Growing in faith and love, living in repentance

Sermon for Midweek of Laetare

2 Peter 1:2-11  +  John 6:36-51

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. I say those words to you, even as Peter once wrote them to the Christians scattered around the Roman empire. Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. God’s grace and peace are directly connected to the knowledge of God the Father and of Jesus our Lord. There is no grace and there is no peace apart from that knowledge. With that knowledge, there is pure grace and peace. More than that, Peter says that all things that pertain to life and godliness come through that knowledge. Or as Jesus once prayed to the Father, This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.

What is this knowledge? What is it to “know God”? To know God is to believe in Him as the God who sent His divine Son into the flesh, so that, through His sacrificial death, sinners might be reconciled to God. This isn’t just head knowledge. It’s faith-knowledge. It’s knowing with confidence that Jesus is the Christ, the bread of life, whose flesh was given for the life of the world, even for your life.

How does a person come to have that faith-knowledge? Peter refers to the fact that God is the One who “called us” and has given us exceedingly great and precious promises. God has called us and made promises to us only in one place: only through the preaching of His Word by which He has made His will known to us, called us to repentance and faith in Christ, and promised us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through His Son.

Through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, Jesus reveals Himself to us, even as He revealed Himself to the crowds in John 6. And those in whom the Holy Spirit creates faith are grafted into Christ and so become “partakers of the divine nature.” Not that we become “God,” but we do share in the eternal life of the Son of God, as we are made into members of His body.

As such, as members of the body of Christ who have received grace and peace and forgiveness from God, Peter calls on us to live our lives accordingly, giving all diligence, to add to your faith virtue. Literally, “Hurry up to add to your faith virtue.” Don’t let a moment go by, after having been brought to faith in Christ, without adding virtue to your faith. What is virtue? It’s a quality of God Himself. It’s moral excellence and goodness. To be virtuous is to love what is good and noble and right and to hate what is evil and sinful and wrong. Don’t spend any more time wallowing in the mud of the sins from which you were cleansed. Add virtue.

To virtue add knowledge. You have already come to know God. But you mustn’t be content to know Him just a little when He has given you 66 books of the Bible to study, to learn, to meditate on, when He has given you access to solid theological material in the Lutheran Confessions and multiple opportunities to hear the preaching of His Word. Christians are called upon to continually add knowledge to their knowledge.

To knowledge add self-control. Self-control is exactly what the world doesn’t want you to have. The world wants you to indulge in every craving, whether it’s buying stuff you don’t need or eating more food than you do need, or drinking too much or sleeping too much, or pursuing illicit sex or watching too much TV or playing too much on your devices. And your sinful flesh is more than happy to be led out of control by the world and its marketing schemes. But the Christian life is about daily bringing the Old Adam into submission by practicing self-control.

To self-control add perseverance: bearing up under adversity or hardship. Perseverance means that your hardship may not be over with quickly. And struggling with sin is certainly not over with quickly; it’s a lifelong endeavor. Don’t give up. Don’t despair. We have the exceedingly great promises of God to help us persevere.

To perseverance add godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Listen to how St. Peter describes the Christian life to which you have been called, a life of faith and love at all times, faith and love that should consume your thoughts, faith and love that are to keep growing and being multiplied as long as you live.

For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has brought you to this faith-knowledge of Christ with the same intent as a farmer who sows seed in his field, so that the seed can grow and produce abundant fruit. But 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. Sin always accompanies the believer, but faith doesn’t let sin get the upper hand so that it rules and takes over. A believer in Christ always goes back to how God washed away his sins in Holy Baptism, and then, each day, drowns the Old Adam with his desires and puts on the New Man and strives to get rid of sin and to live according to God’s commandments. But where that isn’t taking place, faith has died. Here’s how the Apology of the Augsburg Confession puts it: Do good works in order that you may persevere in your calling, in order that you do not lose the gifts of your calling. They were given to you before, and not because of works that follow, and which now are kept through faith. Faith does not remain in those who lose the Holy Spirit and reject repentance. As we have said before (Article XII 1), faith exists in repentance.

And so, once again in this Lenten season, we come back to repentance as the daily calling of the Christian. To live in repentance is to know Christ and to flee to Christ for forgiveness, and to take seriously the will of Christ that His forgiven people should lead holy lives on earth, producing the fruits of faith with the help of His Holy Spirit. It is through repentance that an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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