August 20, 2006
2 Peter 1:3-8
In writing about “The Creative Process”, Mart DeHaan (host of Day of Discovery) says, that “teachers of creative thinking sometimes say, “All things are connected. Try to find relationships where you’ve never seen them before.”
The exercise might raise some questions among those who are committed to “living by the book” than to “thinking outside the box.” On the other hand, it could be that no one has a better reason to believe “all things are connected” than those who take the Bible seriously.
Let me give you an example. You decide whether you think the “connection” is real or imagined.
Could there be a parallel between the creative process God used to make the earth and the process He now wants to use to reorder our inner world? The case sounds like this.
The God who created the earth made something out of nothing. He brought order out of chaos and spoke light into the darkness.
Thousands of years later, this same creator is still speaking light into the darkness. Now, however, He is speaking into a world of darkened hearts that, for many generations, have been turning their backs on Him. As John 1:1-5 affirms: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
So, according to the New Testament, the God who now wants to re-create our inner world comes with the assurance that, in Christ, He gives us everything we need. Turn to 2 Peter 1:3-4; it states: “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,
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. ”
Did you hear that? God says we are given everything for living a godly life, away from the influence of this decadent world. WE have divine power at our finger tips. We have access to His divine nature. Now let’s continue reading the next three verses in 2 Peter Chapter1; verses 5 through 8, also in the English Standard version “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.
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. “
Virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, affection, and love are YOURS. Remember? We have divine power to live godly lives.
Now see if you hear echoes of Genesis in the qualities Peter calls for. Today we are going to look at the first quality in Peter’s extensive list.
In your faith, add virtue. First, faith is God’s work in us. It is part of His sanctifying process in us. 1 Thessalonians 5.24 puts it this way, “God, who calls you, is faithful; he will do this.”
Faith works in the darkness of what we cannot see. Virtue, in turn is light, it involves a desire for moral excellence that has its origin in God. When the whole earth was dark and under water, the Spirit of God moved to replace the chaos with something good. Today, in our own darkness and confusion, God asks us to open our minds to a goodness that is better than anything we can presently see or imagine.
God is faithful; God makes you faithful.
I’ve used the word virtue and followed that by speaking about moral excellence. What on earth does that mean? They’re not words we use every day in our present culture because we currently live in a relativistic world which is free or moral absolutes, and therefore free of virtue.
Back in the days when Paul and Donna graciously allowed us to live in their basement suite, I started reading a book of Paul’s entitled, “God’s Treasury of Verses.” I enjoyed it so much I bought my own copy. I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “he’s off on another rabbit trail, we’ll be here all day.” Well, I’m not on a rabbit trail, but you could still be here all day!
The point is that “God’s Treasury of Virtues” begins with a definition of “virtue”. It is fairly lengthy, but well worth reading because it is quite extensive and thorough. So here it is: “What is virtue?” Perhaps the simplest definition on which most would agree is “moral goodness.” Virtue is the composite of all traits or qualities that are deemed good, right, and fitting for all persons in a particular culture.
In practice, however, virtue is an ideal. No one is completely virtuous, except perhaps in fiction. Virtue is a quality we seek and pursue, one that requires discipline and focused intent to achieve. No one is born virtuous. Remember the comparison with Genesis. First darkness; then light. No one is born virtuous. Virtue is acquired. And while a person may be able to attain virtue fully, we have an innate understanding as human beings that virtue is worthy of pursuit, and that, to at least some extent, it can be gained.
This, virtue is linked to desire. The virtuous person must desire to be virtuous – not only to strive toward the ideal of moral goodness, bur to cling fast to all aspects of goodness attained and to maintain a strong center of goodness in spite of societal turmoil, interpersonal conflict, or difficult circumstances. The virtuous person, therefore, asks two questions:
* What must I do to be a good person?
* How can I hold on to the reputation of goodness that I have won?
Both of these questions are answered best in terms of behavior. Indeed, we don’t know that a person is “good” unless that person does good deeds! To become a good person, one must do good things, make good choices, express good attitudes, and engage in good behaviors. To maintain a reputation of goodness, one must do good things that are outwardly visible to others,
Perhaps that is why many definitions of virtue include the idea of “an inherent power.” The pursuit of virtue seems to trigger a secondary activity. The more we seek to become a person marked by goodness, the more we seek to do good. We are compelled in pursuit of virtue to act in certain ways that are beneficial to others, and in a cyclical fashion, bring benefit back to us. In this book, these questions are answered this way.
Virtue—moral goodness—will be defined by criterion set forth in the Holy Bible. That's why this book is titled GOD'S Treasury of Virtues.
Jesus, the only sinless man ever to live, said of Himself when He was called good, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God" it says in Matthew 19:17 (NKJV) Now Jesus is not saying that He was not good. They knew He was good. His good deeds showed His goodness. What He was saying in only God is good. And by inference, He is God.So according to the Bible, absolute goodness is a trait of God, and ultimately, a trait belonging to God alone. Anything we know of goodness, therefore, must be derived from Him and bestowed by Him.
