Grace and Hard Work
Topic: Gospel Living Passage: 2 Peter 1:3–11
I want to talk to you today about God’s high octane grace and our serious, strenuous effort. Grace and hard, diligent work. These two things are not at odds. They are not antithetical to each other. They are not enemies in the slightest. The NT warns against the kind of works that we think merit our salvation or earn us God’s favor and grace or make us acceptable to God. We want to avoid that like the plague. Our acceptance with God is only through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s it. To do works of the law, to obey God’s commands as a way to earn wages, will only result in our condemnation. That’s nearly the entire message of the book of Galatians and at least a couple chapters in Romans.
So outward obedience that earns merit points with God = BAD. Striving to earn God’s love and grace = BAD. But striving by the grace of God to do what pleases him is good. There is a striving that is itself a grace (Philippians 3 - “I strive, I press forward toward the goal…”). So how does this work? How do grace and effort connect? How do they go together? That’s what I want to address today. And I hope to not only show you that this passage says it, but I also hope that you feel the importance of this.
Peter says in this passage that our serious effort to grow in godly character keeps us from being unfruitful and ineffective in the Christian life. Do you want to bear fruit? Of course you do. Then you need to understand how the nuclear powered grace of God and your effort intersect. Peter also says that your assurance of salvation depends largely on your grace-based effort. We are talking about sanctification here. The process of becoming more and more like Jesus throughout our lives. It is that lifelong path we are on.
Here’s an important distinction to always remember. The moment we believe, we become children of God, our sins are forgiven, we are justified, and so forth. We then begin the long journey of sanctification. Justification, forgiveness, adoption happens in a moment. Sanctification takes a lifetime. I am convinced that this is a neglected truth and because it is, many Christians live far below their privilege in terms of living fully assured that they are children of God and belong to him forever - along with the joy and boldness that come with it. If that’s you, then you need to know how the amazing grace of God through Christ and your serious, moral effort to grow converge.
To discover where God’s grace and our effort converge, I want to answer three questions:
1. What is it that God gives?
2. What is God’s ultimate aim in his giving?
3. What must we do?
WHAT GOD GIVES
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, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature. (v. 3-4)
You hear the language of gift - of God giving. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Notice this is in the past tense. If you are a Christian, God has already given you everything you need for life and godliness. This is not saying that God has given us all things related to our dreams, goals, and aspirations. Now, if Peter had only said, “God has granted to us all things pertaining to life…”, we would tend to limit that to eternal life. He has given me everything I need to go to heaven someday. Now that is a true statement. He has supplied the way for us through Jesus Christ to go to heaven. But Peter is concerned more with life here and now, which is why it says “life and godliness”.
What is godliness when coupled with life? It means a God-honoring life. A godward, reverent life. There’s a Latin phrase that I think gets at the heart of this. Coram Deo. Before the face of God. Life and godliness is living in a God-honoring way, before his face, for his approval and glory. It’s the kind of life that leads to heaven and eternal life with God. And what has Peter said here? God has given you ALL things (not some things) for life and godliness. Of course, you and I will face trials and harsh realities in this fallen world. We will battle with sin. But by faith in Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit, you have everything you need for the battle to live this God-honoring life. God has graciously given it to you. Romans 8:32 says,
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things.
The Father has given us His Son! He will withhold nothing good from us. He will give us all things we need with Christ. Think of how generous and open-handed your Father in heaven is to you. He loves you and has given you everything you need for life and godliness.
But this passage says God has granted us something else as well. This is stupendous. Verse 4 says, “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises…” The second verse of that great hymn Standing On the Promises says,
Standing on the promises that cannot fail. When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail. By the living word of God I shall prevail. Standing on the promises of God
God has given us his precious promises. The promises of God are like a treasure trove. And we need to be treasure hunters, seeking out the promises of God and building our lives on them, meditating on them like the Psalmist who said, “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.” (Psalm 119:148). God has granted to us his very great promises. Which ones? Not the ones you think up in your own mind. But when you go looking in the bible, you may claim every single one of them in Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says “all the promises of God find their yes in Christ…”
So, do you need courage in the face of some trial? Then claim the promise of Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Do you need peace and comfort because the world seems to be spinning out of control? Then claim the promise of Philippians 4:5-6, “The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in all things through prayer and petition make your requests known to God…”
God has given all things pertaining to life and godliness. He has given his precious and very great promises. To what end? What is God’s aim in these gifts that he gives to us through Christ?
GOD’S AIM: PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE NATURE
So that you may become partakers of the divine naturxe, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (v. 4b)
The words “so that” tell us this is God’s purpose. If I say to my children, “I am leaving $20 so that you can buy pizza while mom and I are out tonight.” The purpose of the $20 is to buy pizza. The purpose of God granting all that we need for life and godliness and all his precious and great promises is so that we might partake of the divine nature. What does that mean?
