7 Essential Ingredients for Christian Growth
7 Essential Ingredients for Christian Growth
2nd Peter 1:5-7
July 22, 2007
Sun Oak Baptist Church
A. Please take your Bibles and turn with me to 2nd Peter 1:10.
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B. This morning will be examining seven (7) ingredients that Peter identifies as being essential to Christian growth. We might compare these ingredients to the roots of a tree: the more that these seven (7) qualities are a part of our life and the deeper they run the stronger and more fruitful our testimony will be. Lettuce, radishes, and many other crops are soon out of the ground and ready for the table – sometimes in as little as a month’s time.
But an oak tree is different. It can require well over a 100 years to come to the fullness of its growth; it keeps adding to its root system and growing. Carbon dioxide, sunlight, water, Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer – nature uses all seven (7) of these ingredients working together to cause that tree to grow. And in much the same way we will see that Peter is going to confront us with seven (7) ingredients that are absolutely essential to Christian growth.
As we work our way through chapter one (1) try not to lose sight of the proverbial forest for the trees – remember where Peter is headed in this chapter. Read 1:10. Chapter one (1) is about holiness – it’s about being certain we are a child of God.
Notice 1:1 and follow along as I read: read 1:1-4.
Basically these first four (4) verses are about what God does for us. Note 1:1; 1:3; and 1:4 and comment. These are the things God does. As we know, the Christian life doesn’t start with what we do – it starts with what God does for us. Nothing we do can save us – salvation begins and ends with God.
But with this foundation set in place, from here, from this starting point of what God does for us in salvation, we have to move into what we must do in response to what God does – as James puts it: faith without works is dead.
God saves, it’s all His work, but then we make our calling and election sure by living a changed life. And this “living out” of the Christian life is precisely what Peter turns to when we come to verse5: God has saved us – now what. Read 1:5-12.
D. A wealthy man once met with the president of a college because he was seeking a shorter degree program for his son rather than the traditional 4-year degrees the college offered. “The boy can never take all that in,” said the father. “He wants to get through quicker. Can you arrange it?” The president of the college thought for a moment and then said: “Maybe so – He could do a short program. It really depends on what you want to make of him. I mean – when God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but it only takes Him two (2) months to make a squash.”
And it’s kind of like that in the Christian life: many people that make professions of faith seem to want a “microwave kind” of spirituality – like instant coffee or potatoes. But that’s not God’s design – it’s not His plan. There are no short courses; no gimmicks; no short-cuts to Christian growth.
E. And this truth is exactly what we run smack into in verses 5-7. Peter confronts us with seven (7) ingredients that are essential to Christian growth and we can’t expect to attain each of them overnight.
To help us unpack and then unwrap the glorious truths in these verses I want to pose and then try to answer some questions. You may not have see it at first, but this list deals with the whole of the Christian life – it’s remarkably complete. Peter begins his letter with the charge to be certain of our foundations, he makes sure that we are properly grounded and rooted, and now he begins to dig into how we grow. Here are a couple of the questions we’ll answer this morning: what’s involved in living a balanced Christian life? How can we be certain that our faith is not a dead faith? What specific steps can we take to grow and add to our faith in order to respond to Peter’s plea to make our calling and election sure?
I. First of all, a Christian grows by being diligent to add virtue and knowledge to their faith.
Read 1:5. An oak tree begins its life as a seed planted in the earth and then begins to grow as nature supplies carbon dioxide, sunlight and water – and a Christian grows by diligently adding to their faith virtue and knowledge.
A. Before we dig into the meanings and application of “virtue” and “knowledge” let’s first get a handle on a couple of things Peter says right at the beginning of verse 5. Re-read 1:5.
1. The phrase “for this very reason” take us back to the previous verses. Peter’s saying: “I’ve laid the foundation – God saved you – now here’s where you go from there. God did His part – now it’s time for you to do yours.”
2. The words “giving, diligence, and add” all go together. “Giving” refers to “bringing in” or “supplying besides” and it’s a word that suggests putting forth a strong effort. The word “diligence” refers to doing something with “zeal or eagerness and with a sense of urgency.” Finally, the word “add” might be better translated “supply” or “furnish” and it is a command. Get this: adding these seven (7) ingredients to our faith is not, repeat, not optional.
3. Let me try to put the meaning of these words all together. Peter is describing what might happen if we were to go to a bank and they tell us that we need specific paperwork to complete a particular transaction. We are already a customer, and we have already given them three (3) pieces of documentation that we’re missing a few others – for example our birth certificate. We happen to need that money so we go about finding our birth certificate with zeal and eagerness because if we don’t the transaction won’t go through. We want to “give” them that piece of paper; we want to “supply” it to the others they have; we approach this with “diligence” because we need the money; and then we “add” it to what they already have – the bank has done its part just like God does His part, and now we have to do our part.
