Evidence of Christian Faith
2 Peter 1:3-9
Evidence of Christian Faith
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
ack of spiritual growth is sure evidence of spiritual death. Surveying the lifestyles of professed believers in this late day, one might be tempted to draw the conclusion that the normal spiritual situation is to be stillborn into the Kingdom of God. Even a casual reading of the Word of God, however, will soon convince readers differently. Faith is only a beginning. Having been born into the Family of God, believers are expected to grow in the Faith. The whole of Christian life stretches before the child of God when once that one has believed and been born into God’s Family.
Peter, writing his second letter, was concerned that believers might possibly become idle and unfruitful in Christian life. Therefore, he succinctly laid out the course of growth which a believer should anticipate. Any believer can chart the progress he or she is making towards being conformed to the likeness of God’s Son by comparing their own life to the progression Peter presents early in his second letter. Join me in examination of these vital truths which Peter has presented and in consideration of applications we can make in our own lives.
The Progress of Faith (make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love) – Peter calls for progressive, active Christianity. Some have referred to this progression as the ladder of faith. This is an excellent description, for faith is the first step – but it is only a first step. The qualities witnessed in Christian life are progressively added in a dependent fashion until they culminate in love, the greatest evidence of Christian character ever given.
Before we actually look at these seven characteristics, and there are but seven spiritual qualities presented, consider some foundational truths necessary for full appreciation of these qualities. This is not the only example of lists of virtues or spiritual qualities expected in the life of a believer. There are at least four other lists in our New Testament. Galatians 5:22 and 23 teach us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In 2nd Corinthians 6:4-10, Paul enumerates a list of desirable spiritual qualities. Likewise, in 1st Timothy 6:11 the Apostle points to righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness as qualities which should be found in the life of a man of God. Romans 5:3-5 also gives a list similar to Peter’s.
Only one spiritual quality is named in all of the aforementioned lists – love, whereas faith and hope are found in three of the lists. Consequently, these foundational qualities of love, faith and hope are listed as commendable qualities resident among the Thessalonian believers in 1st Thessalonians 1:3 and in 2nd Thessalonians 1:3 and 4. Of course, you will recall that faith, hope and love are the pre-eminent Christian graces Paul lists at the conclusion of the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13). We begin the Christian life with faith and hopefully we conclude with love, the highest ideal of Christian character.
While not the most exciting study, especially for a sermon, the sentence structure of the verses presenting these spiritual characteristics is important to our understanding. Peter warns believers against becoming inactive (idle) and unfruitful (literal meaning of verse 8), and it would therefore be appropriate for us to draw the conclusion that Peter views these qualities as fruits of the Spirit, much as those which Paul has listed in Galatians 5:22,23. Furthermore, each characteristic in this list is connected with the same preposition – ejn, indicating that each may be traced ultimately to faith. Each time, as he adds the next spiritual quality, Peter repeats the former fruit for emphasis. In Peter’s list, each quality is preceded by the definite article, indicating that the specific item he lists is in view and not something else. In other words, these characteristics of Christian maturity are expected in the life of a mature believer and no substitution is allowed.
Permit me to make a side journey to note a point of considerable importance. Later, in the second chapter of this book, Peter will identify false teachers. Peter may have in mind identifying these false teachers by their attempts to substitute other virtues for these which he lists. The way in which they attempt to live the Faith reveals that they are actors. For goodness, they supply disgrace; for knowledge, blindness; for self-control, license; for perseverance in good, perseverance in evil; for godliness, ungodliness; for brotherly love, aloofness; for genuine love, its utter absence.
It is in the realm of acquisition of these characteristics of maturity that we are called to co-operate with God. Having been saved, we are responsible to progress in our Christian life. Christian faith is not passive, as some suppose; it is active and dynamic. Each of us is expected to progress in acquiring Christian virtues, displaying in ever greater measure the characteristics listed here. In fact, it is our responsibility to so mature. Those who do not see these qualities progressively displayed, or who discover that they are no longer being expressed, must consider the reason for their lack of growth and weigh the consequences of the lack of these qualities.
We are to demonstrate zeal and determination in pursuing spiritual progress. We are to bring into this relationship alongside what God has done every ounce of determination we can muster. Some cynics have accurately described the Christian Faith as an initial spasm followed by a chronic inertia. The only way in which we may avoid this danger is to be always adding to our faith. When Peter states that we are to add to our faith the qualities listed in the text, he employed a fascinating word – ejpicorhghvsate. The word is a vivid metaphore drawn from the Athenian drama festivals. A rich individual, called the corhvgo", joining together with the poet and the state in putting on the plays, paid the expense of the chorus. Though this could be expensive business, corhvgi vied with one another in their generosity to equip and train the choruses. In time the word came to mean generous and costly co-operation. The purpose behind the word Peter chose is that the Christian must engage in the same sort of generous co-operation with God in the production of a Christian life which is a credit to Him.
