2 Peter 1:5-11 ~ Developing Christian Character
Turn to second Peter chapter 1 please. I’m going to read the first nine versus.
1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
What a marvelous thing is that Christian faith. Of course not everyone believes that. If they really did believe that churches would be crowded. If they really believed that then many would be coming and asking us to tell them how to become Christians. In reality as Richard DeHaan said, “The invitation to come to Christ could not be accepted by anyone, if it were not for the enlightening, convicting and enabling work of the Holy Spirit.” As I preached in November, this wonderful gift of faith came to us not by chance but, as is his divine powers given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Through the knowledge of him who called us by glory and virtue, God himself has given us everything we need. Do you believe that?
When I started out on this Christian journey I knew very little of this. The night that Harold Wagler then George Wabigwan wrung my hand and glowed like 300 W bulbs scared the daylights out of me. I was very hesitant to claim that I had asked Jesus into my life. I certainly had no real understanding that God had given to me, “exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
I didn’t know anything much about that, at that point in time. It was only after I began to say to myself, as I heard the promises of God, this promise is for me and I can claim this. That is how assurance of my salvation began to come into my heart. Now, for some of you it was very different. Some of you had an instantaneous response and you just had that overwhelming sense of your forgiveness and your cleansing and so on. I didn’t have that. Mine was more of a growing and gradual thing. I now know that when I finally yielded my life to Jesus, in a very hesitant and unsure way, I do know that my sins were forgiven and I became a child of God. I was declared righteous in God’s sight because Christ had applied his righteousness to my soul and if I had died then, I was as ready to go to heaven. I am now almost 60 years later, but I didn’t know that yet. So if I was saved then I guess that was it, wasn’t it. I had everything I needed. If anybody asks me now, how I became a Christian or how I know I am a Christian, why I could refer back to that experience. I could tell what God did for me in that little town in Northwestern Ontario.
I belong to the Lord so I could just coast along on the strength of that salvation experience right to the end, couldn’t I? Wrong! The salvation experience is the beginning of the Christian life not the end of the Christian life. All these little babies that are born here into this church family, that we enjoy so much, they are fully alive and they have got the lungs to prove it. I hear some of them in the back of the sanctuary even after the children of gone down for Sunday school. I still here little ones back in the back babbling away to beat the band and it is marvelous. They’re so fully alive but, boy they have got a lot of growing to do. A lot of that growth will take place without much initiative on their part. They’ll be the recipients of the love and the care and the feeding and the changing performed on their behalf by their parents and in the process they will grow. You will see the change and will rejoice from moment to moment, day by day as you see these little ones changing before your very eyes. All of a sudden that little baby that was in the nursery is a little boy in a bowtie walking to the Sunday school and these other children as well. Is it any different with spiritual babies? We spiritual nurse maids have a huge responsibility to care for every newborn baby who is brought to faith in Christ here at First Baptist Church. Our job is helping, loving, praying, feeding, encouraging and rejoicing with them; but there is far more than that. The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is needed to produce real holiness and real holiness is needed in the development of character and that’s the title of this evening’s message; Developing Christian character.
It’s a long journey from being saved to the development of true Christian character and every one of us that are on the road can testify that it is a long journey, right? It is not automatic and it does not happen overnight. Christian characters what we must strive for. Now, these new believers are not off the hook. They have a part to play and that is what I want to emphasize here tonight. Listened to it, the word of God says in 2 Peter chapter 1 starting with verse five, ”For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” Right off the bat that sounds like work.
Effort is needed and earnestness is needed in accomplishing or striving after anything. Without giving all diligence there is no gaining any ground in the work of holiness or in the development of Christian character. If we are not prepared to do anything about this matter of belonging to Jesus in terms of growth and development then were going to be a lot like the story of the moth that I’m sure you’ve all heard.
A professor brought a moth cocoon into his classroom. It had been there in the warm classroom and after a while, why the cocoon began to gyrate and move a bit. He saw that moth was struggling and struggling and starting to try to get to itself pushed out of its cocoon. It worked and worked. He felt so sorry for it and he watched as it worked and worked. He felt so sorry for it that he thought he would just help it a little bit. He took a little pair scissors and he clipped the end of the cocoon to make it a little bit easier and that did make it easier. That moth was able to push its way out more easily but, in the process it lacked the pressure against itself, the pressure that would have forced the fluids into those gossamer wings and so it came out of the cocoon a bloated creature whose wings didn’t fill out, an invalid. Do we Christians ever think like that? We don’t like to have to work at this business of being a Christian do we? We just want it to be so simple and we just want it to be easy. We struggle and there are trials and there are difficulties. We wonder why, not realizing that as in the case of that moth, that those difficulties are part of the requirement to try to bring into our experience all of the qualities of character that we need; in order to go forward strongly for Christ. It is possible, it should never happen but, it is possible for that newborn Christian to be kind of an invalid spiritually. God doesn’t want that to happen my friends and so here we find these seven steps on the ladder of faith that leads towards Christian character. He says to us, add to your faith.
