The Missing Elements of Discipleship

2 Peter 1:1-11

Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers


1. Spiritual Savings (1:1-4)

2. Sanctification (1:5-7)

3. Significance (1:8-11)


There is a glaring deficiency in most discipleship programs. I have over thirty books in my study on the subject of discipleship, and as I looked through them this week, I found only two that include a subject missing from all the others.  Most discipleship programs focus only on what we as Christians are supposed to do as Christians. There are the ten steps for becoming a disciple, the twelve disciplines that Christians should develop, the marks of the healthy Christian, the way of becoming a committed Christian, how to serve others as a Christian. We are told to read our Bible, go to church, pray, witness, and memorize Scripture.

And all of these things are good. But have you noticed that the success rate among Christians is fairly low? How many Christians do you know who are faithful disciples? I don't care which standard you use, no matter where you go in the world, and no matter which church you look at, there are lots of Christians, but very few disciples.

The problem is not that people don't know what to do. That may be the excuse of some, but not very many. Most Christians know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, and they just don't do it. There are numerous reasons why not, but I believe that at the heart of them all is that the church in general has left something out of the average discipleship program which was never meant to be left out.

I actually think there are numerous things that have been left out, but one of them is painfully obvious in its absence. The reason it is so obvious is because it is everywhere in the Bible. It is hard not to see it, and yet, even I overlooked it for years and years before someone pointed it out to me. All of the Biblical authors knew about it, especially the writers of the New Testament, and all of them, without fail, included this item in their writings. But we, to our detriment, have ignored it and passed over it. 

One of the many hundreds of places we see this is in 2 Peter 1. I really could almost randomly open my Bible and stab my finger onto the page and find the same truth there, but this passage of Scripture says it so clearly in such a concise way, that I thought here would be the best place to show it.  We are going to be looking at the first eleven verses of chapter 1, but I want you notice first of all that verses 5-10 contain what we normally expect in lessons and teachings on discipleship.  A quick scan of these verses reveal a list of character traits and qualities that all good Christians should build into their lives. We see faith, virtue, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love

This is a good list of Christian qualities to strive for. It could be found in almost any book on discipleship. But I want you to notice that Peter does not begin his letter with this list. He does not say, "Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, here are the things you must do if you are going to live for Christ."  No, he begins with something else entirely. He begins with what is lacking in most discipleship programs of our day. He begins with our Spiritual savings.

1. Spiritual Savings (1:1-4)

The first four verses of 2 Peter 1 unfold for us that divine riches and inestimable wealth that God has put at our disposal as Christians. As Christians, we are thankful and grateful for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ, and as great as this gift is, it is just the tip of the ice burg.  We have so much more in Christ. When people realize that they do not have to become like Christ on their own power, and with their own resources, but instead just have to rely on the riches and wealth they have been given by God, discipleship is so much easier! In these first four verses, Peter lists several things that have been deposited into our spiritual saving account.

In verse 1, we discover that we have obtained a precious faith by the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ. It says, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Peter is telling his readers that the faith He has is the same faith they have. And faith is not just something that initially gets us eternal life, but faith is also something that develops the Christ life within us.  We believe in Jesus to receive eternal life, and we continue to believe in Jesus to receive the abundant life. Through faith in Christ, we are declared righteous, and through faith in Christ, we become practically righteous. Elsewhere in the Bible, this is called living by faith, or walking in the Spirit.  The faith-rest life, where we just rest on Jesus, and walk by faith, is a life that will automatically become more and more like Jesus, because He makes us and molds us into His righteousness.  The path of discipleship is not one of effort and exertion, but resting on Jesus Christ by faith.

Another entry in our savings account is found in verse 2. This one is grace and peace.  2Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.   Here we have been given grace and peace. Not just some, but it has been multiplied to us. Grace is one of the richest blessings God has ever poured out upon us, and yet most Christians don't have the first inkling what grace is about, or how God's grace affects us, or how we should live a life of grace toward others. As I have said before, I highly recommend Chuck Swindoll's book, The Grace Awakening to help you understand all of this.

And then there is peace as well. Peace we understand. The whole world wants peace. Some think we have to go to war for it, other think we cannot get it by going to war. The Bible teaches that neither way will truly bring peace. True peace comes only through a relationship and ongoing fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.  When Christians get a grasp on the grace and peace that is theirs through Jesus Christ, this too liberates them from trying to appease God, or prove that they are a Christian. Grace is the oil that reduces friction in our relationships. Peace is that feeling of quiet contentment that allows us to be and do what God wants without feeling we have to live up to someone else's standard.  If all Christians understood grace and peace better, it would be so much easier to be true disciples of Jesus.

