When Joshua Foer, a journalist, began reporting the memory exploits of world championship mental athletes, he came to two quick conclusions — one, these competitions are utterly boring. Watching people compete in memory events is like watching people take the SAT. But secondly, he came to the conclusion these people are utterly brilliant. Let me give you a few examples.
Then-reigning champion Ben Pridmore could memorize a shuffled deck of cards in 32 seconds. He then broke that record — 24 seconds, and that record has since been broken. So, just think for a second. We’re talking I couldn’t even read a deck of cards in less than 24 seconds. He memorizes that deck; it gets shuffled; he puts it back in the order that it previously was in. This picture is Ben memorizing 28 decks of cards in an hour. So, then all 28 get shuffled. He puts all 28 back to where they were. These people can permanently remember 96 historical dates, random historical dates, in five minutes. I can’t even remember my kids’ birthdays. They memorized fifty-line, unpublished poems in fifteen minutes, then can recall 50,000 digits of pi.
Joshua, the journalist, assumed as he’s watching these mental athletes boringly and stunningly do their events that these people are a different kind of people. They are savants. They have photographic memories. They’re extremely brilliant and gifted. But he kept interviewing them, and they kept insisting otherwise. For example, Ben Pridmore told a reporter,
“It’s all about technique and understanding how the memory works. Anyone could do it, really.”
I say, “Really?” Anyone could do it, really. Ed Cook, a grand master of memory (you didn’t know there was one of those) said this.
“What you have to understand is that the average memories are remarkably powerful if used properly.”
Now, this seemed a bit of a stretch to Joshua. He writes in his New York Times best-selling book Moonwalking with Einstein,
“I can spend a half a dozen hours reading a book and then have only a foggy notion of what it was about … There are books on my shelf that I can’t even remember whether I’ve read or not.”
He goes on.
“A few days earlier, I had been trying to tell a friend about an author I admired, only to find that I had remembered the first letter of his last name, and nothing else. How come that happened? And why didn’t I have a single memory before the age of three? For that matter, why couldn’t I remember what I had for breakfast just the day before, even though I remembered exactly what I was having for breakfast — Corn Pops, coffee, and banana — four years earlier when I was told that a plane had just crashed into one of the Twin Towers? And why am I always forgetting why I opened the refrigerator door?”
So, these kinds of questions launched Joshua into a journey of research of memory techniques that have been used for thousands of years back to the Greeks and the Romans, and he began an intensive journey of research and training that culminated one year later in his winning a memory championship. Here’s a guy that went to observe, assumed those people are a different kind of people, and a year later, he was one.
Now, some of you might be asking, “What does this have to do with 2 Peter?” Or at least you should be asking that by this point. Peter is writing a little letter to disciple the memories of his readers. We introduced the letter last week. Please, don’t forget. But Peter has no interest in our winning memory contests. His aim is much higher, and I want us to try to capture a bit of that aim with a little imagination exercise.
Imagine you’re Joshua, for you were at a memory competition. You’re looking at those people as different kinds of people. But the more you research, the more you begin to realize that they all did okay in school; they’re not a different kind of person; they weren’t born this way, but that actually you have the same mental capacity they have. Now, whether you have the motivation to go through the training or anything like that, that’s a different question. But it suddenly occurs to you, wow! what would that do to my life? Especially if you’re a young person and you’re wondering, oh, I’d love to be a doctor; I’d love to be a lawyer; I’d love to be a neuroscientist, whatever, but I just don’t have it. And suddenly you realize, wow, I might have a mental capacity that I never realized I had. What would that mean for the classes I take, for the training I undergo, for the jobs I can get, for the ministry I can have, for the verses I can memorize? How might that change my life if that were really true?
And Peter is asking a different question, similar, but different. He’s saying, “What might happen if it really settled into your soul that you have everything you need to flourish spiritually?” By God’s grace, you have it. Many people are frozen in this wherever-you-are-spiritually, and you’ve kind of just … you’ve tried in the past, you’ve just kind of assumed I’m just not that kind, just like Joshua when he looked at those memory athletes. He just assumed that’s a different kind of person. And when you hear some people testify up here or sing or you read books, biographies, or you read about Bible character like the Apostle Peter or John or Paul, you just assume — George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, Harriet Tubman — You just assume that’s a different kind of person. It’s not me. I don’t have what it takes to do anything like that. I’m not gifted. I’m not a spiritual savant. I’m just ordinary. And maybe even God has put me on the shelf. I’ve messed up too many times. I haven’t utilized the opportunities he’s given me. So, we end up becoming frozen. Maybe you’re not antagonistic, but you’re just kind of numb. What would happen if you rejected that assumption and began to believe a very different thing.
