian Character

2 Peter 1:1-11

Teaching t07766

Introduction

We begin a four-teaching series on 2 Peter, so please find your way there. Read 1:1. As the title and greeting suggest, this was probably one of at least two letters written by Simon Peter (one of Jesus' 12 disciples) to a group of churches scattered across northern Turkey (see 3:1; 1 Pet. 1:1).

This letter is special, because Peter writes it in full awareness of his imminent death (read 1:14).

Jesus had predicted to Peter some 30 years earlier that he would die as a martyr (Jn. 21:18-19), and tradition tells us that Peter was condemned for sedition against Rome in the mid-60's during the Neronian Persecution.[1] As a non-citizen, he was sentenced to death by crucifixion rather than the painless execution by beheading. He requested to be crucified upside-down since he was not worthy to be executed like Jesus.

On the eve of his execution, Peter does not fret for himself. He knows that death is merely "the laying aside of his earthly dwelling" for the presence of God. His concern is for his audience, that they may remember and stay focused on what is really important—and the first important issue he raises is character.

What is character? One author observes that "character is clearly distinct from such concepts as personality, image, reputation, (style), or celebrity. It is . . . the inner reality and quality in which thoughts, speech, decision, behavior, and relations are rooted. As such, character determines behavior just as behavior demonstrates character."[2] Jesus says as much in Matt. 12:33-35 (read). Another author defines good character as "the internalizing of moral qualities so that our values, attitudes and behaviors are increasingly governed by them." Our culture has replaced its long-time regard for character with a fascination for style and celebrities, image management, and spin-doctoring. We need to return to a deep appreciation for character. In this passage, Peter gives us three key insights into it . . . 

Christ supplies all of the resources to renovate your character.

When we bought our home 16 years ago, we loved everything about it except the kitchen. It was only about 10 feet by 6 feet, with no counter space, the only cabinets were above the stove, and a screw-in light bulb for the sink-room. We lived with it that way for 6 years, when my wife finally reached her wit's end and called for a change. I suggested a new coat of paint, a switch for the sink-room light, some new curtains, etc. But she said, "No, you don't understand. We need renovation—more space, new wiring, a counter island, a breakfast table, new cabinets, etc." I looked at my toolbox, and concluded this was way out of my league. Three months and several thousand dollars later, we had a renovated kitchen—not by me, but by a contractor who supplied the plans, knowledge, tools, materials—and supervised the project.

God created us to manifest his character so that other people are attracted to him. He knows that our characters are in a state of radical disrepair, and he knows that a coat of paint and some new curtains aren't going to do it. What we need is major renovation (we'll read a description of the plan in a minute) that goes far beyond our resources. One of the most fantastic features of Christianity is that Christ supplies all of the resources for the renovation instead of calling on us to do it by ourselves. This is the first point that Peter makes (read 1:2-4).

"Life and godliness" is a synonym for renovated character, as is "becom(ing) partakers of the divine nature." Christ's power grants to us everything we need for character transformation (1:3). Christ has given us precious and magnificent promises by which he conforms our characters to his own (1:4). What are these resources that he promises? You can find them throughout the New Testament. They include:

He promises to personally motivate and empower this renovation process through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:13).

He promises to sovereignly oversee this renovation process, working through everything that happens to us (good and bad) to accomplish it (Rom. 8:28-29).

He promises to never give up on us, but to constantly initiate character renovation until it is completed when Christ returns (Phil. 1:6).

But these promises apply to you only if you have asked Christ to be your contractor. Just as my contractor wouldn't begin my kitchen renovation until I signed the contract, so Jesus won't begin to renovate your character until you agree to his terms. The great thing is that his terms don’t require you to pay him—only that you agree that you need renovation, let him forgive you for your guilt before God, and ask him to become the One who is in charge of the project. Have you done this? If not, why not do so today?

If you have received Christ, are you remembering to focus on his resources and promises to do the job? If we forget this, we will get discouraged by the magnitude of the task, or superficialize the renovation that needs to occur. But if we remember to ground it in God's faithfulness, we can approach it with confidence.

We need to work diligently with Christ in the renovation project.

Do we then just sit back, take the foot off the pedal and coast, "let go and let God?" Though some Christians teach this, it's not the conclusion that Peter forms (read 1:5-7). Precisely because God has promised to provide us with his resources, we need to work diligently with him in the renovation project. We are to be fully and actively involved in the transformation process. God will not cultivate his character into our lives in spite of our cooperation; rather, he works with our resolve to be transformed.

This is the attitude we need: ". . . applying all diligence, in your faith supply . . ." Both the verb and adverb are extremely active terms which speak of putting all that we have into this goal.

"Diligence" (spoude): used to describe the way that Olympic athletes "give it all they have" as they approach the tape. Paul uses this image in Col. 1:28-29 (read). It is the opposite of passive dabbing at something just to kill time; it is to "put your whole heart into your work."

