“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8). Christianity is not just one action, nor is it just one attitude. Rather, it is a series of attitudes that multiply and grow from each other. As each state matures, it gives rise to newer and more advanced processes. This is a key element to Christianity; the growth of each individual believer for the uplifting and maintenance of the whole body (Ephesians 4:16). Paul writes that individuals have a duty to learn and to keep rising higher and higher in the knowledge and grace of God, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by the craftiness in deceitful schemes; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15). And this is the point behind our text for today.
As each new attitude begins to develop into maturity, beginning first of all with faith, it leads to the formation and growth of another. While some translations utilize the word “add to” with reference to each rising manner, one writer refutes this interpretation, “The A.V. exhorts ‘to add’ one virtue to another; but the Greek, ‘to develop one virtue in the exercise of another:’ ‘and increase by growth, not by external junction; each new grace springing out of, attempting, and perfecting the other’” (Word Studies In The New Testament, Vol. I, Vincent, 679).
What I would like to do is look through 2 Peter 1:5-8, and consider how each virtue or attitude builds off the previous one. Throughout the text, let us remember that no single one of these qualities is enough to justify a man before God. It is only when we strive to keep improving ourselves and attain to the highest levels of spiritual maturity – though even the best of us will never wholly perfect himself – that we can stand before God with any hope.
Peter asserts that the first of all Christian virtues is faith. Indeed, Christianity is unlike all other religions in that it emphasizes individual accountability in the area of faith and assurance. We must all live by faith (Romans 1:17), abide by it, we must “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). In Romans, Paul spends a great deal of time in his discussion on why we are justified by faith rather than by works of the Old Law, and that faith is the key difference between death and life.
One of the most memorable scriptures about faith is in Hebrews 11:1, in which faith is described as being “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” Here, the fundamental quality of faith is made clear; it is not based on what we see and touch, but on what we know through conviction and hope of the Scriptures (Romans 10:17). This says a lot about the activity of the Christian – everything must begin by faith. That is why Peter puts it first in his list of Christian causes and effects. If we do not start with faith as our motivating factor, then we are essentially beginning our spiritual journey on the wrong side of the bed. The Christian ought not live by skepticism, doubt, fear, and uncertainty – God has no room in His kingdom for cynics! “Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through [it]… But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation” (Life of Pi, Yann Martel, 31). Although we do not always have the kind of evidence that unbelievers tend to require for any kind of spiritual decision, there comes a point at which we must choose our side (Joshua 24:15). We must learn to put away doubt and fear and replace it with faith in God, being content with the assurance and hope of that reward that cannot be seen by physical eyes.
It takes faith to believe in God. It takes faith to sit and accept that the Word of God is truly what it claims to be – indeed, all the archaeological and historical proof in the world cannot convince most people. It takes faith to believe that Christ died and was resurrected. It takes faith to be baptized (Mark 16:16). It takes faith to stand up for what is right, and to not be ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:17). The fact that all things require some degree of faith is why Peter puts this quality at the top of his list. It is the catalyst for all other Christian virtues, and it is what makes Christianity so special. It takes no effort to believe in something tangible, but it takes a strong and devoted individual to believe in what he cannot see; “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees” (Romans 8:24)?
But is faith enough? Are we saved and justified by only faith? Truly, if anybody ever holds to that idea, he or she has never read 2 Peter 1:5-8, in which we are expressly told that faith is not enough. Rather than just be content with this quality alone, we must “add to it,” we must cause the growth of other qualities, we must constantly be strengthened and encouraged to make ourselves better in the eyes of God (“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” [2 Peter 3:18]). Through our practice and perfection of a faithful Christian attitude, we must bring forth morally excellent deeds. We must be above reproach in the eyes of the world, and so pure and pious that we do not let wicked deeds to be even named among us (Ephesians 5:3, 11-12).
I like the phrase “moral excellence.” We have to ask ourselves if we are morally excellent people. Instead of just trying to be tolerable, pretty good, or “not bad,” we should strive to achieve the moral qualities of Christian elders, as described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. In the world, a lot of people are “good.” There are professional athletes who are “good men.” There are politicians who are no better or worse than their public relations advisor makes them. Often, at funerals of unbelievers, we hear phrases like “he tried his best” or “he was a good man.” But how often are worldly people described as morally excellent? Sure, celebrities donate a lot of money to charities, but how many times have they been married? It is possible to work hard for a cause, such as breast cancer treatment, but still be a homosexual (Rosie O’Donnell). Certainly, there are a lot of people in this world who have faith, but lack any semblance of moral character, so how can we ever say that it is faith alone that saves us?
A fine example of this concept is Samson, who is described in Hebrews 11:32 as being amongst the most faithful of all individuals. But one look at his life will reveal one immoral deed after another. He was a fornicator, a ruthless and blood-thirsty murderer, he often paid for harlots, he was indignant toward God, and even in death, his only concern was for personal vengeance. We cannot deny that he had faith enough to do all those deeds. His faith was strong and it led him to achieve greatness in the eyes of other men. But Samson never took that faith to the next level. He never used that faith to achieve “moral excellence.”
