Developing godliness will protect us from moral stumbling in this life and assure lavish reception into God’s eternal kingdom in the next life.
One of my favorite books during my early teen years was Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. As I read the account of Christian’s journey to the Celestial City, I was profoundly impacted by the rich symbolism, Scriptural insight, and relevant wisdom for my life and Christian walk. The wise instructions and moral lessons depicted in this story of a Christian pilgrim provided rich biblical insight for spiritual growth and helped me navigate some of the challenges I encountered during my youth, including condemnation, temptation, and despair.
These many years later, this book still holds a significant place in my heart. As I have reread various portions of the book over the years, I have gleaned new heights of understanding and have been challenged at deeper levels of my heart. Now, having the wisdom of many more years since the first time I read it, I have grown in my appreciation for John Bunyan’s insight into the realities of the Christian life and for his amazing creativity in conveying spiritual truth so powerfully through allegory.
In Part 2 of Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian’s wife and four children take their own journey to the Celestial city. Like Christian, they too end up at the house of the Interpreter who gives them a tour of his home. Each room contains a scene that illustrates a spiritual lesson. While observing the people and activities in each scene, the Interpreter explains the spiritual meaning.
First, he brought them into a room where there was a man who couldn’t look any way but down and in his hand he held a muck-rake. One stood above the man’s head holding a celestial crown and He offered him that crown for his muck-rake. But the man didn’t look up or regard the one holding the crown in any way. Instead, he only raked bits of straw, small sticks, and dust from the floor. 
Mesmerized by the straws, sticks, and dust, the man didn’t even hear the divine offer to exchange a celestial crown for his rake, nor did he look up to see the crown or the One offering it. The Interpreter explains, “Now, when you saw that the man with the rake could only look down, it was to let you see that when earthly things hold power over men’s minds, they completely carry their hearts away from God.” 
1868 image from Illustrated Pilgrim's Progress hosted at Bethel University
This scene contrasts the transient nature and vain seduction of temporal wealth with the enduring quality and splendor of eternal riches. From it, we learn that we should not be “mucking around” with the straws, sticks and dusts of this life and neglect the more valuable and more important treasures of the next life. By describing a man with a “muck-rake,” Bunyan shows us the comparative worthlessness of earthly things. The term “muck” comes from an Old Norse word meaning “manure” and a muck-rake was used for cleaning stables and spreading manure. The one who removed “muck” from the stables was called a “mucker.” Later the verb “muck” was used metaphorically for making a mess, as in “mucking things up,” or for wasting or carelessly spending one’s time, as in “mucking around.”  Whether or not intended by John Bunyan, I catch nuances of the apostle Paul’s testimony of counting all his earthy gains - his religious achievements - as rubbish, literally “manure,” in view of the surpassing value of knowing and gaining Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).
This brings us to picking up where we left off in my last blog post. As already noted in my previous post, there is a much higher ROI from eternal investments than from earthly investments. One investment that is profitable both in this life and the life to come is the development of godliness. In last week’s post we covered two of four amazing benefits of godliness that Peter describes in his second epistle. To remind you, these four benefits of godliness are:
Usefulness and Fruitfulness for Christ (1:8)
Spiritual Sight (1:9)
Assurance and Moral Victory (1:10)
Abundant Welcome into God’s Eternal Kingdom (1:11)
Let's now take a look at Peter’s third and fourth benefits.
3. Assurance and Moral Victory
“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;” (1:10)
Growing in Peter’s seven godly virtues provides a measure of assurance – “make certain about His calling and choosing you.” As we see God at work in our lives, we are more confident in Him and confident that our faith is alive and well. A changed life and behavior become observable evidence that can substantiate the reality of our faith in Christ. A truly godly life evidences the life of Christ in us. This truth is perhaps more clearly seen in the J.B. Phillips Translation, which renders this verse, “Set your minds, then, on endorsing by your conduct the fact that God has called and chosen you.”
However, a word of caution must be given at this point. We must be careful when examining the evidence of life-change in our Christian lives, not to transfer our trust from Christ to behavioral evidence. It is not by these traits that we gain our salvation, but these traits provide evidence to confirm the salvation we have received by faith through grace. The object of our faith is always Christ and God's promises as recorded in Scripture. We must take care not to shift our faith from Christ to our Christian performance. A changed life corroborates the reality of being born again, it does not produce it.
If evidence of life change is sorely lacking, there might be grounds to question the reality of one's salvation if one has never truly put their faith in Christ. However, if one has made a sincere commitment to Christ and life-change is still sorely lacking, then one of the first places to look is the vitality of one's abiding relationship with Christ because those who abide in Him will bear fruit. Nonetheless, one's salvation never rests on behavioral evidence or lack of evidence, but only on faith in the finished work of Christ. If these qualities are lacking, then strengthening one’s relationship with Christ, the power source for life and godliness, becomes paramount. As intimacy deepens, we will experience new levels of empowering grace and He will reveal keys to address the broken places in our hearts and lives.
