There is a certain phrase that has enjoyed some popularity in recent years among Christians. I’m sure you have probably heard it before at some point. It’s the phrase, “Let Go and Let God.” Now, that’s a pretty catchy phrase right? If you’ve experienced much of American Popular Christianity, you can probably see why it would become popular. It has a nice ring to it. It sounds good. It even feels good, right? Letting go of whatever is troubling you. It resonates with our knowledge that God is in control of everything that is going on in our lives. He is sovereign, right? He is Lord. Surely, we want to acknowledge that and not act like we have control over every detail of our lives, or we will be sorely disappointed.
So It’s not the phrase in and of itself that is the problem, BUT the way in which it is used. And I think that there is a strong tendency in today’s world to use this phrase in some very dangerous ways. Specifically tonight I want us to consider the application of this phrase “Let Go and Let God,” to the continual, life-long, daily battle of sanctification.
Peter in no way expects his readers to “Let Go and Let God” when it comes to their sanctification. I think it can be really easy for us, even if we don’t use this phrase, to allow this sort of thinking to creep into our heads if we’re not careful. Think back to a time in your life when there was one particular sin that kept on staring you right in the face, perhaps you’re even there right now. No matter how hard you try, it seemed as if you would never put this thing to death. You felt as if it might destroy you altogether. Hope was fading. You felt as if you were being suffocated by it. I’m sure all of us in this room have been there at some point in our lives. Perhaps it was some bitterness toward someone who had wronged you or a sinful habit that you just couldn’t break. You prayed, you confessed you, you had an accountability partner, but eventually you were just exhausted from your efforts. Nothing seemed to help. I can think of no other time in our lives when we might be more tempted to grab hold of the phrase “Let God and Let God” ….. And no time more dangerous to apply it to our hearts.
How tempting it sounds to let God take over this exhausting battle against sin. After all, He is the one with power over sin. He is the one with the strength to overcome death and sin. Who are we? Poor, weak and weary sinners. And all of this is true! We are weak. He is strong. Why hasn’t he made it easier for us to overcome sin? How easy it can be to quickly become bitter against our Lord for our own failings in our lives. Aren’t we tempted to take these truths and bitterly lament to God as if it were His fault for not giving us enough strength to defeat our sin. How backwards and warped are minds can become! But perhaps we’re tempted to think that it must be our fault. Maybe we’re trying too hard. Maybe he just wants us to trust him more. Maybe if stepped back from the fight, he would take over for us. Maybe our struggles against sin would vanish if we just lessened our efforts and increased our faith in him. You see how this sort of thinking can creep into the way that we think about sin and our own sanctification? The Devil will take everything he possibly can to twist the truth. But in these times when we feel like the battle against sin is all but hopeless, the question remains. What are we called to do? Are we called to lessen our efforts, so that our faith might increase and God’s strength take over? Will that really help us in our fight against sin?
2 Peter Chapter 1 answers this question for us. After reminding us of the power and the promises of the gospel, Peter writes in verse 5, “For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,” and he continues with a whole list of characteristics to add to our faith. I think this verse is the centerpiece of our passage, especially the phrase “make every effort.” Quite contrary to the idea of letting go of our efforts and letting God take over, Peter wants us to know that as Christians, we are called to be a people who “Make Every Effort” to add to our faith.(2x)
Now my goal this evening is to help us understand the reasons behind Peter’s exhortations. Why do I think it would be so dangerous for us if we let go and let God when it comes to our sanctification and why can it be so tempting for us to do so? What is his reasoning for instead commanding us to make every effort in our sanctification? What’s his basis for that?
Well, I think Peter makes it very clear in verses 3&4, that Our Efforts have their foundation in the very great and precious promises of Jesus Christ (2x) Look again at v3 : “ 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.” Praise God! Are you tempted to despair about your ability to fight against sin? You should be! But listen to this, His Divine Power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness! You see before he starts to tell us that we need to make every effort, he is determined for us to see that the success of our efforts DOES NOT COME FROM US! But rather, we have been granted divine power. Now before we just gloss over this fact I want to read a rather lengthy section of scripture. After trying and failing to come up with some way to convey the divine power that we’ve been granted, I decided that there weren’t any words better than Isaiah 40:12-31, “read”
This is our God! He gives strength to the weary and he has granted to you and I all things that pertain to life and godliness. What a gift! What a gift.
