“Humble Striving”

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." 

(2 Peter 3:18)

Peter knew his time on earth was ending (2 Pet. 1:12-15; cf. Jn. 21:18-19) so he wrote his second letter reminding and urging Christians to "grow in grace" (3:18). After his brief introduction, he lays out a chain of seven Christian virtues (1:5-7). For us to enter "into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (v.11) these qualities must be evident and growing in our lives (vv.8-9).   We are to "supplement [our] 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." 

The apostle puts a great deal of emphasis on our part in the development of these Christ-like qualities using phrases like “make every effort” (v.5) and “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (v.10). But Peter makes it abundantly clear that this spiritual growth doesn’t all depend on us. Far from it! He points out that God is the one who has “richly provided” us with everything necessary to transform us into the people we were meant to be (v.3) and bring us to glory (v.11). So he begins and ends his admonition to "grow in grace" by highlighting God's blessing toward us that makes growth possible. Knowledge of the gospel should evoke a maturing and practical moral response from us.

This combined effort of human exertion and divine grace is the key to unlocking our salvation and entrance into the eternal kingdom (1:11; Eph. 2:8-9). Paul sums it up best when he says “… as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) God is at work when we are at work. Christian growth does not happen without our effort but neither does it happen without God's power.

But even with those caveats, does this much emphasis on “our part” of salvation contradict the doctrine of grace? Does our effort somehow negate God’s grace? Does our diligent striving turn God’s gift into a wage that he owes us? (Rom. 4:4-5

We understand no one can be justified in God’s sight by earning their salvation (Rom. 1-4). But obedience to the gospel is clearly required (Rom. 6). In fact, on this side of the cross, everything we do for God and others should come as a direct response for what God has done for us (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1, etc.). Our faith and humble obedience is always initiated by God’s gracious work. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). So humble effort in no way contradicts God’s grace. The contradiction to grace is pride. Jesus lived in humble obedience as an example for us to follow (Heb. 5:8-9).

James 4:6 says, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”" Peter teaches us to "humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you." (1 Pet. 5:6) Check out the handy chart by Doy Moyer below.

Trust in GodTrust in self
ServeBeing served
Obey to pleaseDo to get
Salvation givenSalvation earned

God is gracious to those who humbly strive for him. Let us, then, "be all the more diligent to make [our] calling and election sure" by putting forth "every effort" to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."