Verse 3 explains another debit to our account. We have been given great power for all things necessary.  3as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.  If Christians could just remember this one verse, it would make a difference in how they lived their lives. His divine power has given us all things necessary for life and godliness. You do not have to muster up strength from within yourself to live a godly life. You do not have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  God has given you everything you need for life and godliness. Not some things, but all things. There is nothing He wants you to do that He has not given you the power and resources to do it.

And if this weren't enough, we have in verse 4 the promise of God that He will do in us what we cannot do for ourselves. 4by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.  Look what Peter says! These are not just some small, piddly little promises to give us happiness in life and help us cope when our dog dies. Though He will help in the small areas of life, Peter says that God has also give us to exceedingly great and precious promises.

How great can these promises be? How about this - God promises that you will become a partaker of the divine nature! That is so great, I don't even know what it means! I mean, I know what it means, but I don't know all that it entails. It means that we will somehow become like God. We will not become God, nor will we become gods, but somehow, we will become like Him.  I don’t know what all is entailed, but the simple promise of it spurs me on! It excites me.

Here is Peter's point in all of this. He is about to tell us how to live the Christian life. He is going to give us some of the demands of discipleship. But before he lays them out, He wants us to know what we have already been given. In the Bible, before we are told what we must do, we are always reminded of what we have been given - the promises, the power, the peace, the precious faith.  This is what is lacking from most discipleship courses. Most Christians turn to discipleship courses because they feel they are missing something in their Christian life. But most discipleship courses hit you over the head when you're feeling down. They begin right off on page one with all the things you must do. And when you try to do them, only the most disciplined people succeed, and the rest of us just get depressed. And then we give up.

But the Bible always begins with what we have been given. With what resources we own. With what God has already done for us. The Bible begins with grace. The Bible reminds us of our power. The Bible shares with us secrets and promises that spur us on toward love and good deeds. Such truths cause our heart to race.  We see ourselves no longer as sinners, but as righteous in Christ. We know that even when we fail, grace picks us back up. We know that there are promises of God never to leave us or forsake us. There are promises that we will be like Him.

I've never taken much stock in those little Bible promise books, because to me, the whole Bible is a promise. It's a promise that God will get us through. And every plan of discipleship must begin with such promises and precious truths.  Peter presents these here, and now that we know how rich we are, we are excited to get out there and spend our spiritual money. So Peter tells us in verses 5-10 how to spend it. He tells us to spend our spiritual riches in sanctification.

2. Sanctification (1:5-7)

Sanctification is simply the process of becoming like Christ. It means to become holy. The process of sanctification is based not on our own strength and fortitude, but on everything we learned in verses 1-4. Look at the first part of verse 5. 5But also for this very reason, giving all diligence.   Peter points out that what he is about to explain is based on what he has already said. The Christians character traits he is going to list will only happen as we walk by faith, resting in the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, rely on our divine power and remember the promises of God.  Based on all of those things, we are to give all diligence to what Peter says next. In verses 5-7, he lists eight character traits that Christians are to diligently build into their lives.

add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.

I think these are progressive. You begin with the first one - faith, and build on it the second, virtue. Once you have virtue, you build onto it knowledge, and so on through all eight.  The first one is faith. Faith is what we already read about back in verse 1. It is not only this initial faith for eternal life, but this persevering faith for the abundant life. It is this living by faith, day by day walking in the Spirit that is the first building block of the Christian life.

As we do this, the first thing God builds into our life is virtue. Other translations say moral excellence, or goodness. Non Christians are characterized by immorality and a lack of virtue. The first things that changes in Christians is that we become moral. We live moral lives. We change our behavior to match that of Christ's. We stop lying and cheating. We tell the truth and live honest lives.  You will find that this is what changes first in the lives of most Christians.

Once virtue begins to develop, knowledge is the next element. We attend church, and Bible studies, we gain a love for God's Word. There are many Christians who remain so spiritually young, that they do not even progress to this point. There are many Christians who do not love the Word, and do not care to learn about God and understand Scripture. They do not want to hear Biblical sermons.  But as Christians truly walk in the Spirit, they will hunger more and more for the pure milk of the Word of God. Sometimes, they will find that they cannot get enough of the Word. They read their Bibles every chance they get. They listen to sermons in the car and on the radio. They read Christians books.