But Peter not only wants to remind us of this gift, he want to remind us of how we have received this gift, we read on, “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,”
All of us here with faith began with a call. That call can pretty much be summed up in the words of Christ, “Follow me.” Follow me. This is what Jesus said to his first disciples as he called them out of their lives to give up everything and follow him. What does this mean for us? What does it mean to follow Christ and answer his call? According to Peter, we were called to Christ’s Glory and Excellence, to imitate him in this way. The word translated excellence here is the same Greek word translated virtue in verse 5, and it carries the weight of both of these words with it. So, more precisely Peter is reminding us that we are called to imitate Christ in his moral excellence. What a high calling! His moral excellence is one that is completely free of any sin, a shining white garment with not a spot or a wrinkle, the very perfection of God. This is our task of sanctification. This is what we, as Christians, as those who follow Christ are called to, to imitate Christ in his glory and moral perfection. This is what it means to follow Christ.
John Bunyan paints this picture of the Christian life so well in his book the Pilgrim’s Progress. In this book, a man named Christian is terribly burdened by two things: first, the knowledge that his town, the town of destruction, is going to be judged with fire from heaven and second, by the presence of a terribly heavy burden that weighs down on his back. Then Christian experiences a call. He is told to leave his town and journey to a great place called the celestial city. The way to the city, he is told, lies beyond a gate whose name is faith, and it is only those who enter in through this gate who will be allowed to enter the city. After entering into the way through this gate, Christian stumbles upon a Cross, and upon sight of the cross the heavy burden that has been weighing him down all his life falls off his back, and he is impeded by it no longer. Not only that, he is given a precious gift of a scroll to carry with him in which is written all sorts of comforts to help him in his journey to the celestial city.
What a beautiful picture of our calls to follow Christ! This is you and I! We know what it is to be burdened down by the thoughts of future judgment and our own sin. And if we have answered the call of Christ, we have entered into the way by faith to experience the joy of both of our burdens being taken away. No longer do we carry the thought of a future judgment against are sin. No longer do we carry the guilt that comes from our sin! Because of the moral perfection of Christ and his death being had in our place, we no longer carry the burden of guilt upon our backs.
Not only that, but we have been given his precious and very great promises. This is what Peter is ultimately getting at. After reminding us of our calling to imitate Christ in his glory and perfection, he goes on to say that it is through this calling that we are granted his precious and very great promises. And what comes next makes me think that he has one specific promise in mind that he wants us to pay special attention to. He says, so that through them [the precious and very great promises] you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
It seems clear to me that Peter has in mind the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Triune God. And this promise has its roots deep in the Old Testament. Listen to the words of Ezekiel. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” Once we answer the call to follow Christ, we receive this gift that was promised hundreds of years before Christ. Jesus refers often to this Spirit as the Helper, whom he tells us will lead us into all truth and convict the world of sin and judgment.
This is what Peter means by becoming partakers of the divine nature. God has so radically changed our hearts as those of faith that the very Spirit of God can dwell within us! Think on that. The presence of God dwells within you in the form of the Holy Spirit. What a world altering change has taken place inside of us! We have a comforter and helper to lead us into the truth and to help us escape from the corruption of the world and our sinful desires. When we begin to think wrongly because of our sinful flesh, he restores our thinking in to the right way. When we become burdened by guilt, he reminds us that our guilt has been removed! When Christian was troubled by some evil on his journey to the celestial city, he would pull out his scroll to comfort him and strengthen him in the right way. So we also should take great comfort in this gift of the Holy Spirit.
So we have seen that Peter wanted to ground our own efforts in the promises of Christ, in our original faith in answering the call to follow Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes with that faith. He does not want us to forget that we at first came to Christ in faith with nothing but our sin in our hands to bring to him, and he took that sin and nailed it to the cross, giving us clean hearts and clean hands. Our efforts to change our hearts were meaningless and hopeless. We had no hope in becoming good, for we were dead in our sins. Only through the very great promise of the Holy Spirit do we have any reason to make every effort in imitating Christ.
What then are we now to do? We have seen and heard of the magnificent ways in which God is working in and through us to produce good. Can’t we just be thankful and let him do his thing? After all, He is the one with the power to do good. What does Peter say, “For this very reason, sit back and watch God do amazing things as you surrender control to him”? That’s not how the text reads, is it? Think back to Christian, If that’s how the text read, we would expect Christian to grow a pair of wings and maybe lounge back on a nice white fluffy cloud as he flies over the hills and valleys on the way to the celestial city,” but that’s not how the story goes because that’s not how the text reads. Peter tells us to make every effort!
