"For This Very Reason, Grow!"
2 Peter 1:3-4
(Delivered Sunday, May 1, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
I have a habit of charting my Christian growth in five-year increments. I'm not sure why it ends up being 'five-year increments'; it may have something to do with my age, or because 'five years' is an easy number of years to look back on and set goals for. But for whatever reason, I tend to ask myself, "In what ways have I grown in the past five years? What was I doing five years ago? How different am I now as a believer than I was then? How much more mature will I be as a believer five years from now than I am today?"
As I look five years back, I don't always see the growth I would like to see. But in some areas, I do. Seeing growth encourages me; and I become excited by the prospect of five years from now - if the Lord wills - seeing that the Lord had conquered more sinful habits in my life, or increased my knowledge and appreciation of the deep truths of His word, or helped me to trust the Holy Spirit to do greater things through me, or just getting to know Him better and reflecting His love in my life to a greater degree. I don't want to end up still in the same level of growth five years from now. And I certainly don't want to be where I was when I started. I want very much to grow.
What about you, dear brother or sister? Can you see growth in your life with Christ? Perhaps you don't think in 'five-year' terms as I tend to do; but do you find that you have indeed grown from where you were to greater areas of maturity? Do you find that you no longer become upset by the petty things that used to upset you? Do you find that the peace of the Lord Jesus is becoming more and more evident in you when you face the challenges of life? And do you find that you are bothered by sinful habits in your life that never used to bother you before? Do you see that you are trusting Christ in ways that you didn't trust Him before? Do you find that the old patterns of life are being increasingly left behind by you? Do you love people more, and things less? Is it more exciting to study God's word and make discoveries from the Bible than it used to be? Do you find yourself obeying Christ's comands more faithfully and consistently? Are you more devoted to share His love with others than you were a few years ago? Are you more certain of, and established in, the love of Christ now than you were in the past? Is Jesus "Lord" over more areas of your life now than He has been? Do you look forward to heaven more; and do you serve Him with more devotion in the light of the hope of heaven? Do you love Jesus more today than yesterday?
I hope you do see growth. It's a normal aspect of the Christian life to grow, and to move on measurably to maturity. And with that in mind, I would like to draw your attention this morning to a great Bible passage on the subject of growth. It's found in the short New Testament letter of 2 Peter.
Peter was very concerned about the growth of the Christians to whom he wrote. It was an important theme in this tiny letter. He indicated in it that the time was soon coming in which he would "put off" his "tent" (1:12-15) - that is, that he would physically die and lay his body aside - departing unto the Lord that he loved so much. But while he lived, he felt a sense of urgency toward his brothers and sisters. He wanted to remind them of the things they needed to know, so that they would continue diligently to pursue growth in their walk with Christ.
In a very wonderful passage - one that we've looked at before - Peter tells them:
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11).
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Let me just pause for a moment and suggest to you one of the greatest reasons some folks never grow to maturity in the Christian faith. It's because they don't do the work they are supposed to do in order to grow.
Many professing Christians rightly believe that they are saved by faith in Jesus Christ; and are not saved in any respect by their own efforts. It is God who puts the faith in us to believe; and it is God who makes that faith effective unto salvation. But many of these same professing Christians think that that's all that's required - just having a passive, inactive faith. They don't go on to build on that foundation of faith in the way that the Bible tells them to build. They just sit back and 'wait' for growth to somehow occur without their effort. They forget what the apostle Paul said: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but not 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 do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). Such professing believers trust that God has "worked in" them - and that's by His grace; but they forget that they are commanded to "work out" what God has "worked in". And because they neglect the command to "work out" their salvation, they fail to go on to maturity.
Look carefully at Peter's words. In verse five, he describes the absolutely essential starting point of growth: faith. We are to have a faith that is to be 'added to'. That faith is a gift of God's grace. And it's not to be 'just any ol' faith'. It's described for us very specifically in verse 1, in the introduction to Peter's letter: "Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained [or literally "who have been assigned" - or "who have received, as if by an allotment"] like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ . . ."
