Why We Must Pursue Holiness


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.

Kevin DeYoung (PhD, University of Leicester) is senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, board chairman of The Gospel Coalition, and assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). He has authored numerous books, including Just Do Something. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have eight children: Ian, Jacob, Elizabeth, Paul, Mary, Benjamin, Tabitha, and Andrew.

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