II Peter 1:5 – For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
In our last post, we noted that the fountain of all spiritual blessings is the divine power of Jesus, who was both God and man. From him we receive everything that is necessary for preserving, improving and perfecting godliness and life (both physical and spiritual).
This is the ‘reason’ that Peter mentions in verse 5. In other words, because God has provided these abundant, valuable and costly blessings through the death and resurrection of his Son, we ought to take advantage of them.
In fact, we are to make every effort to use or partake of these blessings. What does it mean to make every effort?
It means that we should set our desire upon it – Generally speaking, humans will pursue the things they desire. If your greatest desire is to own a sports car, then you will pursue that car. You will look at them online, or in the show room. You will know what kind of engine the car has, what amenities are available, what kind of special tires are best, etc. You make a space for it in your garage. You will begin to save money or look at a loan in order to get this car. No matter how long you have to wait, you won’t give up, because you desire that car.
Christians need to have this same desire for spiritual godliness in our lives. If we desire to have greater knowledge of God, we will pursue it. We will read his word, study it, pray over it and put it into practice. We will ask the Father to reveal the hidden things of his word to us. We will sacrifice time previously spent on worldly things in order to get greater knowledge of God. In other words, we will pay a price to have it just like you would pay a price for a car. And we will never give up, no matter how long we have to wait.
Think of it as a goal. We often have goals in the natural realm. Why not in the spiritual realm as well?
It means that we should make choices that agree with it – Let’s suppose in the physical realm you want to be a marathon runner. I personally have never been a runner, but I know some people who are. They make choices consistent with their goal. If you offer them a piece of pie, they will turn it down, because they only want to put nutritional food into their bodies, to help them reach their goal. These people will pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of running shoes. They could buy less expensive shoes, but they don’t – they buy the shoes that give them the best chance of succeeding in the sport of running. Instead of staying up all night, they get eight hours of sleep, because that choice is consistent with their goal of running 26 miles all at once time.
In the same way, we need to make choices that agree with the spiritual principles we are striving for. If you want an increased knowledge of God, then look at the choices you are making. What are you reading? What are you watching? What do you talk about? How much time are you spending on godly instruction or prayer? What are you meditating on?
Are the choices you make in your daily life setting you up for success or failure of your spiritual goals?
It means that effort and persistence will be required – People who want to run a marathon must, well, run. If it is sunny and beautiful outside, they run. If it is snowing and 25 degrees, they run. If it is a holiday, they run. After work, when the rest of us are sitting on the couch, they run. You get the picture, right?
They don’t start out running 26 miles, do they? They go as far as they can, then each day or week they increase that amount. They steadily and persistently work up to their goal of 26 miles. They fail, but they don’t give up. They put the failure behind them, and get back to work.
Spiritual success comes the same way. It is not instantaneous; it is developed over time with effort and persistence. You can’t give up after one day, and still expect to know all about God. And when you run into a setback, you can’t give up. Put it behind you and get back in the race!
Now that we understand more about how to take advantage of the opportunities God has provided for us through the sacrifice of Christ, let’s take a look at some of the godly traits (aka spiritual graces) that Peter recommends we pursue.
Supplement your faith: Faith in Christ (salvation) is the starting point of all spiritual matters, for every person. Peter confirms this in 1:1 where he asserts that we all have “like precious faith” in Christ. But after that, you should supplement or add spiritual graces to your life. You can pursue any of the spiritual graces that Peter mentions in any order.
You can even pursue multiple goals at one time. The overall meaning of this passage is that Christians should strive to posses and/or exhibit all of these things in our lives. The order in which we add them will depend upon our individual circumstances and the prompting of Holy Spirit.
Let’s examine the meanings of these spiritual graces:
VIRTUE: Virtue is defined as manly strength or courage, bravery, daring, valor. This refers to the courage and boldness that is necessary it maintaining the principles of Christianity. We see virtue exhibited all through the bible.
- Virtue, along with Holy Spirit, sustains and strengthens our faith during times of testing, trial and persecution (like Abraham or Stephen).
- Virtue gives us the ability to share the gospel with unbelievers, even when they reject the message (like Isaiah or Paul).
- Virtue allows us to stand up for truth in a culture that is deceived by sin (like Lot or the apostles).
- Virtue allows us to do the right thing or the different thing, when everyone else is ‘following the crowd’ (like Joseph or John the Baptist).
For me personally, I always find Psalms 18 to be a very virtuous portion of scripture. It seems to just breathe boldness and confidence into me when I read it. I particularly love verse 30:
Psalms 18:30 – This God – his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
Think about that… the world takes lies and calls them truth, and they try to shame anyone who does not agree with them. But you and I not only know the real truth, we know that eventually, that truth will be manifested to everyone.