Faith is not a quality we add to our life; it is the gift of God. Each believer already possesses faith, so Peter speaks of your faith. Human effort must follow upon the work of God, but the human effort is subordinate. Strictly speaking, faith is not a quality we are responsible to generate or in which we are to co-operate with God in acquiring. Faith is the gift of God [cf. Ephesians 2:8,9]. Either we possess faith, or we do not possess it. Even the quality of our faith appears to be given by God [cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9]. We are not responsible to create faith in our lives; we are responsible to keep our focus on Christ, the object of our faith. Building on the faith we have received, we are to add in progressive and dependent fashion the seven spiritual qualities listed in our text.
The first step toward spiritual maturity is the incorporation of goodness to our lives. We have met with this word in a previous study. It is the word Peter used in verse 3 when he was focusing attention on the means by which Christ called us to Himself. There, he stated, His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through out knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. During that study we saw that ajreth'/, the Greek word translated goodness, presented the concept of moral excellence. In non-Christian literature, ajreth'/ means excellence, and was used to denote the proper fulfilment of anything. The excellence of a knife is to cut … of a horse is to run.
What, then, is the excellence of a man? The Christian must work out the salvation which God works in him [cf. Philippians 2:12]. Life must reflect something of the attractive character of Christ, for He was the man par excellence. True human excellence, then, is the manliness which reflects Christlikeness. That Christlikeness is acquired only through personal and continuous encounter with Christ the Lord through faith. Since in this instance Peter is employing the word in a specific sense, it probably has the meaning of moral courage or moral energy in the exercise of faith.
Christianity is not merely a matter of personal faith and practical goodness; intellect plays an important role in spiritual maturity. The knowledge Peter expects believers to demonstrate as they mature is that gained in the practical exercise of goodness, which, in turn, leads to a fuller knowledge of Christ [cf. verse 8].
The false teachers Peter whom is soon to address in chapter two employed knowledge as a favourite term, but that did not stop Peter from using the term for righteous purposes. Peter was confident that the God who had revealed Himself in Jesus was the God of truth. Knowledge, therefore, could never harm the Christian. Peter would have nothing to do with a faith which would shrink from investigation lest the resultant knowledge should prove destructive. Trust has nothing to do with obscurantism. The cure for false knowledge is not less knowledge, but more knowledge. The knowledge Peter here presents distinguishes the believer’s conduct from his former life of spiritual ignorance [cf. 1 Peter 1:14].
Self-control is the third quality seen in the maturing Christian. Self-control is the fruit of true knowledge. Where moral courage, guided by knowledge disciplines desire and makes it the servant instead of the master of life, self-control may be said to supplement faith. True knowledge leads to self-control. Certainly, self-control is to be exercised in food and drink, but also in every aspect of life. You may recall that Paul discoursed on self-control among other topics before Felix [Acts 24:25]. Permit me for a moment to be practical. Any system which divorces religious practise from ethics is fundamental heresy. The false teachers Peter would soon point out claimed that knowledge gave them liberty to engage in licentious practises [2 Peter 2:2; 3:3].
From the habit of self-control springs perseverance. Perseverance bespeaks of the ability to focus on what lies beyond the current pressures. It speaks of bearing up unflinchingly under a heavy load. Perseverance speaks of that disposition of the mind which is unmoved by difficulty and distress, and which can withstand the opposition of the world without and the flesh within. The mature Christian does not give up. Such a believer’s Christianity is like a star shining in the night sky instead of the momentary flash of a meteor. Underscore in your mind this one singular truth: true faith endures.
The perseverance to be sought is not stoic endurance of all that fate bestows. Perseverance arises from faith in the promises of God, knowledge of Christ, experience of His divine power. Thus it produces in the Christian a deepened awareness of the Father’s wise and loving hand which controls all that happens. The Christian marked by this spiritual quality is enabled to see apparent misfortunes in the calm light of eternity.
To this steadfastness of character must be added godliness, or reverence. The word Peter employs here, eujsevbeian, is rare in the New Testament, probably because it was used of religion in the popular pagan usage. The “religious man” of antiquity was careful and meticulous in performance of duties both to gods and men. I suspect that Peter uses the word because he is at pains to emphasise that true knowledge of God manifests itself in reverence toward Him and respect towards mankind. In short, the godly person endeavours to bring the sanctifying presence of God into every experience of life, seeking a right relationship with both God and man.