The starting point is a very wonderful and precious gift - an "allotment" from God of the very same faith as that of the apostles. They believed on Jesus Christ for righteousness before God. And we are to begin with the very same faith as they had - a faith in Jesus Christ for righteousness before God. And we are to believe in the very truth that the apostles taught about Jesus - that He is not only our Savior, but that He was very God of very God! In the grammar of the original language, there is only one definite article governing both words. Literally, it reads, "the God of us and Savior" - making both words a reference to the same Person: "Jesus Christ". We are to have no other faith; because no other is "like precious faith" with the apostles than this!
And having that faith as our starting point, we are to faithfully build upon it. We are to do so with "diligence". This is the translation of a Greek word (spoudaző) that sometimes refers to doing something with a sense of eagerness and haste. But it doesn't mean doing something in a reckless and wasteful way. Rather, it means doing it in a very conscientious and careful manner - taking pains to do it with zeal and great effort. Having faith, we are to diligently "add to" or "contribute to" the foundation of faith with "virtue" or "moral excellence". And then, to that addition to our faith, we are to diligently add "knowledge". And to our faith, virtue and knowledge, we are to add "self-control". And on it goes - never losing sight of the foundation of God's gift of faith, nor losing what we have gained; but building it up further with perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.
Look at it! We begin with faith; and we end up with love! And it's a life-long, ever growing process of growth. It takes great effort on our part. It requires "diligence". But the promise is that, "if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 7).
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Now this morning, my emphasis is not on that wonderful process. Instead, I ask you to look at the phrase you find at the beginning of verse 5: "for this very reason". My focus this morning is not so much on the process of growth that we are to so diligently pursue, as on the motivation for pursuing it so diligently - the "reason".
If I may this morning, let me speak to you as your 'pastoral counselor'. I recognize that, when we understand that our call is to "grow on into maturity" in our Christian life, and when we then see the process of growth that we are commanded to apply ourselves diligently to, it can become overwhelming. We can look at it, and almost feel like utter failures before we even begin.
We love the Lord Jesus; and we certainly want to grow. But when we look at where we are, we immediately realize how far short we are of where we should be - and we become discouraged. We have sinful habits that we just can't seem to shake. There are new habits and disciplines in the Christian life that we just don't seem to be able to take up. It feels like we're always falling short of the ideal. If we were to try to become what God wants us to be in our own strength, we know before we even start that we would miserably fail. We know this because we have already tried and failed numbers of times. Believe me; I know! "Faith"? - that I have! But "virtue"? - trust me; you don't want to hear about it! "Knowledge"? - I don't even know for sure what it is that I already know! "Self-control"? - don't get me started! "Perseverance"? - I gave up on that one long ago! "Godliness"? - sometimes I'm barely human! "Brotherly kindness?" - yeah right; just ask my brothers and sisters sometime! "Love?" - well; I think you can guess how I'm doing on THAT one! And on top of it all, I'm supposed to pursue these things with "diligence"? You can almost feel your shoulders slump in helpless despair just thinking about it!
Do you ever feel that way? We know that we are to pursue growth; but if the only thing we look at is the growth we are to pursue, we certainly aren't motivated. It would be like forever trying to gain something you can't have, or chasing after something you can't reach. And that's why I think those words "for this very reason" are so important! They make all the difference, because they point back to the things that are already true of us in Christ; and the knowledge of what we already are and already have in Christ is what motivates us to grow even more in Christ.
As your 'pastoral counselor', let me suggest an important spiritual principle to you: Life-changing growth WITH Christ always begins with a knowledge of what you already have IN Christ. Christian maturity is not a matter of becoming something that you're not, but of seizing ahold of what God says you already are! And the great need that each one of us has is to know - with rock-solid confidence and assurance - what our position in Christ is right now.
And believe me, dear brother or sister in Christ: if you only knew what God says you already have in Christ, and what is already true of you in Him, no one would ever need to persuade you to go on to further growth. You'd be fully motivated to do so diligently!
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I feel I have wonderful news to share with you today as your 'pastoral counselor'. Please look with me at what comes before that phrase "for this very reason". Look with me at the wonderful things Peter says are true of us in Christ - things that wonderfully motivate us on to growth in Him.
