I use the ESV Daily Reading Bible. It’s taking me through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in a year. I started on December 29, 2014. That’s 142 days of being the Word consistently! I can’t emphasize enough though that this reading streak has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the graciousness of God. He knows I need a checklist, a book that is aesthetically pleasing, and fonts that don’t make me want to redesign the whole operation. So, I landed on this matte-cover, gray daily reading Bible, and through it, I have met with Jesus more consistently than I ever have in my life. It’s enjoyable to have this routine, this discipline. So I’m reading in both the Old and New Testaments every day, and today I started 2 Peter. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen these words the way I saw them today:
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 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. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
First, it struck me that he has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” That’s great news. I have everything I need. The question is, how do I access it or even know what it is? Peter tells us that it’s “through the knowledge of him who called us.” So, it starts with the knowledge of him. That’s also great news because knowledge is accessible to everyone (which is why missions is important. How can anyone know unless they are told?). The next gem in this passage is that “he has granted to us his precious and very great promises,” which leaves me longing to know what those promises are. The cool thing is, I find these precious and very great promises every time I open the Word. And yes, they are precious.
Then Peter tells us that so that through them we may “become partakers of the divine nature,” meaning that we are being made into his image and that we grow closer and closer to him. He also reminds us that we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Thank goodness, right?! And it is “for this very reason, he says,” that we need to take some measures to protect and grow our faith. The premise here seems to be that because we have escaped from sin and death, we need to be diligent in moving forward, not back. Peter tells us to supplement our faith with some other things. Is faith not enough? No. It’s not. Here’s what Peter says:
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
We have to supplement our faith with virtue.
Virtue is behavior that shows our faith. Without virtue, our faith isn’t on display. It’s limited. It’s not growing. James told us that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17).
Further still, we supplement our virtue with knowledge.
Why is this important? Knowledge, which comes from the Word helps ensure that our works align with God’s heart. Knowledge marries our hands to our head and our head to our heart.
Knowledge must be supplemented with self-control.
Scripture tells us that if we control our tongues we control the whole body (James 3:3-6). Even with our head-knowledge, we must speak and act in accordance to God’s will. Not everything we know to be true should be spoken at any given time. The Spirit leads us in the timing and in the doing. Self-control also requires us to put our faith, virtue, and knowledge to the test. And we won’t pass this test without the Holy Spirit, so we have to invite him into our heads, our hands, and our hearts to help us live out this self-control.
Self-control needs a measure of steadfastness.
I can control myself for a time. A short time. But remaining steadfast in faith, virtue, knowledge, and self-control? This is a challenge. Again, reliance on the Holy Spirit is key. Having faith and virtue, knowledge and self-control is great, but if I’m not steadfast in it, then I’m being tossed about like a ship on stormy seas. I may not crash or sink, but it’s not a pleasant ride. Making steadfastness a priority requires discipline: time spent in the Word daily, time in prayer, and time with other believers. I practice yoga (which is a discipline, let me tell you!), and I don’t get better if I’m not consistent. This means that I have to get on the mat every day. I have to focus, and I have to be in a community that keeps me accountable. Walking with the Lord is the same. I get in the Word every day. I focus on what I read and talk to God about it, and I hang out with other believers who are like-minded. This gives me a much better shot at steadfastness.
We’re not done. Peter tells us to supplement steadfastness with godliness.
“You’ve got to be kidding me” might be the thought in your mind or “See, following Jesus is just too much work.” Not only are we called to faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, and steadfastness, we are also called to godliness. Godliness means being like God, a tall order indeed. God is righteous. God is holy. How do we do it? (My pastor calls this his one string guitar…) We get in the Word. From this source, everything else follows: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, and a myriad of other qualities.
After godliness, we must be sure to have brotherly affection.
God’s holiness doesn’t keep him from loving us. His holiness doesn’t preclude him from wanting a relationship with us. Of course that relationship doesn’t work until we’re covered by Jesus’s atonement for our unholiness, but once we are cleaned by graces, we get to enter into a loving relationship with him. In a similar way, just because we are becoming more like him, we can’t shun our brothers. The more “holy” we become, the more loving, not judgmental, we should become also. As we trade our way of living for God’s, we need to band together with others doing the same. Brotherly love keep the holiness from becoming self-righteousness because we are accountable to each other and we build each other up in affection for one another.
Finally, we supplement brotherly affection with love.
God is love. This is our highest calling. Notice that it’s also the last in this list. I wonder if it’s last because it’s the hardest. It’s easy to have faith and to have some virtues. It’s harder to gain knowledge because getting in the Word takes discipline and sacrifice, as does getting up for service on a Sunday morning while the rest of the world is sleeping. Harder still is the self-control that God calls us to, not the mention the prompting toward steadfastness. Being like God, showing affection for other human beings, and loving people are the hardest by far. They require the most self-sacrifice. They require the most humility. They are seemingly impossible sometimes, but all of these things are necessary for being effective and fruitful:
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.9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
And if I don’t practice these qualities, I’m blind. I’ve forgotten where I once was. So faith is first, but it’s not the end. Peter challenged me this morning to remember that this is a life calling- not only a calling on my life but a calling that will require all of my life to complete. There’s not room for anything else. Yes, I still go to work. I still read. I still enjoy dinner and music with my girlfriends, but these are blessings, not the point. God in his mercy grants us all manner of blessings, but this… this is what my life is about. Faith is first, and love will be last. Love will be the end.