The shelves in Christian bookstores display orderly rectangles of bound pages promising neatly packaged ways to deal with a messy life. Daily radio broadcasts by para-ministries attempt to encourage strong families and share better ways to navigate every area of life. All too often, however, they can make our sense of inadequacy worse. What if I fail to do a family devotion every single night? What if I fail to write my congressman? What if I fail to have a balanced budget or fail to take my wife on a date this week? Will my kids grow up to be axe murders?
While Christian books and radio broadcasts encourage and offer helpful advice, sometimes the collective effect of all this advice can be to remind me of all the things I could do better. Pushing the boulder of "perfection and success" up hill gets old. We can come up with spiritual status markers in the Church, but from where did these status markers truly come? Did God demand them, or is it possible we have diluted God's commands with the expectations of our affluent Western culture? The answer is both Yes and No.
The truth is, I am wholly inadequate to be a godly husband, father, or pastor on my own strength. God's commands are impossible to satisfy apart from the grace of Christ. However, Christ, not the culture, ultimately defines success and the status markers by which we can evaluate our spiritual growth.
True Christians want to be effective and fruitful for God, and Scripture provides a list of qualities, or status markers, we should have to help toward that goal. One such list states we are to supply our faith with virtue, our virtue with knowledge, our knowledge with self-control, our self-control with endurance, our endurance with godliness, our godliness with brotherly affection, and our brotherly affection with love. Apparently, if we just had these things in our lives, then we would be effective and fruitful (2 Peter 1:5-8). GREAT! Another list of impossible expectations!
But looking at the words a little closer helps. Faith was not simply an emotional attitude for Peter and his audience. Faith was something outwardly observable in their thinking, describing how one lived. In order to live out this faith, we are to supply it with moral excellence ("virtue"), that is, living out what is right in God's eyes. But how do we achieve this moral excellence? By supplying it with knowledge. Knowledge of what exactly? Peter centers this whole section of his letter around the knowledge of Christ:
"God's divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and virtue..." (2 Peter 1:3)
And as to the qualities in the list:
"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." (2 Peter 1:8)
Peter is talking about knowing Christ's grace to save us from our sins and from the requirements of the Law. So, we need to personally know Christ. Knowledge of Christ's grace, however, leads some to think there is no standard of behavior since we are free from the requirements of the Old Testament Law. Thus we need to supply our knowledge with self-control and make choices that honor God and build others up. But this self-control will need to be supplied with endurance or the self-control will not remain.
What's helps the endurance endure? Godliness. Godliness means religious piety, which for Peter and his audience meant sticking to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fellowship, fasting, staying in God's word, worshiping, evangelizing, and ministering to others. Spiritual disciplines keeps us focused on Christ. Unfortunately, such religious devotion often turns into legalism or self-righteousness. Thus, brotherly affection, that is caring for others, helps our godliness by taking our focus off of ourselves and our religious "achievements." But even this needs unconditional love to prevent us from showing affection to only those we like.
I am inadequate to have these qualities at all some days, much less increasingly (2 Peter 1:8)! Thankfully, I don't have to drum these qualities up all on my own. "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and virtue, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." (2 Peter 1:3-4)
My feelings of inadequacy expose my prideful assumption that I was supposed to be able to do it all on my own strength. I am inadequate, but Jesus is more than adequate. His divine power is more than adequate. He has pushed the boulder of sin and death up the hill already and destroyed it! He did this at the cross where He died for our sins, and at the tomb where He rose again in victory. He has granted to me and all believers the things we need to be effective and fruitful in life. We just have to put what He has already done to use. Peter reminds us of these things and to recall them often as it will keep us from falling, and keep us established in the truth (2 Peter 1:10-15).
The prideful, self-imposed boulders of "perfection and success" have been smashed!