So, before Peter is going to call us into training (which is next week — increasing, adding, training spiritually), he wants to get rid of this assumption that is deep beneath the surface in many of our hearts, and it flavors the way we interpret sermons, read scripture, write off opportunities, causes us to step back, pull away. And Peter wants to address that assumption before he even gets into the training he’s about to do again next week. He does this, he attacks this assumption quite subtly in the introduction and then quite directly in verses 3 and 4. So, let’s fly through the introduction and then land on verses 3 and 4.
He makes three points in passing during the introduction. Verse 1, his dual roles. He begins,
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.”
Now, many Christians struggle with why would Peter, at times, Paul, and other Christian leaders call themselves “doulos,” slaves, servants? Isn’t that beneath us? Well, it’s interesting. Jesus called us both friends/sons/daughters and slaves. In Luke 17, he actually calls us “unworthy slaves” or servants. Why would he do that? Well, in the context, if there are times, based on the lavish blessings we have received as children of God, we let that go to our heads and we begin to assume that “I’m a father, I’m a CEO, I’m a pastor, I’m not bending down and washing feet. I’m not cleaning that floor. I’m not doing that ministry, that job. That’s beneath me,” he would have no problem saying you’re just an unworthy servant.
“Even the Son of Man came not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Why would you think you’re above serving?
So, Peter highlights the fact I’m a servant, the leader of leaders, in the disciples. I’m a servant. But I’m also a sent-one, an apostle, and Peter obviously is using that in a very formal sense. He was one of the Twelve. He spoke with apostolic authority as a servant and a sent-one. There are times where that word apostle, “sent-one” is used in informal ways like 2 Corinthians 8:23, highlighting the fact that in one sense we are all apostles in an informal way, in the fact that we are sent by God through Jesus. And so, we have these two, same dual roles — Peter, in the very formal sense, we in an informal way as servants and apostles. And Christians embrace both our high calling and our humble calling.
Second, our equal reign. Verse 1 goes on
“to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.”
That’s Peter writing. How is that possible? Well, it’s by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Because the source of our status is God’s righteousness through Jesus, not ours, we have what Peter has. This is stunning! Equal rank.
And then third, divine resources. Verse 2,
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus, our Lord” (verse 2).
So, Peter begins with a blessing here to communicate the heart of God. You have grace. You have peace. May it be multiplied to you. You can’t receive that blessing and assume God is stingy, wanting you just to survive as spiritually malnourished. No.
Now, there’s so much more here, but I want us to keep moving because Peter seems intent to get to verses 3 and 4, where there’s an amplified version of what he’s just hinted at. Verses 3 and 4 are one long sentence, extremely densely packed with unimaginable blessings. The difficulty is it’s easy to get lost in all the clauses and prepositional phrases. So, let me read verses 3 and 4, and if you could be looking out for key words that will help you understand the relationship between one phrase or clause and the other. Look for words like “granted,” which will highlight Source, words like “through” which will highlight Means.
So, verse 3,
“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 [again] granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
Any of you like to diagram sentences? Both of you. This is a great one. I think the most helpful way to understand the structure of this densely-packed paragraph is to notice three parts, two levels/two layers. Source, Means, Goal, or you could put the word Gift because this is what God is giving us, this Goal. So, let’s walk through it.
“His divine power has granted to us.” See, that’s a Source statement. His divine power is the source of what he’s about to grant to us. What does he grant to us? If you jump all the way over to the Goal or the Gift, “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” everything we need to live an eternal kind of life now and a Godwardly life, a life oriented around God.
“Through the knowledge” That’s a “means” statement.
“Through the knowledge of him who has called us to his own glory and excellence.”
And then it seems like what he’s doing in verse 4 is saying the same thing with different words to reinforce —
“By which he has granted to us”
There’s our “granted” word again — Source.
“His precious and very great promises”
are the means by which this …
“His own glory and excellence has granted his precious and very great promises, so that through them [Means statement] you may become partakers of the divine nature.”