You see, God wants to build His character into them, and He can only do that with the foundation of the Word. So He creates in Christians a hunger and insatiable desire for the Word.  As the Word of God infuses itself in to the minds of Christians, it begins to take root and grow and produce fruit. You'll notice that the rest of Peter's list is very similar to Paul's list in Galatians 5 of the fruit of the Spirit. As the Spirit applies God's Word to our lives, it produces Godly traits.

Peter lists self-control as one of these. This is one Paul also lists in Galatians 5. Christians who are becoming what God wants them to become do not lose control of themselves, and their words and their actions, but actually gain control over them in a way never before experienced.  As nonchristians, the flesh is in complete control. As new Christians, the sinful nature still battles for dominance. But as the Word of God flushes out our system, and renews our minds, we find that we have more control over what comes out of our mouths, and what our hands do, and what our eyes look at and where our feet take us.

And the more we practice this self control, the easier it becomes. While at first, our self control is sporadic and temporary, and we find ourselves falling into the same habitual sins time after time, as we continue to walk by faith, we find that we are able to persevere in self control for longer periods of time. This is what Peter mentions next - perseverance.  This is the ability to continue and press on, even in the face of extreme adversity. As we persevere more and more, it makes us stronger and stronger, until, as James 1:4 says, we become perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

It is then that we grow into the next trait - godliness. Godliness is acting like God. It is behaving as God behaves. Even in this life, we can partake of the divine nature to one degree or another. When people are Godly, they are like mirrors, reflecting to the world what God Himself is like.

The seventh trait, found in verse 7, is brotherly kindness. Isn't it interesting that brotherly kindness comes near the end of the list? Do you want to know why it is so hard to be kind to other Christians? Because we haven't made it to that level of Christians maturity yet! Brotherly kindness is after godliness!  If you find it difficult to show kindness to certain other members of the family of God, welcome to the club. There are many Christians that many other Christians just prefer to avoid because it is just plain difficult to be kind to them.  But this does not get us off the hook. It is still something to diligently strive and work toward, asking God to teach us how to be kind toward that other person.

And only when we are able to do this, we will end up with the final trait - love. I find this interesting as well. Love is the goal. Love is the epitome of Christian discipleship. And yet, this is where most Christians try to start. We all hear people say, "Why can't we all just get along? Why don't we all just love each other?"  I'll tell you why. Because we're not mature enough. Love, you remember, is the complete fulfillment of the law. When Jesus summarized the law, it was summarized with two statements - love God, and love others.

Peter recognizes it's not so easy, which is why he puts it last. Love is way beyond kindness. This is, of course, agape love, the unconditional, self-sacrificing, only-God-has-it kind of love. Read the book of 1 John some time to see the high demands of perfect love. There is nothing higher.  So love is the goal, the end, the pinnacle. And here again, too many of discipleship manuals terrify Christians because they begin with love. We are told that we're not really a disciple unless you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. We read that, and those of us who are honest with ourselves, and really know what is in our heart, know what an impossibly tall order that is, and so we immediately give up. We burn out before we even turn the oven on.

I'm not trying to give us excuses. But I don't want to dilute love either. Love, agape love, is the goal of every Christian, but it takes much diligence in faith, virtue, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness and brotherly kindness to get there. 

And as these eight traits of sanctification develop and grow in our lives, we gain great significance, both for this life and the life to come. Sanctification begins the moment we believe in Jesus for eternal life, and it ends when we are fully sanctified, or glorified in heaven.  We can stall out in our sanctification and we can even go backwards, but the promise of Scripture is that one day, we will be fully sanctified in heaven. There are reasons though, to work toward sanctification now. This is what verses 8-11 explain.

3. Significance (1:8-11)

I suppose verses 8-11 are also another motivation for working toward verses 5-7. Verses 1-4 were preliminary blessings for sanctification. Verses 8-11 are post blessings. In other words, verses 1-4 explain what God has already given to us to accomplish our sanctification. And if that wasn't enough, verses 8-11 explain what God will give us in the future, if we are diligent in sanctification.  Notice in verse 8 that while the promises and blessings of verses 1-4 are universal and given to every single Christian no matter what, the promises and blessings of verses 8-11 are conditional. Peter writes, 8For if these things are yours and abound. Not all Christians will be diligent in their sanctification, and so there are special rewards for those who are. The things listed in the following verses are only for those who are diligent in their sanctification.

