The Pursuit of Godly Character
Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.
All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
2 Peter 1:5. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
A life that is submitted to the LORD and to the leadership of the Holy Spirit will be a life that is vastly different than that which is submitted to the corruption of this self-centered and evil world. In the following passage Peter lists eight virtues of a life that is submitted to the LORD. If one claims the faith but does not find these virtues to be growing in their lives, their claim of saving faith becomes suspect. Since true faith in God is demonstrated by sincere love for Him and obedience to His Lordship, virtuous living becomes a spontaneous fruit of that faith. The Holy Spirit works in the heart of every faithful believer to grow in godliness and both empowers and inspires repentance from ungodly attitudes and actions. This truth gives Peter an opportunity to list some of those virtues that are recognizable in the life of a faithful believer, and he does so using a curious literary approach.
There has been no little discussion pertaining to the grammar of this passage. In providing this list, Peter uses a literary formula referred to as sorites, that uses a step-by-step chain, a form of a literary staircase, that leads one from one level or relationship to another. This is a common literary form in ancient literature and is also found in several other biblical passages. Though some theologians insist on a logical progression of ascending priorities, the ancient sorites form does not dictate such an interpretation, and ancient readers would not have inferred any requirement of sequence. Also, the insistence of a stair-step sequence would lead one to think that one does not move on to the next step until the current step is completed. This is not Peter’s intent, and is not the intent of the sorites form. The reader is free to examine each of the eight virtues with equal order, priority, and importance.
Peter’s use of sorites is clearly to communicate a simple message: a life that is submitted to the LORD is one that is characterized by the diligent pursuit of a godly life. If one continually appropriates a growth in each of these eight virtues, integrating them more and more into their life, the result is a life that is transformed from the corrupt nature of this world to the very nature of God that Peter refers to in the previous verses.
James wrote, “I will show you my faith by my works!” James taught that a life of faith was not passive, but was actively engaged in the expression of spiritual gifts. Many treat their faith as a secondary or tertiary part of their character, drawing from it like an infinite bank account whenever there is a significant need. However, Peter understands faith quite differently. A fully developed and profitable faith is obtained only through a significant personal effort. Rather than treating one’s faith as a secondary part of life, faith is to stand at the forefront of the Christian experience. Faith in God is the foundation, the cornerstone, of the Christian life.
Some treat their faith as if they are using it to fly a glider, hoping for occasional and repeated updrafts to give them enough altitude to continue on what otherwise is a steadily declining flight path. Perhaps a positive experience in a weekly or biweekly worship experience provides the uplift, but everything from there is a drag downward. Perhaps occasional blessings provide the lift. In their case all of the uplift comes from external sources as their faith is a completely passive experience that is buffeted up and down by circumstances, dependent upon others or outside circumstances for the voracity of their faith.
Neither James, Peter, or Paul teach that faith is passive. Faith is highly active and necessitates diligent effort on the part of the faithful. Compared with the glider metaphor, a vibrant faith is a fighter jet running with full-power, running wide-open afterburners. Vibrant faith has power to take one through circumstances rather than succumb to them. A vibrant faith lifts one over the obstacles that faithlessness faces alone. A fighter pilot has little time to sleep at the controls, but is highly alert and highly responsive to the task. This better conveys the idea of diligence. The remainder of this passage lists some of the areas where the faithful apply that diligence.
Beginning with diligence, we will find that Peter lists characteristics of Christian behavior that are quite possible to attain, but they do require decision and effort. The first, virtue, refers to moral excellence. There is simply no existing context for the expression of immoral behavior in the Christian life. This call to a virtuous life would have been as controversial in their contemporary epicurean culture as it is today. The world teaches moral compromise as it increasingly works to destroy the authority of any position that would stand upon any form of absolute truth. Moral excellence presumes a moral code of conduct, a code that is quite evident in the teachings of scripture. As God has placed His Word in the hearts of faithful believers, that Word exposes immorality, making the characteristics of true Christian virtue quite evident.
One who is faithful to the LORD is going to strive to attain an ever-increasing knowledge of Him and His purpose. The non-stair-step intention of the sorites form is evident in this imperative since one does need some knowledge of the gospel before one comes to faith. However, the term and context used here goes beyond simple discovery or perception, referring to an intentional digging out the true facts as one would mine the earth for a precious metal. The context and Greek verb tense also identifies that these imperatives are continual.