Well, what’s the alternative? That’s what he throws in at the very end,
“having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
That’s a mouthful. You got all that? Let’s try to break it down into three big ideas — Source, Means, Goal.
Number 1, the Source. What are we talking about there? Well, very simply, God is the source of life and godliness. That is crystal clear.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”
We have everything we need that flows from his divine power and his own glory and excellence. Another way to put it, Schreiner puts it,
“Only God can make people godly.”
Now, some of you might be thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know.” True. This is super basic, Christianity 101, but many of us don’t know this when it comes to the way we live our lives. Only God can make people godly.
If you were to go in our kitchen today and look over our little table, you’ll see this sign. My daughter many years ago painted this for my wife for her birthday. And I know from the back, it may be hard to see, but … well, not the “everything,” hopefully. We have some really good optometrists if you can’t see that word “everything.”
But below that is 2 Peter 1:3. And there’s a bit of a backstory here why Cami painted that for Karen because thirty-two years ago, when my wife and I were in Chicago, and as I’ve shared before, we hit a really low point in our lives and marriage, and she was experiencing horrific panic attacks, deep depression, felt extremely hopeless. I was trying to be super helpful and was completely unhelpful, horrifically unhelpful. And there was a day when my wife was meeting with a woman from our church, and I won’t go through the whole conversation, but basically it came down to she was concerned that my wife wasn’t looking at this realistically enough and was giving her kind of a humanistic pep talk, trying to help get her out of the depths. And without going into all that she was saying, it just became very clear to my wife, whatever she’s saying, this is not the direction I need to go. At that moment the Spirit brought home 2 Peter 1:3 to her mind and heart in a way, and she hadn’t even been reading it lately. And the Spirit simply said,
“I have given you everything you need for life and godliness.”
The Spirit spoke in the NIV. That’s the NIV translation. All things. Everything.
And it’s weird now because when you’re in that moment and you hear a promise from God, whether you’re reading it on your own or somebody texts you a promise or something, and when you’re in the depths of despair, those promises can just seem like empty spiritual rhetoric. That’d be nice. I’m sure that’s good for some people. That’s not what I need. But my wife is stubborn enough to where she locked in on that promise in that moment. And said, “God, if you really have done this, given me everything I need for life and godliness, I am going to hold you to your word.” And it began to send us both, as we took this journey together, on a trajectory that we would never have imagined, leading to freedom and love and joy and peace. It wasn’t instantaneous.
But on a very different level, think of Joshua Foer, the journalist who suddenly realized, “whoa, what they’re doing. I could do.” Completely different level, what this is saying! In the depths of despair, what?! I could experience “you’ve given me everything I need”?! This isn’t a health wealth gospel — go buy a BMW on faith. No, it’s much better than that. “I’ve given you everything you need for life and godliness, to flourish spiritually, to joyfully fulfill my calling for you, which at times will be walking through deep valleys with me, at times will be seeing great amounts of fruit, and other times you wonder if you’re even a Christian, but I’ve given you everything you need for life and godliness.
Now, can you let your imagination run wild just for a moment? What if that’s true? And for some of us, we’ve been around Christianity a little too long. We just think “yeah, I’m sure that’s true for some people.” What if it’s true for you? Peter is settling right here at the beginning of his little letter — you’re not the source of your godliness; you’re not. And the longer you try to do this on your own, the more you’re going to be convinced it can’t be done. God is the only one who can make someone godly.
Second, the Means. God’s power comes through God’s promises. We have a tendency today to divorce power and knowledge. There’re a huge segments of Christianity. If you’re a charismatic or Pentecostal Christian, you’re all about power. We need to pray. We need to wait on God for power, gifts, spiritual power gifts. If you’re an evangelical, you tend to lean a little bit more toward knowledge. We need to know the Bible. We need to learn. You can just see Peter wincing with that kind of debate. Who’s right? What the church needs is more power. No, what the church needs is more knowledge.
Jonathan Edwards would argue, as he does in his book on spiritual affections [Religious Affections], that you cannot divorce heat and light. We desperately need both, and here Peter is making that same point. God’s divine power is mediated through his divine knowledge. And the word “knowledge” he uses — “epiginosko” (or “epignosis” is the noun) — he uses it four times in this little letter. And to understand what he means by knowledge, the best way to approach this is not to try to contrast it with the less intensive “gnosis,” which is a shorter word that’s used three times (because often they’re used interchangeably as much as they’re used distinctly) … But the best way to understand what he means by “knowledge” here is to contrast it with the way we think of knowledge versus the way the Hebrew mind would think of knowledge.
