Growth in Christian virtue

by Mike Ratliff

1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 2 Peter 1:1-4 (NASB) 

Is it possible to know whether we are genuine partakers of the divine nature and not simply religious converts? Let us look at the Apostle Peter’s understanding of this. If anyone would understand that our own efforts to please God are a total waste of time, Peter would be the man. He declared to our Lord on the night of His arrest that he would rather die with Him than desert Him. However, we all know that Peter not only deserted our Lord that night, he denied Him three times. From that failure and his later restoration by our Lord after He was resurrected, we know that we cannot please God with our own efforts. Any work that we do that is outside of His Grace is just works of the flesh and totally worthless.

Peter was restored to fellowship and service by our Lord. That should be an encouragement to us all. Who hasn’t failed and stumbled horribly? How do we feel when we do that? It should break our hearts and also drive home the point that we cannot walk before the face of God in our own strength. If we try, we will be constantly fighting a losing battle with our flesh, which is still enslaved to this lost and dying world. The only solution is to become Spirit-led. It is through becoming Spirit-led that the evidence of our new nature becomes apparent and the assurance that we have escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire becomes enhanced. (See 2 Peter 1:1-4 at the top of this post) Let us look at Peter’s counsel on what we will do if we are enslaved to the Spirit of God rather than to our own flesh.

 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 2 Peter 1:5-10 (NASB)

Our faith was a gift from God at our regeneration (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 12:3). However, our sanctification is the will of God; therefore, we are to grow more and more humble as our pride is put to death. This makes us become Christlike. Only genuine Christians can overcome the world and deny their flesh. Everyone can make temporary decisions to do something or stop doing something, but that is only the fruit of will power and is not only temporal, but outside of the grace of God.

What are we to do then? Peter tells us that we are to make every effort to supplement our faith. How do we do that and what is it we are add to it? Again, the answer is to become Spirit-led. This breaks the chains of our fleshly desires and puts us into a mode of obedience to God that is by His strength and direction instead of our own. Again, this is only possible for the Spirit-led, but all who are partakers of the divine nature are able to do this because our sanctification is the will of God.

2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:2-8 (NASB) 

Take this admonition from Paul and apply it to Peter’s wise counsel from 2 Peter 1:4-7. Peter tells us that we are to add virtue to our faith. What’s that? The Greek word translated as “virtue” here means “excellence.” This is noble and dignified character that is rooted firmly in God’s work of sanctification by His grace in us. We are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling in Philippians 2:12. This is what we must do to become Spirit-led and have the chains of our flesh broken and cast away from us so that our character will be one of excellence that is both a component and a fruit of our faith.

Peter then tells us to add knowledge to our virtue. This is the Greek word gnosis. It simply means knowledge. This is speaking of knowledge of God and His ways. It does not mean knowing what God knows and becoming a little god-man or god-woman who can speak words of knowledge that commands God to do things. No! This is a horrible misreading of this passage and the Word-Faith folks are guilty of it. How do we gain this knowledge? It comes as we live more and more in God’s Word. From this we come to know God and His ways. Combining this with excellence in our faith means that we will walk closer to God in obedience. To know God is to fear and obey Him.

Peter then tells us to add self-control to our knowledge. The Greek word Peter used here for “self-control” means “temperance.” If we are in the process of breaking the chains of our sinful flesh then we will also see the results of that in our behavior becoming more and more godly or Christlike. The more Christlike we become the more excellent our character will be because our knowledge of God and His ways causes us to obey Him and fear Him as we should. This causes us to become more and more Spirit-led and this causes us to be able to remain in control or temperate even in very tempting circumstances.

Peter then tells us to add steadfastness to our self-control. The Greek word here actually means “cheerful or hopeful endurance.” It means to be patient, but as you see it means a patience that is based in hope and joy. In other words, our steadfastness is a fruit of our abiding in Christ and being Spirit-led. If we depart our self-control and knowledge, and virtue then our joy and hope dissipate as well. Do you see how these are all linked together? Peter is describing how a Spirit-led person remains in their close walk the Lord before the face of God. When we stumble then all of these “additions” to our faith dissipate until we can get back up and into the race again.

Peter then tells us to add godliness to our steadfastness. Godliness in the Greek means holiness. If we add excellence to our faith then our knowledge of God grows then our self-control firms up which causes our steadfastness to deepen and then people will see us and see someone separate from the world in every way except in their presence. They will have a holy walk before the face of God fully empowered by the Holy Spirit because they are Spirit-led. Awesome!

Those who are holy and separate from the world because of this great work of God in their hearts will have brotherly affection. This is the Greek word “philadelphia.” It means to love the brethren. A Christian who does not love the brethren is not a genuine Christian. It is outside of the will of God for Christians to not love their brethren. Read the book of 1 John! Again, this is not only the will of God it is the natural expression of Christlikeness to love the brethren.

Finally, Peter tells us that believers who become Spirit-led will also add love to their brotherly affection. This is the Greek word “agape.” It is a love that does what is best for the one loved instead of what the loved one desires. A Spirit-led believer will love those around them with God’s love. This love reprimands. It disciplines. It does not give in to others in order to appease. It does not allow false views of God to be taught or preached to the brethren because that is not showing agape love towards them. This is why only mature believers should ever teach or preach or become an elder or pastor.

8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 2 Peter 1:8-10 (NASB)

Do you see that if a believer is lacking in all of these qualities then their faith is not mature. This causes them to not have the mature, Christlike character that they are called to have. How do they attain it? They must learn to be Spirit-led and that means obedience and surrender and submission to the Lordship of Christ and the Sovereignty of God. Notice that we are called to have these qualities in our possession and that they must be increasing. Why? If we have them and they are increasing then this keeps us from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Does this explain why so much heresy and apostasy is being accepted as Christian these days?

Let’s look more closely at v8-9. The word “knowledge” in v8 is not the same word that Peter used in v5. Instead he used the Greek word that means discernment. To have godly discernment, then, Christian maturity is a prerequisite. I have seen so many “discernment ministries” out there that are little more than attempts to sensationalize things. True godly discernment is a fruit of being Christlike and Spirit-led. Those who have this discernment are actually possessing Christ’s discernment. They have the Mind of Christ. They see things as He sees them.

The Christian who is not spiritually mature and is, therefore, not Spirit-led, does not have the Mind of Christ and does not have discernment. He or she is then susceptible to all sorts of ungodly doctrines and attacks from our enemy and his seed. Could this explain why there are so many believers who are mired in false doctrine, seeker sensitivity, and all sorts of compromise with the world? Yes, absolutely! This should also tell us why the leaders in these “movements” are so adamant that it’s okay to make these compromises. Why? Because they do not have the mind of Christ and, therefore, do not have godly discernment. Peter tells us that those believers are worldly and see nothing wrong with it (v9). However, what about those believers who have these qualities becoming more and more abundant in their character?

10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. 2 Peter 1:10-11 (NASB) 

Look at our motivation for denying self, taking up our crosses and following Christ! If we obey our Lord in our sanctification, working it out with fear and trembling then we will be putting to death our flesh and its sinful desires. In doing this, we become more and more Christlike because we are becoming Spirit-led. If we do this then we will have assurance. If we have this assurance then we will have joy and hope and will run the race set before us in the power of the Holy Spirit as we keep our eyes on our Lord. (Hebrews 12:1-2) Living this way will also result in our joyous reception into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I would think that those believers who refuse their sanctification by remaining fleshly and worldly will not have that sort of reception.

Soli Deo Gloria!






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