The gospel is the good news of changed lives.
The predominant theme of 2 Peter is pursuing godliness. This is clear because Peter opens his letter by telling us in verse 3 that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Verse 4 says we can become “partakers of the divine nature” (i.e. godliness) through “his precious and very great promises.”
In these opening verses, Peter is telling us that a godly life is now possible for us because of Jesus: it is “through the knowledge of him who has called us” that we have been granted all these things (2 Pt. 1:3b).
Like many New Testament letters, 2 Peter also warns us at length against false teaching. The false teaching that Peter is most concerned with in this letter is moral looseness. All of chapter 2 deals with false teachers who claim that morality does not matter in the life of the Christian. Peter says that these teachers “promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves to corruption” (2 Pt. 2:19).
Taken together, both the opening verses of 2 Peter and the warnings issued in the second part of the letter stress the importance of godliness in the life of the believer. Peter does not want us to be “enticed by sensual passions of the flesh” (2 Pt. 2:18), nor to be enslaved to sin (2 Pt. 2:19), nor to believe that our moral character does not matter. Rather, he wants us to be partakers of the godliness that we have been granted access to through Christ (2 Pt. 1:3-4).
2 Peter 1:5-7 instructs us to “make every effort” to supplement our faith with the Christian “qualities” that we have been studying the past several weeks. And really, these verses are an expansion on the teaching of verses 3-4, serving as a practical outworking of what it means to be “partakers of the divine nature.” Here, Peter is holding up a pattern of what it means for us to be godly and is calling us to pursue godliness wholeheartedly.
But let’s be honest about another thing that these verses stress: effort on the part of believers. Peter is stressing that godliness requires exertion, action, and fortitude. We must not be passive in our faith, but active. We must pursue godliness.
Now this can often make some of us uncomfortable. Because we believe that we are saved “by grace through faith,” we often bristle at words like “effort.” And yet, Peter is absolutely calling us to a life of effort in pursuit of godliness. What are we to make of this?
The short answer is that the “effort” Peter has in mind is not meritorious. It does not save us. No matter how hard we work, we will never be able to replicate or replace the work of Christ. Peter is not calling us to work for our justification, but rather to work for our sanctification. This is something we can very easily miss.
But Peter is saying that we now have the ability to resist sin and to live truly godly lives because of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit. This is something that requires constant pursuit and exertion. Yet, the foundation of all of this is the gospel.
When studying 1 Peter 1:5-7, we must remember that the first quality listed is faith. It is only through faith in Jesus that we are able to become equipped for godly living. The more we understand the gospel and its many implications the more we will desire to live our lives in loving obedience to God. The justification that we have in Christ is the ground in which our godly obedience can take root.
The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Yet it is also the good news of changed lives. The gospel does not only declare that we are justified by faith (though we are). It also declares that we are now able to truly change from the inside out, living a life of loving obedience to God. This is a sign of true faith.
Let us pursue godliness by resting in the peace of the gospel and by making every effort to live for Christ and in loving obedience to God.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington D.C.