The Hebraic understanding of knowledge was not about facts, information alone. There were facts involved, of course, but it wasn’t just informational. My greatest need as a Christian is I need to get another degree and I need to learn more Bible. Maybe. But that’s not your greatest need from a biblical understanding of knowledge. Knowledge in a Western view has a lot to do with information, degrees, that kind of “facts.” But knowledge from a biblical perspective is experiential. If you say you know it and it doesn’t have any impact on your life, you don’t know it. You don’t know it.
If we had a few hours, we’d walk through the Old Testament because there are some fascinating examples in Psalm 14 and other places where this is illustrated. But I want us just to look at one example. In 2 Timothy 3:1, Paul writes,
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power”
Ah ha! The charismatics are right. We have a power deficiency. Keep reading.
“Avoid such people.”
“always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”
So, you’ll notice … Don’t just fly over that … Paul is saying if you have the appearance of godliness, but it doesn’t actually change your life, you’re denying the power, divine power, and we are to avoid people who promote that kind of lifestyle because they’re always learning more and more spiritual information, but they never really arrive at a knowledge. You say, “Whoa!” They know a lot. They may have several PhDs in religion. They have tons of information. But from a biblical perspective, if that information isn’t translating into a life of godliness, a changed life, they don’t get it. They don’t really understand. So, be careful. Steer clear of movements that are all about information, even as spiritual as it might be, that doesn’t translate into life change. So, do you see the connection? You cannot, according to Peter here, just like Paul, just like the whole Bible, you cannot divorce power from knowledge, knowledge from power. God’s power comes through God’s promises.
Number three, Goal. What is the gift that God gives us from his divine power through knowledge and promise? Well, God is inviting us into life with him like his. Life with him, like his.
Verse 3 again,”his divine power has granted to us all things, everything we need, for life and godliness.”
Verse 4, “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.”
What does that mean? What does it mean to become a partaker of the divine nature?
Let’s talk about first what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean Peter wants us to become Mormon. Now, the people who are in charge of Mormon messaging have changed things significantly over the past thirty or forty years. Thirty or forty years ago, if you called a Mormon friend a Christian, that Mormon would be deeply offended by you. Today, it’s completely the opposite. If you say that a Mormon friend is not a Christian, that individual will be deeply offended.
So, what concern do Christians have about Mormon theology? This is one of the big ones. There are several, many. And I want to quote you some things that come right out of Bruce McConkie’s Mormon doctrine. It’s their systematic theology book. I’m not saying something written by someone who’s against Mormonism. I’m just quoting their own writings. For example, Prophet Joseph Smith said this.
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! … I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see …”
And McConkie goes on to describe the way God moved from manhood to godhood through an eternal progression. That’s what it’s called, an eternal progression. And the way you can become a god with your own universe is if you’re married in the right place, the temple, by the right person, a Mormon authority priest, and you keep the commandments, you can eternally progress through manhood to become a god. Joseph Smith says later,
“What is it, to inherit the same power, the same glory, the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a god and ascend to the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before.”
So, when a Mormon reads “become partakers of the divine nature,” they interpret that as “to be deified, to become deity.” That’s not what Peter is talking about. It doesn’t mean that.
It does mean to live a life with him, that
“partners of the divine nature,”
like his; that is, we were created in his image. Sin twists that image. Jesus restores that image. So, we are restored to that place of partaking in the divine nature. In this context, Peter is putting his finger on a specific aspect of that. As Schreiner says,
“to share in the moral excellence that belongs to God.”
You say, “Well, where do you get that, the moral excellence stuff?” Look at verse 4 again.
“by which he is granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”
What does that mean? He tells us what the opposite means.
“having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
So, sinful desire has brought about a corruption in the world so that we all are affected by that moral perishing that leads ultimately to a physical perishing. Here he’s putting the accent on the moral aspect by saying “that is in the world because of sinful desire.” And this flows all the way back to Genesis 3:5. Satan promised
“for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.”
What does that mean? “Knowing good and evil.” In other words, you will try to assume God’s role of defining what is good and what is evil, independent from the revelation of God.
