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This letter of 2 Peter has one main point: grow in godliness. We see this at the beginning of the letter in chapter 1.

  • Verse 2: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
  • Verse 3: His divine power has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us.
  • Verse 5: For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

That's what Peter means by holiness-growing in these virtues. And he writes this whole letter (1:12) to remind his audience of these qualities.

In this last section of the letter in chapter 3 Peter circles back to these same themes. He even uses some of the same language.

  • Verse 14: Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish.
  • Verse 17: Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.
  • Verse 18: Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The big idea is pretty clear: Avoid these false teachers telling you anything goes. Make an effort to be godly. Grow in grace.

But why must we grow in grace? Why should make every effort to increase in virtue? Why should every Christian earnestly, faithfully, diligently pursue holiness? The Bible is wonderful because it never gives us just one motivation for obedience. God says more than, “Because I told you so.” He motivates us from several different angles and based on several different reasons.

I see in 2 Peter alone twenty motivations for holiness.

  1. We pursue holiness so that we might become partakers of the divine nature (1:4).
  2. We make every effort to grow in godliness because God has already set us free from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (1:4).
  3. We grow in grace so we will not be ineffective and unfruitful  in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:8).
  4. We pursue Christlike character so we will not be blind, having forgotten that we were cleansed from our former sins (1:9).
  5. We work hard at holiness in order to make our calling and election sure, so that we will not fall (1:10).
  6. We practice these godly qualities so there will be richly provided for us an entrance into the eternal kingdom (1:11).
  7. We pursue godliness because Jesus is coming back again in great power, and we know this to be true because of the glory revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration and because of the prophecy of Scripture (1:16-21).
  8. We walk in obedience to Christ because those who wander into sensuality are condemned and will be destroyed (2:3).
  9. We are serious about holiness because we believe God knows how to judge the wicked and save the righteous (2:4-10).
  10. We turn from ungodliness because those who revel in sin are ugly blots and blemishes, irrational animals, unsteady souls, and accursed children (2:10-16).
  11. We pursue holiness because sin never delivers on its promises (2:17).
  12. We pursue holiness because those who live in their sin again are like those returning to slavery, returning to the mire, and returning to vomit (2:19-21).
  13. We must remember to be holy so we will not be drawn away by those scoffers who will come in the last days following their own sinful desires (3:3).
  14. We make every effort to be godly because the world will not always continue as it does now; the heavens and the earth are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (3:4-7).
  15. We must take Christlikeness seriously right now because we do not know when the Lord will return (3:10).
  16. We pursue holiness because all our works will be exposed on the last day (3:10).
  17. We pursue holiness because whatever we live for in this life will be burned up and dissolved (3:11).
  18. We strive to walk in obedience and repentance because in so doing we may hasten the coming of the day of God (3:12).
  19. We live in righteousness now because we are waiting for new heavens and a new eath in which righteousness will dwell forever (3:13).
  20. We pursue godliness so that Christ might be glorified both now and to the day of eternity (3:18).

If you want to see clearly our need for effort in sanctification and if you want see why this diligent pursuit of holiness is so needed, 2 Peter is the book for you. Read, mark, learn, inwardly digest.

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35 thoughts on “Why We Must Pursue Holiness”

  1. John Thomson says:

    Another fine post on a recent theme.

  2. Chris says:

    Kevin, keep these posts flowing. Have you thought of writing a book on Holiness?

    I ask this question once more;
    In the world we live in, how does a Christian engage culture but not be in culture?

    I ask because engaging in culture most likely means being around sin, which does not produce holliness.

    Could you address this question? (Please)

  3. Warren says:

    Appreciate your posts… I just started studying 2 Peter, and it was a pleasant surprise to read your post on the book.

  4. Kevin,

    I echo Chris’s request for a post on his question. I don’t know how you find the time to write at the level you do, but I will go ahead and ask anyway (nicely). Thanks!

