Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Faith Supplements: Living Like We Mean It

Today, during my Quiet Time with God, I reflected on what God has to say through the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1. God especially spoke to me in 2 Peter 1:5-11:
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. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-11) 
Just before this paragraph, Peter has told his audience that God, by His grace given through Christ to those who believe, has given “all things that pertain to life and godliness.”  
In other words, through Christ, God gives the power of the Holy Spirit to believers to live and thrive in godliness. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to live in ways that are beyond our own capabilities, to live as people made in the image of God, set free from the sinful state into which we’re born. Jesus sets us free to love and live in ways that are foreign to the world and the power for which only God gives. (In fact, Peter uses the verb give, several times in these few verses.) 
Filled with this power, Peter says, pursue the practice of qualities that will confirm--to us, to the world, and to God, I surmise--the presence and power of God’s grace in Christ working in our lives.  
Verses 3 and 4 of this chapter make clear that Peter is NOT saying that the pursuit of these qualities are a means by which we save ourselves. Christ is the only One Who can save us.  
But when Peter says to “make every effort to supplement [some translations say add to] your faith…” with these qualities, I think he means this: The Holy Spirit implants every one of these qualities in believers. They exist latently, like barrels of beer (or, you prefer, soft drinks) waiting for the Christian to tap into and lap up. Or, they’re like blank checks of character just waiting for the Christian to cash and live out.  

Even Christians, of course, who know and trust in Christ, continue to be both sinners and saints. For the Christian not lulled into fatalism by their inborn sinful nature (this is part of what Luther is describing in The Small Catechism when he speaks of “despair and other great and shameful sins”), life with Christ is a constant war between the allurements of the old self, the evil of the world, and the evil laid before us by the devil, on the one hand, and the “narrow path” of life, a life of joy, peace, and hope that only comes from Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14). 

