As church leaders, we feel people’s assumption that we are super godly people. Inside we react both with guilt, because we know we are not living such godly lives (at least not like the church member assumes), and with the false assurance that we are godlier than is true.
Expectations of our supposed spiritual maturity press us into facades. We can pray in lower spiritual tones that convey a rich connection with God, even when our minds wander. We can speak in biblical images and spiritual cliches that portray godliness.
Of course, we don’t fool God, even when we convince others.
More dangerously, we can persuade ourselves that we are godlier than we really are. We believe our own “press.” The congregation’s accolades lull us into spiritual apathy. We quit growing.
After you’ve graduated from seminary, preached hundreds of sermons, spoken thousands of prayers, and counseled dozens of people, it may feel like you are a godly leader. And perhaps you are.
But beware the danger of spiritual coasting. Beware hitting spiritual cruise control on your soul. You can keep growing into much greater godliness than wherever you are now.
You have everything you need
Peter reminds us that by his divine power God “has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3–4). God has given all you need to participate in the divine nature. Peter’s phrase here has arrested the attention of Christians since he wrote it. The Greek term translated “participate” comes from koinonia, which means fellowship, association, communion.
Notice the following phrase: “having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Peter is speaking about character. We can share in God’s divine character. We can become like Jesus Christ. You can be transformed so that your thoughts match his thoughts, your words are the words he would say, your actions are what Jesus would do in that moment.
We can be transformed because we have become participants in God’s life through Christ by the Spirit. We are united to Christ and filled with the Spirit. In some mysterious ways that defy our full understanding, Christ lives in us, and we live in Christ. The Holy Spirit transforms us to be like Christ, like God, when we seek to obey the Father, to imitate Christ, and be led by the Spirit. You can live a godly life. I don’t mean sinless, but far godlier than you are living today.
Godliness requires effort
Some pastors object that the Christian life is not about effort but about resting in God’s grace. They say we are not to earn our salvation but receive it as a gift. The Christian life, they say, is not about trying hard but about trusting deeply. There are grains of truth in this false view, but that just makes it more dangerous.
We do receive salvation as a gift by faith. We don’t earn it. But earning and effort are not the same. We are saved by faith to live a holy life. God calls us to make every effort, to work hard to grow.
Reflecting back on God’s gifts of his divine power and precious promises, Peter writes, “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, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5–7, emphasis added).
God has given everything you need to live a godly life and participate in the divine nature. So, make every effort to grow in godliness. Because of everything God has given you, make every effort to grow.
Are you intentionally making every effort to grow spiritually?
To make every effort means to give it all you’ve got. The New Testament calls us to work hard like a farmer, work out like an athlete who wants to win, run like a marathoner, train like a boxer, and fight like a solider. You will not live a godly life if you do not make every effort to do so. God’s divine power and precious promises do not remove our responsibility to work hard but instead should inspire us to make every effort to grow, knowing that we can live a godly life in God’s power.
However, many pastors, especially in the United States, give very little effort to their personal spiritual growth. You will not grow by just hoping you do, just wishing you would.
Compare your effort to grow in godliness with your effort in other areas of your life.
Tell me about your physical exercise. Do you have a gym membership? What equipment have you purchased? What goals have you set to lose weight, lift weights, or do your cardio? Tell me about what level you have got to on your video game? What tricks do you know? Tell me about the time you spend watching sports, reading about sports, listening to sports radio and podcasts.
Compare any of those efforts to what you are doing to grow spiritually.
We are called to grow for a lifetime
Now verse 8 adds a crucial dynamic, “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” (2 Peter 1:8, emphasis added). Far too many pastors reach a certain point and hit spiritual cruise control. You stop growing. Some of you have been serving churches for years, but you are no more spiritually mature today than you were a year ago or five or ten years ago.
You are to keep growing for a lifetime. In 2 Peter 1:8, Peter tells us that if you are not growing, you become useless and unproductive. The word ineffective pictures an idle worker wasting their day, not getting stuff done. The word unproductive pictures a tree that bears no fruit. Not only that, but if you are not growing in godliness, you will become spiritually blind. You will not see straight. God will seem distant. You will not see spiritual wisdom. I do not want that to be your story!
What can you practically do to increase in godliness, to make every effort?
Instill four core practices in your life:
- Engage God individually.
- Connect in a group.
- Worship in a gathering.
- Impact others personally.
Simple and you know these practices, but they are not always easy for a pastor.
- How are you deepening your individual time with God in the word and prayer?
- How close are your relationships in your small group?
- Are you really engaged while singing in worship, listening to your own preaching, and participating in the Lord’s Supper from your soul?
- How are you stretching yourself to impact others personally inside the church and outside the church?
There’s one more block to growing that Peter mentions, probably from personal experience. He says, “forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” Guilt and shame block pastors from living a godly life. You may think your secret sins prevent you from growing spiritually. Remember that Jesus Christ gave his body and blood to forgive you, to cleanse you of your sin. Remember that. Don’t forget.
You can, you must, make every effort to grow. God has given you the power to increase in godliness throughout your whole life.