First, notice that . . .
1. WE HAVE PROVISION (v. 3a).
In verse two, we see the call to grow. Peter says, "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." Grace and peace are gifts to us through faith - given to us in the knowledge of God the Father, and of Jesus Christ our Lord. But having received these gifts, we are to go on to grow. "Grace and peace" are to be "multiplied".
And God has not left us to our own abilities to make this happen. Peter then goes on to say something that is absolutely amazing: ". . . as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him . . ." Think of that! God has given us a provision to enable our growth; and that provision is of "all things that pertain to life and godliness"!
When I read this, I think of a story from the Old Testament. It was the story of how King David, after God had given him rest from his enemies, had wanted to build a temple for the Lord. God had told him, however, that he would not build the temple because he had been a man of war and had shed much blood. Instead, God told him that it would be his son Solomon who would build the temple.
David responded to this by making all the provisions necessary for Solomon to build. It would be Solomon who would do the work; but it would be David who made it possible by making all the provisions for the project. And so, when it came time for Solomon to build, he found that his father David had provided everything - the plans for all the buildings and rooms and chambers, the divisions of priests and Levites with instructions of their duties, all the materials - along with all the gold and silver - for the manufacturing of all the various articles, all the necessary craftsmen, all the leaders, and all the authority needed to command them. David even gave Solomon the encouragement to trust in God, and urged him to go forth and build the Lord's temple (1 Chronicles 28:1-21).
What a daunting task that must have been to inherit! And yet, Solomon faithfully built a glorious temple, because of all the provision that his father had already made for it to be done - physical and spiritual. Similarly, dear brother or sister, it's a daunting task to grow on to maturity in Christ. In fact, in our own power, it's impossible to do. But our Father has made it a wonderfully achievable thing for us to do - when done with diligence - because He has provided all that we need to do it through Christ. Absolutely nothing is missing!
Look at what Peter says. First, it is a provision that is by Christ's own divine power. ". . . As His divine power has given to us . . . " When God calls us to grow in Christ, it's Christ's own power at work in us that ensures we have all that's necessary to do it. Whenever you are faced with the challenge to grow, and you cry out, "I just can't do it"; you are right! But Christ can; and it's His power at work in us that makes it possible. "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us" (Eph. 3:20).
Second, it's a provision that has already been perfectly given. Peter uses the perfect tense of the verb; which indicates a past-completed act with ongoing results. His divine power has already - as an act completely performed in the past - given that provision to us; and we have it to the full even right now; and it will never be lost to us, no matter what!
Third, it's a provision of all things pertaining to life and godliness. Can you think of a more complete provision than that? As the Bible says, the Father has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1;3).
It's a provision that concerns all things that pertain to "life". "Life", here, certainly refers to the eternal life that is ours in Christ. Everything that we need for living eternally in heaven is already ours - the righteousness we need in God's sight, the cleansing from all sin, the promise of resurrection from the dead and perfection in glory, the eternal place in our Father's house, the rich inheritance of Christ that we will enjoy forever - all of it is already secured for us through Christ, and is our heavenly possession right now. But I believe that "life" also involves all that we need for the continuation of our physical life on earth - for as long as He calls us to live that life. It may not be a promise that we may have all that we "want" in this life; but it does assure us that our God shall supply all our "needs" according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
And this wonderful provision also concerns all that pertains to "godliness". We have eternal life as a principle through Christ; and as we walk along in this world, we are living that eternal life right now - and will keep on living it into eternity. But everything that we need in order to express that eternal life in actual practice - and to live a life of "godliness" at home or at work or in school or in our neighborhood - is also provided to us. Whatever is necessary for us to live the life of Jesus Christ on this earth, and to reflect His glory, is already ours as a full provision right now. Think of it, dear brother or sister! You have, at this moment, an endless supply through His indwelling Holy Spirit of the fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). All that you will ever need is already yours and is available to you!