Paul speaks of his own struggle with this in Romans 7:21-25: 
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” 
Christ is the only way to win this battle to be truly human! 
It can’t be won by being virtuous. It can be won by tapping into the virtues that God gives to those who turn to Him daily through Christ.
So, Paul says elsewhere: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 
In other words, quit asking questions like:
Am I happy?
Am I getting enough of the stuff of this life? 
Am I being appreciated?
Am I honored by others? 
Blah blah blah blah! 
If Jesus is all I need, my daily bread, my living water, questions like these are irrelevant. 
My call then is to tap into those qualities with which the Holy Spirit imbues believers in Jesus, to “supplement” my faith by living out the calls of these qualities.  
By pursuing the qualities Peter talks about in these verses, rather than pursuing happiness, others’ appreciation, money, and so on, I will put all earthly things in perspective and I will be on the path of God.  
So, Peter says, pursue virtue. Virtue means moral goodness, uprightness in actions, graciousness toward others. It’s living as the loving person I want, in my heart of hearts, to be. 
Peter says to add to virtue, knowledge. This references both knowledge of the facts and a wise reflection on the facts.  
Knowledge and wisdom are only as reliable as the sources from which they’re drawn, as we’ve learned painfully from the fake news sites that played such an important part in the past presidential campaign.  
The ultimate truth source, of course, is God. Jesus says in John 14:6 that He is the way, the truth, and the the life. And Proverbs 2:6 says: “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” 
If I’m to supplement virtue with knowledge, I must begin (every single day) with God’s Word. I must be steeped in the Bible, God’s authoritative revelation of truth! 
I must supplement virtue and knowledge with self-control. This is an ongoing battle for me. I tend to be a grazer, allowing myself to be led along from one thing to another by what interests me at any given moment, then wonder where the time has gone and why I haven’t achieved what I set out to do, or to mindlessly munch on snacks, then wonder why I’ve gained so much weight.  
But God has given to me the ability to be self-controlled, if I will only tap into the power of the Holy Spirit residing within me as a believer in Jesus! Paul speaks of self-control as a “fruit of the Holy Spirit,” evidence of God having taken up residence in the life of a believer: “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23). 
Next, Peter says, we’re to supplement our faith in Christ with steadfastness. The idea here is patient endurance.  
This means honoring one’s godly commitments, whether they’re my commitments to follow Christ, stay in my marriage, take care of my kids, honor my parents, doing an honest day’s work, treating my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), respecting God’s ten commandments (all of them), and so on.  
Is there any Christian who has ever gone without breaking at least one of these commitments? No.  
Whether in thought, word, or deed, we (I) have broken them all. But repentance is all about returning to God through Christ and once again living in His gracious power to help us be more conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).  
For an imperfect person like me, part of steadfastness is knowing Who to come home to when I have strayed. I need to remember to come home to Jesus Christ!  
Next, I am to supplement my faith with godliness. This means devotion to and reverence for God.  
When I think of a devoted or reverent person, I don’t think of someone who solemnly worships with liturgical correctness. (Though the liturgies of the Church built on God’s Word, can draw us closer to God.)  
I don’t think either of a person who seemingly floats above the lives of mere mortals, someone who wouldn’t, in the old phrase, “say s--t if they had a mouthful of it.”  
Strong’s Concordance says of someone who is godly: “...[their] inner response to the things of God which shows itself in godly piety…” It says that godliness: “...naturally expresses itself in reverence for God.”  
A godly person is one who seeks to live in accordance with the revealed will of God, who seeks to honor God by living a life of love for God and love for neighbor, including loving God and neighbor enough to be committed to making disciples for Jesus.  
A godly person seeks to wipe out the disconnect between what I confess on Sunday mornings and how I act on Friday night. 
After godliness, I’m to supplement by faith with brotherly affection, φιλαδελφίαν (philadelphian). This is inside baseball--inside the Church--stuff. We are to cherish each of our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Church. 
The reason for this is simple. It is impossible to be a disciple of Christ without a connection to Christ’s Church. Life with Christ only happens when we rub shoulders with other believers in Christ in the fellowship of the Church.  
The Bible calls fellow believers in Christ sisters and brothers, God being our Father. The Church is an extended family.  
In any family, there are bound to be tensions between siblings, including the ones who live in the same house.  
In fact, I think that the family (which Luther describes as “the little Church”) is designed to help form us as disciples capable of loving others even when disagreeing with others or being different from others by subjecting us to the very differences between people which, apart from Christ, would drive us into isolation and self-absorption.  
Just so, God places us in the Church so that we are forced to confront our own sin, our self-absorption, and our lovelessness. Christ puts us in the Church so that there are people speaking for Him who can tell us no, when we need to hear it, and yes, when we need to hear it. 
Proverbs 27:17 says: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” God gives us sisters and brothers in the Church to rub us the wrong way when we need it and to lift us up when we need it.  
He does this to form us as disciples, so Christ will be more and more essential to our lives and so that Christ will be more evidenced to others in us.  
The only new commandment Jesus gave has to do with His Church: “"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).  
This differs from the great commandment, which Jesus reiterated but goes back to the Old Testament: It commands us to love others as we love ourselves.  
The new command is for Christians in Christ’s Church: We are to love each other exactly the way Jesus loves us, with a willingness to die for the sake of our sisters and brothers in the faith and for Christ Himself. Without constant turning again to Christ, I am incapable of being a true philadelphian. 
Finally, I’m to supplement my faith in Christ with love. The word in the original Greek is agapen.  
Strong’s says that this word describes love as a moral choice. In other words, love, as the Bible understands it, isn’t primarily about feelings. There may be brotherly affection, as mentioned earlier. But love is primarily the moral choice you make to seek what’s best for others, sometimes in spite of what you may be feeling at the moment or even what's in our own interest.  
Its biggest example, of course, is Jesus on the cross. Jesus had made it clear in the garden that He wanted to avoid the cross. Yet His love for the Father and for sinners like me caused Him to make the decision to take the cross.  
If brotherly affection is inside baseball, this is more about everybody else in the Christian's life. Our attitude and actions toward the world are to be characterized by love, even toward those who hate us. (Even when others force us to war against them, we must retain our love for them. If we allow ourselves to mirror the hatred of those who choose to war against us, we lose our moral grounding. Instead, when others make war against us, we must war back, but not engage in the savagery of hatred that might lead to indefensible acts like the murder of civilians or torture.)  
I can only supplement my faith in Christ with these qualities through deliberately, intentionally, and daily turning from sin and turning to Christ.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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