Building Faith into Love

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Peter suggests a unique sequence of stepping stones for a Christian to follow in moving from faith to a manifest love (2 Peter 1:5-7).  I’ve been wrestling with this passage for the past several weeks and would like to show you where I am now and to invite you to join me with your suggestions of how to answer my questions.  What is the logic in the sequence from one trait to the next?  To what extent might this sequence a picture of Peter’s own growth from faith (“upon this rock I will build My church” — Matthew 16:18) to love (“Do you love Me? . . .Tend My lambs” — John 21:15)?  Is there any significance that the earlier traits picture the character of an individual, while the later ones picture the individual’s attitudes and actions toward others?  If we are to “add” one characteristic to another, in what sense is each limited without the added one? 

This is where I am with it all today.  Everyone has faith in something, even a misguided heretic.  But the faith of God’s chosen people is a faith that manifests itself in virtue.  But virtue to what end?  Some virtuous behaviors can actually be manipulative for the sake of personal gain.  Some can be superficial social compliance simply to make the person look good and to be admired.  Peter wants the kind of virtue that furthers our knowledge of God in our relationship with Him.  I think Peter used “knowing” in the Hebrew way of intimate familiarity with a relational partner, not intellectual knowledge.  But even this knowledge can puff up our sense of personal power and must be monitored by self control.  As Peter learned more and more about Christ, he had to exercise self control frequently to reign in his impetuous exuberance for his Lord.  But this self control takes energy and, in time, can be draining.  So we must add to it steadfast endurance.  While Peter’s earlier life was characterized by extremes of spurts and sputters, here in his later life, he emphasizes a more steady process.  But this focus on self management can result in a dangerous self-centeredness that must be countered by an attitude of godliness.  This attitude is what keeps us from getting too enamored with ourselves.  But even godliness can result in our becoming so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good, so we need to add brotherly kindness to get practical with our heart.  I like the motto of The Salvation Army, “Hearts toward God, Hands toward People.”  But even kindness can become routine and comfortable, so it needs to be augmented with the self sacrificial Christ-like love that is compelled to serve the well being of others.  This “agape” is what makes a man lay down his life for the salvation of his enemies.   

Now I don’t think this sequence is linear, as though it represents rungs on a ladder.  Once we have experienced this kind of love coming from this sequence of life experiences, our faith is strengthened.  So I think we go back to our core of faith and start all over again.  I picture an old coffee pot that percolates the coffee up the stem and then as the coffee circulates through the coffee grounds, it becomes stronger and recycles through the stem, become stronger and stronger over time.  This is like the process of the Christian life, becoming strong as we respond to life’s experiences with these attitudes that keep us on track.    May God grant me the wisdom to continue this percolation through my life in such a way that He is glorified by seeing more and more of His character manifest through the likes of me. 

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3 Responses to Building Faith into Love

  1. bjmmckee says:

    I have read this great post, and the scripture, several times. One thing that keeps coming to my mind is “knowing” — for some reason, I have the urge to slip “knowing” in the circle before faith. I acknowledge that this was written for those who are already Chrisitians, but some ask how does one get to faith? While knowledge (or knowing) is a couple of links away, and certainly is a necessary part, does the “knowing” bring us to the faith, and then as faith grows and it all comes full circle, does “knowing” keep faith growing? In this context, then, “knowing” becomes fulfillment of a need and knowledge becomes a more complete understanding of God’s character. Does the “knowing” relate in some way to the quality of our faith? Do we all have a sense of “knowing” that we need God, and then at some point on our journey, do we reach of point of “knowing” in our relationship with God? Somehow, this makes sense to me even though it rambles, but probably not where you are going with your thoughts, which are excellent.

  2. leejagers says:

    Ron Barnes is a 1985 graduate of DTS with a ThM and wrote a good article on this passage in the Summer 2008 issue of Kindred Spirit. Click on http://www.dts.edu/media/publications/kindredspirit/article/?ArticleID=1351ca76-684f-4a93-bfb0-84f5b10871f6
    for the article.

    In case it gets cleared from that archived site, here it is:

    That Day
    By Ron Barnes
    Summer 2008 vol. 32, no. 2

    Martin Luther marked two critical days on his calendar—“Today” and “That Day.” That Day marked the day he would arrive in or graduate to heaven. Why is That Day important for believers? Anyone who believes that Jesus is God incarnate and trusts in Him as his or her Savior has eternal life. Luther understood, however, that not all graduations to heaven are created equal. So do we simply want to graduate to heaven? Or do we want to graduate summa cum laude? God left instructions in 2 Peter 1:5–11 to help us show up at our heavenly graduation in attire worthy of highest honors.

