“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love.” – 2 Peter 1:5-7 (NET)
In what now appears to be an endless stream of causes for the Christian blues, the Apostle Peter presents yet another. His whole second Epistle deals with it and he writes it to encourage believers who’ve gotten so depressed they’re in danger of ditching their faith altogether and going back to their old ways. He doesn’t beat around the bush, either. He’s specific about whom he’s addressing. After listing seven qualities and saying that if a Christian nurtures them they can avoid depression he writes in verse 9, “But concerning the one who lacks such things – he is blind. That is to say he is nearsighted, since he has forgotten about the cleansing of his past sins.” That sort was constantly in backslide mode and he was exhorting them to do as he instructed so they’d not only “never stumble into sin” but also be reassured of their “calling and election.” Obviously they were confused about a host of things involving their walk with Christ. Now Peter wasn’t questioning whether or not they were Christians. One can assume that if they weren’t he wouldn’t have taken the time to write to them. He had bigger fish to fry. No, they were average believers, neither superstitious heathens nor levitating saints sporting haloes. People like you and me, in other words. They’d been saved by grace but many of them were unhappy, unproductive and ineffective disciples of Jesus because they’d stopped growing. They were believers, alright, but they had nothing to show for it. They were basically inert and we all know the type. Someone who’s been redeemed by the blood of Christ but if you ask them to describe themselves they’ll say something like “Well, I’m a single female, a Texan, a moderate republican, a weight-watcher, a Spurs fan and, oh yeah, I’m a Christian!” Their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior is on an even par with being, say, a vegetarian. They’re going through the motions instead of being vibrant, effective ambassadors of the soul-saving gospel. And without the joy testifying for Christ fosters in one’s heart they’re prone to fits of depression.
How does one become so nonchalant? Why aren’t all of us energetic, fruit-bearing believers who openly offer hope to the hopeless? Peter is indicating that the core problem is a lack of discipline and he gets specific about what that entails. Why are so many turning into spiritual slackers? He first highlights the fact that they may harbor an incorrect view of what faith really is. Go to the beginning of our featured scripture where he instructs us to “add to our faith.” He’s talking to those who think faith is some sort of magic spell and that once you fall under it God will make all things right automatically without you lifting a finger. Say the magic words and, “presto,” everything’s supposed to come up roses. It may sound ridiculous but some have been led to think that’s what happens when you get saved. They don’t realize that faith, as Peter points out, has to be supplemented by excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly affection and unselfish love. Perhaps they’ve been told by a preacher that they need only “look to the Lord” and do nothing else because to do anything else is to jump into the “salvation by works” camp. Oversimplification when it comes to doctrine can be destructive for it causes some to gloss over important details like the ones Peter highlights. “Abiding in Jesus” can be wonderfully comforting until our “abiding” doesn’t pull us out of a jam and we fall into a funk because the deal ain’t working as advertised. Because the matter of trust can be baffling it’s important that we make sure we savvy what Peter meant when he urged us to add to and supplement our faith.
When he brings up the second cause for being undisciplined he isn’t as subtle. We can become lazy and/or apathetic about our commitment to Jesus. “For this very reason, make every effort…” Peter says and repeats in verse 10 to drive it home. The job is ours. We all have a tendency, endorsed by Satan, to not devote the same level of energy and zeal to our Christianity as we do to our careers, our families and our hobbies. We’ll be zipping along in our day and then, when it comes time for getting on our knees in prayer or studying God’s Word, we suddenly feel bushed. We can attribute it to physical exhaustion all we want but it really comes down to us having to face our lethargy. Often it takes the form of procrastination. No doubt we’d like to intimately know our Bible, to pray sincerely, to read the inspiring works of insightful Christian authors but we rationalize that to do those things when we’re not at full speed is to do God a disfavor. It’d be better to do it later when we feel refreshed. Or when we have more time. (Good grief, is that a well-employed excuse or what?) We say we’re too busy trying to keep up, especially in today’s world when the flood of information is unrelentingly enormous in volume. We turn on our televisions out of habit to see what might’ve happened in the last three hours, we keep our PCs online so we won’t miss an email or Facebook post, we feel incomplete if we don’t have our smart phones on us in case we’re sent a text message and on and on. We’re all bombarded by distractions. I hear folks say all the time that they just can’t seem to find a spare minute to stick their heads into the scriptures yet they seem to have plenty for sharing a funny Youtube video. It all comes down to what’s most important to us. The truth is we all have time for being about our Heavenly Father’s business, we just don’t give it to Him. We’re all guilty to one extent or another.
That being said, let’s check out the remedy Peter prescribes. He insists that we “make every effort” to arrange our lives in such a way as to better grow, learn and improve as Christians. Since it won’t come naturally we must deliberately apply diligence and discipline to do so. If you read up on any of history’s great teachers of the good news about Jesus Christ you’ll inevitably find they nurtured those two qualities and relied on them to stay healthy and hale in their faith. Their faith was of utmost importance to them all. Hebrews 11:6 reads, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Some may jump in and claim that I’m advocating justification by works but I’m not. Remember, it’s not me who says we must “add to our faith” but the esteemed Apostle Peter. There’s no conundrum here. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The error of justification by works is in trusting to the discipline of your own soul to save your soul; but the opposite to trusting to your works is not to do nothing, it is to do everything but not to put your trust in any of it. It is not the works that are wrong, it is the faith in your works, trusting in your works.” The other danger when talking about works is to take it to the other extreme and think they don’t matter in the least or say that since faith is all that counts we can be as undisciplined as we want! Seriously? Brings to my mind the chaplain played by Gene Hackman in the ‘72 movie “The Poseidon Adventure” who insisted that, while faith was all well and good, God expected them to get off their duffs and do something to improve the odds of getting out of the shipwreck alive. For some reason that logic stuck with me. God gave us drive, impetus and ambition so we can better seek His glory, His majesty, His wonder. He doesn’t magically bestow spiritual insights and knowledge upon our minds and hearts, He wants us to aspire to gain them via our own volition. My mom wasn’t a scholar but my fondest memory of her is seeing her night after night sitting quietly in the den with her Bible open on her lap while dad and I watched TV. She never stopped seeking a closer relationship with God.
