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, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, 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. -2 Peter 1:5-8
Jesus has called us as believers to bear fruit for his glory. We are expected to be effective and productive in our witness of him in this world. But bearing fruit and being effective requires a deep commitment and being intentional. It doesn’t just “happen” without effort, discipline and focus on growing in the very character traits Peter highlights above. Therefore, in this article, I would like to draw your attention to these seven traits, but first we have to start with what has to come first before we can grow as God intends in these ways:
There is no Christian life apart from the life of faith. It is through faith in Christ that we are reconciled to God and forgiven our sins. It is through faith that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and empowered by God to be like him and to serve him. True Christianity is not a religion of self-improvement, it is a radical life-transformation into a new reality, relationship with God, and relationship with others. It all begins by faith, continues by faith, and will be completed through faith. But our faith is not to end with salvation. That is just the beginning! Our faith is to increase and to our faith we are to add the following in increasing measure:
Faith in a Good God who so loved us that he made the greatest personal sacrifice possible to reconcile us to himself, should lead to our lives reflecting that same goodness towards others. If the God we say we believe in has been rich in mercy, kindness, grace and goodness towards us, shouldn’t we demonstrate that same goodness in our relationships?
Goodness is the practical outworking of faith. It is not just an attitude, but an action focused on the benefit of others. One of the interesting things about this list Peter provides, is that for every internal reality there is an outward expression.
If God is God, then there is an inexhaustible store of knowledge for us to grow in. Our faith is to be intelligent, that is, it’s not a blind faith, superstitious faith or shallow faith. We are called to grow in the knowledge of God. Think of it this way: when you marry someone, it’s just the beginning of living with and getting to know that person. Salvation is just the entry into the vast knowledge of God. We are called to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
What good is knowledge however, if it is not put into use? Knowledge becomes merely information if it is not rightly applied. One result of true knowledge is a greater measure of self-control. Self-control is the ability to “control-self” or be in control of oneself. This is something that seems to be decreasing in our culture as people are becoming less and less in control of themselves, their behavior, their words, their anger, and their lives. Technology has made it easy for us to react and respond without thought or care. Yet, we are called to be a people who exercise self-control and refrain from unhealthy, excessive and unrighteous behavior. We are to grow in gaining control of our tongues, our hearts, our minds and our bodies as we seek to love God in a holistic way.
Anybody can perhaps exercise self-control in certain situations or for a certain time. But we are called to grow in our ability to persevere in our faith and situations that test our endurance. Again, in the culture we live, it is far to easy to walk away from anything that is difficult or challenges us. We walk away from conflict, instead of working through it. We walk away from relationships, instead of working on our relationships. We walk away from church communities if something rubs us the wrong way or we are offended over something or some way someone treated us. But is this the way of Christ? Did he walk away from us? Did he decide the cross wasn’t worth it for us? Christ, as our example, models a perseverance and endurance that we should seek to grow in in order to be effective and productive in our faith. Bearing fruit requires not giving up.
Godliness is simply being like God. We are called to be holy as he is holy. Another way of saying this is that there ought to be something very different about our lives in this world compared to those who don’t know God. We are to reflect his character and nature as we grow in the knowledge of him and behold in increasing measure his beauty.
Godliness is not true godliness if it doesn’t result in brotherly kindness. Scripture is clear that if we truly love God, we will love people who have been created in his image. It is impossible to love God if we do not love people made in the image of God. Love for God is in fact expressed by loving people. Godliness is not something that distances us from people, but rather leads to expressing brotherly kindness. Holiness, rather than separating us from people, propels us towards people. And this love is pure. It is the kind of love that produces a sense of being family. We didn’t choose our natural family and we don’t chose our spiritual family. We are connected through faith in Christ and expected to treat one another as we would family; as brothers and sisters in Christ.
After Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves; he was asked by someone who their neighbor was. The man asking this question wanted some boundaries and limitations put on this responsibility and command. The parable Jesus shared, famously called The Good Samaritan, made clear that our neighbor, whom we are to love, is not just those “near us” or “like us” but anybody, anywhere, that we come across in need. God’s love knows no limits or boundaries. God’s love has no prejudice, does not discriminate, and shows no favoritism. We are to grow in this type of sacrificial and unconditional love towards others and one another.
As we enter a new year, these are seven areas we can resolve to focus on so that we are effective, productive and bear fruit in increasing measure.
But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. -2 Peter 1:9-11