  5. Sharee says:

    As if we needed twenty reasons when One is the Real Number Lev.11:44a (Amp.) “For I am the Lord your God; so consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy;…”
    However, after digging myself a pit over the last few days, everyone of these reasons from the 1 to 20 seemed to slowly lift me from the deep, dark, recess of life that today I have found myself. Each step up got lighter and lighter until I reached the top at number 20 to see the Face of my Savior again. I am so grateful today that I checked into this site and got the encouragement and strength I needed to get going again in the Right direction.Thanks Kevin for being poured out, may our Heavenly Father now fill you to the fullest.

  6. Bob says:

    Thanks Kevin, I needed this.

  7. Nate says:

    Sharee – Leviticus can give you a better reason to be holy than the Gospels do?

  8. Nate says:

    I commented late on the last post on holiness, but I just found this one, so I’ll give this a shot here also.

    I can assume, for the sake of being charitable, that what you mean by all this holiness business is knowing and loving the person of Christ. But it will be an assumption, cause it’s not thoroughly present here. If 2 Peter doesn’t seem like it’s heavy on this, it’s because we’re reading it as if Peter wasn’t a man transfixed by Christ at the transfiguration, after his Resurrection, and at many other times. Gospel informs epistle. Jesus Christ, and loving him, is the substance of holiness.

    I like things like brotherly affection and steadfastness too, but they’re so much esoteric nonsense if you’re not summing them up in knowing Jesus. John 14:15, John 17:3, and Matt 22:37-40 are a good places to begin with this. What a bunch of people are going to do with this is run off and decide that they’re going to try harder to “be without spot or blemish” rather than follow Jesus and be lovingly fascinated by him. And secondarily with others they’re in daily contact with. Holiness is love. Perfection is summed up in perfect love.

    Case in point: the guy in the last comment thread for whom the 10 commandments were the best version of God’s law he could come up with.

    Like I said, I’m sure Mr. DeYoung is aware of this. Those reading may not be.


  9. Kevin,
    You’re on a roll with some of these “shibboleth” posts – first “missional” and now “holiness”. I’m one of those who has long shied away from terms like “holiness” because of the points you raised in your previous post, mostly around being taught a definition of holiness that consisted mostly in externals like not dancing or wearing pants or nail polish. Only now that I understand the gospel, and my position as a eternally loved child of God, do I even have the willingness (let alone desire) to look at books like 2 Peter without either cringing in fear or closing my Bible in frustration. I’m nearly done studying some of the “lighter” pastoral epistles (Colossians and Ephesians) – I’ll try to tackle this next. Thanks for the pastoral exhortation. Not all of us are frustrated/annoyed/irritated/offended by it. :)

  10. Anne Edvenson says:

    I disagree with much of what you have put on this paper. I have lead a Christ-like life for my 57 years. I am not a Christian. You have put up information from 2000 years ago. Of course, there is a reason that you believe this, but the centuries passed dispute much of what you believe. I will not tell you to pass on what you believe. I am just amazed at some of the things that you believe. They are so dated and somewhat stereotypical of things that people who are so inundated with “religion” let themselves believe in. I’m so sorry that I can’t tell you which items in particular upset me, but I don’t want to lose this email. I’m not particularly computer savvy. I should have copied this and then gone on to particulars.

  11. florentino E. crisostomo says:

    Nice teachings of Pastor Kevin Deyoung, more power to you Pastor. In Psalm 15 , David asked Lord,who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to each believer, so we have the power to overcome sins. In order to be successful in our life here on earth, we must always abide to the Lord (John 15).

  12. Matthew Prydden says:

    Anne, I’m afraid it is impossible to live Christ-like without having Jesus Christ at the centre of all you do. If you dispute the things that Christ taught and revealed about the Father then deny Christ and deny God – how is that Christ-like?

    I’m sorry that you feel that the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow is out-dated. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” Matthew 24:35 – the words of Christ to you.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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