The Bible teaches that man is not born "good," but rather with evil intent in his heart. Of man, the Lord says in (Genesis 8:21 NKJV): "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." How then can an inherently "bad" person become a "good" person—one who reflects God's own divine nature of good?
The New Testament is clear. In it, the apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that, you, being rooted and established in love, may have power; together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV).
When he prayed, Paul knew this: Man becomes good when Christ dwells in his heart by faith . . . which leads to a strengthening of the inner man by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . which establishes a person in love and power (moral goodness in principle and in deed) .. . which builds in ever-increasing amounts of God's goodness until the person is filled with the fullness of God.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find very definitive lists of "goodness" inherent to the Holy Spirit that He imparts to man. One of the most comprehensive lists was given by the apostle Paul to the church in Galatia:
When the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23 TLB).
Virtue, by biblical definition, is the "fruit of the Holy Spirit" evident in our lives. We are "good" when we bear these hallmark qualities of the Spirit within us and manifest them daily to those around us. Again, the specific qualities are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And for each quality, this principle holds true: these traits are not something that a person owns. They are something a person does.
In other words .. .
Love is not only a quality, but an action. The person who experiences love and has love in his heart, shows love through generous giving to others.
joy manifests itself in praise and in voicing words of encouragement to others.
Peace manifests itself in calmness and an even temperament. And so forth.”
An unprincipled businessman who like to appear full of virtue, told Mark Twain, “Before I die, I’m going to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I shall climb to the top of Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud.”
“I have a better idea”, said Mark Twain.
“You do?” said the businessman. “I’d like to hear it.”
“About the Ten Commandments,” Twain replied, “why don’t you stay right at home in Boston and keep them.”
Now, getting back to our Scripture, in 2 Peter 1 John MacArthur says, “Because of God giving us everything we need for godly living, in verses 3 and 4, the believer cannot be indifferent or self-satisfied. Such an abundance of divine grace calls for total dedication. That is, making maximum effort. The Christian life is not lived to the honor of God without effort. Even though God has poured His divine power into the believer, the Christian himself is required to make every disciplined effort alongside of what God has done. And, we are to add to our faith. Add is to give lavishly and generously. In Greek culture, the word was used for a choirmaster who was responsible for supplying everything that was needed for his choir. The word never meant to equip sparingly, but to supply lavishly for a noble performance. God has given us faith and all the graces necessary for godliness. We add to those by our diligent devotion to personal righteousness. First in Peter's list of moral excellencies is a word (virtue) that, in classical Greek, meant the God-given ability to perform heroic deeds. It also came to mean that quality of life which made some-one stand out as excellent. It never meant cloistered virtue, or virtue of attitude, but virtue which is demonstrated in life. Peter is here writing of moral energy, i.e., the power that performs deeds of excellence. This virtue involves a diligent study and pursuit of truth in the Word of God.
Virtue, guided by knowledge, disciplines desire and makes it the servant, not the master, of one's life.
The practice of godliness – virtuous living - is a discipline. It requires serious commitment and persevering effort to reach the goal. Writing to the Philippians near the end of his life from a Roman prison cell, Paul acknowledged that he had not yet reached it. He was still running the race of godliness; he still wanted to know Christ more and become more like Him.
What kept Paul going as he strained toward what was ahead? What motivating factor did he count on when he wrote to Timothy, “train yourself to be godly,” fully knowing that such training was an arduous task, full of difficulties and discouragements? Someone has remarked that desire without discipline breeds disappointment, but discipline without desire breeds drudgery. Let me repeat that: desire without discipline breeds disappointment, but discipline without desire breeds drudgery. Was the pursuit of a godly life a drudgery to Paul? Did he expect Timothy in his discipline toward godliness simply to grit his teeth and endure the Christian life?
Paul’s description of his own practice of godliness, in Philippians 3:12–14, answers these questions. He was deeply motivated. There is no suggestion of either disappointment or drudgery. He was running a disciplined race, but he was running it with strong desire. What was the source of Paul’s motivation, the object of his strong desire? Let’s take a close look at the passage in Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul admitted that he had not obtained the goal of godliness. He had not yet been made perfect; he was still running the race. Note the intensity, though, of his running. He declares, “I press on … straining toward what is ahead.” The word translated “press on” is the same word translated “pursue” in such passages as 1 Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:22, and 1 Peter 3:11. It is also the same word for “persecute,” which means to track down and harass or torment. It is a word of great intensity. “Strain toward” brings to our minds the attitude of the runner with his eye fixed firmly on the goal, his body bent forward, every muscle and nerve in his body straining to reach the goal. Anyone who has ever seen the look of agony on the faces of runners straining for the tape can readily recognize the intensity conveyed by the verb “strain toward.” Yet this intensity was Paul’s experience, day in and day out. Paul never had an off season; he never slacked off in his efforts. It was a lifelong discipline. How could he sustain such intensity? Was it because of his intense personality, and thus unique to him and those of like temperament? Or was there a motivation in Paul’s heart that should be the common experience of every Christian? In verses 12 and 14, Paul speaks of two motivating factors for his virtue.
In verse 12 he presses on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him. In verse 14 he presses on to win the prize for which God had called him heavenward in Christ Jesus. The first speaks of God’s objective for him; the second speaks of God’s reward for him. Let us look at each of these to see how they so strongly motivated Paul to be virtuous.
