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  • Paul Reich

The Progression of Godliness

Updated: May 14, 2021

Christ has provided everything we need for godliness. Now by His grace we are to make every effort to add seven virtues to our faith.

 
 
"There’s a classic old story about a conversation between a farmer and a preacher. The story goes that the preacher was driving down a country road when he came upon the most beautiful farm he’d ever seen in his lifetime spent traveling rural roads. He could only compare it to a beautiful painting. It was by no means a new farm, but the house and buildings were well constructed and in perfect repair and paint. A garden around the house was filled with flowers and shrubs. A fine row of trees lined each side of the white gravel drive. The fields were beautifully tilled, and a fine herd of fat dairy cattle grazed knee-deep in the pasture. The site was so arresting the preacher stopped to drink it all in. He had been raised on a farm himself, and he knew a great one when he saw it.
It was then he noticed the farmer, on a tractor, hard at work, approaching the place where the preacher stood beside his car. When the farmer got closer, the preacher hailed him. The farmer stopped the tractor, idled down the engine, and then shouted a friendly “hello!” The preacher said to him, “My good man, God has certainly blessed you with a magnificent farm.” And then, there was a pause as the farmer took off his cape and shifted in the tractor seat to take a look at his pride and joy. He then looked at the preacher and he said, “Yes, He has, and we’re grateful. But you should have seen this place when He had it all to Himself.” [1]

This story illustrates a divine-human partnership in the productiveness and fruitfulness of creation. Obviously, God created the flowers, shrubs, trees, soil, white gravel, dairy cattle, the pastures upon which they grazed, and the various raw materials used for the farmhouse, the buildings, the tractor, and the other machinery used to work the farm. Apart from the natural resources God placed in creation and the life He put within plants and animals to reproduce after their own kind, the farmer would have nothing to work with. In addition, without the sunshine and the rain (or other water supply), the farmer could not successfully grow his crops. God’s part is evident in the success of the farm.


Yet, even with all of God’s abundant provision placed in creation, it took the farmer's hard work as a steward of God’s creation to release the farm’s full potential. The farmer needed the creation resources that God provided, but God also entrusted the farmer with responsibility to “subdue” the land and “rule over” the animals to bring out their greatest potential (Genesis 1:26-29, 2:15; Psalm 8:6-8).


This divine-human partnership is a principle for many aspects of the Christian life. For example, the Scriptures contain many promises that God will answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7-11; John 14:13-14; 16:23-27), but the Bible also admonishes, “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2 NIV). God wants to answer our prayers, but first we must pray!


This partnership principle is also true in evangelism. Only God can save someone and regenerate them by the power of HIs Holy Spirit. However, He calls us to preach the Gospel in the power of the Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), and He calls the hearers of the gospel to repent and place their faith in Christ’s redemptive work (John 3:16; Acts 2:38-40). I could multiply other examples of this divine-human partnership, but this is sufficient to get my point across.


This same partnership is also true in the transformation process. Sanctification has both a God part (Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Thessalonians 5:22-23; Jude 1:24-25) and a man part (1 Corinthians 8:24-27; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:1-4).


The vine and branches analogy and the power and lightbulb analogy of my last two blog posts both illustrate this divine-human partnership. In both analogies, there is a part that God plays and a part that we play in the production of fruit or the illumination of the light bulb. God supplies the power and the ability and by his power we produce the fruit and shine the light of godliness. In my past four blog posts, I've focused on the power for transformation and emphasized God's part in sanctification, in the next weeks, I will examine the process of transformation and emphasize our role in the process.


THE PROGRESSION OF GODLINESS


This week, we will carry on with 2 Peter 2:3-11. In last week’s post, we covered verses 3 and 4, showing that Christ’s divine power has provided everything we need for life and godliness. This divine power for godliness is accessed through maintaining an open and deepening personal relationship with Jesus. In this post, we will look at the progression of godliness found in verses 5-7.


2 Peter 1:5–7 (NASB)

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.


Effort for Godliness


Peter is writing to believers (2 Peter 1:1). His instruction is pertinent for all Christians who are saved by faith in Christ and His death on the cross. Though salvation is a gift, now as believers we must actively cooperate with Christ's divine power available to us to progress in godliness. As the apostle Paul said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12–13 NIV). We work out, what God works in. Our role in the divine-human partnership is to use the divine resources God has provided by actively participating in the process. Because Christ’s power has given us everything we need to become godly, we must therefore “apply all diligence” (NASB) and “make every effort” (NIV) to add virtues for advancing godliness in our lives.