Partakers of the divine nature. It does NOT mean that we are immersed into God. It doesn’t mean we become little gods. We don’t become divine in any way. But there is a real and true participation in God’s nature. The word partakers means “one who shares in, a partner, a companion” in the divine nature. This communicates not just a theological idea, but an experience. You don’t genuinely share in anything that you neither understand nor experience. To get at what it means to participate in God’s nature, I think Hebrews 12:10 helps us understand. It says, “God disciplines us for our good so that we may share his holiness.” That’s it. God shares his holiness with us. Isn’t that what is in view here? Becoming partakers of the divine nature, “having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
To partake of the divine nature is to experience the sanctifying work of God, the Holy Spirit dwelling within. It is Jesus Christ and his life formed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. There is an old book, originally published in 1677 by a Scottish preacher named Henry Scougal entitled The Life of God in the Soul of Man. Here is what Scougal said about true religion:
True religion is “a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the Divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or in the apostle’s phrase, ‘it is Christ formed within us.'”
That’s the goal. That’s the aim. Partakers of the divine nature. Christlikeness. Christ formed in you by the Spirit. Okay, so what must we do?
SO MAKE EVERY EFFORT
For this very reason, make every effort… (v. 5a)
It’s so obvious that the command in verse 5 does flow from what we’ve covered so far. Let’s look at how verses 3-4 connect with verse 5. Because God gives us all that we need for life and godliness. Because he has given us his precious and very great promises. Because his ultimate purpose is for you to participate in the very life of God in your soul, make every effort to grow and become like Christ. Do you see this? Grace and effort are friends! God’s grace and our effort based on his grace walk hand in hand through this life. Spurgeon on reconciling sovereignty and human responsibility: “I didn’t know I had to reconcile friends.”
Not a zero sum game. It is not that our work and God’s work equal 100%. He does 90 or 95 or 99% and we do 10, 5, or 1% No. God does 100% of his work and we do 100% of our work. And our work is dependent upon his. Not: “let go and let God” → nowhere in the bible. Nor is it: “God has done his part, now it is all up to you.” But rather since God is so powerfully at work in you and for you, you yourself must make every effort.
The word “make” in “make every effort” means to “bring in besides”. The idea is to bring in your effort, your diligence alongside the mighty promises of God and his power so that you may grow. Bring your effort alongside what God has already done and is doing in you, so that you grow. Think about the miracles of Christ in the gospels. He would give sight to the blind. And it was the blind that would see. He touched deaf ears, and the deaf would then hear. He would strengthen paralyzed legs, and the paralyzed would get up and walk, jump, and dance for joy. He would say to the dead little girl, “Little girl, arise”, and it was the little girl who sat up and began talking. That’s how sanctification is as well, except I would suggest it is a miracle of a greater magnitude - Christ being formed in your heart, partaking of the divine nature.
God gives all things for life and godliness. He gives all his mighty, precious promises. He works in us that which pleases him. And he does this so that we are partakers of the divine nature. And we bring our effort (real effort) alongside what he does and act or perform what he produces. I love the language John Piper puts to this truth. He said,
[God] works the miracle of sanctification; you act the miracle. He produces it; you perform it. If you don’t use your will to act the miracle, there is no miracle. God’s sovereign enablement of holiness does not contradict the act of duty; it creates it.
God gives all things for life and godliness. He performs that. You make every effort to produce what he has performed, to live out what he has given you. I want to briefly look at a couple of other passages that make this connection. God’s gracious work and our effort. Philippians 2:12-13 says,
Work out your own salvation fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Work out your salvation, because God is working in you to make you willing and to give you strength to do what pleases him. He works in and we work out what he works in. Listen to 1 Corinthians 15:10:
By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
Paul said, it’s all grace. But his grace put me to work. In fact, I worked harder than any other apostle. Yet even my work was the grace of God with me. One more. The Saturday morning men’s group is going through John 15 and I can’t help but make the connection. Jesus is the true vine. We are the branches. As the vine, he produces everything in us, provides all we need - all the nourishment, all the strength, all the life, all the fruit. What do we do? Abide in him. One of the ways we abide is through obedience. And yet we can do nothing without him, including obedience.
He does 100%. We do 100% of our work. And ours is dependent upon his. So by faith in God’s work - his mighty promises, his gift of all things you need for life and godliness, make every effort to grow. Don’t says, “It’s too hard to change and grow.” That’s why you are to make every effort! Don’t say, “Old habits die hard!” Yep, but that’s why he has given you all things for life and godliness, including new, good habits. So make every effort to develop them. Do not just “let go and let God”. Christ is saying, “I’ve healed your legs. Stop sitting around. Get up and walk in my strength!”