October 5, 2014.
Over the past few months something has been on my mind that has troubled me. We are called to live a holy life, consecrated for the Lord, yet this calling seems to be virtually impossible. We can beg and plead with God to lead us out of temptation, but then we turn right around and act on our own lusts (ref. James 1:14). What are we doing wrong? I have been displeased with many of the answers I’ve tried with which to answer this question. I think I’ve been looking at it from the wrong perspective. I think we all do this from time to time. I have been trying to live a holy life by avoiding sin. Whereas avoiding sin is a good practice, I don’t think this is the answer to the question. Today I had the pleasure of hearing a sermon over a topic that I have studied many times before, but something just clicked. I think I have found the answer, not surprisingly, straight from the word of God.
“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in yourperseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
(II Peter 1:5-11)
In a section commonly referred to as the Christian virtues, I believe we have the answer to how to live a holy life. There is a promise that is given at the end that holds too much weight to ignore: “for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” You see, if we are trying to be holy simply by trying to avoid sin, then I believe we have missed the point. So, we ask the question, how can we be holy? What are the practical ways to keep from sinning? Well, Peter lists them out for us! To be holy, we must focus our energy on actually being holy. We must look at it from the standpoint of “What can I do to be holy?” as opposed to “What can I avoid to be holy?”
I have decided to do a series on these virtues, taking them one at a time so that we can apply each to our lives. Benjamin Franklin devised a system in his early twenties of applying thirteen virtues to his life to improve his character. He would take one virtue a week and try to master it, adding the next to it in the following week. In this manner, though not because it must be done this way, I have decided to look at one a day (excluding today, but you will see why), and try to master it before moving on too fast. Obviously mastery takes longer than a day, week or even months in some cases, but you can always refer back to each day.
There are seven virtues listed after the presupposition of faith in the passage above, however, I think it is important to start where Peter started before adding the virtues. The first two characteristics (some would indeed call them virtues) that Peter mentions is diligence and faith. This is a very good starting part for this series. If you truly want to add each of these virtues to your life, it is going to take faith and diligence.
The faith is obvious. Why are we doing this? To be holy. Why? Because our Lord is holy and we want to serve Him. We are to be His representation on earth, and to do so we need to be more like Him each day. But faith is more than just simple belief. Faith is a deep trust and obedience of God, knowing that this is real. This faith should transcend the cares of this world to see what really matters in this life, and what is important in regards to eternity. Thus we must have faith to even begin this journey, and I believe this exercise will increase our faith overall.
However, I’m not sure we really consider diligence to be the starting point of adding these virtues. At least that’s what I think I have missed over the past few months in some ways. Often when we are trying to avoid sin, we rely on praying to God to lead us out of it (which is very good, don’t get me wrong), but then we do nothing to fight it. “But God was supposed to take me out of the situation…” Is that really how it works?
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
(I Corinthians 10:13)
God will not allow us to be tempted above that which we are able, but we have to follow the way of escape He provides. That takes effort on our part. We cannot just pray and ask God to take away the temptation, but then do nothing to flee from it. If we are going to live a holy life, it is going to take diligence. This diligence is what will keep us on the right track. Is this not what Jesus taught?
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
“Let him deny himself.” That does’t sound easy. “Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way.” That doesn’t sound easy. “Love your enemies, do good to those who curse you.” Well, you get the point. Christ did not call us to a life of ease. He did not say “As long as you believe in me, everything will be dandy and you won’t have to work.” Actually, He said quite the opposite. If we are going to serve our Lord, it is going to take diligence.
Sometimes we throw around this word ‘diligence,’ but don’t really grasp the full meaning. The ESV version of this passage translates diligence as “make every effort.” I know there are many times when I am tempted that I make some effort to avoid the sin, but I definitely do not make every effort. Am I being diligent in these cases? No. I’m trying, but I’m not really trying all that hard, and what I am doing to try is probably just to sooth my conscience as opposed to actually fleeing the situation. At the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he says “[a]bstain from every form of evil (I Thes. 5:22).” Abstain is a strong word that does not simply mean “sort of stay away.” It carries with it a connotation of distinct separation. In other places, we are told to “flee youthful lusts” and to “flee idolatry.” Fleeing does not mean staying as close to the line as you can without stepping over. This is where diligence comes in. We have to make a consorted effort to do these things, to apply these virtues. Without this effort, our attempt will surly fail.
A point was made when I was studying these virtues in the past that diligence is mentioned both before and after these virtues, emphasizing its importance. Peter knows that it is going to be hard work, but he also knows that the reward will be priceless. “[F]or as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” Our entrance into the kingdom, abundantly supplied. What a glorious thought.
I hope that you follow along with me over the next week or so and try to apply each of these virtues to your life as I do the same. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so if it is hard at first, just keep on trying. The more we practice these virtues, the more second nature they will become, and our lives will undoubtedly be blessed by it. This is more than a suggestion. Peter says we are to do these things to make our calling and election sure. This is what we are called to do. We are sons of the Most High, and we are called to act like it. We will never stumble if we continue to practice these virtues and our entrance into the kingdom will be gloriously supplied. What a wonderful Savior is Christ our Lord. Let us make our calling and election sure.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 5-7, II Peter 1.
Grace and peace.