I suppose that if verses 1-4 are the most neglected aspect of discipleship, verses 8-11 are the second most neglected aspect of discipleship. Once again, of the thirty books on discipleship I own, the only ones that mentioned rewards and blessings are the two that also mentioned the resources and promises.  God wants to encourage us to live for Him, and so He gives us riches to begin with, and promises us rewards if we are faithful. These are rewards for both here and now, and for eternity.  Again, while the Bible has much to say about this, Peter just summarizes it for us in verses 8-11. The significance we can experience now is mentioned in verses 8-10.

8For if these things are yours and abound you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;

As we are diligent to develop the eight traits, we will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This means we will have great insights and understanding of the things of Christ. As we understand more and more how Jesus lived, our lives will also resemble His. Just as He revealed God to the world, so will we.  Of course, the negative is also true. If we fail to incorporate Christian character into our lives, then we become shortsighted, even blind. We know about the warnings against blindness in Luke 6:39-42. Spiritual blindness is a terrifying position to be in, because it is very difficult to see where you are headed. You may even lose the assurance of your salvation, and forget that you are cleansed from your old sins.

This implies that you maybe go back to your old sins, or you fall into some sort of false teaching or error. You will probably not experience many answers to prayer, or see God work in your life. He will seem distant and silent. This is what happens to those who fall away from God rather than become more like Him.  So in verse 10, Peter calls us to renew our efforts and live according to the purposes God has called us. Verse 10 is a controversial verse, but if we remember that our calling and election is something God does to believers to give them a task and responsibility on this earth to perform, the entire debate melts away and the verse becomes crystal clear.

We have been given a task and responsibility by God to carry out. Each of us has a unique task. If we don't do it, it won't get done. It is only as we diligently live according to the eight character traits of verses 5-7 that we will know for certain what our purpose in life is, and be able to fulfill it without stumbling. (Note: "certain" or "firm" is the best translation of the word "sure." Verse 10 was not written to make us question or be unsure about whether we are saved or not. It was written for us to be certain and firm in our God given tasks, and seek to fulfill them. If we believe in Jesus for eternal life, we can always be sure we are saved.)

As we fulfill our calling, we will do great things for God. We will live significant lives. All Christians want to be significant in their lives. I am not much of an athlete, but when I was young, I remember standing out in the baseball field during physical education, dreaming of making the big hit, or catching the fly ball. It never happened, but I kept dreaming about it, and imagining all the praise I would get.   All of us have had similar experiences growing up. Even as Christians, I think God places with us the dreams and desires to do something great for Him. And we dream about it. We think about sharing Christ with that difficult coworker. We dream about teaching that class. We imagine what it would be like to write that book, or make that CD.

I am not saying that these things will necessarily happen as you develop into Christ-like character, but as you grow into holiness, God will begin to use you in great ways. Maybe in ways you had never imagined. Maybe in ways you won't think are great, but heaven will reveal how significant you really were. And it is in heaven where our eternal significance will really be made evident. Peter talks about this in verse 11.

11for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I have frequently taught that there is a difference between entering the kingdom and inheriting the kingdom. Entering the kingdom is received by grace through faith in Christ. Inheriting the kingdom is based on faithfulness.  Some people, hearing that, cite 2 Peter 1:11 and say, "No, this is entering the kingdom, and it is based on virtue, godliness and perseverance."

But notice that verse 11 is not just talking about a simple entrance, but an abundant entrance. Peter says that if we are diligent, an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly. Because of the word abundantly, this is one of the few times in Scripture where entering the kingdom means receiving an inheritance there. We must always understand all the words of a verse in context. An abundant entrance is an entrance into the kingdom full of praise and honor and recognition for a job well done.  And Peter writes that these will be part of the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Living for Christ now grants us significance in this life, it makes life exciting and worth living. But living for Christ now also grants us significance in eternity.

These are the truths that revolutionize the discipleship process. We have amazing riches at our disposal, and we get amazing results with our actions. Joseph Dillow, in his incredibly helpful book on this matter, The Reign of the Servant Kings, writes that:

…The great neglect of western Christianity is not that our pulpits have failed to warn people who claim the name of Christ that they are perishing. Our neglect is that we have not sufficiently explained the great future joy of sharing in the coming messianic partnership and the danger of forfeiting this inheritance. If such a vision were consistently held before our congregations, the love and fear of God would be greatly increased. Surely many of those fifty million reported by the Gallup poll who claim to be born again would begin to act like it.

…That great future must constantly be set before the vision of all who name the Lord Jesus as their King. We should daily be evaluating our lives, our priorities, an dour hearts in view of how we will feel about our decisions ten thousand years from now.