On Godliness

2 Peter 1:1-10

Here we find Peter addressing the situation of gnostics and antinomians that had already begun to enter the Church. He begins with this proclamation that we have been given all things that pertain to life and godliness. Remembering that the goal of the Christian life is to grow to be like Christ, it’s important that we understand what it means to become like Him. And the knowledge of that becoming comes through the teachings of the Church, not one or two men who claim to have “special knowledge,” but rather through the discernment of millenia of learned meant whose doctrines underwent the strictest of scrutiny from other holy, anointed men of God, convening in councils before any changes could be made. The “traditions handed down, by word or by epistle,” to quote from 2 Thessalonians. The Church and it’s traditions are there to preserve these very doctrines, the integrity of the Church, to protect it from individual goals and agendas corrupting the interpretation of those few men.

And Peter here offers a list of those things which one must actively seek to grow in this godliness. “Add virtue to faith, knowledge to virtue, self-control to knowledge, perseverance to self-control, godliness to perseverance, brotherly kindness to godliness, love to brotherly kindness.” This is the very formula which we must seek to adhere to that we may grow, through the grace of Christ, in spiritual progression; to actively seek this progression and to pray that we may be able to grow in them. It is impossible for the love of Christ to be fully perfected without the love of neighbor to go with it. He even goes so far as to say that whoever lacks these things is short-sighted to the point of blindness.

We are so apt, especially in our generation, to cling to the easiest possible path, and there are so many who teach that striving for these virtues is tantamount to heresy. And that would be the easiest path possible. To claim that the striving for holiness is “works-based salvation” and therefore heretical. But to claim that is to claim that Scripture itself is heretical. Here, we have Peter canonically stating that whoever does not seek after these things is blind. And 2000 years of Church history affirms that this has always been the teaching of the Church. Anyone who believes otherwise, according to Peter, is blind and has “forgotten that he was cleansed of his old sins.” When we wash a garment, we don’t do so by ignoring the stains or overlooking them, we do so by removing them completely. Likewise, in Holy Baptism, God doesn’t merely overlook our sins, “forgiving them,” He completely removes them from us, He removes their power over us. When you wash a child’s clothes, you remove the stains in them, and in turn, he does something else which renders it dirty once again. His goal isn’t to soil his clothing, but rather he chooses to do something which renders them dirty, and we wash them again. So it is with us in Holy Baptism. We are fully cleansed of our sins, and then once more we render ourselves dirty, and we are continually washed through true repentance and confession of our sins. But, much like the child in his mud-rattled clothing, the transgressions themselves can never be the goal. We will sin, we will fall; and when we do, we knock the dirt off, repent, say “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner,” and get back up. That must be our goal, according to Peter; to continue on in spite of our shortcomings, but constantly striving to overcome them. Constantly striving to be made perfect, through the grace of God. Or, we can become blind, completely ignoring the cleansing, continuing to return to the mire of our former lives.

But, His will, His desire for us is to grow in our Christ-likeness; to seek after these characteristics, and to find the true healing and freedom that only He can offer, through our active participation in the divine life of Christ Himself.

I heard once, and it’s a statement that has had such a profound effect on me that I quote it quite often; “Sin is an archery term, it means to miss the mark. And, there are two targets in the world, two masters, Jesus and Satan. Every action you do makes you more like one of the two of them, every thought you have, every word you say. So ask yourself, which of the two is your target.” That hit me really hard, coming from a background where I would constantly hear Christians ask, “is it okay for a Christian to…” It really helped me put things into perspective when I considered that if watching something didn’t help me to become more like Christ, then it made me become more like Satan. Every carnal pleasure, every fleeting glance, every inappropriate word; each time I gave into, or even worse, actively pursued those things, it made me less like Christ. Which is the exact opposite of His desire for our lives.

Christ is in our midst.

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