Knowledge is the next characteristic on Peter’s list. But notice that knowledge is not the first, or even the second, of the Christian virtues. This means that we do not necessarily need to have all the knowledge in the world to be faithful and morally excellent – none of us will ever achieve a complete understanding of everything in the Bible. New converts, for example, do not know much about the scriptures. They are not educated in all the doctrine that is expected of a believer. But incomplete knowledge does not permit immorality or unfaithfulness. A lot of folks do not like to act until they have studied a subject completely, or have come to all the possible conclusions. They remain in a state of constant studying, but never reach a point of applying that knowledge to action. These individuals, when asked what they believe on most any Biblical subject simply respond, “Well, I’m still studying that issue.” While studying is important (Acts 17:11), there comes a time when we must make a decision and act. Otherwise, we become like those described by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:7, “Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
We do not need a complete knowledge of the Bible before displaying faithfulness and moral excellence. Paul even states that there are many people of the world who display high moral quality because of their conscience, not from any understanding of the Law (Romans 2:14). The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 certainly did not have a complete knowledge of the “ins and outs” of Christianity before he cried, “What prevents me from being baptized?” Those individuals in Acts 2 could not have know everything about doctrine before three thousand of them were baptized. We do not need to know everything – at first – to be saved, as long as we know and understand the plan of salvation. Many people on the verge of obedience will dismiss an invitation because “I don’t know enough about the Bible yet.”
But knowledge is not useless. Rather, we should not fall into the trap of believing that we “know enough now” to be content to stay where we are educationally. Truly, a person upholding the “moral excellence” of the last verse will strive to keep learning. A morally excellent person wants to study and grow. Biblical studying should never stop, although some Christians tend to ease up on it once a major issue has passed. Knowledge guides us to Heaven, for it is in knowledge that we understand the work of the Church, our place in the structure, the nature of God, and everything we need to know for “salvation and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). We should always keep in mind the exhortation given to the young preacher in 1 Timothy 4:13-16 to “pay close attention to… teaching.” For it is in our study of the Bible that we can insure salvation both for ourselves and for those who we teach.
Self-Control, Perseverance, Godliness
Knowledge leads to self-control, self-discipline, and restraint. With greater knowledge comes a greater ability to know our weaknesses and our spiritual enemies, and through that we can better utilize tactics to keep ourselves free from sin and lust. Consider, for example, a general who is preparing to attack his enemy. If he is able to know the terrain and the strength of his opponent’s forces, he will be able to control and discipline his army. It is only when we lack knowledge that the battle is lost (Romans 10:2). I grouped these three Christian virtues together because the scriptures often connect them very closely. Truly, self-control cannot be achieved unless it is followed by perseverance and diligence, and all of those things together lead to godliness, just as Paul writes, “On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). There are so many ways that self-discipline aids us in life, beginning with our assurance of reward. With the discipline comes spiritual maturity, growth, humility, meekness and modesty in heart and body. In every sense of its use, self-discipline leads directly to godliness, because it is into the image of the disciplined Christ that we must conform ourselves (Ephesians 5:1-2). When we are able to harness our energy and focus it for good deeds, we become more and more like God, who is the very model of self-control and perseverance (Psalm 78:38).
I like the way one verse describes the state of the world, “For the Lord humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had brought about a lack of restraint in Judah and was very unfaithful to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:19). The result of this lack of self-restraint was misery for the people in the form of Edomite and Philistine invasions.
Self-discipline is how we separate ourselves from the rest of the world. Look out at the people of this wicked generation and see that restraint and moderation are usually the last things on the mind of a sinner. Our country, in fact, is characterized by gluttony and greed, self-abasement and superfluity. This is a “full speed ahead,” “super-sized,” instant gratification, sex-loving generation. On almost every television program, adultery and fornication are topics of humor and enjoyment. There is often no room for self-restraint when it comes to graphic scenes of sexuality, even in public, as well as the proliferation of vulgar language. Suppression of discipline is, in fact, encouraged! Food is consumed so amazingly in this country of waste, as well as alcohol and cigarettes. College campuses celebrate the “kegger” and binge drinking. My point behind this is simply to show just how little this world employs self-discipline in almost every facet of life.
What makes a Christian separate, though, is his willingness to say “no” when everybody else says “yes.” “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). What a joyful sight it is to spend time with fellow Christians – there is no vulgar language or dirty talk, neither is there alcohol, and neither is there immodesty in speech or apparel. What sets a Christian apart is his “stability of faith” as a result of his self-restraint. There is no stability of faith amongst the countless throngs of opulent, vile drunkards.
Brotherly Kindness, Love
After godliness comes brotherly kindness because the spirit of Christianity is embodied in our willingness to treat each other just as kindly as God always treats us – it is, in fact, the second greatest command according to our Lord (Matthew 22:39). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love on another” (1 John 4:11, 3:16, 4:19-21). By showing brotherly kindness, we conform ourselves into the image of God, who daily shows kindness and mercy to us by simply allowing us to exist. Of course, it is not always easy to be kind to others, especially those who do not want our kindness, such as our enemies. There are some people who we simply do not like, but are still required to love and treat well. Again, though, this is where God’s light can shine through us. After all, compared to God, which one of us can possibly measure up? We are all unworthy of the grace and mercy of the Lord Jehovah, yet He showers His love upon us day after day (Ephesians 2:4-6). We are not meant to commit evil deeds, but to transform ourselves into Christians; “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
I also kept brotherly kindness and love close together because of the overriding fact that nothing matters unless it has love behind it. All of the Christian qualities discussed in this sermon have led up to this last, and most essential, element of Christian cause and effect. Love itself should be the root cause of all our actions, just as it shall be the effect. If we do live faithfully, in a morally excellent fashion, with knowledge of the truth, practicing self-control in all things, diligent to maintain ourselves in a godly state, with all the deeds of brotherly kindness behind us, then love will be the final result – if not from the world, then from God Himself (1 Peter 4:13-14). Peter ends this list of causes and effects with love because he knew the same thing as Paul, who wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 that all of the virtues in the world mean nothing unless love is the first of foremost of them all.
God loves you, and wants us all to be saved. Begin you path toward salvation by embracing the virtues discussed in this 2 Peter 1:5-8. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).