One does not gain all knowledge and then stop. Just as diligence implies a continual and unending process, just as virtue is to be continually maintained, the pursuit of knowledge is a continual, life-long endeavor. The one who is faithful will put in the effort to mine the word on a continual basis. The image of the “dusty Bible” is famous. Many who claim the faith spend little or no effort in the task of learning more about their faith.
Though doctrinal positions vary greatly from author to author, there are many excellent contemporary writers who have much to share as they teach the Word. Some of these are commonly known names like Charles Swindoll, Henry Blackaby, and Adrian Rogers. There are many whose names are not so familiar who write with excellent conservative scholarship such as F.F. Bruce, Craig Blomberg, John Warwick Montgomery, Robert Stein, Gerald Borchert, John Polhill, Robert Mounce, Eldon Ladd, Ralph Martin, David Aune, Donald Guthrie, John Frame, Thomas Schreiner, and many others. Several of the points of this study can be found in the writings of these writers.
Some defend a doctrine of ignorance in order to deny the need for the study of God’s Word. Statements like, “God said it, I believe it, and that’s good enough for me,” express such a position since the “it” in that statement is far too broad an article to so simply understand. We may be reminded that scripture itself defines a moral code when it states that the faithful are to meditate on God’s Word, day and night. One of the most significant scriptures in Jewish History is the Shema:
Deuteronomy 4:6-9. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
One cannot teach what one does not know. The scriptures instruct the faithful to teach one another so that their knowledge of the LORD will continually increase. There are no fewer than 100 passages in the biblical narrative that instruct the faithful to teach the word.
The faithful Christian life is characterized by a continual, diligent, and positive effort to learn more about God’s Word and then apply that knowledge to the issues of daily life.
2 Peter 1:6. to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
Another characteristic of the faithful is temperance: a word that refers to self-restraint, or self-control. Peter is establishing a stark contrast to the false teachers who seek to define and celebrate a hyper-liberal form of pseudo-Christianity that embraces the epicurean and humanist Hellenistic culture. “They are characterized by sensuality (2:2), inflamed by sinful desires (2:10), they live for soft and comforting pleasures (2:13), never cease thinking of adultery (2:14), and are enslaved to corruption (2:19).” A faith that is brought under the authority of the Holy Spirit is one that is restrained from submission to such sinful desire.
Like the other characteristics that Peter has shared, self-control also takes a positive, intentional, and continual effort. The need for virtue that Peter previously described implies that all people share a continual and natural bent to rebellion against the LORD. This bent to sinful desire is something that God has ordained in His creation of mankind, a bent that necessitates turning to Him in faith, away from the evil one who uses the tool of sinful and worldly desire to separate people from God. Living a life of faithful virtue necessitates the decision to turn from such sinful behavior. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, one can take control over the natural bent to sin.
Faith teaches one to respond to life’s situations with Christian maturity rather than to react to them out of natural and sinful instincts. Temperance, or self-restraint in Christian character is demonstrated in a thoughtful response to circumstances that is consistent with, and in full consideration of God’s Word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit in those circumstances. One who is diligent in their application of temperance will not be as subject to giving away control to moral, physical, or emotional intoxicants that would affect one’s decision-making, and hence, one’s testimony and witness.
There is certainly no limit to the situations and circumstances of life that create pain, burden, and annoyance. The continual exercise of self-restraint that Peter has just described creates in us the power to endure such circumstances with calm assurance. This power is shown in faithful patience. Where self-restraint is exercised in a situation-by-situation basis, patience is that part of one’s character that enables one to exercise long-term self-restraint. James teaches that the circumstances wherein self-restraint is necessary work together in the life of the faithful to develop patience so that through those circumstances one becomes more mature in the faith. Peter agrees with this completely as he states in his next virtue.
To be godly is to be like God, not in authority, but in character. Godly self-restraint produces patience, which in itself is a characteristic of God whose patience is beyond measure. There is a close connection between godliness and the virtue that Peter has just described since God is also characterized by infinite virtue. However, this word godliness carries with it the idea of goodliness, words that were once synonymous in the Old English language. One who demonstrates godliness is one who is always actively engaged in activities that show grace and goodness to others.
Like the others in this list of virtues, godliness requires action based upon choice. Godliness is not a passive characteristic of the faith. Those who are mature in the Christian faith will be consistently engaged in activities that serve others well, not because of the keeping of any law, and not for any hope of reward, but because of the consistent goodness that becomes part of the basic nature of a mature Christian.