We know, without a shadow of doubt that the things God has spoken WILL come to pass. Doesn’t that give you courage/virtue to stand up for what is right, even if others disagree? In our society, virtue is much needed!
KNOWLEDGE: Knowledge is clear perception of fact, truth or duty; that which is gained by instruction, learning, enlightenment or experience.
What do we know about God and his ways? How do we know it?
Knowledge of God and his ways can be obtained by reading and/or studying the Bible. For instance, Isaiah tells us that God heals:
Isaiah 53:5 – But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
So, by reading or studying the bible, we can know or have a clear perception of the fact that God heals.
Knowledge of God and his ways can be obtained by hearing the testimony of others. For instance, you can talk to people in your own church or family who have been healed by God. They can show you the doctor’s report or the x-ray that gave a diagnosis of cancer. They will tell you how they prayed for healing. And they will certainly tell you the story of how God miraculously and completely drove cancer from their body. You can also tune into many Christian programs and hear the same kind of testimonies.
So by hearing the testimony of reliable witnesses, you can obtain the knowledge that God heals people.
Knowledge of God and his ways can be obtained by having a personal experience with Him yourself. Perhaps you are the one who got a diagnosis of cancer from the doctor. Perhaps you are the one who sought healing through prayer, and the one who was miraculously healed by the power of God.
By experiencing the power of God for yourself, you learned about healing; you have a clear perception of truth because of what you went through. This is often called experiential knowledge, and it is some of the most powerful understanding you can get.
Knowledge of God and his ways can be obtained by revelation. There are some truths that God reveals directly to us. A good example of this was when God gave the apostle Peter a vision of a sheet lowered from heaven that contained all types of unclean animals. God then told Peter to eat, but Peter refused saying he would never eat anything that was unclean. God responded by saying that Peter had no right to call something unclean that God had declared was clean.
Acts 10:28 – And he said unto them, You know that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God has showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
You can read the vision in its entirety in Acts chapter 10, but the gist of the matter is that God gave Peter a direct revelation of truth – that Gentiles were to be included in the plan of salvation.
Revelations often come in dreams or visions, and they must be weighed carefully. As a general reminder, no revelation of God will contradict his written word.
II Peter 1:6 – and knowledge with self control, and self control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
In the life of a Christian, everything is to be confined within proper limits. We are not to indulge our passions beyond the boundaries established by God. This includes passions and tendencies that are clearly evil (for example, sexual sins) as well as things that may not seem terribly evil, but can result in harm (over eating, intoxication).
SELF CONTROL: Self control is restraint exercised over one’s self; restrained or moderate indulgence, moderation of passion.
Basically, self control is your ability to say ‘no’ or ‘that’s enough’ to your own desires.
For instance, we know that God has created sexual intercourse as a blessing for both men and women. But God has also set limits on that pleasure. It is only to be enjoyed in a marriage relationship between one man and one woman. In any other context, it is sin (adultery, fornication, rape, pedophilia, etc).
Let’s suppose that you went to Cleveland to see your favorite sports team. You and your friends find your way to your seats where you immediately discover that you are sitting next to someone of the opposite sex, whom you find to be sexually attractive.
Most people of the world would immediately try to parlay that attraction into some kind of an encounter. This is not surprising – according to the world’s thinking, anything goes. If it feels good, do it. Hedonism reigns. True freedom is the absence of any restraint.
However, the Christian mind has been renewed by the word of God. We understand that true freedom is not the absence of restraint. Freedom is the ability to choose light (life) over darkness (death). True freedom is the ability to enjoy the pleasures God has given us within the context he established. There are no destructive consequences when we enjoy pleasure this way. However, any other indulgence results in sin, and sin can never result in life; it can only produce death, even though it includes a momentary pleasure or thrill.
Let’s consider another example: the consumption of alcohol. Christians often argue over whether alcohol is a sin or not. I am not here to give you my opinion on that subject; you need to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
However, I can tell you that drunkenness or over indulgence in alcohol is a bad thing.
Ephesians 5:18 – And be not drunk with wine, in which is excess; but be filled with the Spirit…
Think of it in this context: Drunkenness is a gateway to sin. When you are drunk, you lose your inhibitions and you do/say things that you would never ever consider doing/saying otherwise. Many of these actions are overtly sinful, or they cast aspersions on you and your gospel witness. They can be avoided by simply exercising self control and keeping yourself from becoming drunk.
The bottom line is that self control should be a grace grown and exercised in every avenue of the Christian life – what we wear, what we say, how much we eat, how we conduct business, etc.
STEADFASTNESS/PATIENCE: The act or power of calmly or contentedly waiting for something; forbearance, uncomplaining endurance. To be firmly fixed or established, steady, resolute; not fickle or wavering.
