There is a lot of material written about growing in the Lord as Christians. There are many tools for discipleship and accountability. Still the question that has haunted me for a while…is there a simple guideline for the way Christians mature? Then one day while I was reading in 2 Peter I realized that it had been there all along and somehow I had missed it. Not that I am so smart or dumb, but I wondered if others had had the same question and missed the same information as I.
That is what this short piece is about. Sharing the cycle of Christian Maturity found in the First chapter of Second Peter. Granted there are other passages included here for clarification and a more complete understanding of the principles that I believe Peter set forth in these verses.
I do hope you will be as excited about what he shared and encouraged as you realize that you may have been maturing all along and didn’t realize it. Or if you have been struggling with your faith, you will be heartened to see that there is a blueprint for you to follow and Christ has provided all the necessary resources for you to build your relationship with Him.
So let’s begin. I suggest you get your Bible and read the entire chapter first. Then you refer back to Scripture as we go along. For the Holy Spirit will help you see and understand the truth of God's Word as we explore this blueprint together. For I desire that you see the truth and discard any errors.
After introducing himself, Peter immediately focuses on those to whom he is writing. It is those who have obtained righteousness by believing in Jesus. Our faith has given us some wonderful tools to help us mature. Grace and peace. These gifts grow even greater as we study to know Christ better. He then tells us that we have received the ‘divine power’ of Christ and with that power we have all we need to live in godliness because of the power and purity of Christ Himself. [Verse 3]
One aspect that we sometimes don't understand is that we were spiritually dead in sin before Jesus came into our lives. He imparted spiritual life to us when we accepted Him as Redeemer and Savior. But He didn’t just give us life but gave us the power we need to live a godly life also. [Ephesians 2:1-5]
Peter goes on to tell us that Christ not only gave us life and power but resources and tools to equip us as we live this new life. [Verse 4] They are available through the promises of God. As we incorporate these promises into our personal lives we become ‘partakers of the divine nature’, or more like Jesus.
Peter explains that escaping the corruption of the world, simply means we are able to be kept from returning to our former life of sin. Since evil and good cannot occupy the same space, the more we learn and practice the truth we find in God’s Word, the more like Jesus we become the less sin has control in our lives.
Lest you think this is an easy thing, although it is simple to say and understand, it is not brought about overnight or without struggle and discipline on our part. The reason is found in understanding how we are put together. [This is a study in itself but a beginning understanding of this is important here.]
We acknowledge that people are composed of a physical body, a soul and a spirit. And we often think in these terms; however it is not in the order that God designed us to think. Scripture tells us that we were made in the image of God and so that is our primary composition. Scripture tells us that God is a spirit. Jesus made that clear in John 4:24. So it is logical to assume that we are primarily spirit and perhaps that is why we all are drawn to things that are spiritual. I didn’t say religious I said spiritual.
Scripture also states that we became a ‘living soul’ at the time of Creation Genesis 2:7 And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
The soul is made up of our intellect or mind, our will or self-control and our emotions. This is where you are found. Your soul makes up who you are, where your personality and character are developed. This is where our ‘free will’ dwells. That is why even when we become a Christian we do not lose our choice or free will. We decide whether to do what is right or what is wrong. This is the part where we are told to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling’. [Philippians 2:12]
The enemy of our souls seeks to gain control of our will, to bend it to follow what he wants us to do. When we were unsaved our spirit was dead and so it was easy for him to run our lives. But when we chose to follow Christ and accept salvation, God made us a new creation and gave life to our spirit. 1John 4:13 says that we know we are part of God’s family because He has placed His Sprit within us and it is His Spirit that gives us spiritual life. [See Ezekiel 36:27]
Since the Spirit is where God dwells we can be assured that since He gave you His Spirit He will continue to work in you to keep you pure and holy. [Phillippians1:6] That leads us back to the soul. We must bring our mind, will and emotions into line with our new man or the Spirit of God within us. That is why there is conflict.
We live in a world that tells us to ‘do what we feel, follow our heart, if it feels good do it’ and on and on. Let our feelings and emotions lead our will. This is one of the enemy’s best areas of attacks. We all have feelings and sometimes our feelings are not the best form of judgment to follow. Our emotions are controlled by events and perceptions that can be false when compared to truth. That is why we must stop and consider important decisions when our feelings are high.
We train our military to respond to a situation based on rules or standards of behavior rather than emotions. Following the rules may mean the difference between life and death to the soldier, and we are spiritual soldiers locked in a spiritual battle. We need to know the rules of engagement so that we too can be victorious.