And finally, it's a provision that is ours through relationship. It is ours, "through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue". It's not a provision we must seek out and find, or earn through our own efforts. It comes through a relationship with the one who has Himself called us to the glorious destiny of sharing in His own glory and excellence. It's a wonderful provision that is given to us freely by His grace - all through our relationship by faith with Jesus Christ.
Now look at that again, dear brother or sister. Tell me truthfully: Is there anything missing of what you need? By God's own word and by His divine power, you and I have "all things that pertain to life and godliness." That covers it all, wouldn't you say? I can dare to say to you this morning, on the basis of the word of God, that - right now, and at this very moment - there has not been one single thing withheld from you, from out of all the riches of Christ, that you will ever need to grow into the disciple of Christ that God wants you to be! No wonder we can eagerly and diligently go on to grow toward maturity; if we will but believe it! "What then shall we say to these things?", as Paul says. "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:31-32).
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Now, such a provision as that ought to be enough to motivate us to build! But as we read on further in this passage, we see that we not only have a provision, but also . . .
2. WE HAVE A CALLING (v. 3b).
I might see the provision laid out for me; and I might be excited about it. But I might not feel confident to get up and work toward maturity if it weren't for the fact that God the Father calls me to maturity. Even David gave a charge to Solomon, and told him that it was God's call for him to rise up and build the temple. And so, Peter says that we have all this provision, "through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue". The "glory" and "virtue" (or "moral excellence") is His own. Some of the more reliable Greek texts have the word "His own" - and of course, how else could it be that He calls us but by His own glory and virtue?
You should know that there is some variation between the different Greek texts; and this is reflected in different translations. The New King James, for example, translates it that God calls us "by" glory and virtue. But the English Standard Version - based on a more reliable textual tradition - translates it, "to His own glory and excellence". Personally, I believe that the correct translation is "to His own glory and virtue". But I believe that it makes sense to hold to both ideas - that God not only calls us BY His own glory and virtue, but that He calls us TO His own glory and virtue.
Jesus prayed for us just before He went to the cross on our behalf; and He prayed something amazing. He said, "I do not pray for these alone [that is, for His disciples], but also for those who will believe in Me through their word [and that's you and me!]; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (John 17:20-23). Did you pick up on that? - that Jesus prays, with full expectation, that we will be sharers together with Him in His own glory? What a wonderful prospect!
Jesus stooped down in mercy to us sinners - all the way down to were we were in our sin and shame and misery - and died for us. But He didn't do that in order to leave us in that state. He stooped down to where we are in order to raise us up to where He is! And think of it! The one who has called us has called us "BY" His own glory and virtue, has called us "TO" His own glory and virtue. He has called us to become like beloved Son and to share in His own glory and moral excellence. We are destined to be like Jesus! As the Bible says, "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). It tells us, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Rom. 8:29-30).
That is our calling from God Himself, dear brother or sister in Christ. It's a sovereign call; meaning that whoever He calls ends up exactly in the place to which He calls them! ". . . Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). That's our sure and certain destiny - to be brought to His own glory and virtue! No wonder we can be motivated with great diligence to grow! The effort is a guaranteed success! "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).
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I certainly hope your sense of motivation is growing! But there's more. As we read on, we see that we not only have provisions and a calling that spur us on to growth, but . . .
3. WE HAVE PROMISES (v. 4a).
Peter says that God has called us by glory and virtue, "by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature . . ." These are promises that take us all the way to full glorification in Christ. These are promises from God that we can hang our eternal destiny on. These are promises that give us the motivation to build diligently upon our faith and grow in Christian maturity.
First, please notice that there is a link that joins one thing to another in this passage. We spoke of how God has called us by His own glory and virtue, and also to that same glory and virtue. And here, we see that the glory an virtue of God stands as the source of these promises. God, who is 'glorious' in heavenly majesty and power, can be counted on to keep the promises He makes toward us. And what's more, God, who is 'virtuous' in the excellency of His righteousness and moral purity, can be counted on to bind Himself to every promise He makes. The Bible tells us that "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29). It teaches us that "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Num. 23:19). It teaches us to say, "Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised . . ." (1 Kings 8:56a). We can be like old childless Abraham who trusted God when God promised he would have a son and be made into a great nation. We're told, "He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform" (Rom. 4:20-21).