Now in that last message in November I preach to you about the wonderful gift of faith. Faith is the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and the bestower of eternal salvation through Christ. But, now it sounds like faith is not enough. What are we to believe? Are we to believe that salvation is by faith or are we to believe that it is faith plus something. Saving faith is enough but, what about working faith? What about deepening faith?
Add to your faith, he says, virtue. And virtue as I understand it includes moral goodness, moral excellence, those qualities as modesty and purity. When we trust Jesus Christ there should be evidence of a change in one’s life and outlook. Things which once captured and held us held our souls in their grip. Every form of addiction must come under the power of Christ. Attitudes have to change and while it’s true that only God can set the prisoner free, the prisoner must desire that freedom. That involves the recognition of sin. The realization of what it is that holds us back, the confession of sin and the willingness to turn from sin. While some agencies like AA can be a great help in setting the prisoner free and we’re thankful for them, it is my belief that they can’t do the whole job without a hatred of sin and a willing warfare against that which binds us.
Without turning from sin and without the power of Christ, there’s the danger of a lack of victory. Add to your faith, virtue he said.
Secondly add to virtue knowledge. Many people in our society amass great knowledge and I’m thankful for those that continue to strive to explore the world around us and all the folks that learn and grow and develop and so on but, no Masters degree can give the kind of knowledge that were talking about here in this verse. This knowledge is not just intelligence or understanding but a growing knowledge of Jesus Christ. I think back to Bob Epple in our second congregation. Bob was a miner. I doubt he finished high school. I almost would question whether he had any more than finish grade 8. Bob had become an alcoholic but, by the time that I met him when he was part of our congregation, Bob had become a victorious Christian who’s love the Lord he could hardly talk about without tears coming to his eyes. He was an emotional Christian. His feelings about the Lord Jesus were right there on his chest and he carried them proudly in a sense. Bob maybe didn’t have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things but, he did love Jesus. He knew something about Jesus. Dr. T. T . Shields of Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto many years ago tell of a blacksmith who, when he was converted, was illiterate. He couldn’t read or write. He had a girl going to school and so he got his little girl to teach her daddy how to get his ABCs, how to begin to say words and read words in a sentence. Pastor Shield said that man had never read any other book but the Bible. I discovered that I could talk to him about just about anything and that the word of God had given him a keen spiritual perception, a penetration that was extraordinary. His mind was so full of the word of God that no matter what you said he could give you an intelligent answer. There is a knowledge that is not just the kind of knowledge that this world can give to us but, to there is a knowledge that is an ever deepening knowledge of God, of Christ, and of the Christian life; knowledge of who we are, where were going and what we are doing. I’m not suggesting for one moment that other forms of knowledge are useless, not at all. None of us should prize ignorance. There are none of us that should take pride in the fact that we never learn or that we never went to school. By all means, let’s use the gift of intelligence that God has given us and let’s learn and grow and develop and become knowledgeable as widely as we can but, in the process let’s remember that the highest knowledge is not that which we can get out of other books. The highest knowledge is the knowledge of God in Christ and we get that chiefly from His book. Add to your virtue knowledge.
Third add to knowledge self-control. Note, this speaks of the virtue of one who masters his own desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. As Dr. Shields said “before you can control yourself you need to know something about yourself, do you not? Oh, the weakness of mortal flesh! Oh, the inherent corruption of these human natures.” I never heard Dr. Shields preach. They tell me that it was a wonderful experience to hear that man but, that was not one of my opportunities, I just read about him. I don’t think we can study this passage of scripture without thinking of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit from Galatians chapter 5, can we?