4. Turn over to Phil. 2:9. This is what Peter is driving at and we need to fix it in our minds: he’s reminding us that, like the bank, God won’t do our part. We can’t do what God does, and God will not do what we can do – that’s why “diligence” here is so important. God will not give us good habits; He will not give us character; and He will not make us obey Him. We have to work at these things ourselves. Read 2:9-13.
B. Turn back to 2nd Peter 1:5. So in this way, with this kind of diligence, we have to add or supply certain things to our faith in order to grow just like we have to supply the bank’s required documentation in order to make our withdrawal – which brings us right to the first of Peter’s seven (7) ingredients: virtue.
1. The word “virtue” as we use it today generally refers to the positive aspects of someone’s character, their “goodness,” but that’s not what Peter has in mind here. He’s not talking about being “good” – there are a lot of good people in this world, in the church and not in the church.
Instead of “goodness,” Peter is referring to “virtue” in the sense of “moral power,” or “moral energy.” Don’t miss this: Peter is not referring to goodness – instead he’s referring to the activity or vigor of our soul – to self-motivated “moral energy.” In other words, be diligent to be certain that our faith is a living faith and an active faith – be certain that our faith is vigorous and energetic.
2. It’s interesting that Peter puts “virtue” first in his and I believe one (1) reason is because this “virtue,” in the sense of having a disposition of moral energy, is why so many people struggle to grow in the Christian life. Why do some people seem so excited about church, and others don’t? Why are some professing Christians eager to read and study their Bibles, excited about serving the Lord – and others aren’t? In the context of what Peter says here there are only two (2) possible answers to these questions: either they aren’t truly saved or they haven’t been diligent to add virtue to the starting point of their faith.
I trust we have an appreciation for the serious and tragic lack of virtuous moral energy in lives of most Christians in America today – survey after survey proves the truth of this statement. Instead of virtue – there’s deep passivity; instead of energy – there’s lethargy and laziness. Many professing Christians in America today have become the “couch potatoes” of the Christian world.
3. So how do we do this – how do we add virtue? It begins and ends with choices – choices we make in terms of how we spend our time; what we watch on TV; the movies we watch; the people we associate with; the books we read; and so on. Be certain of this: Danielle Steele and soap operas do not add virtue – in fact most of what is in the world does just the opposite: it literally drains virtue from us rather than adding it. So Peter’s calling us to make choices that will make our faith grow in vigor – rather being drained of vigor.
C. And secondly, to our virtue we are to add “knowledge.”
1. The word “knowledge” here takes us back to familiar territory because Peter the word for “knowledge” that he uses here is the word “gnosis” and not “epignosis” that he used in verses 2 and 3. “gnosis” here refers to “insight, understanding, or enlightenment.”
2. Let’s apply these ideas of adding insight, understanding, or enlightenment to our faith in context to see what Peter is after. One reason this knowledge is so important is because the “energetic” virtue Peter refers to here needs to be governed and controlled. In other words – we have to be careful of energy without control; our energy must be enlightened virtue and if we know Peter at all, then we know he’s drawing from personal experience here.
Remember Peter – the fisherman who by nature was impulsive? The one who regularly suffered from foot-in-mouth disease? For many years he demonstrated uncontrolled virtue; in many ways he was the poster child of uncontrolled moral energy – until the knowledge began to temper that vigor and as we move through the Book of Acts we see it tempered more and more.
3. Again, adding this knowledge to our faith begins and ends with choices: what we watch; what we read; how we spend our time; what we fill our minds with; in other words adding virtue and knowledge comes down to priorities. For example how important is church to us? Or, do we approach reading through the Bible in a year with the same kind of commitment that we have in catching a favorite TV program? Adding virtue and knowledge really comes down to honestly asking and answering the question: to what degree is God the priority in our life?
D. Think of an oak tree for a moment: like an oak sapling, if we are going to grow in our faith we have to start putting down roots and doing that starts with choosing to add virtue to our faith and then consistently also adding to that virtue knowledge.
II. Secondly, a Christian grows by being diligent to add self-control and perseverance to their faith.
Look at 1:6. These two (2) ingredients address the inward disposition of a Christian: a Christian is to be self-controlled and must also have perseverance.
A. What is self-control or temperance?
1. A central priority seen throughout Scripture for God’s children is to be diligent in watching themselves – and that’s what self-control means: watching what we do and controlling it. And one of the reasons controlling ourselves is so important is because until we reach heaven we will always live with the truth that even though we have been born again and even though we are partakers of the divine nature – the old man is still at work in our lives. There are lusts and passions hard wired into us as the result of the Fall; and even though someone has believed and responded to the Christian Gospel, and even though they have begun to know the power of God in their life – there is still a battle to be fought. Gal. 5:15 puts it this way: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you (are inclined, bent or wired towards) not doing the things that you wish.”
2. So we are to be diligent to add to our knowledge self-discipline; always remember the battle that is within us and purpose to be more and more temperate – as Paul put it in Col. 3: “Mortify, therefore, (put to death) your members that are on the earth.”