To make our calling and election sure is to make it stable and secure. It is to set our lives on a course of faith from which we will not be detoured. It is to become so solid and stable so as not be moved. Not only does the pursuit of holiness brings a steadfastness and stability to our faith, Peter also promises that these qualities will keep us from stumbling, “for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” This incredible promise is one of ten Scriptural keys that protect us from falling into sin (a message for another time).
Photo without text is taken from https://ourdailybread.org/article/a-difficult-path/
When we cease to grow in Christian character as expressed through these seven traits, we set ourselves up for a fall. When our spiritual lives are anemic and the muscles of our Christian character have not been developed, we are in a weakened condition and can easily succumb to the powerful influences of our three-fold enemy: the world, the flesh, and the devil. In this state, we are not confident in the Lord’s keeping power, we are not walking under the control of the Holy Spirit, and we have not developed healthy patterns of thinking and behaving. Instead, our thinking, character, and conduct are dominated by fleshly desires and worldly thinking, and we become an open target for the wiles of the devil.
However, by accessing divine power through our daily growing relationship with Christ and by diligently growing in these qualities, we learn to walk in the Spirit and develop the character muscles that will help us overcome the pull of temptation. In this state of being filled with the Spirit, we overcome the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16) and walk in victory over sin so as to not stumble. While on earth we will never be free from temptation, but God will always provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Though we never come to a place in this life where we are "not able to sin," we can walk by the power of the Spirit and be "able not to sin," experiencing joyous triumph in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14; Jude 1:24-25).
4. Abundant Welcome into God’s Eternal Kingdom
"for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you" (1:11)
Practicing these godly virtues not only enables our usefulness and fruitfulness, not only ensures spiritual sight, not only evidences our calling and election and keeps us from stumbling, it also abundantly supplies entrance into the kingdom of God. Several Bible translations of this verse emphasize the lavish welcome we will receive when we get to heaven.
“Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom … “ (NLT).
“and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom … “ (NIV).
“And you will be given a very great welcome into the eternal kingdom … “ (NCV)
“and you will receive a lavish reception into the eternal kingdom … “ Berean Study Bible
The Christian who is growing in godliness can look forward to a “grand entrance,” a “rich welcome,” and a “lavish reception” into heaven. When dignitaries such as the Queen, Prime Minister or President come to town, they receive a lavish welcome with crowds and receptions of honor. When a victorious army returns home from battle or the winning NFL team returns home from the Super Bowl, they receive a grand welcome with a parade of people and joyous celebrations for their victories.
Some Christians will make it into God’s eternal kingdom by the proverbial “skin of their teeth.” Paul talks of those who have Christ as their foundation, but they have carelessly built on that foundation with wood, hay, and straw (the “muck” of temporal riches, values, and priorities). Consequently, when the fire tests the quality of their work, it will be burned up and they will suffer loss, though they themselves will be saved “so as through fire.” In contrast, others have carefully built on the foundation of Christ with gold, silver, and precious stones (priceless and glorious eternal riches, values, and priorities). They will endure the test of fire and receive a reward (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
In the parable of talents, the wise servants who diligently doubled the money entrusted to them by their master were rewarded and affirmed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” The slothful, idle, useless, or ineffective servant who buried his talent (Note: the first benefit of godliness is usefulness and productiveness) was rebuked with “You wicked and lazy servant.” Consequently, his money was taken from him and given to the diligent servants, and he was cast out. While the servants who faithfully stewarded the master's money received a lavish welcome, the unfaithful servant did not. I believe the heart of all growing believers is that one day we will hear these precious affirming words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master,” and not the words, “You wicked and lazy servant.”
As we maintain an open abiding relationship with Christ, we will avail ourselves of His empowering grace and will have confidence before him, not shrinking away in shame when He returns. “And now, dear children, continue to live in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.” (1 John 2:28 NLT). I really like how Eugene Peterson paraphrased this verse, “And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives” (The Message). Rather than hiding like Adam and Eve because of shame over our “nakedness,” we will greet Jesus with open arms!
These four incredible spiritual benefits both for this life and the life to come will be ours as we grow in godliness. Like you, I long to be useful and fruitful for Christ, have clear spiritual sight, walk in victory over sin, and be confident without shame when Christ returns. These amazing rewards for godliness cannot be purchased with money nor can they be earned through our fallen human efforts. They can only be experienced as we draw from Christ's divine power and nature as we live dependently in fellowship with Him and cooperate with His transforming work in our lives.
It is fully worth giving up the "muck" of this world for the surpassing value of knowing and gaining Christ. As martyred missionary Jim Elliot once said,
"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose."
 Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress (Illustrated): Updated, Modern English. More than 100 Illustrations. (Bunyan Updated Classics) (pp. 217-218). Aneko Press. Kindle Edition.