How can we be spiritually fruitful and avoid falling off the path on our way to the Kingdom? Peter gives us eight traits that are guaranteed to help.
As Christians, we are called to overcome the adversities set before us and subdue those forces that rage against us. We do this by adopting a lifestyle that is fitting for our calling. We learn about proper Sabbath observances, not just abstaining from work, but coming together as a church and reflecting on God. We keep the Holy Days. We tithe. We repent.
Even so, we must remember that to be a complete Christian, we must live a life of dedication built on practicing all Christian traits. For this reason, all aspects of Christianity must be adhered to with diligence for they all go hand in hand.
A Framework for Growth
Peter provides a fascinating framework for tracking spiritual growth. In 2 Peter 1:5-7 the apostle composes a list of eight aspects, or traits, of Christian character. Each aspect is so meaningful that a whole article, if not a whole lifetime, could be dedicated to studying just one aspect. Because all these traits are vitally necessary to Christianity, let's take a closer look at each of these eight aspects of Christian character.
It is important to emphasize that we can't wait until we reach perfection in one trait (be it faith, virtue or any other) before starting to work on another trait. After all, we will not have any aspect of this process perfected until we are made spirit. We can use the growth that we acquire from one trait to support our development of other traits. All aspects of Christianity support the overall development of a Christian. For this reason, once we go through Peter's list of traits, we can go back through this passage and find better ways to apply each trait, and thus continue the ongoing cycle of development.
Like Laying Bricks
One might compare this process to the job of laying bricks. We place one brick after another until reaching the end of the row. Once at the end of the row, we then go back and start the line again, building on top of the first brick in the previous line of bricks that were laid.
In this example, the bricks are the Christian traits that Peter discusses, and our "line of bricks" is eight bricks long. And just like laying bricks, we can go back over the level where we currently find ourselves, always able to add another layer by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Depending on the individual, one might be very strong in, say, faith, but weak in self-control. The point isn't that you must develop one trait before you start working on another trait, for growing in all ways is important. The point is that the traits complement each other.
As Christians, our current state must not be our resting state. In fact, we have no resting state. Our lifestyle is not one of mere adaptive change, but a commitment to ongoing growth. We do not remain stagnant. We must grow. We must improve.
As Christians, we need to analyze where we are in our spiritual growth, and then look for the next step. Even after you apply each step that Peter records, you can go back through the exact same passage and find deeper aspects of application for ongoing growth in every trait that is mentioned.
There is no stopping point in studying Peter's list, for growth in these traits is an ongoing need for all of us.
This passage in 2 Peter is preceded by establishing an understanding of the magnitude of the precious gift God has given us. Peter stokes the fire of zeal in all of us as he reminds the Church that God's divine power grants us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3, English Standard Version). He then explains that these promises were made so that we could become "partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire" (verse 4, ESV). It is because of this promise to become one with God and Christ that we are told to develop these eight traits with all diligence, as mentioned in the first part of verse 5.
Foundation of Faith
Peter explains that our development begins with faith (2 Peter 1:5, ESV). The author of the book of Hebrews makes this same point as he urges the Church to further develop, "not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God" (Hebrews 6:1, ESV).
Faith is one of the most basic, yet essential, aspects of Christianity. It is a foundation of Christianity. Given faith, we must press on for further development, building onto "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).
Adding Virtuous Action
On top of faith, Peter beckons us to add virtue (2 Peter 1:5). This word virtue is also translated as "moral character" in the International Standard Version. Our virtue or moral character is our distinctive quality of conduct concerning right and wrong.
This moral excellence, this virtue, cannot exist without a living aspect of both virtuous action and virtuous thoughts, as exemplified by the virtuous woman in the book of Proverbs (starting in 31:10).
Concerning the foundation of faith, James elaborates on this need to couple faith with taking action. He clearly makes the point that faith is dead and useless if it does not produce righteous action (James 2:15-17). Our moral character, our virtue, is comprised of the actions, thoughts and feelings that we demonstrate in accordance with God's law and our faith in His guidance.
Finding Fruitful Knowledge
Knowledge is the next aspect of Christianity in Peter's list. There are many aspects of knowledge, and God would want us to grow in all forms of godly knowledge and wisdom, but the reference to knowledge here may be more specific.