So, sin twists our image of God and then moves us in a place of trying to replace him as the one who defines what is right and what is wrong. And what Peter is saying is God has given us precious and very great promises so that we are no longer driven by or defined by these corrupt, twisted desires that both corrupt the righteousness that God has established, as to what is good and evil, and try to replace him. You see this happening all the time today. It’s not just a matter of rejecting God’s morals; it’s then putting ourselves in the place where we define them, and we view God’s as corrupt.
So, can we say it in a sentence, this whole thing? Are you still with me? This is a densely-packed section. Let’s try to say it in a sentence.
“God’s power through Jesus has given us everything we need to increasingly live morally beautiful lives.”
Now, let’s pause for a second because some of you may be thinking, where does that come from? One little thing I didn’t mention … Well, there are many … But the interesting thing is, if you look at the end of verse 3, the word “excellence” is the same word we’re going to see next week …
“adding to your faith/supplementing your faith with ‘virtue,’”
same word. And it’s a word that has to do with moral excellence or beauty. And the idea seems to be clear that what we’re going to receive training in next week is not creating something from within ourselves, but we are merely receiving from who God is through Christ, and then Peter’s going to train us in how to live that out. How do we experience that word “knowledge,” not just in our heads, but in our lives? How do we live that out? So, that’s what I mean by “God’s power through Jesus has given us everything we need to increasingly live morally beautiful lives today and forever through the experiential knowledge of his promises.”
Now let’s pause again and ask why here, why now? Next week, Training, how to grow. If you and I don’t get this today, the rest of the letter is not going to make sense. The best way to summarize this is between two mindsets — a performance mindset and a promise mindset. A performance mindset will take everything we’re about to do next week and the rest of the letter, and we will try to make exist in our lives what doesn’t exist. We will be susceptible to the good day/bad day syndrome. On good days, we’re going to feel really spiritual; bad days, we’re going to feel really unspiritual. We’re always going to wonder — Have I done enough? Did I read the Bible enough? Did I pray enough? Was I sincere enough? That’s all part of the performance mindset.
What’s the promise mindset? The promise mindset is what if God’s not lying? What if he’s really given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge, through the experiential knowledge of him who has called us to his own glory and excellence? What if he’s granted us … “by which he has granted us his precious and very great promises”? And through these precious and very great promises, what if he is going to bring us into his life as partakers of the divine nature? Not that we’re becoming gods, but we’re being swept into the life and love of God through Christ rather than being driven and defined by corrupt desires. Does that make sense? That’s a promise mindset.
For some of us here, we’re going to be saying today “I don’t even understand all that … Not sure how you’re going to bring that about. It seems a bit far fetched, but I’m putting all my weight on that promise, all my eggs in that basket” just like when my wife Karen, heard that you’ve-got-to-be-real talk, and the Spirit said, “I’ve given you everything, everything.” And it sends you in a very different trajectory. Let’s pray.
Father, as we quiet our hearts before you, we stand in awe of your divine power through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, mediated through precious and very great promises. Lord, you’ve given us everything we need, everything we need. We don’t have anything less than what the apostle Peter had, what Martin Luther or George Mueller or Susanna Wesley or Hudson Taylor, Elizabeth Elliott, or Harriet Tubman, what any of them had. I pray specifically for some in here who are really wrestling with that — it seems far fetched. We’re begging you for an Ephesians 1 miracle today all over this room — that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened, that we may know what is the hope to which you’ve called us, what are the riches of the glorious inheritance of the saints, what is the immeasurable greatness of your power toward us who believe, that you are not stingy. You love to give good gifts, gifts of your Spirit, gifts of life, and even transformative gifts of godliness.
For some of us who have messed up so many times, that dream seems small, maybe dead. And if it’s up to us, Lord, it is. But what if it’s up to you? What if you do come through in your Word, and just like with Abraham, you gave a promise that even though it was a quarter of a century later, you kept your Word. And, Lord, we are going to keep hold of that promise that you keep your Word. So, Lord, as we cry out to you, by your Spirit, Lord, move among us. May your divine power be evident as you call us out of what we Americans can fall into so quickly, just a head knowledge. Lord, we want to taste and see that the Lord is good. And thank you that you’re ready to show yourself strong on our behalf. We pray this in Jesus’s name. Amen.