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are the very human things against which we have to exercise self control. Against these the holy Spirit produces His fruit and one part of that fruit is self-control.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Now, I believe that all of the nine parts of the fruit of the spirit actually are part of the inheritance of you as a Christian. When you become Christian you put your trust in the Lord Jesus. The holy spirit comes to presence in your life and I believe that the fruit of your spirit is implanted anew and so I believe that every Christian has access to all of those things within himself. But, they need to be developed. When a person believes in the Lord Jesus he is given a new nature but, one must learn to exercise that control over his own nature. You see, we all know about the struggle between the new nature and the old nature. I do not need to go into that. We are all too well aware of it. Self-control doesn’t just refer to the sins of the flesh. One of the areas in which I continue to need the Lord’s help is with this little member which the Lord says is a fire, a world of iniquity - my tongue. Oh, I don’t swear or curse but, I when I feel there’s something wrong, I have been known to go on a rant once in a while. I know what it is to have the Lord have to convict to meet about it. I know what it is to wake up in the night and think about what I had said and how I went on and have to go the next day and apologize and ask forgiveness. You may not believe that would be true of me but, my wife does. Yes and even the staff here at church do too. They’ve heard me rant. Believe it or not, even the board knows it. Sometimes that requires repentance and an apology. Anybody else ever want to join me in this? Add to knowledge self-control.
Add to self-control, patience. That is, steadfast constancy, endurance or as the New King James says, perseverance. The characteristics of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings. Patient endurance is the need of every believer. Life is not easy, in case you did not know that. There is no believer that I have met who floats through life on a pink cloud and goes gloriously off to heaven with the trumpets sounding. What does the word of God say about how we receive patience? It says tribulation works patience. Which one of us likes tribulation? But, the Bible says you need it. You need some tribulation because you need to develop the character of patience and endurance. This doesn’t really go along with our appeal, “Lord I want patience and I want it right now!” We need patience as we have to wait on so many things. Waiting for decisions of her which we have no control; patients under affliction. Praise God when we see Christian character revealed in times of stress or distress.
When our granddaughter was killed I was thankful to be able to say, if we believe what we say we believe, then our daughter and our son-in-law responded as we hoped they might respond. That is what we are talking about. We are talking about that work of God as he works into us the qualities of character that we need in order to be mature helpful Christians. Add to self-control patience.
Add to patience, perseverance. The other word for it is godliness, reverence, respect, piety toward God, godliness. As we grow in the Lord we are to reflect more and more the qualities which are part of his nature. Unlike the New Age people who talk so ridiculously about developing the God in you, the believer in Christ is only too aware of our humanity. We are not God but, we may develop attitudes which reflect His attitudes and a large part of developing godly attitudes is developing godly attitudes towards our fellow believers and our fellow human beings who are created in God’s image. To an even greater degree, we need to develop godly attitudes towards our fellow believers. Long ago I learned that not all people and not all believers even, are lovable people. Not even me. Different personalities tend to rub one another the wrong way. I’m thankful for that verse that says, as iron sharpens iron so, one man sharpeneth the countenance of his brother. We remember that God does not love us because we are lovely, he loves us unconditionally in spite of our warts and then through the miracle of grace he goes about transforming us. You’ve all heard that acronym BPWMGINFWMY, which stands for please be patient with me God is not finished with me yet. Add to perseverance, godliness.
Add to godliness brotherly kindness. DeHaan says, “The natural outflow of a godly heart is a willingness to bear one another’s burdens and a helpful spirit in large and small matters.” Brotherly kindness, how much we need it. Every one of us! It is so easy to be crotchety. Some of us don’t even have to work at that one little bit. To exercise book brotherly kindness and to be kind and to be gracious, to be uplifting, to be supporting, to be mutually helpful, to care about people, to care about people enough that if it were possible we would put ourselves in their place and take their burdens upon our souls ourselves. Add to godliness brotherly kindness.
Add to brotherly kindness, brotherly kindness love. Loving others as God loves us. You are aware of the fact that the word love there is that highest word for love that is in the Scriptures. The love of God is that quality of love which goes beyond anything that we have in ourselves. It is the love which only God can work into us. To brotherly kindness add love. How much the church needs love on the part of all believers in the church? How much the world needs love? The only place I know where they’re going to actually find the kind of love that they really need is within believers because only believers that have the spirit of God living within them, enabling them to love the unlovable, to care for the uncared for and to show forth that spirit that makes people want to be with you and want to be like you and want to learn where you caught it from; would that we have much more of this quality of love.
He comes to his conclusion in verse eight, “For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Seven steps on the ladder towards Christian character. With these things in you and overflowing, you wouldn’t be a barren tree but you would be like Psalm 1 “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”
I said at the beginning that 60 years ago I accepted Jesus and I was ready to die, as ready to go to heaven as right now. The Lord said you better stick around for a while I’ve got some lessons to teach you. With whatever number of years since that was your experience, you’ve had a lot of growing to do. It is good to look back and say, “oh I remember when I was saved.” That’s a good testimony, but don’t stay there. By all means look back and rejoice but, then rejoice in the steps that the Lord has taken to mature you and to bring you on towards godly character, set that you may be useful in the household of faith and the family of God. Amen.