True godliness does not permit the Christian life to become a sullen, solitary habit of life. Neither does it condone a hostile attitude toward fellow believers. I am deeply disturbed by the trend of professing believers in this day who profess love for the brothers, but whose lives deny what their lips confess. What shall we say concerning John’s declaration: If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen [1 John 4:20]? Those who have been born again must reveal their royal birth through royalty of behaviour towards other children of the King, whatever their differences in culture, class and churchmanship. Perhaps one reason we see so little of such brotherly kindness is that we do not really know what it is.
In koine Greek filadelfiva was used literally of the affection between actual brothers. Among the Israelites patriotism was so strong that they regarded one another as brothers and thus filavdelfo§ is found with the wider meaning of love for fellow Israelites in the Septuagint [e.g. 2nd Maccabees 15:14). Filadelfiva, as employed in the New Testament, points to the deep affection expected of Christian for fellow Christian. It was this affectionate relationship between the early saints, regardless of the diversity of social or economic or cultural backgrounds, which engendered such amazement among the pagans observing them.
Brotherly love is more than mere disposition of fondness for fellow believers; it manifests itself in overt acts of kindness toward fellow believers. Love for the brothers must be worked at; it does not simply happen. It entails bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ. It means guarding that Spirit-given unity against destruction which can result from gossip, prejudice, narrowness, and the refusal to accept a brother Christian for what he is in Christ. Throughout the New Testament we are exhorted to diligently cultivate the kind and courteous relationship described by this warm term [cf. Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 5:1].
Love, as the greatest of Christian virtues [cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13], forms the natural climax in Peter’s portrayal of Christian character development. This love of which Peter speaks is not restricted to fellow believers, but it reaches out to all men everywhere. This word ajgaphv is one which the Christians coined to describe the attitude God has revealed toward mankind; it was not a common word employed of love among the Greeks.
In friendship (filiva) the partners seek mutual solace; in sexual love (erov§), mutual satisfaction. In either of these cases the feelings are aroused because of what the loved one is. With ajgaphv it is the reverse, however. God’s ajgavph is evoked not by what we are, but by what God is. Agaphv has its origin in the agent, not in the object. It is not that we are lovable, but that He is love. Agaphv might be defined as a deliberate desire for the highest good of the one loved, which shows itself in sacrificial action for that person’s good. In that respect, we are expected to reflect the love which we have received of God that the dying world will be blessed through our presence. This is the essence of Peter’s culminative and dependent imperative.
Such is the fruit of the tree of faith. Each step gives birth to and facilitates the next. Each subsequent quality balances and brings to perfection the one preceding. Faith is the foundation of Christian life and maturity, love is the culmination. Faith is the gift of God already received. To this faith must be added moral strength which enables one to do what he knows to be right, spiritual discernment, self-control by which one resists temptation, endurance by which one bears up under persecution or adversity, right feeling and behaviour towards God, right feeling and behaviour towards the brotherhood of believers, and right feeling and behaviour towards all mankind.
Do you have faith? That you possess faith I have no doubt if you are born from above. Since you believed, can you testify that you have added to your faith, goodness? Is your life marked by moral strength? Do you vigorously resist wickedness and evil? Are you revealing the excellence of the Faith through the manner in which you live life? What of the knowledge of Christ which is expected to reside within the mature believer? Have you knowledge of His will and of His way? Is your life marked by self-control? Have you mastery over every facet of life which arises from having walked with Christ? Are you able to stand firm against the slings and arrows of the wicked one?
These characteristics must not be permitted to be an end; they must be a beginning. Therefore, what of reverence and respect for God and for your fellow worshippers? Do you possess godlinesss? Do you hold God in awe and is that sense of reverential fear evident in your life? Is your life characterised by brotherly kindness? Does the Body of Christ know that you are warmly disposed toward each member? Are you careful in language concerning fellow saints? Do you actually prefer one another in love? Are you actually bearing each other’s burdens? Have you love? Have you love which impels you to grapple with the condition of the lost? Are you motivated by Christ’s love to insure the preaching of the Gospel to the lost in distant lands? To the lost in nearby provinces? To the lost across the street or at the next workspace? These are hard questions, but they are questions which will mark us a mature Christians.
The New Living Translation clarifies this passage in excellent fashion. So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence. A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better. Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. Godliness leads to love for other Christians, and finally you will grow to have genuine love for everyone.
