Christians who float will drift off course — this is a sobering warning from 2 Peter 1:5–11. I’ll read the text to begin today’s episode. Peter writes:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Here now is John Piper, in a 1982 sermon, to explain.
Last week one of my sons brought home a book from the library, Glenda’s Long Swim from “The Incredible Series.” This is a fantastic series of books. So I assembled my three boys to read it.
Glenda and Robert Lennon — this is a true story — were four miles off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico fishing in their yacht by themselves. And it was a beautiful afternoon, so Glenda decided that she would take a swim in the water and do some spearfishing with a mask and snorkel. All of the sudden she realizes she is 50 yards from the boat in a current taking her farther out and she calls to Robert. And Robert, without thinking, dives in to go to her. And he gets there and they both realize they are being carried out fairly quickly. He is a champion swimmer. She is not. What are they going to do? She can’t make it to the boat against this strain. He can’t carry her. The plan is this: Don’t swim, Glenda. Tread water. I will strive against the tide. Keep swimming and, when it breaks, maybe I will make it to the boat. If I can swim hard enough, I can keep the boat in view.
Six hours he swims.
And just as it is getting dark, the tide turns. He can still see the boat appearing above the waves. He turns, he swims to the boat. He starts making cuts, gets shrimp boats in to help. It is dark. They don’t find her. He returns to shore. The next morning, the motel owner where they are staying says: I know these currents well. Let’s make one more attempt. Out they go. Twenty miles and they find her — twenty miles out! It is a very tearful book at the end. Hearts are beating fast.
Now here is what that story illustrates from 2 Peter 1. Christians who just float never stay in the same place. Christians who disobey 2 Peter 1:5–11 and do not apply themselves with all diligence drift into grave peril. We have to strive just to stand still in the Christian life. The effort towards virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, is not dispensable icing on the cake of faith. If Robert had not swum, he would have drowned. The evidence of God’s power unto godliness in your life is not that you are perfect, but that you are stroking against the stream — even if you are standing still, as it may feel sometimes.
Verse 8 warns us of what I have just been saying. “If these qualities” — referring back now to 2 Peter 1:5–7 — “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now you recall from verse 2 that it is in the knowledge of Christ that grace is multiplied to those who believe. But here we learn that there is a knowledge of Christ that can be utterly ineffective and fruitless. We learn that it is possible to make a sort of start in the Christian life and then begin to just float and drift to destruction.
Look at 2 Peter 2:20: “If, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” In other words, if the glorious promises of God do not spur us on to stroke, we will drift to destruction and it will be worse than if we had never heard the gospel. Now 2 Peter 1:9 describes what is happening in a person in whom that happens. What is going on in a person who seems to make such a good start with the Lord and then just seems to quit swimming? “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
The problem with the person who is not stroking with all his might is that he is blind in two directions. When he looks to the future, he is shortsighted and the promises of God that extend out there as glorious and attractive are just a haze of worldly longing. And when he looks back to the time when once he was so exhilarated and exited about what Christ had done for him, it is as if he doesn’t remember a thing. He is trapped in the now and feels nothing of what Christ has done, nothing of what Christ promises, and, therefore, is utterly powerless, limp in the water and drifting to destruction.
If those things are yours and increasing, the text says you will not be fruitless (2 Peter 1:8). You will never stumble and you will have access into the kingdom of the Savior (2 Peter 1:11). And if those things are missing and you are not moving, stroking towards those things, then you are blind. The promises of God hold out no attraction to you, evidently. The cross of Jesus Christ is neither here nor there, and the forgiveness he holds out is not exhilarating anymore. You are simply floating and floating away and must needs take heed this morning to be diligent in applying yourself to add these things.
The text is a warning and an encouragement. It warns against laziness and lack of diligence in the pursuit of sanctification. And it encourages us to fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life. It encourages us to lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely and run with perseverance the race that is set before us. It encourages us with the apostle Paul to press on to the mark of the goal of the upward call of Christ. It encourages us, like this text says, to go forward on and to advance in all the virtues of Christlikeness — and in that way to find reassurance that we are, indeed, among the elect and that we are called, as 2 Peter 1:3 says, to God’s glory and excellence.