I love that old Saint Peter. A brash fisherman and a blustery disciple, he blurted out whatever popped into his head, he blundered and bungled things repeatedly and even denied his Savior. But he returned, brokenhearted, to serve the church in deep humility and hard-won wisdom. Peter gives me hope, because I’m really good at blurting and bungling, and often find myself brokenhearted at my own foolishness. If God could use Peter, surely He can use me, too.
Tucked away near the end of the New Testament is Peter’s second letter to believers. It’s only a couple of pages long, and in it he tells us that he will soon die, so these are his parting words of wisdom, written to stir us up and remind us of important matters. One of these matters is his advice about growing in the faith, and living a life useful to God.
Peter starts with the foundation of faith. He’s writing to “those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ….” This is the critical belief in the person and work of Jesus, the Creator God of the Bible, that is our salvation. We’ve got that. Now, to be useful to God and fruitful in our Christian walk, says Peter, we need to take these seven steps.
1. Add to our faith virtue. Once we believe, it’s time for clean-up. Virtue is moral goodness and excellence. I must check my life against how Scripture says a Christian should live, and make changes as the Holy Spirit guides me.
2. To virtue, add knowledge. We’ve scrubbed up pretty clean now, with what we currently understand. But that’s just the beginning of our sanctification—becoming set apart for God. We have to learn all we can about our Savior, immerse ourselves in the Bible, memorize key verses, study and meditate on the wisdom found in God’s message to us. We need to listen to good preaching and hang around with Christians in whom we can see the love of Jesus.
3. To knowledge, add self-control. Here’s where a thorough knowledge of the Bible is essential. Most sin is interior, self-centered. The Bible provides the instruction and power we need to recognize, control, conquer and eradicate deep-rooted sins like pride and selfishness, which may not look terrible on the outside, but keep us from becoming like Jesus.
4. To self-control, add perseverance. Oh yes, conquering sin takes perseverance. As the Holy Spirit shows me another and another way in which I have missed the mark (for that is what sin means) and for which I must beg forgiveness, I have to persevere and not give up. He is working in me, and I am making progress, however slow it might seem.
5. To perseverance, add godliness. Well, and this is the natural outgrowth of our perseverance. Increasing godliness results from diligently rooting out sin in our minds and hearts as God reveals it to us. If we keep weeding the garden, gradually the desired crop of godliness has room to grow abundantly.
6. To godliness, add brotherly kindness. Ah, and here we are beginning to be useful. We desire more and more to serve others, to meet their needs and show them the way to Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is ripening in our lives.
7. To brotherly kindness, add love. This is agape love, love as a verb, choosing to love through words and deeds. All through the New Testament, Jesus tells us to love one another with agape love. We are to seek the welfare of others and do them good, not based on fleeting feelings of affection, but as an outpouring of God’s love that fills us, overflowing through us to those around us.
Peter tells us that “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8) And he assures us that “if you do these things you will never stumble.” Peter knows about stumbling, and he’s sharing with us what he has learned about walking with firm and confident steps the path laid out before us. This path of love and service leads “into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” and that’s just where I want to be heading every single moment of every day given me.