Maturity in the Christian Faith is so much greater an issue than merely counting the length of days one has professed faith. It is the responsibility of each Christian to vigorously and continually pursue these spiritual qualities leading from faith to love. Whether such characteristics are commonly seen is readily evident through an examination of the lives we live out before the eyes of the watching world.
The Power of Faith (For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ) – My purpose as pastor of this congregation is to equip each Christian to be effective and productive in knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. This is precisely Peter’s concern for his readers. For this reason I press the issue of whether you are growing toward love, challenging you to carefully examine your life in light of these words Peter wrote so many years ago.
Knowledge of Christ does produce these moral and spiritual characteristics. In a measure, we possess these qualities within the new nature imparted at the time of the new birth. If we already possess these graces, we must allow them to manifest themselves in increasing measure. In a sense, every Christian is to reveal a restless desire to excel in Christian character. There is no excuse for resting content with present attainment. There is neither room for indolence nor for the slackening of effort. Otherwise the Christian becomes unproductive, like the wheat choked by weeds [cf. Matthew 13:22].
The Word is concerned lest we become idle and unfruitful. The spiritual growth mapped out will not permit the Christian to avoid work. The surest sign that some are slipping from the path leading to love is that they claim they are burned out. Burnout is a buzzword in Christian circles today and we routinely caution one another against being burned out. May I say there is no fear of burnout if only we are determined to know Christ. There will be no burnout if we follow the pattern mapped out in these verses. Consequently, if you are feeling burned out I only wish to know at what point did you cease moving upward and toward love and knowledge of Christ.
Peter makes a clear and strong case for already possessing these spiritual qualities through having chosen strong words and grammar at the beginning of this eighth verse. The initial phrase could read – These things being at your disposal and abounding. In other words, because you are maturing through endeavouring to insure that the spiritual characteristics listed are evident in your life, you will no longer be concerned about being idle or unfruitful in the expression of Christ in your life. Focused on progressing toward love, you will cease worrying about becoming ineffective or unproductive.
Permit me to make one observation which can transform this verse from mere words to powerful incentive to pursue righteousness. It is knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ which is in view, and not knowledge about our Lord Jesus Christ. There are quite enough self-proclaimed experts in the field of theology who can tell you all about Jesus Christ, but who do not know Him. Seminaries and Bible Colleges abound with men and women who have forgotten the Christ who first attracted them. Caught up in the wonder of their own academic pursuits they have missed the beauty of the Lord of Glory. Pulpits, likewise, abound in which the spokesman of Christ reads the Bible without hearing the clarion call of the Son of God sounding forth from the pages. The Word of God becomes for them simply a repository for another sermon, and they have no longer a message. Don’t let this happen to you. It need not happen if you determine to know Christ and refuse to permit yourself to merely know about Christ.
We must root out every hint of lazy indifference toward discovering Christ and His presence and every hint of disparagement of the knowledge of our Lord. As those born from above, we already possess this knowledge, since we participate in the divine nature [2 Peter 1:3]. For this reason Paul says that we believers now have the mind of Christ [1 Corinthians 2:16]. By its very nature, this knowledge of Christ can never be fully apprehended in this life because in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Colossians 2:3]. The best evidence that can be given that we have come to know the Lord is that we continue our pursuit to acquire knowledge of Him. That evidence will be seen in the progressive revelation of the spiritual characteristics Peter has listed.
The Paucity of Faith (if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins) – If the qualities in question are not present, the impoverished Christian is blind and nearsighted. Such a person fails to realise there is a war with evil going on. He remains largely under the effective control of the god of this world whose choice stratagem is to blind the mind [2 Corinthians 4:4]. Christians will be rendered ineffective and unproductive through spiritual blindness.
There may be a question whether Peter speaks here of one who though professing the Faith does not possess faith in Christ, or whether he is speaking of a fellow believer who is failing in Christian growth. Some have drawn the conclusion that he is actually describing one who has never been born from above and into the Kingdom of God. It seems clear to me, however, that he is describing fellow Christians, though by the construction of the sentence he does not believe that those to whom he is writing are included among such a group of sluggards and fruitless individuals. Peter is confident that those to whom he writes are capable of better things. He expects the best of them. That such a thing as described could happen should give each of us pause and cause us to examine our own life to insure that we are not guilty of failure to mature.
