Sanctification -  Why Bother?

2 Peter 1:1-11

Dr. Chris White Aug 18, 2013

I have a great article in my counseling file with this headline: “Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying.” Beyond the obvious questions about children, finances, and health histories, my favorites were these: “Will there be a television in the bedroom?” “What does my family do that annoys you?” But the question that may be the most important on the list is the one we may be most afraid to ask: “Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in this marriage?” That is, “Are there areas in your life that you are unwilling to change?”

     This is the question that hangs in the balance of our faith in Christ. Your answer to the question “Am I willing to change?” has much to say about the quality of your faith. You see, one cannot be in the Christian faith long before learning of the longest word in our vocabulary: sanctification. We regularly translate it growing in grace. At the heart of this imposing word is the smaller word, sanctify. This means to set apart for a sacred purpose. Through God’s grace and our faith in Christ, God sets us apart for a sacred purpose.  And that sacred purpose of God is to form us in the likeness of Jesus. What he values, we are to value. What he practiced, we are to practice. Practically speaking, then, we have to change. We have to give up the idea that there are lines we will not cross.

     Our question for the day is as big as the word of the day: Why bother?

     Why bother with the messy details of moral change? Why bother with the humiliating details of reconciliation with enemies? Why not just be who I am, beauty or beast? The letter we call 2 Peter offers an answer.

     Read with me 2 Peter 1:1-4:    

     “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

         Why bother with change? First, we accept God’s offer for change because in it we find a way forward in an unfriendly landscape. Let’s start at the end of this section: God has offered a way to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” The promise here is that God leads us out of the prison we call our minds, our desires, and our environment. Accord-ing to the Scriptures, the world is corrupted. As 1 John 2:16 says, “For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” More pressing, the corrupted world has corrupted us. *Dwayne Smith gave me something interesting from his garden this week. To see it you would think it was an odd cucumber. It is actually an odder cantaloupe. In his garden there was an overlap, a mingling and comingling of cucumbers and cantaloupes. So this hybrid in my hand is actually a cantaloupe that has allowed the influences of the cucumber to change its appearance. It is a dwarf of what it should be. That is our trouble as well. We so mingle and comingle at cross purposes that we end up less than what we should be.

     But God is able to lead us through this. As 2 Peter 1:4 notes, God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” God’s grace for us and the Holy Spirit within us allows God to say that change is possible. We can grow in faith and trust and likeness to Christ, even in the resistance we face in this world. Practically speaking, God is not asking for too much. He is here, and change is possible. But the real step forward, and the way we actually change, is the possibility to “participate in the divine nature” of God as we follow. That is to say that every step of faith we take is not a step for God as much as a step with God. With every step, every sacrifice, every humble acceptance of God’s will, we are participating in this divine spirit. Jesus says this in John 15:5:”I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”

      A second answer to Why bother?: There is more than morals at stake.

1:5-9  “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perse-verance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”

     Faith must make an effort. Faith must add: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. These are traits, but they are also decisions and habits. They do not come easy, but they will come with attention and prayer. And we do not have to wait for a burning bush as a sign of God’s call for change. *A few nights ago I was driving home from Cincinnati and stumbled onto two sermons directed to preachers on two different stations. Since they were such uncomfortable words that spoke directly to my lesser attitudes, I wanted to change the station. But I did not. I just listened, prayed, and took concrete notes. Some things are already different. Other things will have to change over time. But I listened. That is the first step. 

     These qualities are not morals for show. By this growth in grace we are kept from “being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of the Lord.” The flip side: growing in these traits makes us effective and productive in our faith. There is no downside to having a reputation for faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. What child/parent/spouse/sibling does not want these traits close by? But it is even larger than that. For all the needed work that is done getting the message of the Gospel to the world, no one has come to a full faithfulness in Christ without the help of another believer. These traits  give us credibility. It is Paul who says to the church at Philippi (4:9), “What-ever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” These are productive traits in God’s hands, not just morals.

     Why bother? Third, with every step forward we are nearer a welcome.

1:10-11  “Therefore, my dear brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

     Age has that unavoidable air of limits—we are not so sure-footed. The promise here is that by moving forward with Christ in this growth of grace we will grow stronger and stumble far less. In fact, God will find a way to keep us from falling. Not only will we not fall, we will one day find ourselves walking into heaven with strength, no matter how slow the going at life’s end.  We bother with change because God expects changed people to meet him when he offers the rich welcome in the eternal kingdom. These are the people He expects. And these are the people who can expect reward.  

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