“It’s my favorite,” my grandson said of about half a dozen things in one afternoon. Most recently, vanilla ice cream is his favorite because, well, he was eating vanilla ice cream when he said it. The perspective of a child is often immediate like this, and it in some ways reflects the childlike focus we need as growing Christians.
“And [Jesus] said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3)
A childlike focus happens when I study the Bible, and the Holy Spirit leads me to exactly what I need for my present moment. He leads me to what will guide me and direct me in my immediate season. Often when this happens, a verse or passage of scripture becomes “my favorite” for that time.
One of my current favorite books of the Bible is 2 Peter because it captures the essence of the what, why, and how of living the Christian life in just three, short chapters. After the opening, Peter moves into concise instructions on what living the Christian life does and does not look like, why we must stay focused, and how to go about living it. You cannot walk away from this letter wondering what God wants you to do as a Christian.
Peter encourages growth that flows out of the knowledge of God’s promises, which allow us to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). He then provides the process by which this growth happens to give us clarity in recognizing our progress.
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7)
This growth chart allows us to see both the essential elements of a Christian’s character and their connections to one another. This list serves to summarize living the Christian life by providing focus points for character growth, much like the guidelines a pediatrician gives parents to help them gauge how their child is progressing.
All that we then do, from daily Bible reading/study and prayer to how we treat others and make choices that please God even when life gets tough, is reflected in this growth chart. It helps us to not only see if we’re making progress but also to be confident that the progress we’re making – which takes work and effort – is pleasing to God.
Work and Effort
We are to diligently “work hard” (2 Peter 1:10) Peter later says and “make every effort” (2 Peter 3:14) to apply what we learn as we mature. This includes what we read in the Bible, learn from Godly teachers and examples, and receive from the Holy Spirit’s leading. If we do, we will progress (i.e., grow) in the way Peter describes.
If we aren’t diligent, don’t put in the work, and go against Peter’s instructions to watch out for false teachers, then we won’t see this character growth. Note that Peter uses all of Chapter 2 to warn against false teachers and that many of the other epistles also devote time to this topic as well. This significant emphasis should be enough to rightly catch our attention.
Peter then combines the encouragement to grow with another warning about false teachers in Chapter 3. This repetition is meant to encourage character growth as Christians and to stress the need for paying attention to the reminders we receive. It’s also meant to point us toward the goal of the “day of the Lord” (2 Peter 3:10).
The end of this letter focuses again on God’s promises as the motivation for our growth and emphasizes the need for diligence. This sort of repetition in the Bible is there to help us pay attention to the anchor points of a growing and maturing faith.
The points that Peter (and other Bible authors) repeats allow me to stay on guard against those who would teach something contrary to what the Bible says. They help me to quickly release any attention given to whatever does not please God. This has become a necessary practice (i.e., a system) that has created the healthy habits I need to mature as a Christian.
“You, therefore, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17-18)