Dr. Baylis, speaking on 2 Peter 1:1-11, was stressing the fact of our responsibility to apply diligence to incorporating godly qualities into our lives. He quoted C.H. Spurgeon, “God sends every bird his food, but He doesn’t throw it into the nest.” God has provided everything for living a godly, Christian life, but I must do something, work, to make it mine. [2]

God has given us all that we need to become godly, but He's not going to do everything for us. As we actively and diligently engage in our part of the process, we will mature and grow in godliness. As we look back, we will realize that our efforts have been empowered by the grace of God.


1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.


The Virtues of Godliness


Building on the foundation of faith, Peter lists seven additional qualities that are to be part of every Christian’s life. In total, these eight qualities (including faith) build a life of godliness. It is not Peter’s intent to limit Christian character to these particular virtues since other virtues are mentioned in his epistles (E.g., 1 Peter 3:8-9), as well as throughout the teaching of the New Testament. Yet, Peter has selected these virtues as a portrait of a Christian life. Because Peter enjoins us to sequentially “add” (NIV) or “supply” (NASB) these qualities, numerous scholars refer to this list of traits as Peter’s ladder or stairway of Christian virtues.



Peter may have had a good reason for listing his chosen virtues in this particular order, but I don’t believe his intent was that these traits had to be added sequentially as if to say, “Now that you believe in Christ, the next thing to add to your faith is moral excellence. Once you get that mastered, then add knowledge. Once you’ve climbed the rung of knowledge, then your next step is to work on self-control. After that, keeping adding my list of virtues until you get to love.” Though, Peter may have considered love as the crown of Christian virtues because of Christ’s emphasis on love, his intent is not that we sequentially step-by step go through these virtues until we finally arrive at love. Rather we should be developing and practicing Christian love along with the other virtues from the very beginning.


Because the ladder analogy implies this sequential step-by-step approach, I personally prefer the idea of Peter using a soup recipe as an analogy – as if to say, “Add these virtues to the soup of Christian godliness. Let them season your life and simmer together until they fully permeate all of who you are. In this way, they will nourish and benefit your life, and through your godly life, others will see, taste, and smell the very character of Christ.” So, I like to refer to Peter’s list of virtues as “A Recipe for Christian Godliness” or “A Soup of Christian Virtues”



The Greek word translated as “add” or “supply” means “to supply generously; to furnish.” As noted, Peter does not intend that these ingredients be added in this specified order as if these were sequential steps for Christian growth. Rather, he is describing essential ingredients for Christian character. They are not to be added just once, but generously supplied throughout our entire lives. In addition, they should be qualities that are increasing in our lives. “If these qualities are yours and are increasing” (2 Peter 1:8). Peter’s intent is clearly that we grow in these virtues. Therefore, it is important that we understand what they are.


FAITH“… in your faith”


Peter begins with faith. He is writing to believers who have already placed their faith in Christ for salvation (2 Peter 1:1). Peter now encourages them to mature in godliness. However, this does not mean that we no longer need faith after we are saved. To the contrary, the Bible encourages us to grow in faith (Matthew 6:30, 8:10, 17:19-20; Romans 4:20-21; 2 Corinthians 10:15; Philippians 1:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:3).


In fact, not only are we saved by faith (John 3:16; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:8-9), our entire lives are to be lived by faith (Galatians 2:20).

  • Faith frees us from anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:6-7).

  • Faith helps us persevere in difficult times (2 Thessalonians 1:4).

  • Faith quenches the fiery darts of the enemy (Ephesians 6:16).

  • Faith protects us from spiritual shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19).

  • Faith enables us to please and obey God (Hebrews 11:1-40)

  • And much more.

Faith is not a step to be forgotten, but a quality that is to permeate every aspect of the Christian life.


The basic feature of faith is trust and reliance on God based on His character (particularly His love and faithfulness), His promises, and His power. We grow in faith as we experientially deepen our knowledge of God (Mark 11:22; 2 Timothy 1:12) and His word (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 2:2), thereby having a greater confidence in Him and His promises. Therefore, if we want to grow in faith, we must devote time to getting to know God and studying His word.