What are some characteristics that one might exhibit that would not be considered Godly? Any attitude or action that is not good is ungodly. This can be a prideful and demanding spirit, or a critical and judgmental spirit, or any other that fails to fully express God’s love for others. It is God’s nature to be good. As one becomes more godly in their character, as they become more like Christ, they will also develop a nature to be good and shed those attitudes and actions that fail to measure up to godly character.
2 Peter 1:7. And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
7. Brotherly kindness.
When one is characterized by goodness, it would not be in one’s nature to be unkind to others. Brotherly kindness, brotherly love, or phileo in the Greek, is a form of love that all people have the potential to possess. It is the strong bond that attaches a mother to its child, that connects close friends with one another. It is the ethos of ultimate sacrifice that develops between comrades in arms who would give their lives for one another.
It is a love that is so powerful and so pervasive that even Paul expressed that we need little instruction on attaining it, but he does state that faith in God takes phileo to a new level. When the Holy Spirit empowers our phileo love, it takes on a new dynamic. When one diligently seeks to express brotherly kindness that is bathed in the power of the Holy Spirit, that love becomes:
8. Agape love.
There are at least two primary differences between the phileo love of this world and the agape love of God. The first, and most evident difference is that phileo love that is expressed apart from the Spirit of Christ is conditional and is variably expressed towards those of our own choosing. Agape love has no such condition and is fully expressed without regard to the worthiness of the one(s) receiving it.
A second difference is that the application of phileo love presupposes a relationship. Phileo love develops out of the circumstances and events surrounding a pre-existing relationship. Agape love requires no such relationship and can be expressed towards any or all persons or any peoples without regard to any personal contact.
Agape love may be best understood when we consider the nature of God’s love for His creation. God’s love for people is unconditional and is not compromised or changed by circumstances or by the worthiness of individuals to receive that love. God loves us no less when we revile Him or become immersed in even the most grievous acts of sinfulness. When we hold back love from another because of any circumstance or logic, that love is not the agape love that is prompted by the Holy Spirit, it is worldly and fleshly phileo. Knowing this distinction can help us to be diligent as we seek to express agape love as a part of our nature.
2 Peter 1:8. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter has just listed eight important elements of Christian character that are worthy of continual development throughout our life experience: diligence, virtue, knowledge, temperance, endurance, godliness, phileo, and agape. “Making every effort to add to and practice these virtues is part of what it means to participate in God’s goodness and hence God’s nature.” Peter notes that the application of these in one’s life will bring dramatic and positive change. Together, they “make you” into something new. Together they serve to effect the transformation that comes from a “renewing of the mind” that is necessary for one to turn from the depravity of this wicked world to the holiness of a sanctified life.
That change will result in the bearing of spiritual fruit such as those elements that Peter has just mentioned as well as others that Paul describes in his epistles. The fruit that Peter also describes is the “knowledge of our LORD Jesus Christ.” The term used is not referring to book knowledge, but rather a relational knowledge. It refers to the literal merging of two individuals into one single entity. The Old Testament writers often used this term to describe a knowledge between a husband and wife that ultimately produces a child. Children are not conceived by book knowledge. It is this close, deep, and abiding relationship with His creation that the LORD seeks. It is a relationship that is found only when one is diligently seeking Him and turning from the overwhelming influence of this world and our own selfish desires.
Often, when we look at people who profess faith, we can see in them a lack of Christian maturity. Their lives are characterized, not by a love of others, but rather by a self-centeredness, arrogance, and demanding hypocrisy that serves to create conflict, and can often serve to damage the cause of Christ. Why do we witness so many individuals who have been active in the Christian fellowship for many years who serve in any point from the apathetic sidelines to those who are busily engaged in the fellowship who do not exhibit Christian maturity? The early church was dealing with this issue as we still do today. Peter provides us with some perspective on this issue.
2 Peter 1:9. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
Note that Peter is still referring to members of the Christian fellowship, those who have found their sins purged. Some who have been Christians for years still exhibit the same self-centered world view that they had prior to their commitment to the faith. Or, because their original profession of faith was not followed by a sincere submission to His Lordship, they have returned to their previous world-views. Yet, these in their arrogance and self-justification still exhibit a fruit of sincerity, at least at some level. The conflicts in the early church, as well as the conflicts that diminish the ministry of the church today, stem from this same phenomena: sincere people who are sincerely hurting the cause of Christ due to a blindness to their own true testimony, and the nature of God’s calling upon their lives.
