Christ-likeness: a picture of sovereignty and responsibility

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love. For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately. But concerning the one who lacks such things – he is blind. That is to say, he is nearsighted, since he has forgotten about the cleansing of his past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin.
2 Peter 1:5-10

“Attitude determines aptitude”, my Dad used to say. He was a big believer in character building. Everything was about character building. There was no secret to a good life, it was all in good character. In the same way, there isn’t any secret or mystery spirituality to our discipleship journey. It is about developing Christ-like character.

Unfortunately, Christ-likeness isn’t something that is mysteriously “bestowed on us”. Peter makes it clear that effort is required (2 Peter 1:5, “make every effort”). What has already been bestowed on us is the reason and all the necessary ingredients and skills. This is where God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility collide. God is sovereign in His provision, man is responsible to use that provision.

Our character and attitudes cannot be divorced from our pursuit of Christ. If this Christ-likeness is authentic and growing in us, then our pursuit of Christ is effective and productive (2 Peter 1:8). A Christ-like character is the surety of our calling and election. A truly called and elected person will have an authentic pursuit of Christ. The pursuit of Christ will produce that character (2 Peter 1:2-3, “through our knowledge of him”). That grows in an endless cycle!

Peter shows us the fork in the road when it comes to the discipleship journey: the one who doesn’t grow a Christ-like character is blind and has forgotten about what Christ has done but the one who does is sure of his salvation and will not stumble into sin. So he repeats again “make every effort” because it is worth the effort to be sure of our salvation. Choose the correct turn in the fork.

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Virtue and holiness

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.
2 Peter 1:2-4 (NET)

My Dad used to tell me, “Son, nothing in life is free. Everything comes at a cost.” Boy is he right. Everything comes with such a big price tag. Thirty year loan for a house, half a year’s wages for a car, eight hours a day (or more) for work, time and effort invested into hobbies. Then there are the taxes and bills to pay, groceries to buy, the overgrown weed infested backyard to mow. All so that we can live life. Sounds like we’re giving more than we’re getting.

If you think this applies just to tangible things, think again. It is is even more applicable to intangible things – generosity cost us time and money, patience cost us immediate gratification, self-control costs us our freedom. The more virtue we want, the more we pay. The more we desire Christ-likeness, the more it cost us. Discipleship is not a simple or cheap endeavour (Luke 14:25-33).

So when a letter starts with “grace and peace be lavished on you”, that really gets my attention. Simon Peter’s then says things like “bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness” and “bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises”. Now, that gets me excited! Free stuff, that I like.

Look at what Christ has already accomplished for us, we’re not starting our discipleship journey with nothing. We’re starting off with the foundation that Christ has already laid. This deal is rigged! When we abide in Christ (John 15:5-8), we will have “everything necessary for life and godliness”. We don’t just get salvation (justification), we get the tools, ability and supernatural power for daily Christ-likeness and virtue for our daily living (sanctification)!

We get all that, just by growing in the “rich knowledge” of experiencing Christ (Greek: epignosis). Not because we’ve earned the right to abide in Him, but because he has “bestowed on us”. In fact, we can’t even boast that we choose to be with Christ in the first place because it was He who “called us by his own glory and excellence”. We didn’t choose Him, He called us. And because we were called by Him, we receive God’s “precious and most magnificent promises” – Christ himself. We get to join in His “divine nature” – to fellowship intimately with God, to have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and to be Christ-like. All this is already complete in our salvation; our escape from our sinful nature.

Man, that is an insanely good deal. Just remember that it wasn’t free, the cost was paid on the cross.

So help me God

“God helps those who help themselves.”

That is probably one of the most quoted non-existent verses from the bible. You could say that it sounds the closest to James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” But yet, not entirely.  It has been coined the phantom verse” by another blogger – Hezekiah 6:1. But before we disregard the quote entirely as an unbiblical quote, I think it ought to be examined more closely.

Salvation

When it comes to salvation, it is clear that God helps those who cannot help themselves. And in fact, He is displeased with those who claim that they can help themselves. No one is excluded from this helplessness.

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; 
there is no one who understands; 
there is no one who seeks God. 
All have turned away, 
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, 
not even one.”
Romans 3:10-12

We are born into sin (Psalm 51:5) and live being slaves to sin (Romans 6:20). Being in sin is described as being dead (Ephesians 2:1-5), the dead cannot resuscitate themselves. Sometimes we are falsely led to think that we are somehow capable of saving ourselves, the bible tells us that:

We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)

Even our best efforts at being righteous are polluted. The translation in the NIV is “filthy rags”. Our best efforts to bring about our own salvation is like washing dirty clothes in dirty water. See also Titus 3:5.

This quote is busted for salvation.

Discipleship

Discipleship is the natural progress of salvation. Our salvation does not lead us back to the same life we have lived, it leads us to a drastically different life. You could say it is the process of growing into Christ. The process of discipleship is by no means simple. It is to practicing our faith in thought, word and deed (James 1:22) – abiding in Christ (John 15:5-8) to produce fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), taming our tongues (James 1:26, 3:9-12), committing to a church (Philippians 2:3-4), loving other disciples (John 13:35), evangelising (Matthew 28:19). A sort of summary of discipleship is: to be like Christ.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
Luke 9:23-24

I have often wondered if this verse is only applicable to Jesus’ first disciples, since He was speaking of his suffering and their journey as His disciples. But the minute anyone decides to become a Christian, it is clear that it applies to all disciples. Anyone who decides to submit their life to Jesus and apply this faith in all areas of life will soon find how difficult, tedious, painful and almost impossible this task is.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

Does that mean that without applying our faith to our life we are not saved? Absolutely not, no amount of our works can achieve salvation. But the evidence of our salvation (faith and election) is in our works (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 2:18). To be diligent at our own discipleship is to be sure of our salvation.

So we go back to the original premise: does God help you when you help yourself? Phrased in the current context, does God help disciple you when you help disciple yourself? Well, to be absolutely correct, God helps you even before you help yourself. That is exactly the role of the Holy Spirit, who has also been called our Helper (John 14:16).

The Holy Spirit was at work in us before we even receive Christ (John 16:8-9), dwells in us the moment we believe in Christ (Galatians 3:2) and won’t ever leave (John 14:16-17). When we practice our faith in our thoughts and actions, it is to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). It goes even further: our willingness to follow Christ and be like Him and embark on discipleship is not even of our own choosing!

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Ezekiel 36:26-27

The Holy Spirit living in us actually makes us follow Christ. It causes us to desire discipleship.

The quote is (once again) busted for discipleship.

Life

Maybe the quote is applicable in everyday Christian life. When we lift one end of a sofa to move it, God lifts the other end and helps us. Doesn’t life work that way? Well, not quite. A better explanation of how life work is in the biblical principle of reaping and sowing.

A man reaps what he sows.
Galatians 6:7

It works. Plan and simple. If you are lazy, you don’t get to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). If you are friendly to others, you will have friends (Proverbs 18:24). If you cut yourself, you feel pain. You reap, you sow. Sure, God helps in supernatural ways in normal daily life. But is there a pre-requisite that you need to be helping yourself first? Sometimes not.

I think we can safely say that while the quote means well, it is far from true.