For example, Peter is addressing Church members who already know who Jesus Christ and the Father are (verse 2). In the context of this passage, Peter is listing "knowledge" in a set of traits that "keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful" (2 Peter 1:8). So then, this is not just an understanding of mere facts, but an understanding that will make us effective and fruitful Christians. The knowledge that we seek is a knowledge that improves our Christianity.
Striving for Self-Control
Once we acquire knowledge that guides our development of Christian fruits, we can continue to develop ourselves by obtaining self-control. When we have the knowledge about how to be an effective and fruitful Christian, the next task is taking the action that will make us effective and fruitful. This is done by having dominion over both thoughts and actions.
One of the greatest examples of exercising self-control is the discipline with which an athlete approaches his or her sport. Athletes strive not only to acquire the knowledge of how to train for their sport, but also diligently seek to discipline themselves in performance. Paul used this allusion when he said, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (1 Corinthians 9:25, ESV).
According to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, the Greek word used here, translated as "self-control," has a specific application to athletes, "who in preparing themselves for the games abstained from unwholesome food, wine, and sexual indulgence."
The point to draw from this is that the athletes had complete dominion and control over their bodies for the purpose of perfecting performance. For that reason, they sacrificed pleasurable indulgences, esteeming the prize to be worth far more. We Christians, too, must have complete dominion and control over our bodies for the purpose of perfecting our Christian performance, valuing the Kingdom of God and our relationship with God above all else.
Once Is Not Enough
The next step is developing perseverance or endurance. Being able to control ourselves in a situation once is not good enough. We must endure, working on always having control over ourselves. We must get rid of that which inhibits our Christian performance, thus "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Practicing Pure, Godly Devotion
The placement of the next trait, godliness, might seem strange. One would think that godliness would be the last trait that would be acquired. However, this trait, translated "godliness," is perfectly placed if the original Greek word is considered. This Greek word eusebeia means piety or being devout and well-pleasing to God.
Piety and devotion seem very fitting traits to follow perseverance, for our godly perseverance should, over time, lead to a development of pure godly devotion in all aspects of life.
The greatest example of a devoted life was the very life of Jesus Christ. Jesus was so devoted that He "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8, ESV). It is His example that we look to, and that each of us strives to mirror as we become willing to sacrifice all we have for God, seeing that everything in existence is already His.
A Unifying Trait
The traits up to this point have been geared toward the development of the individual. However, God does not desire us to be divided, but He desires us to be a unified body (Romans 12:15). God's Church is to be a united body of devoted and humble servants. For us to be unified, we truly require these last two characteristics in Peter's epistle.
The next of these traits is brotherly love. One cannot claim Christianity and fail to love his or her fellow Christians. No matter how dedicated one is to following morality, Christianity is not complete if one rejects outgoing concern and care for any member of the Body of Christ—or anyone else.
Paul encourages us to do nothing out of "selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than [yourself]" (Philippians 2:3). As ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we must set the example in all ways, including our treatment of our fellow human beings.
The Defining Principle: Love
The last trait that Peter mentions is the pinnacle of Christianity. It is the pinnacle because it is only truly present when all other traits are in place and adhered to. It is the manifestation of faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness/piety and brotherly affection all at once and continuously. It is an empowering and devotional love.
The Greek word for this form of love, agape, is used in many scriptures. It is the love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). It is the love by which God calls us His children (1 John 3:1). It is the love that defines God and that He showed by sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).
It is the love that God had for Jesus Christ and commanded that we have for each other (John 15:9-12). Jesus Christ characterized man's ultimate display of this love, saying, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, ESV). This sobering and inspiring command directs us to completely attain the mind-set of God. God is defined by this love, and we must grow and become defined by this love as well.
As we go through the traits that Peter lays out, treating each trait as a brick to lay one by one, we come to realize the need to go back to faith, our first brick, and start another row, beginning the process anew. We all fall short, and we all make mistakes along the way. However, every time we go through this process that Peter outlines, we have the opportunity to develop a little more of the intense love that God has.
One inspiring aspect of God's love is this: Although we may trip and stagger, as long as we pick ourselves up, we will "never stumble or fall away" (2 Peter 1:10, New Living Translation). We will continually learn more and more about God's love for us and His patience and mercy as He involves Himself directly and continually in our mission to grow. Let us continue to grow and develop the very character of God within us. UN