2 Peter 1:5-7 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”
John Wesley called it “sanctifying grace,” and by that he meant the way God draws us from the first moments of faith on through our lives to eventually be made perfect in love. Peter fleshes that out a little bit, giving us his thinking on what steps there might be along the way. Again we see that the growth of the soul is not tied to a series of laws. The stages of our faith don’t relate to keeping an ever-growing list of “thou shalts” or “thou shalt nots.” The things that mark our spiritual growth are attitudes of the heart and mind.
It begins with faith. Lots of times we think faith is the end goal—not so. It is the beginning point, which is why we see baptism as the beginning of our spiritual development and not the crowning achievement. When we have faith, that marks us as a spiritual infant, and the goal of infancy is to grow beyond it. It’s interesting that the first thing to add is “goodness.” That would imply that some people with honest faith are not good, and life would seem to bear that out. In tech-speak, goodness is an upgrade. Believing is one thing—acting like you believe is another.
Once we believe and start to actually follow the teachings of Jesus, we grow again by actually learning something. The “heart strangely warmed” (as Wesley described his conversion) is a good thing, but at some point our brains needs to get with the program. We need to study—study the Bible, study faith, study the lives of Christians who are further along the spiritual path. It becomes dangerous to simply swallow whole the words on a page of the Bible. We need to learn about the context, the people who wrote the words, and the faithful Christians who have interpreted those words over 2,000 years.
Once our knowledge begins to grow, we have power and it can be difficult to use that power wisely and well. Growing the spiritual fruit of self-control is next. Just because I “can” doesn’t mean that I “should.” There are times I should speak up and times I should be silent. There are times I should interfere and times I should let something go. There are times I should stay where I am and times I should move. When we are in control of ourselves, we can be open to the leading of God.
But it can’t just be once. Controlling ourselves is an ongoing process, and we must persevere in it. As we keep it up, at last the light of God begins to shine in us. Godliness dawns in the person of faith who is good, knowledgeable, and able to keep themselves in check over time. God is then free to work in our lives and we can move to the higher planes of true kindness and, ultimately, love. As Scripture has been telling us since at least Leviticus, love is the goal because God is love. Love is godliness that has been perfected in us. It is pure God.
Of course our development isn’t completely linear. We have moments of love even at the very beginning and probably bounce back and forth across the spectrum depending on our personal strengths and weaknesses and the circumstances of the moment. But, in the end, God’s grace seeks to create all these virtues in us, that we might fully experience the love of God and fully embody that for others. Don’t be content with spiritual infancy. God has so much more to give you.
I need to grow, God. Give me the grace and the courage to leave spiritual childhood behind and move more fully into your love. Amen.
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