We need an element of patience (steady, resolute, unwavering commitment) as we grow/strengthen/acquire the other Christian graces. For example, as we already discussed, if we want knowledge of God, it comes by reading the word, study and prayer. Knowledge is not obtained instantly. We acquire it over time and thus it requires patience in order to get it.
Patience plays a similar role in the acquisition of all other Christian graces, and so it is very important.
But, as you know, patience involves so much more than just the acquisition of Christian graces. God often allows trials, tribulations and periods of waiting into our lives in order to promote spiritual growth in us.
Patience (forbearance, uncomplaining endurance) is often paired with faith. Both will be required as we righteously suffer under trials. In circumstances like these, we must have a conscious submission of our will to the will of God, trusting that he is working all things out for our good. When we do, we will reap a bounty rewards. Let me explain.
Let us suppose, for example, that you are experiencing some headaches. Eventually, you go to the doctor who finds a lump or cyst of some kind in your skull. He says the situation looks bad and he prepares you for the worst case scenario. His office schedules a scan for you in about 90 days.
This is a situation that calls for patience as well as faith. First, you must acknowledge that God has allowed this trial into your life, and so he wants to accomplish something in your life through it. For this reason, you choose not to wallow in self pity, complain about the unfairness of the situation, curse God, blame others, etc.
Instead, you opt for patience. You decide to seek God and allow him to shape your life. You begin to read scriptures about faith and healing. You have the elders of the church anoint you with oil and pray for you. You spend time in God’s presence daily, actively praising him and drawing close to him. You give a positive confession of faith to all of your family and friends.
Eventually, after the 90 days, you have the scan and the doctor says the lump is still there and it must be drained. You don’t give up on healing; you continue to trust in the Lord and maintain a patient attitude. Once the cyst/lump is drained, the doctor tells you that the results are actually negative – you are going to be fine!
Your trial is now over. What work did God accomplish through your patience?
- Before this trial, you had educational knowledge that God heals, because you read it in the scriptures. Now, you have experiential knowledge – you personally have experienced a healing touch from Jesus! This is a whole new level or depth of knowledge that cannot be acquired any other way than through patient experience.
- You now have a testimony of the power of Jesus that you can share with everyone you know. Don’t be surprised if this testimony opens up doors for you to share the gospel with people.
- You are a witness of God’s power to the doctors, nurses and all of the medical professionals who treated you.
- You know that God has not only healed you, but walked with you through the very valley of the shadow of death. And you know that he was faithful to you. This builds up your faith and puts you in a position to do even greater things in the kingdom of heaven.
What else does patience do?
Patience gives you the ability to keep praying for your loved one to turn their life around and surrender to Christ, even when you don’t see an immediate change.
Patience gives you the ability to bear offences from others, as they try to mature in spiritual matters.
Patience gives you the ability to inherit the promises of God:
Hebrews 6:12 – That you be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Get yourself a generous helping of patience – you’ll be glad you did!
GODLINESS: Strictly speaking godliness means worship and reverence for God; it suggests a blend of fear/respect mixed with love.
But the true sense of the word is actually much fuller than that. Godliness is demonstrated by growing more and more into the divine likeness of Christ and demonstrating Christian graces such as knowledge, submission, gratitude, obedience, affection, veneration, etc.
It is interesting to note that godliness is another Christian grace that is often paired with patience – nothing promotes patience under trials like godliness (frequent true spiritual worship of God), while in turn, godliness produces patience in us.
II Peter 1:7 – and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
BROTHERLY AFFECTION: Zealous or tender attachment; settled pervasive good will and love towards fellow Christians.
The bible speaks of a peculiar affection amongst Christians. We are brothers and sisters in the family of God. In a perfect spiritual family, all the members cherish, support and build each other up. They love each other, provide for each other, teach each other, and correct each other. They comfort one another during difficult times and rejoice with each other during happy times.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
John 13:35 – By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
The caveat is that Christians are not perfect. If we were, then brotherly affection would simply exist as a part of our faith. But since we are not, brotherly affection becomes one of the Christian graces that we need to work on. Sometimes it is truly work to love those who are different than you are, but the effort is well worth the rewards in peace, unity and love.
LOVE: A feeling of strong attachment, preeminent kindness or devotion to another; affection, tenderness, strong liking or desire.
Christian love or charity is too big and too valuable to be confined within the church. It must be extended outside the walls of the building to mankind in general. Remember, God loved the world (every single person on earth) so much, that he sent Jesus to die for all of us.
It is our Christian duty to reach out to the lost and exhibit the love of Christ to them, so they might turn from their sin and become part of the family of God. Let me clarify – this is not an option. We are commanded to do it:
Mark 12:31 – …You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
How do we accomplish this? In my opinion, loving the lost is not some big, complex, highly planned event. Rather, it is a series of small interactions that take place over time. It means loving the unbeliever every single day, in some manner (uh-oh… sounds like we might need patience).