I believe that the reliability of God's promises was expressed to us very well in Hebrews 6:16-18. It reminds us of those promises that God had made to Abraham and that were then passed on to his descendants - promises that were all fulfilled. It says,
For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
We can count on the promises of God, because they are upheld by His own glory and virtue - and you can have no higher basis for assurance than that.
Second, notice that these promises are described as "great" and "precious". They are "great" because of the greatness of the mighty and eternal God who gives them to us and keeps them for us. And they are "precious" because of the precious and eternal things that they secure for us.
What "promises" are we talking about? Clearly, they are the promises that we have in the Bible - what Peter later on calls "the prophetic word confirmed" (2 Peter 1:19). We can trust confidently in the promises of the Scriptures that God has made regarding our salvation - promises such as those that tell us "that whoever believes in Him [that is, in Christ] should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:15); or this one from Christ,"that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40); or as Jesus affirmed to the Father in prayer, that "You have given Him [that is, Jesus Himself] authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent" (John 17:2-3). John himself summed it up this way: "And this is the promise that He [that is, Jesus - under the authority of His Father] has promised us - eternal life" (1 John 2:25). He said, "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12).
These promises - and many, many more - are"great" and "precious" because, by them, "we may become partakers of the divine nature . . ." That's another way of saying that we have received eternal life from God the Father, and are ultimately destined to live that life in the full glory of His Son Jesus. We won't 'partake' of 'the divine nature' in any way that would suggest that we become 'divine' ourselves. We will always be 'created beings'; and God will always be God. But in great love - through our faith in His promises - He welcomes us into full fellowship with Himself as His own sons and daughters, puts His own Holy Spirit in us, seals us as His own, and destines us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Himself and live forever with Him!
Oh, how wonderfully great and precious these promises are! And what's more, these promises are already ours in full! They, again, are said to be "given to us" in the perfect tense - speaking of a gift of promises that have been given to us once for all in completion - and that are now ours, and will be forever. We never need to seek them. We never need to plead with God to make them. We never need to earn them. They are already all ours in completion through Christ.
These promises will never fail. We can trust them and count on them completely. And the time of their fulfillment in our own experience is not really all that far off. Now; considering that we have such wonderful promises that secure us for eternal life in Christ, don't you agree that - if we will just believe them as we should - it will be enough to motivate us to work diligently for the rest of our short time on earth to grow in our Christian life?
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There's one more thing I'd like to share with you from this passage. I like to think of it as the flip-side of the coin from our being made partakers of the divine nature. It's that . . .
4. WE HAVE DELIVERANCE (v. 4b).
Peter says that, through the promises of God that are ours in Christ, we may become partakers of the divine nature, "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." To be made partakers of the divine nature is to have escaped the corruption of this world through lust. We are no longer prisoners to the old destiny that our sins held us bound to. We have a brand-new nature, and are destined to a brand-new eternal home. Why would we want to live in the same old way any longer?
Paul spoke of this deliverance in some of his letters. He rejoiced in it greatly. He said,
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
What a pathetically hopeless condition we were in! But he goes on to say,
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:1-7).
It's as if we were held prisoner in a dark, evil kingdom - a kingdom of this world, held by the chains of lust. But God has set us free in Christ, released us from our chains, and brought into another kingdom. Elsewhere, Paul writes;
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14).
And again I ask; if that's true of us, why would we want to remain in the same old condition any longer - living as if we were still prisoners in a dark, evil kingdom? We've been set free in Christ! Our citizenship has been transferred! Sin no longer has dominion over us! We now have a home in heaven - and we're on our way to that new home! We should be very happy - and very diligent - to grow in our faith in Christ!
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So, dear brother or sister; we have four great realities that are true of us in Christ:
Your growth and my growth in the Christian life depends upon our beliving these things. And so, I urge you: Believe these things! Believe them with all your being. But don't stop there. Having believed, go on to do what Peter says:
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 5-8).
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