One who has ceased growing is described as blind and as nearsighted. The terms describe the moral and spiritual condition of the Christian who has ceased progressing spiritually. The New International Version has, interestingly enough, reversed the terms, evidently a revelation of the translators’ understanding of Peter’s meaning; but that may introduce a misunderstanding. As the translation reads, the fact that one is nearsighted apparently causes the condition of blindness. However, Peter wrote that the one not possessing these qualities is blind and short-sighted, precisely the reverse of our translation.
The reason for the order the translators chose probably lies within Peter’s choice of particular words. The word translated nearsighted is muwpavzwn (which sounds very much like our English word myopic) and which means nearsighted. That Greek word usually means short-sighted, however, and not nearsighted. If a man is blind, how can he be short-sighted? If Peter had this meaning in mind, he may have intended to convey the thought that the man is blind to heavenly things and engrossed in earthly matters. In other words, he cannot see what is afar off, but only what is near. This makes excellent sense, and especially in view of his later concern with the false teachers.
It is more likely, however, that Peter was thinking of the other meaning of muwpavzwn which means to blink or to shut the eyes. In this case the meaning would be that the individual in question is blind because he blinks or wilfully closes his eyes to the light. Spiritual blindness descends upon the eyes which deliberately look away from the graces of character to which the Christian is called when he comes to know Christ.
The next phrase supports this understanding that the person in question is deliberately blind. Our translation states that the person in question is not only blind and nearsighted, but that this one has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Again, that translation permits us only a partial glimpse of what Peter is saying. The words lhvqhn labw;n actually mean having received forgetfulness. The spiritually stunted individual is pictured as experiencing spiritual amnesia. Someone gave this individual amnesia. These words can only mean that the individual has deliberately put out of his mind the fact that he has been cleansed from his past sins. The past sins likely refer to the sinful lifestyle lived before being saved and before the confession of baptism. You may recall that Peter made a similar appeal in his previous letter. There, in a slightly different context, Peter wrote: you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry [1 Peter 4:3].
Baptism is the public initiation into the Christian life. While baptism does not save an individual, it is nevertheless important in that it marks an open declaration of identification with Christ. We are cleansed from sin by the sacrifice of Christ, and our baptism declares that we willingly receive that cleansing. What is accomplished inwardly by faith is professed outwardly through obedience to His command. Baptism is a sort of spiritual contract, being the pledge of a good conscience toward God [1 Peter 3:21]. Multitudes of professing believers have forgotten the good confession they once made. This is obvious since they have ceased even trying to grow in these Christian graces. Such a person is, in effect, going back on his baptismal contract; and this could be the start of apostasy. Watch out for the person who neither displays these characteristics nor is desireous of seeing them incorporated into his life.
This spiritual amnesia Peter describes is an example of failure in the knowledge of Christ. If our eyes are fixed on Christ, if we remember with gratitude what we have received from Him, and if we look to Him for daily supply of the Bread of life, we dare not forget either the fact that we were incorporated into Him or the time we confessed that incorporation through baptism. This is yet another strong reason against administering the ordinance of baptism to those who are not of mature age. Let those who will confess Christ stand with Him of their own volition and with understanding of the profession they make through that act of obedience.
The invitation arising from this study is in the form of a challenge to examine your own life. What evidence of spiritual progress do you see in your life? Are you certain that Christ is at work in your life? Have you the evidence that your life is neither ineffective nor unproductive? Do you possess knowledge of Christ? I cannot help but wonder if perhaps some of us need to do business with God. Perhaps we need to confess our need for His gracious and divine intervention. Perhaps it is that we need to confess our own blindness or our own spiritual amnesia. Each of us can match our lives to the divine programme laid out in our text, and where there is need for moving to the next level as we progress toward love we can determine to do so. Whatever God’s Spirit may direct us to do, let us act with dispatch and determination.
For this very reason you must do your utmost from your side, and see that your faith carries with it real goodness of life. Your goodness must be accompanied by knowledge, your knowledge by self-control, your self-control by the ability to endure. Your endurance too must be accompanied by devotion to God; that in turn must have in it the quality of brotherliness, and your brotherliness must lead on to Christian love. If you have these qualities existing and growing in you then it means that knowing our Lord Jesus Christ has not made your lives either complacent or unproductive. The man whose life fails to exhibit these qualities is short-sighted – he can no longer see the reason why he was cleansed from his former sins.
[J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Macmillan, ©1958,1960]
So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
[Eugene H. Peterson, The Message, NavPress, ©1993]
So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence. A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better. Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. Godliness leads to love for other Christians, and finally you will grow to have genuine love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop these virtues are blind, or, at least, very short-sighted. They have already forgotten that God has cleansed them from their old life of sin. [Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Tyndale, ©1996]