It’s a matter of knowing precisely how our Father wants us to exhibit his love and compassion to that particular unbeliever who has been abused by Satan. If we follow the promptings of Holy Spirit, he will show us the way to demonstrate that love in each case (sounds like we will be needing knowledge).
It’s a matter of overlooking minor irritations and even outright attacks, so that the gospel can be spread to those who are in darkness (sounds like we’ll be using self control).
Of course, overlooking faults and loving the unlovely is not for the faint of heart. You might have to take several attacks before the unbeliever is stunned by your godly reaction to them; they probably haven’t witnessed ‘turning the other cheek’ before (sounds like virtue will be required).
Scripture says that a tree is known by its fruit. When we cultivate Christian virtues into our daily lives, they won’t remain hidden. They will be seen by the lost. They will give us the opportunity to tell people why we are so different. How much godliness is evident in your life right now?
I Peter 1:8 – For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter makes an excellent point here… that these qualities ought to be constantly increasing in our lives. In other words, there is no point at which we can say we ‘have arrived’ or that we have 100% of patience, or godliness or knowledge, etc.
The Christian graces are things we constantly strive for. Sometimes we will miss the mark. But the important thing is that we make continual progress, and that we use what we already have. If we consistently do those two things, we are assured that we will bear kingdom fruit. We will show the world that we truly know Jesus Christ.
In fact, when we practice these virtues, we will come into a fuller, more advanced and intimate knowledge of Christ. We will live vigorous, active practical Christian lives and we will be very fruitful in the works of righteousness. This kind of fruit brings glory to God.
As we said in our introduction, false teachers were a problem for the churches in Asia Minor at this time, which is part of the reason that Peter wrote this epistle.
The false teachers were certainly ineffective and unfruitful in leading people to knowledge of Jesus Christ. Nothing they did or said produced fruit in the lives of the people around them. In fact, upon further examination in chapter 2, we find that the fruits they produced are actually the opposite of the virtues we have just discussed!
II Peter 1:9 – For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
Scripture makes it plain that holiness of heart and life are a natural consequence of being a Christian. Growing in the Christian graces is a reflection of a normal and healthy Christian life.
On the other hand, an absence of growth in the spiritual graces should be considered a warning sign or a symptom of disease in the life of a Christian. Holy Spirit works in the life of every believer to constantly make them over into the image of Christ. If this is not happening, there is a problem – and it is a problem the person himself has caused.
The word in this passage translated ‘nearsighted’ literally means ‘winking’ or ‘closing the eyes against light’. It implies voluntary action; the nearsighted Christian is willfully or voluntary blind to the true fullness/outcome of his faith.
Whereas a normal Christian has his eyes focused on God, heavenly things and the eventual outcome of living a life of righteousness, the nearsighted Christian has his heart and mind focused on this world. He cares more for the things of earth than he does for the things of heaven. In a best case scenario his Christian fruitfulness is choked out (Mark 4:19). In a worst case scenario, he has grieved Holy Spirit and he will fall away from the faith.
Such a person can be described as forgetting that they were cleansed from sin and made a new creature in Christ. If he could remember how he was set free from his own sinful state, he would show greater diligence and effort lest he should again fall a slave to sin.
It is vitally important that we are consciously pursing Christian graces.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Let’s suppose you plant two peach trees. One, you leave alone – you do absolutely nothing to it. The second one you fertilize, prune, water, etc. In the end, which one will produce the best fruit? Obviously, the one you invested time and effort into.
In the same way, we need to purposely cultivate Christian graces. We need to work hand in hand with Holy Spirit to increase the spiritual qualities that will result in an increased knowledge of God.
I encourage you to take an inventory of your spiritual graces. Find out where you’re at and decide where you want to be. We all have areas of our lives that need work!
Let me offer you some relief:
Odds are good that if we do an assessment on our own spiritual graces, we will find multiple areas that need work. But don’t let that overwhelm you. Start by consulting Holy Spirit. Ask him where you should begin the process. He is there to lead and guide you into all truth; he will set you on a clear path to change.
And you don’t have to change all at once. If you make small changes consistently over time, it will result in big differences.
Let me offer you some strength:
Most people hate to change. But you can embrace change much more easily, if you consider the reward at the end of the change.
For example, you might want to lose weight because you are going to see friends you have not seen for a long time. Making the changes necessary to lose the weight (and sticking with them over time) will be tough. But if you keep reminding yourself of the goal, it will give you strength to stay on course.
In the same way, if we keep our eyes fixed on our eternal, heavenly life, it will remind us to stay the course here on earth. If we know that we can gain an increased knowledge of God by pursuing spiritual graces, we will have plenty of strength to make the change.