Therefore, we read of Christian plunging through the valley of the shadow of death and waging war against Apollyon there, of Christian being captured and beaten by the men who lived in Vanity Fair, of Christian losing his way and being locked up in the castle of Doubt by the giant Despair. Clearly, Christian had to make great efforts on his way to the celestial city. And this is the normal Christian life, our faith is attacked by the devil and his servants, we are tempted by the lusts of the world and tempted to despair, but through it all, we have our Helper who guides us in the truth.
So how does the text read? Verse 5, Because of our calling and the gift of the holy spirit, “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.”
Now, we surely don’t have time to go into detail about each of these individual attributes, but I do want to highlight one thing which I think give us a good framework with which to view this list of attributes:
And it’s simply this, that Our efforts are to be added to our faith through love(2x).
This seems like a pretty simple idea, but how easy is it for us to miss this! Before we can get to anything else on this list, we must understand and have faith. Are you assured that Christ’s promises are true? Do you have a conviction that Christ’s blood will speak out for your righteousness one day, and that your place in heaven has been bought entirely by His death, burial, and resurrection. This is what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ. Is this true of you, OR are you doubting these things based on your ability to produce virtue or to produce self-control?
How easy it can be for our hearts to come to a list like this and see a list of works that we can do to better ourselves in the eyes of God! If I can just produce more steadfastness, or if I can just control my wicked tongue, God will be pleased with me. But aren’t we forgetting something? Did we already forget the first part of the verse? Supplement your faith with these things. You see, our very desire for these things must be founded on faith, that there is not a single act or attribute that we could practice that would improve our standing before God. Either our faith is in Christ and we are counted perfectly righteous before him or it is not and every act of ours is stained pitch black by our sin. There is no improving our standing before God by our efforts in practicing this list of attributes.
Christian, as he was on his journey to the celestial city, met with a man whom he saw enter into the way by coming over a wall by the path. This man was from the town of Morality and Christian asked him why he didn’t enter into the way through the gate of faith. His answer is, I think, frightfully revealing. He said that the gate was a long way off from his town and that many people have gone before him over the wall so that it has become a well-respected way to enter onto the path. I’m afraid that this can easily be said of many churches in our day. That many try to imitate the life of Christ through morality without ever acknowledging their desperate need to enter in by faith. The Lord calls such men thieves and robbers. Do not forget that the point of this list is to add to our faith, not to our moral standing before God; for, if you have entered in through faith, you are already seen as perfectly righteous before Him.
But I said that our efforts are to be added to our faith through love. Paul says “If I have all faith that can move mountains and have not love, I am nothing.” When asked what the greatest commandment was Jesus answered, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength.” And the second to love your neighbor as yourself. Above all else, God is building a people who know how to love. Why is it important to have knowledge or self-control or virtue? Because it is how we show our love. We seek for virtue so that we can show kindness and patience and generosity toward one another. We seek for self-control because each time we sin we are hurting the church and its people and our Savior. We seek for steadfastness so that we might provide courage to those among us who are tempted to despair. We seek for Godliness so that others might come to know God for who He is by watching us. We seek brotherly affection so that we might show God’s love in a personal, intimate way. You see, each one of these is just another way to show love, both to God and to people.
Why is it such a Ludacris idea that we should seek these things to better ourselves in the eyes of God? The very point of each of these things is to show love to others, not to better ourselves. Love is the fruit of faith. You cannot truly show love unless you have experienced the love of Christ that comes through faith, the love of God becoming man, living the life of a servant, being slaughtered in silence because you and I have chosen sin, because we had to choose our own way over obedience, he gave his life to redeem us. Until you have experienced that love, there’s no way to show love to others.
But Peter goes on. Now that he has made absolutely sure that we understand faith to be necessary to our efforts, and that the promised Holy Spirit is the power behind our efforts, he wants to leave us with the outcome of our efforts as motivation to persevere in them. What he wants to make clear is that our efforts will validate our faith (2x).
He draws a line in the sand and says those of you over here lack these qualities; those of you over here possess these qualities in increasing measure. Listen to how the text reads: “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” He is clearly speaking about two distinct types of people here, those with these qualities and those without them.
I want us to think first about what he says to those who possess these qualities. The first thing he points out about them is that there’s room for improvement. “If these qualities are yours and are increasing.” He makes no provision for the person who claims to have mastered everything in this list. He knows very well that no one will ever reach a point where there is not a need to improve in all these things.