Peter tells us discipline is vital. Certain things must take precedence. The Bible trumps the internet. Prayer comes before TV. One-on-one time with God ranks higher than a phone chat with a sibling. Yes, it takes effort but not only can it be done but it has to. We must “add to our faith.” You might inquire as to what, exactly, are we to add? Peter spells it out clearly. Moral excellence (virtue) is first and by that he means intestinal fortitude. Plainly put, he’s telling us to stop dawdling in idleness, to get up and get with it already. Compare a typical hoops fan with an average Christian, for instance. I’m not saying a believer should fist pump and scream about Jesus as if his home team just nailed a buzzer-beating basket but you know what I’m getting at. We should be as excited about our Savior as we are about our city’s NBA squad. Next comes knowledge. Peter’s not talking about orthodoxy; he’s talking about insight, understanding and enlightenment. Don’t stop at just saying “I believe.” Strive for more. Apply yourself. Our omniscient Father has so much to share with us. It’s hard work but well worth it, believe me. Thirdly we should pursue self-control (temperance). We must get a grip on ourselves and rein in our appetites, our lusts, our passions and our desires or they’ll gain the upper hand and dominate our time. Moderation’s fine unless it becomes an excuse to cut corners. Perseverance follows and “stick-to-it-iveness” might be a more relatable definition. Or “keep on truckin’,” as we baby-boomers used to say. Perseverance is something you have to summon from deep within yourself when discouragement knocks on your door and wants to crash on your couch. Next is godliness which is intentionally building and maintaining a strong relationship with our merciful, loving Creator. Brotherly affection refers to how we’re to treat and appreciate our fellow Christians while unselfish love means agape love towards all people whether they’re believers or not. I can’t help but notice that love is always our ultimate goal. 1 Timothy 1:5 reads, “But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” To be more loving is to be more like Christ. Brennan Manning wrote, “In human beings, love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity.”
These are the things we must be mindful of when “adding to our faith.” Peter not only gives us this specific list he also encourages us by telling us that all these attributes are within our reach. In 1:4 he writes about what we have at our disposal. “Through these things he has bestowed upon us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.” If Peter’s roster sounds like a bunch of hard tasks meant to reduce Christianity to back-breaking labor then you need to ask yourself this question: Do you fully realize what you claim by identifying yourself as a follower of Christ? That you’re a “partaker in the divine nature?” That the Son of God allowed himself to be brutally murdered on the cross so you’d “escape the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire?” Those facts should be more than enough to goad you towards “making every effort to add to your faith.” Don’t forget that you’ve been miraculously “cleansed of your past sins.” As Paul asked in Romans 6, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Peter’s encouraging words urge us to keep all of that in mind as we progress in our search for a more profound understanding of who God is and what He’s already done for us.
But Peter doesn’t stop there. He writes that if we’ll do these things we’ll experience joy and serenity in the present. In 1:10 he tells us, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election.” You’ll never know happiness until you do. I rejoice over the lack of ambiguity in the message of Acts 16:31. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It’s as true a statement as there is but it won’t always satisfy a hungry Christian soul. To make our calling and election a certainty in our hearts and minds we must be diligent to do the things Peter suggests so we can know true peace. “For by doing this you will never stumble into sin.” Falling, stumbling, relapsing, whatever you care to call it, is humiliating for a believer and can lead to depression. Peter says that if we add these seven things we won’t have to worry about getting our feet tangled up in sin. Then he tacks on the clincher in verse 11. “For thus an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be richly provided for you.” He’s not referring to a present state of salvation because the folks in the congregation he was addressing had already been saved. He’s talking about their (and our) ultimate entrance into paradise. Make certain you read the words “richly provided” in context. If we add these things to our faith God will make our victorious stroll through the pearly gates one for the ages! If you’ve ever asked yourself what you can do to honor the Holy Trinity; to try in some humble way to demonstrate gratitude for the saving of your soul from eternal separation from God then look no further than Peter’s passage. Discipline your life. Expand your faith to its full potential. Make growing closer to God your #1 priority. In turn He will grant you a joy-filled, blessed assurance that when you take your first breath in His kingdom you will, as Lloyd-Jones put it, “go out of this life into the next with your sails filled with the glorious breezes of Heaven. For it will not be a putting out into some unknown sea, but rather an ending of the storms of life and a triumphant entry into the haven of our eternal rest and glory in the presence of God.”
In summation, if you’re a depressed believer it may be due to a lack of discipline that’s caused you to become slothful as a result. Get up! Get going! Hop to it! “Make every effort” to supplement your faith and bolster your courage. Get involved. Be the hands and feet of Jesus. Do something constructive. Volunteer at your church or at a food bank. Do something. Witness to those who don’t know Christ. Begin to enjoy your Christian life by being useful and helpful as you learn to love others as yourself. Become an attraction to those who wonder what it’s like to be a follower of our Lord and Savior so they might experience the peace of knowing that His promises never fail to be kept. If Peter were a general he’d say, “That’s an order!”
(Inspired by the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book “Spiritual Depression.”)