3. And again, how do we do this? Self-control grows and is added to our lives one decision at a time – and this takes diligence and perseverance. For example when that anger flares up – choose to be temperate; when that driver cuts us off – again choose to have self-control. We can think of it this way: before we were saved we never had a choice – but now we do and God’s grace is always, always sufficient.
B. Second, a Christian must be diligent to add “perseverance” to their self-control.
1. Perseverance is “patient endurance” – it’s plodding; putting our nose to the grindstone and pushing on and obviously apart from the grace of God this can and will be difficult. Here are the facts and we can’t escape them: as we walk this pilgrim’s path while living in a world that is, in every conceivable way diametrically opposed to the Christian life, not only will there be problems from within that are dealt with by self-control, there will always be problems from without that must and can only be dealt with by perseverance.
2. Patient endurance, plodding along, is critical in the life of a Christian; it’s critical because we live in a fallen world; it’s critical because there are dangers and trials that come at us from other people and other things; it’s critical because there are commitments we must make in order to grow as a Christian such as attending church; consistently reading through our Bible; daily prayer; passing out tracts and so on and commitments like this mean nothing if we don’t carry them out – and sometimes keeping such commitments boils down to perseverance – to just gritting our teeth and getting it done.
C. How do we grow in the Christian life? We must be diligent to add to our faith virtue, to our virtue knowledge, to our knowledge self-control, and to our self-control perseverance. Just like an oak tree day-in and day-out takes in the ingredients of carbon dioxide, sun and water – so the Christian must spend their life adding these ingredients to their faith or they will never grow – their calling and election will never be certain.
III. And finally, a Christian grows by being diligent to add godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to their faith.
Look at 1:6-7. Virtue and knowledge relate to a Christian’s character; self-control and perseverance relate to their inward disposition. And these last three (3) ingredients address a Christian’s relationship to others.
A. First of all, there’s “godliness.”
1. The word “godliness” refers to “reverence, respect, or piety towards God.” It’s kind of a general term that sums up the Christian life. In the NT it’s often used in the context of pursing more of it. For example 1st Tim. 6:11 tells us: “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” Look at 3:11. Read.
2. What’s the significance of godliness? Remember why we are doing all of this – remember all of this is for the glory of God. There is no point in being diligent about adding these ingredients to our lives unless the focus is God. And when it comes to relationships in the Christian life before I think of my relationships to others, I must first consider my relationship with God: seek first the kingdom of God – keep on adding godliness.
B. And then, having put godliness first, we can consider others – that’s when “brotherly kindness” begins to kick in.
1. As we may remember love is very important to Peter – we saw that in our study of his 1st letter and we’ll see it again in this letter. The word he uses here is the “filadelfia” kind of love as compared to “agape” love. You may remember that “filadelfia” love refers to love in the church, love among the brethren – and it’s something that is absolutely critical in the life of a church.
2. This is an earnest exhortation for us to love one another; to be patient with one another; to be gentle and so on because it can be so difficult at times. It’s so easy to become impatient – and perhaps more so with Christians because we tend to expect more out of Christians. But just think about how much harm is done in the church because of a lack of this kind of brotherly love. Let’s be diligent to add this ingredient to our faith.
C. And then, finally, over and above the love we are to have for the brethren – Peter says to add “agape” love.
Remember “agape” love is the love that is unselfish; it’s love that never seeks its own; and so on – it’s the love described in 1st Cor. 13 lived out in every aspect of our lives. To grow in the Christian life we must be constantly adding this kind of love – for without it we are “nothing.”
One way to do this is to regularly read and meditate on 1st Cor. 13 – the “love chapter.” Also start trying to see the lost souls in the sinners around us; try to see their need; purpose to have within us a love for them like God’s love. John 3:16: “For God so ‘agape’ loved the world…” And so should we.
A. As we close try to think of these seven (7) qualities as a set. Try thinking of them as a kind of “7-legged stool” for the Christian to stand on – take out one leg out and the stool is immediately weakened – and it gets weaker and less stable with every leg we take out until we can’t stand on the stool at all – that’s how important these are.
Each one of these qualities adds and contributes to the others – they all work together – each one has its own importance and each one influences the others. Each one has its own function, and each one affects the others and contributes to the whole.
An oak tree has to have carbon dioxide, sun light and water – and it also has to have the seasons – they all work together to facilitate growth because that’s the way God designed nature – and it’s the same with these ingredients.
B. When it comes to the importance of adding these seven (7) ingredients to our lives try thinking of them as ingredients in a bottle of medicine. They are like a mixture, with Peter as the God-directed pharmacist, and the efficacy of the medicine depends upon each ingredient being duly proportioned and yet intimately bound to all the others. Every ingredient is important and has its own particular action and yet every ingredient helps the others. There is a kind of synergistic action – and what a marvelous picture of the Christian life this paints while emphasizing the vital importance of putting in just the right amount of each ingredient into the medicine bottle in order that we may have the perfect whole!