"Supply" (epichorego): used to describe how wealthy art patrons tried to outdo each other in providing materials, personnel and equipment for theater productions. It is the opposite of stingily dribbling out as little as possible; it is to "spare no expense."

For some of us, we are seeing no progress simply because we are attitudinally passive about the project! We say, "If God wants to change me, I'm sure he'll do it whether I cooperate or not." Instead, we should say to God, "I want you to change me more than anything else, and I am willing to cooperate with you in whatever ways you show me."

Peter also describes the areas in which God is working to renovate us. Because God is a Person and because we are persons, he will not run us through an impersonal assembly-line, stamping us all the same way at the same time. Rather, like a master craftsman, he will renovate your life in a personal way, addressing different areas at different times and calling on you to cooperate with him in concrete ways. Here's a picture of the finished project toward which God is working:

"Moral excellence" (arete): A general term ("virtue") which is used of Christ in 1:3 and unpacked by the following terms, which are like facets of a DIAMOND.

"Knowledge" (gnosin): Not academic or natural knowledge (though this is good), but thinking and discernment informed by God's Word. This is what Paul calls "the mind of Christ"—the ability to view every major area of life in light of God's revealed truth. We gain this primarily through prayerful study, reflection and practice of God's Word.

"Self-control" (egkrateian): A will that is trained and strengthened to say "no" to inappropriate and unprofitable desires (SENSUAL; SLOTH; MATERIALISTIC; EGOTISTICAL; VENGEANCE). This is so different from the animalistic freedom urged by our culture (SEXUAL LUST LIKE A FULL BLADDER), which is actually not freedom at all, but enslavement to lust. "Freedom is not the license to do what you want; it is the power to do what God has designed you to do."

"Perseverance" (hupomonen): The proven ability to pursue God's will in spite of adversity. Instead of being so aversive to pain that we cave in and quit as soon as it gets rough, we "hang in there" by drawing encouragement and strength from God to fulfill his mission. Like a master trainer, God develops this by carefully subjecting our faith to stress and exercise through adversity.

"Godliness" (eusebian): A growing reverence for God, an awareness that God is personally involved in every situation on our lives, and deepening commitment to live for him and please him in every area of our lives ("Audience of One"). The opposite is the bondage of living for people's approval.

"Brotherly kindness" (philadelphian): Christian relationships that are characterized by affection, affirmation and encouragement; rather than uninvolved, uncaring, and negatively critical.

"Love" (agape): This is the way God loves us—not just those who love him, but also those who hate him. Not for what he can get back from us, but freely and without expectation of return. This is a lifestyle characterized by sacrificial and freely given service to others, and the cultivated ability to derive satisfaction from the act of giving.

What areas is Christ working on in your life right now? How does he want you to cooperate with him? Are you cooperating with him—or are you on strike? I often think I can go on strike in one area without affecting the entire project, but the opposite is true.

The rewards of character renovation are well worth the effort.

Anyone who has started down this path knows that it is difficult. Anything truly worthwhile in life is. Resistance, both external and internal, is great. Progress is often painful, and painfully slow. There are also many voices telling you that you are a fool to work so hard at this—and they often seem to be happier than you are. It's easy to feel like this can't be worth the effort. Perhaps this is why Peter reminds us that the rewards of character renovation are well worth the effort.

Your life will be useful and fruitful for Christ (read 1:8). There is nothing worse than feeling useless, or like you have spent your life without accomplishing anything significant. If you allow Christ to progressively renovate your character, your life will have true impact and effectiveness. God prioritizes character development (who we are) over specific ministry activity (what we do) and gifting because godly character is what makes Christian service impactful. As the years go by, you will be able to see more and more how God has worked through your life to affect others for him. There is nothing as satisfying in life as this!!

Your life will not be ruined by people or circumstances beyond your control (read 1:10). The word "stumble" here was used to describe horses losing their feet on rough terrain and shattering their legs. So many goals in life are beyond our control, subject to "the breaks," the economy, shifting political tides, other people's choices, etc. Many people, even Christians, live in constant fear that their lives will be irreparably shattered. But commitment to character development cancels out this fear. Because God is committed to its development in our lives, no one and nothing can keep us from succeeding except our own choice to not cooperate (see 1:9—deliberate language). In fact, God sovereignly uses adversity to enhance character development.

God will richly honor you when you enter his kingdom (read 1:11). This has nothing to do with earning the right to go to heaven; that is something that we must receive as a free gift. Rather, Peter is saying that when we enter God's kingdom, God himself will recognize the progress we have made in this area and lavish his praise and honor on us accordingly. The image is of the Olympic marathon runner entering the stadium and being greeted by overwhelming applause.

Footnotes

[1] Eusebius, The History of the Church (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 104.

[2] Os Guinness, Character Counts (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), p. 12.