    Put on goodness
    First, God commands us to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness” (v. 5). Goodness is moral excellence that shines in a world darkened by sin. We display goodness when we keep promises, earn honest paychecks, are truthful on tax returns, obey copyright laws, and dress modestly. Graduation day is coming!

    Put on knowledge
    But without God’s Word how can we know His moral standards? So we must add “knowledge” to goodness (v. 5). A man I led to Jesus flourished in his new faith until he read a book that convinced him to join a cult. His ignorance of Scripture made him easy prey for the spiderweb of false teaching.

    Put on self-control
    But what good is knowledge of God’s Word without the discipline to apply it? We must put on “self-control” (v. 6), being careful not to gossip, harbor bitterness, or watch movies that insult God’s moral excellence.

    Put on perseverance
    But we can grow weary in our war against sin, and therefore we need “perseverance” (v. 6). Perseverance is “resolve under pressure.” I’ve never met anyone more like Jesus than my mother. One day I asked, “Mom, do you ever get mad at God for allowing your cancer?” “No, Ron,” she said. “God does as He pleases and deserves my full trust.” I’ll never forget her last words: “Let’s pray.” In her dying, she inspired me to pray, “Precious Lord, grant me perseverance—help me finish strong!”

    Put on godliness
    What follows if we persevere in keeping God’s moral standards seen in His Word? As verse 6 reveals, “godliness,” an ocean-deep devotion to God, emerges. In her suffering my mother became a better Christian instead of a bitter Christian, snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting because she knew that one day the Master Teacher would review her life on earth.

    Put on kindness
    But exactly how does godliness show itself? First, with “brotherly kindness” (v. 7). We could help a friend move, fill our pastor’s gas tank, or visit a suffering saint.

    Put on love
    The final virtue in the Christian’s wardrobe is woven throughout the first six virtues, and is the ultimate display of godliness. It is “love” (v. 7), God’s kind of love. He beckons us to reach out to all people, not just believers: the grieving widow, the misunderstood teen, the shut-in, even our enemies. He longs to beautify us with merciful eyes, servant hands, hopeful smiles, and obedient feet.

    A rich welcome
    What happens, then, to the Christian who allows God to clothe his or her life with these seven virtues? “If you do these things … you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (vv. 10–11). A rich welcome?

    Picture a first-century athlete, crowned with a pine wreath for winning the footrace at the Greek games. The people of his hometown have torn down a section of the city wall so he can make a grand entrance. Banners fly. Musicians play. Everyone cheers.

    Peter applies this custom to a Christian’s arrival in heaven, but implies that not all Christians will receive a hero’s welcome. Only those who routinely magnify Christ’s qualities will receive such a welcome. How we live every day on earth influences the kind of heavenly reception we will receive. We can be received as “a highly honored saint,” or as one who makes it into the kingdom but who forfeits his or her rewards. To use the words of Paul, some will enter heaven “only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15). A person who “lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (2 Pet. 1:9, NASB).

    But if we imitate Christ, we will be lavished with verbal praise, crowns, privileged positions in His future kingdom, intimate fellowship with Him, and the treasures stored in heaven through material gifts to His work on earth. The quality of our lives now determines, in a sense, the quality of our life hereafter. Morally all Christians will be like Christ, but just as there are degrees of punishment in hell, so there will be degrees of bliss in heaven.

    On a scale of honors we can graduate to heaven anywhere from having no accolades to summa cum laude. If we strive to achieve the highest honor, we can rest knowing that we have done our best. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you (in the millennium and eternity future) must be your servant” (Mark 10:44). This motivates us to receive a hero’s welcome in heaven.

    Is there, then, an unimportant minute, hour, or day in the life of a follower of Christ? With That Day in view, absolutely not. What kind of attire will we be wearing at our graduation to heaven? Consider today how we will wish we had lived when we stand before Christ on That Day.

    Ron Barnes (ThM, 1985) is professor of Biblical Studies at San Diego Christian College. He also is involved in evangelism at Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California.

  3. […] Another, verse 8 mentions that as we grow in the ways mentioned in verse 7, we will become more productive and useful in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is probably a prayer of every disciple of Christ. They want to be more productive and useful in their understanding of Christ. This occurs (according  to Peter) by actions related to my first point – the promises. This time, Peter goes into more details by actions we can do. More written on verses 5-7:    https://leejagers.wordpress.com/2007/05/07/building-faith-into-love/ […]

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