The other part of our soul is our intellect or our mind. It is the part of us we use to gain knowledge and to convert that knowledge into wisdom. Before we were Christians we were given human knowledge and wisdom from our physical education and life experiences. We may have been given spiritual knowledge and wisdom if we were raised in a Christian environment. We learn spiritual truth thru the reading of God’s Word.
When we became a Christian some of our physical knowledge and wisdom came into conflict with our new spiritual man. The world view does not always line up with the view of God and His Word. Now we must make a choice using our will.
We must dismiss the view that we are good people and acknowledge we are sinful and need a Savior. [Romans 3:23]
We must accept that without Christ in our life we cannot do anything [John 15:4]. We must choose to give Him Lordship or continue to be our own god.
All these choices involve our mind and our will. Like Campus Crusade teaches in their Four Spiritual Laws, our emotions come along for the ride. Now that we know a bit about how we are put together and how we have free will even as a Christian let us look at how we are to mature.
Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in [your] virtue knowledge;
Maturity is part of the development of the Christian for the Scripture here tells you that you must do your part. Since the part you have control over is your free will, it seems logical to think that this instruction must be pertaining to your soul.
Diligence is a word we do not hear very often these days. It pertains to thoroughness, attentiveness and carefulness of thought, word and deed. Already I am stopped in my tracts, how often do I apply these qualities to my Christian life not to mention my physical one?
We often take a haphazard approach to our Christian walk. We may have practiced that same careless attitude when it came to the everyday issues of our lives. There should be diligence in the protection of our important relationships, the teaching of the young, the completion of our work and the studying of knowledge. Both physical and spiritual well-being is enhanced or diminished by our diligence or lack of it. Peter says it is the first step to Christian maturity the practice of being diligent. So with diligence we need to use our faith to supply virtue into our life.
Faith is that part of us that accepts something as being true even without physical evidence. Our faith is strengthened by the experiences we have when we put our faith to the test. We have learned that the air can support an airplane and allow us to fly although we were not able to see air currents for many years. Inventors put their faith in the ability to make flying machines by creating them and trying to fly. Through trial and error they developed their skill and knowledge until the Wright Brothers took off from Kitty Hawk and launched the era of flight.
Spiritual faith is often tried because of the world we live in which rejects spiritual faith. We have knowledge found in God’s Word to help us not make the mistakes of the past if we accept its guidance. As we begin to live a life that displays virtue by faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s ability to save us, we are given the power to be virtuous [John 1:12]
Virtue is not a popular trait in our modern world. Goodness is okay if we don't take it too far. Honesty. morality and integrity face a much bigger challenge. Peter goes on to say we supply our virtue through knowledge. To supply something or someone is to equip them with needed materials. Peter tells us that the needed knowledge to equip our virtue is found in God’s Word.
It is hard for me to not refer back to the whole man in studying this passage of Scripture. And in order to help our understanding God has supplied us with physical knowledge that aids us in grasping spiritual truths.
We know according to science that the mind cannot dwell on two opposite ideas at the same time. We also know that what we think about and dwell on mentally affects our behavior. Thus Peter tells us in order to be able to live a virtuous life of faith we must fill our minds with the thoughts of God so that we can draw on that knowledge in our everyday living. Our thought life is changed so that our behavior is affected.
Ever notice that if you spend a lot of time with a negative person and you think about all the negative things that they fill your mind with, that soon you find yourself seeing, feeling and even voicing negative things too? What has happened? You have filled your mind with the negative ideas and thoughts until they have affected your attitude and actions. So Peter advises us to fill our minds with the positive, virtuous knowledge found in God’s Word.
1:6 Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance and patient endurance leads to godliness.
It is not enough to be diligent in believing in God and His Word. Reading the Bible may fill our minds with its truth and wisdom, but we must practice self-control. Oh my, how I hate self-control because it puts responsibility for my actions squarely on me. It speaks about discipline, restraint; will power. It says I choose. Knowing how something works doesn't do much good if we cannot use that knowledge. Knowing God's Word doesn't do much if we don't incorporate it into our daily living.
Let me give you an example here.
As I have said before, God uses the things of this earth to help us understand spiritual truth and knowledge. So let’s look at driving. There was a physical development that had to happen before you could drive. You had to be physically big enough to reach the pedals, handle the steering wheel, and see over the dash.
Then you had to be able to read so that you could learn about how a car works and how to control it. Then you had to actually get behind the wheel and practice what you read about and learned. As your skills developed you became better and better at driving until you were able to pass a combination written and actual driving test. At that time you got your license.
