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From Legalism To Relationships

Brian Mashburn

August 4, 2019

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From Legalism To Relationships

I don't know if you have noticed, but in our summer teaching series entitled "Mandatory Moves", in which we have been examining ground that every Christian must take if they want to stay associated with Jesus, I have been using the Apostle Peter as a guide. In his second letter he makes a list of qualities that every Christian should "make every effort" to add to their faith.

We come to a quality now that stops me in my tracks. It is a weighty word that demands much of us. Track with me here as we read what Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:5-6. "Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; to goodness, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness."

Godliness. Just... wow. See, all of the qualities Peter lists to this point are rich, and challenging, but they do not seem impossible, or inhuman. If to be godly has anything to do with being "like God", well, then this is the first one that really stretches the Christians capacity for belief that these "mandatory moves" are even possible.

But here it is, says Peter. He doesn't highlight it, or make like it is not possible, or give it any special treatment at all. Rather, he puts in the middle of this list much more "normal" and understandable human qualities like "brotherly kindness" and "knowledge".

What does Peter mean here? And does he really expect us to see this goal as attainable?

Pause. Let me tell you what it does not mean. The Greek word here is notoriously difficult to translate with just one word, and sometimes it translated "piety" or "religious" or "holy" or "devout". The problem with these words is that these days, many take them to mean "strict" in the following of religious rules, the believing of certain doctrines, or the adherence of certain worship practices. For example, if someone never misses anything the church does, they are considered religious. If they read their Bible and pray consistently, they are deemed pious. If they love talking about and defending certain doctrines, they are seen as pursing holiness. And if you do all of these, you might be considered very pious.

Each of these can be really good things, by the way, but they can also become something we do legalistically. Nothing drains the power out of activity that promotes godliness as effectively as making the definition of godliness the practicing of that activity. Legalism kills godliness.

And besides, those things, even in their best use, are not what Peter is telling us to make every effort to do here.

Barclay says that this quality goes in two directions: It is about always giving God what correctly serves Him, and always giving people what correctly serves them. Let's explore this today.

Brian Mashburn

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