Many of these poorly discipled Christians do not desire to damage the cause of Christ, and they usually mean well, fully intending upon serving God with integrity. However, when they have spent year after year and not matured in the faith, when they have not been diligently seeking growth in the elements of Christian character that Peter describes, they simply lack the wisdom to accurately perceive the true nature of their own character and its negative impact on the work of the LORD through the church. Peter states that they have forgotten the significance of the grace that they received themselves when their sins were purged. Forgetting that grace, they fail to demonstrate the fruit of grace in their own lives. Blinded to their own arrogance and error, and ignorant of their self-centered pride, they tend to express that pride freely within the fellowship, plunging the community of believers into conflict when they cannot freely express their base and fleshly desires.
Blindness, a metaphor for willful ignorance, is a tough enemy to engage. “In the epistles, blindness usually carries the connotation of being unwilling to face the truth. Peter listed some of the qualities a person must have to acquire spiritual sight, and without these, that person is ‘blind.’ “ Those who are blinded by their own presuppositions are not likely to accept the counsel of others. The power to remove the blindness is found in the power of the Holy Spirit to speak to the heart of an individual and produce a life-changing decision of repentance. Peter describes this process as a form of self-inspection.
2 Peter 1:10. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
Peter describes this process as a diligent inspection of the surety of one’s calling in Christ. This does imply a doubt of one’s salvation, but rather refers to an accurate and sure understanding of the nature of what it means to submit to the Lordship of Jesus, Christ and listen to the still-small voice of the Holy Spirit.
Over the centuries the church has often failed to hold to the standard of salvation and built a successful and meaningful social structure that used the name of Christ but failed to appropriate the power of Christ in its character. These socially-oriented churches do not place a great priority on leading their fellowship into true acceptance of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Nor do they lead their members in spiritual maturity and/or fruitful evangelistic work. Consequently, it is easy for an individual to become a very active member of this form of fellowship and never actually make a true profession of faith. Their “election” is not sure. They have not responded to a calling of the Holy Spirit, but have followed their base desire for acceptance and social influence. They may be very comfortable in their security as members of a fellowship, but lack the eternal security that is the fruit of sincere faith in the LORD.
Peter reminds his readers to take a diligent look into one’s own calling and one’s own profession of faith to be sure that their profession of faith is real. However, Peter is not referring to an introspection without an outcome. Peter provides only one form of positive outcome: surety. The only way to avoid the failures that Peter has been describing is to come out of this process with a clear and sure understanding of God’s grace in one’s life, an understanding that results in a response of total commitment to Jesus Christ as LORD.
2 Peter 1:11. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Does the character of the life of an individual make a difference in the way a Christian enters the eternal kingdom? It is apparent that the New Testament writers, including Peter, Paul and John had very clear views that there is an eternal consequence of our current behavior. Herein Peter describes the reward of an “abundant entrance” to those who have followed his instruction. John refers to the reward of symbolic crowns that are available to be cast at the feet of Christ.
Whether we refer to the reward as abundance or crowns, the message of this passage of Peter’s letter is clear. The diligent pursuit of godly character is not an option, and is not to be taken lightly. The damage to the kingdom of God on earth that is done by those who refuse to submit themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is inestimable. The rewards in this life for the individual and for the community of believers that come from submission to Lordship is likewise inestimable. The choice is up to the believer.
 Callan, Terrance. The syntax of 2 Peter 1:1-7. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 67 no 4 Oct 2005, p 634.
 Proverbs 6:17-20, e.g.
 James 2:18.
 1 Peter 2:6.
 Psalm 1:2, 63:6, 77:12, 119:15-23, 143:5, et. al.
 Ex. 18:20; Lev. 10:11, et. al.
 Schreiner, Thomas R. XE "Schreiner, Thomas R." 1,2 Peter, Jude. The New American Commentary, Vol. 37. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers. 2003, p. 300.
 James, Chapter 1.
 1 Thessalonians 4:9.
 Corbin-Reuschling, Wyndy. J. The means and end in 2 Peter 1:3-11: the theological and moral significance of theo¯sis. Journal of Theological Interpretation, 8 no 2 Fall 2014, p 275.
 Romans 12:2.
 James 1:23-24.
 Ellenberg, B. Dale. Blindness as Biblical Imagery. Biblical Illustrator, 41 no. 1, Fall 2016, p. 88.
 1 Kings 19:12.
 Revelation 4:10..