CHRIST’S OBJECTIVE FOR US
Paul pressed on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of him. He earnestly strove to reach Christ’s objective for him. What was this objective? Titus 2:14 tells us that Christ “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. “
Christ Jesus’ objective in dying for us was to redeem us from sin—not merely from its penalty, but from its power and dominion. The same thought is expressed in the word purify, which speaks of the inward cleansing from the pollution and defilement of sin. Have you done that? First, have you decided to press on for Jesus? Is Jesus your motivation? If not, now is the time. Today is the day of salvation! Acts 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
The gospel – that good news about Jesus death for our sins and resurrection to life is,” For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.’ according to Romans 1:16. Today is the day to turn your life to God.
Christ gave Himself for His church, as Ephesians 5:25-27 tells us, ”Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. .” That is Christ’s objective for us. That is why He died. That is the purpose for which He took hold of Paul on the Damascus road and for which He takes hold of us individually to bring us to faith in Himself. He died to save us not only from the guilt of sin, but from sin’s power and pollution. He died not to make us happy, but to make us holy.
But there is still more to Christ’s objective for us. Titus 2:14 also speaks of us as “a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. “
” A people of “his very own” refers to His Lordship in our lives: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). “Eager to do what is good” refers to the working out of the fruit of the Spirit, the traits of godly character in our lives.
This, then, is the objective for which Christ Jesus took hold of Paul, and for which He has taken hold of us: He intends to make us holy—to purify us from the pollution of sin in our lives. He intends to be Lord of our lives, and He intends that we exhibit the traits of godly character.
That was Paul’s objective also. That was the goal toward which he pressed, the aim of his strenuous effort. It would have been unthinkable to Paul to pursue any other aim in life than that for which Christ Jesus had taken hold of him.
Note how God-centered Paul’s motivation was. It was the keen awareness of Christ’s objective for him that caused Paul to press on with such intensity. How different we so often are from Paul. All too often we are motivated by desires other than Christ’s objectives for us. We may often be motivated by a desire for “victory” or a desire to “feel good about ourselves,” or a desire to conform to the lifestyle of the Christian fellowship with which we have become associated. We may even be motivated by pride, by a desire for a good reputation in the community, especially in our church or Christian group.
The current popular desire to “feel good about myself ” is quite distinct from genuine godly self-respect. The “feel good” philosophy focuses on self; godly self-respect focuses on God. The “feel good” culture depends upon our own efforts or the affirmation of other people; but godly self-respect depends upon God’s grace. Godly self-respect is possible when we realize that we are created in the image of God, that we are accepted by God solely on the merits of Jesus Christ, that nothing we will ever do will cause Him to love us more or love us less, and that He has a plan for our lives and will enable us through His Spirit to live out that plan. The person with godly self respect freely admits that nothing good lives in his sinful nature. But he also knows that nothing—not even his sin or failures—can separate him from God’s love. He has decided that since God has accepted him on the basis of His grace, he will accept himself on the same basis: God’s grace. He therefore looks outside of himself to Christ to find his self respect. He strives toward the goal not to win acceptance, but because he has already been accepted.
GOD’S REWARD FOR US
So we’ve had a good look at God’s objective for Paul; now let’s take a quick look at God’s reward for Paul. Philippians, chapter 3, verse 14 says: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. “ As a runner straining toward the finish line, Paul pressed on to reach the end of the race and receive the prize. While Paul didn’t identify the prize, it seems from his writing that the prize refers to gaining full knowledge of Jesus Christ. Paul aimed to win the prize, but all who finish the race win it as well. The full knowledge of Christ is the final prize for which believers gladly lay aside all else.
For this prize, Christ Jesus is calling us up to heaven. Some think this refers to the rapture; others say that it means the call to be saved; still others connect it to the high purpose or high vocation of Paul as apostle. Yet because of Paul’s use of the metaphor of athletic games, it seems more natural to understand the “call” as the calling of athletes up to the winner’s stand. Thus, the heavenly call is the summons to win the victor’s prize of salvation. In other words, we’re all winners!!!
Well, now we’re down to the hard part; the application of these biblical truths to our own lives. We can’t suddenly become virtuous. We won’t achieve godly character instantly. To have godly character and possess godly virtues is the culmination of a life’s work. They each take time, lots of time, a lifetime. They each take lots of discipline too. So, the decision we must each make for ourselves is this: Are the rewards worth the price we must pay? Can you answer with a resounding YES!! Absolutely! If so, the time to begin is now. How do you do it? Here are three things to do. First, cast off all those things which keep you from attaining the prize. Then surrender your life completely to the work of the Holy Spirit within you and allow Him to have His way with you. And last, set your eyes on the things of God and divert your attention and priorities from the things of this world, for we cannot serve two masters.
Again, these three things are:
1. Cast off all hindrances
2. Surrender all
3. Set your eyes on things above.
As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord! Will you join us?
There is an often repeated saying that says, “ He is so heavenly-minded he is no earthly good.” But I say, “Be so heavenly-minded that you can be some earthly good?”