MORAL EXCELLENCE “… in your faith supply moral excellence,”


Moral excellence refers to moral goodness and uprightness in character and behavior. Though, I don’t think Peter’s order of traits is meant to provide sequential steps for Christian growth, I do find it interesting that the second ingredient for his soup of Christian virtues is moral character. Equally interesting is that he places it before knowledge. Knowledge without moral character results in pride and an informed mind, but not a transformed life. God is interested in our character being transformed, not just giving us more information.


KNOWLEDGE - “… and in your moral excellence, knowledge,”


Here, I believe Peter’s use of “knowledge” refers to understanding, wisdom, and discernment similar to Paul’s emphasis (Philippians 1:9–10; Colossians 1:9-10). These forms of spiritual knowledge – discernment, spiritual wisdom, understanding - are directly related to moral uprightness (hence not just information) and are rooted in knowing God, knowing His word, and knowing his will.


SELF-CONTROL“… and in your knowledge, self-control,”


Translated “temperance” in the KJV, self-control is the ability to rule our thoughts, our desires and passions, and our actions. This would include controlling our tongue and our temper. It conveys the idea of self-discipline and the ability to resist temptation. Paul includes self-control as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and one of the necessary traits for spiritual leaders (Titus 1:8). He further features self-control in his athletic analogy for living a disciplined Christian life (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).


PERSEVERANCE“… and in your self-control, perseverance,”


Perseverance is the inward fortitude to endure difficulties with patience and to remain steadfast in trial and suffering. While self-control is our godly response to the pleasures and temptations of life, perseverance is our godly response to the pressures and problems of life. Perseverance enables us to be strong and remain faithful to God when life gets tough (James 1:2-4).


GODLINESS“… and in your perseverance, godliness,”


Peter has already introduced the topic of godliness as an overarching description for this passage (2 Peter 1:3). He now includes it as one of the seven virtues that we are to add to our faith. As noted in my previous post, godliness is equivalent to piety and refers to our devotion to serve and please God in every area of our lives - our affections, thoughts, choices, and actions. It is living out practically what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.


BROTHERLY KINDNESS“… and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,”


Here, Peter uses a well-known word in North American circles – philadelphia, from which the first national capital of the United States, and still prominent city in Pennsylvania, derived its name. Literally, it means brotherly love and refers to the warm bond of affection that exists between siblings. It is used to describe kind and loving relationships within the family of God (Romans 12:10).


LOVE“and in your brotherly kindness, love.”


It is interesting that Peter ends with love, which is the pinnacle of all Christian virtues. Like Peter, Paul too places love at the pinnacle of his own list of Christian virtues, “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14 NIV). This special emphasis on love should not surprise us, for love is the hallmark trait of Christianity. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34 NIV). Moreover, because of Jesus’ words, John identifies love as evidence that we are "born of God," "know God," and "abide in Him" (1 John 4:7-8, 16).


Christian love is selfless care and action for another’s wellbeing. Paul describes in detail the nature and qualities of Christian love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), but this is a topic for another time. Love is a recurring theme in both of Peter’s epistles and in his first letter he twice calls his readers to fervently love one another” (1 Peter 1:22, 4:8).


Closing


Peter’s emphasis on "fervently" loving one another brings us back full circle to his appeal that we “make every effort” and “apply all diligence” in adding these virtues to our lives. Again, this is only possible by the divine power that we access through knowing Christ. Yet, it is our responsibility to avail ourselves of the resources that God has made available to us for growing in godliness. The great Scottish Bible expositor Alexander MacLaren wrote:

"We may have as much of God as we will. Christ puts the key of the treasure-chamber into our hand, and bids us take all that we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank and told to help himself, and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor?” [3]

God has abundantly provided all that we need, but we are responsible to see that His provision is not neglected. Let us be found diligent to access the divine power and resources we have in Christ. Then by this power to generously add these seven virtues of godliness to our faith. As they permeate our attitudes, words, and actions, we will be transformed and in every interaction we have with others, they will encounter Christ in us.



REFERENCES

[1] This story of “The Farmer and the Preacher” has been told in numerous contexts and ways. This particular version was written by Earl Nightingale and is found at https://www.nightingale.com/newsletters/553



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