Now if you have been driving for a while you don’t even consciously think about driving most times and just do it because you have practiced self-control in using the knowledge and skills you learned about driving. Still you have to maintain self-control when you are behind the wheel or you face real problems and possible injury to yourself and/or others.
This is what Peter is saying in the above verse. We must practice diligence, exercise our faith, choose to do what we know is right because we spend regular time in God’s Word. We are using self-control. Then he reminds us to be patient. I think he wants us to be patient with ourselves as well as our spiritual maturity.
Going back to driving…we were anxious or impatient in being able to drive. It was something we wanted to do because it meant greater freedom to us, and perhaps, greater power as well. But we had to have patience in order to develop the necessary skills in order to drive successfully. Hopefully, we have the same kind of impatience to be more like Jesus and live that ‘more abundant life’ He told us He came to give us [John 10:10]
All we need do is look at Peter to see that it isn’t automatic. Check out Peter’s struggles, mishaps and set-backs. It took him time to develop into the great Christian we talk and write about. Peter is telling us that we need to be patient too.
The result of that patience is godliness. Godliness is simply becoming more like Jesus. We have coined the phrase what would Jesus do and run it into the ground, but Peter tells us in this passage just what being godly or like Jesus looks like.
and in [your] godliness brotherly kindness; and in [your] brotherly kindness love.
This is where I think we fail the most as believers. We find it pious to love our enemies and do good for the down and out, but ‘love our brothers’?! I think Peter is talking about others in the faith as well as our physical family.
We may find it easy to be kind to strangers, even those who belong to our fellowship, but outside of that we may find it not so easy. Scripture says we are to do good to all men especially those of the household of faith. [Galatians 6:10]
The household of faith means all those who belong to the family of God not just our brand of belief. The fundamental truths of God’s Word can be found in many denominations. God is not so concerned whether we like strawberry or vanilla Christianity but that we believe and accept Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our personal Savior.
Non-essentials will neither get us in or keep us out of heaven. Those things are not for us to be concerned about. We are to show ‘brotherly love’ to those who belong to God. There is a spiritual connection that cannot be denied among believers. In fact one of the hallmarks of those who belong to this family is the fact that we have love one for the other. [John 13:34, 35 and 15:12, 17] This commandment came from Jesus and He repeated it because it is so important and because He knew it would be one we needed to be reminded of often.
The other kind of ‘brotherly love’ I believe Peter is talking about is the one we show to family, immediate and extended. Most everyone has a family member that is hard to get along with, one that seems to always stir up trouble and upset the ‘apple cart’. Those are the ones that challenge us to exercise the choice to love.
Notice I said we had the choice. We do not have to accept their un-acceptable behavior. It may even make us angry but brotherly love is a choice of our will not our emotions. We can practice kindness and helpfulness out of brotherly love even though we are upset over their behavior. That is part of being like Jesus.
For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, Peter says if these things are found in our lives we will be ‘fruitful’ and not ‘idle’. To be idle is the opposite of diligent. Peter has led us right back to the beginning of this cycle of Christian maturity. The rest of the chapter gives us more instruction in our Christian walk and offers contrast.
For he that lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins.
He warns us that if we do not take these steps towards Christian maturity we will become near-sighted and eventually blind spiritually…to the point of forgetting what Christ has saved us from. [John 8:30-32] We become unsuccessful in our daily living and unproductive as ambassadors of Christ. We miss out on the blessings God has for those who are faithful. We miss the more abundant life Jesus came to give us. [John 10:10] Sadly we become entangled in bondage that Christ set us free from when we received His salvation. [Galatians 5:1]
Once more I want to remind you that the principles of God’s Word are simple, but the implementing of them is not always so. Being a growing, maturing Christian is work and requires commitment and dedication. Like anything you want to excel at, there is a price to pay and sacrificial choices to be made. But the rewards out way the temporary cost.
2 Peter 1:10 tells us by practicing these steps of maturity we will not ‘stumble’. Peter is saying that will be hard to be tripped up by the things of this world. The cycle consists of recognizing what we have received in Christ.
Studying His Word faithfully and incorporating it into our daily living.
Exercising our faith with self-control and being patient with ourselves and others.
Practicing kindness and love as Christ would.
This is the cycle and as long as we live on this earth we will find us returning to the beginning of the cycle over and over again. The exciting thing is that each time we begin again we will find we have become more like Jesus having greater love for others and have started over on a higher level.