Think about what happens during the process of conversion. A sinner living in rebellion has come to God through faith and been granted life through the Holy Spirit. He’s made the dead come to life and given us a list of things to do. It’s almost as if a crippled man who has never walked in his life is given the ability to walk, then he is asked to run a 500 mile race across TN. We would say, “Are you kidding me? He can barely stand and now you want him to do what?” It’s easy to feel this way when we read that we are to imitate Christ’s perfect holiness isn’t it? I mean, we were just brought out of death into life, give us a second to catch our breaths. We’ve been given life through the spirit, but we’re still pretty stiff from lying dead in the grave of our sins.
But listen to what’s expected of us: In verse 10 he says, “If you practice these things you will never fall.” We’re not expected to immediately master them. We’re expected to make our lives full of the practice of them. Paul picks up on this same theme in 1 Timothy 4:7 he says to Timothy to “to train yourself in Godliness.”
You see just as it is expected that a man who just became able to walk would need a lifetime of training before tackling such a great race, the same can be said of our training in godliness. And it is expected of us that over time as we train ourselves and practice these things, there will be great growth. There will be improvement.
But I want to push this running analogy a little bit further. Those of you who have experienced running competitively will know that the easiest time to make improvement is at the very beginning of your training. It’s not uncommon to see minutes flying off your race times at the beginning of your training. It’s after years of competing when you’re in the best shape of your life that you have to push especially hard to see any improvement at all. Every second off your race time is a victory on its own. The little improvements have become hard fought victories.
If you feel like you’re there right now in your Christian training, first Praise God for your continued faith, but I want to encourage you to make every effort to increase your love, knowledge, godliness, for there will always be plenty of distance between our obedience and Christ’s. Peter seems to expect that these things will continue to increase in our lives as we practice them. We must not become complacent in our training.
If you’re like me, you may be tempted to ask, “why not?” What sort of motivation is there to continue to practice these things? Listen to the motivation that Peter gives us: v11 “For in this way[that is by practicing these things], there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”
Again, if you’re like me another question jumps into your head here: “Isn’t he tying our entrance into heaven with our works? The simple answer is yes. If your understanding of the gospel has no room for that statement, then you do not fully understand the gospel! For that is exactly what Peter is doing. And it’s by no means the only place in scripture. Listen to Romans 2:6-8 “He will render to each one according to his works. To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life, but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” And Jesus says to the church in Revelation 2:23 “And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” What are these passages getting at? How do we make sense of the two facts that on the one hand we are justified and counted righteous through faith alone and on the other hand we will be judged based upon what our works deserve? This question deserved an entire sermon in its own right, but I think the idea is pretty well summed up with the idea that our efforts validate our faith, that is that our efforts prove that our faith is genuine.
And this is so clearly seen in our text! Look how Peter addresses those who lack these qualities. Verse 9; he says of them that they have become blind, forgetting the truth of the gospel that they were cleansed of their sins through their original faith. These people who have forgotten that they were cleansed from their former sins are those of whom the parable refers to as seed scattered among thorns or among rocky soil. Whether you interpret this as a temporary faith or a faith that isn’t genuine, the fact remains that it’s not a saving faith. Saving faith grows in good soil and produces fruit a hundred-fold.
This is how we hold both of these truths hand in hand: “That justification depends upon faith alone and that we will be judged by our works.” True faith always produces good works. This is vital in understanding Peter’s motivation in writing this letter. He holds out the celestial city for us to see. “This,” he says, “is your motivation for making every effort to add to your faith; this is your motivation to practice these things.” Not so that you will feel better about yourselves or have more self-esteem or that you will start to feel like you deserve to be justified because of your works, but so that you might prove your faith to be genuine by showing love to others.
The Lord knows that you will be tempted to give up the fight. He knows that there will be times when certain sins of doubt, fear, anxiety, lust, anger, whatever they may be will make you feel hopeless. He knows that Satan will throw every reason in the world at you for giving up in your efforts. He will even spiritualize them: “Let Go and Let God.”
I can hear the demons now whispering their lies “He’s demanding too much of you. He wants you to give up the fight. He’ll take over for you. He knows you can’t beat it. He just wanted you to depend more upon Him.” But that’s not what the Lord demands or requires of us. He has given us His divine Power through the Holy Spirit living inside of us so that we might Hold Fast and Make Every Effort, even in the midst of trials, showing our faith to be genuine.
Upon his journey, Christian’s one thought was making it to the celestial city, because he had faith that the Lord of that city would grant him entrance. And Peter holds out the same promise to us. To those who have answered the call to follow Christ, may the Joy of entering into his city to be with Him forever be our motivation in making every effort to persevere with patience in doing good. Listen, one more time to the words of 2 Peter 1:3-11 “read.”